Historical story

The bath of Louis XIV

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Talking about the bath or baths of Louis XIV is still difficult today as the various testimonies contradict and question each other. For some Louis XIV had a deplorable hygiene and did not take care of his personal hygiene – from there to having taken only one bath –, for others it is only exaggeration and distortion of history.

So did King Louis XIV only take one bath in his life?

A bath for medical recommendation to Louis XIV

Legend has it that King Louis XIV took his first bath under the orders of his Doctor Fagon. A prescribed bath as a remedy...it's an innovative concept in the 17 th century. Constrained and forced by the means of this medical prescription, the king would have complied thus for his first dip, perhaps reluctantly.

Subsequently, Fagon is said to have ordered Louis XIV to take frequent baths for the same reason:the king's health. The royal doctor would have prescribed several baths to his king, there are at least two prescriptions less than a year apart.

So how does a royal bath take place? The answer is:quite similarly to our times. Of course the Sun King takes royal baths…in his room. A bathtub was then placed in the royal bedroom, and filled with water. The internal water networks in the castle were not democratized in the 17 th century, water carriers were responsible for supplying the royal bath.

Or could it be because of the sense of smell?

It appears that a completely different reason, just as legitimate, led Fagon to advise Louis XIV to wash. Louis XIV's body odor is primarily responsible for the doctor's gentle advice. The King of France had a pungent and disparaging scent for his guests.

No offense to Madame de Montespan herself. Louis XIV's favorite, disturbed by the particular royal body odor, found a simple solution:perfume herself excessively again and again in order to cover the smell of her tender and royal lover. Do not throw stones at this brave Louis XIV, the reverse is also true since the King would have separated from Madame de Montespan mainly because of her smell. The couples were made and unmade to the rhythm of hygiene and cleanliness at the Royal Court. The Sun King would have found that his favorite did not smell like roses every night...

Portrait of Madame de Montespan

The baths avoided for fear of water

You will have understood it, like any good anecdote that should be… a part of legend and speculation is an integral part of it. It is all the same true that at that time the lords and the royal court did not consider for a single second being able to be in contact with a drop of water. What a dishonor that would be!

But let's be serious, how can we imagine that King Louis XIV waited until his old age to take his first bath and pay attention to his personal hygiene even when the fountains of Versailles were gushing and flowing. Seen from this angle, indeed it can puzzle us...

Worshiped in the Middle Ages when hygiene was a sign of power and wealth, water is feared by the Court of the Sun King. The reason is at least logical:the health situation. Water is scary and considered a vector of disease since Europe was devastated by the plague epidemic. To avoid any form of illness, contact with water is prohibited. This distrust of water therefore formally limits the number of baths, whether for the poorest or the richest.

How did Louis XIV wash himself?

Customs have evolved since the Middle Ages, and hygiene was done through dry toilets, using scented cloths. It didn't have to be clean, it had to smell good! It was therefore not necessary to wash, or only the really visible parts. It was simply necessary to wear perfume, to mask the smells.

Still many "urban legends" are told about the famous and unique bath of Louis XIV. Perhaps it is to justify the notable lack of hygiene of the time, or to taint the splendor around this Sun King who did not shine so much. Could a King have lived to be 76 years old, well above the average at that time, taking only one bath in his lifetime?

Adept or not of the bath, Louis XIV was all the same a precursor in the introduction of Soap in France, with the famous Savon de Marseille. It's right here to learn more about the History of soap.