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Weird History 7: King Henry VIII on the Toilet/tudor Toilet Behaviour

Published by AndAnotherThing in History
October 16th, 2008

A series of ad hoc articles about the history of toilets and some by-products. The articles, for children (and some adults), are fun, educational and entertaining.

Love him or hate him, King Henry VIII is probably the most famous king in English history.  All English and most European and North American students will have to learn something about this fat monarch, husband to a succession of six wives, (two divorced, one died, two beheaded and one widowed) who reigned from 1509 -1547.  With this is mind, you might as well introduce your children to Henry as soon as possible and what better way to do so than via a quick assessment of this Royal’s toilet practice and that of his favoured subjects.

Why consider Henry’s Toilet Behaviour?

You can tell a lot about people by the toilet they use, how they use it and the facilities they afford their guests.  (If you are regaling children with a story based on this article you can include a bit of toilet education here – including wash your hands and leave the facilities the way you’d wish to find them – but don’t overdo it).

Henry’s Guest’ Loos

As with everything else, spoilt King Henry had to have everything and was a show-off, when in came to the luxurious toilets he afforded his courtiers at Hampton Palace.  For them, Henry had built “The Great House of Easement” they Tudor Term for posh bogs, dunnies, plop houses, call them what you will.   Going to the toilet was still a social event (see Number 1 in this Weird History series for more about Roman Toilet Behaviour) which was lucky as The Great House of Easement seated up to twenty-eight in one communal sitting.  (It was posh as the urine and fasces deposited during sittings went into stone lined-channels below the seats (like primitive sewers) and would be flushed out with a few buckets of water by an attendant (not the courtiers themselves).  The waste went along these channels and directly into the River Thames.

Henry’s Private Loo

As with everything else, spoilt King Henry had to be a show-off and have the nest of everything, particularly when it came to the matters of his army, navy, clothes, food and his own toilet.  In fact his toilet, which was portable, was carried around everywhere the King went and, guess what?  Henry’s was the only bum allowed to use it.  Henry’s loo was a status symbol (a useful term for children to learn) and was called a Close Stool – the forerunner to the Commodes used by 18th and 19th century posh folk (see Weird History Number 2).  A lid would “close” and open to reveal a toilet seat and a pot beneath.

Henry’s Close Stool (still seen at Hampton Court Palace) could have been mistaken for a throne.  Though it had no back rest, the toilet seat under the lid was padded and covered in velvet, embroidered and beaded.

Henry’s Tudor Bidet

We’re joking, Henry didn’t have a bidet.  He didn’t need one!  Instead he had a human bidet, a man known as the “Groom of the Stool”.  This poor fellow (although it was considered an honour at the time) was responsible for wiping Henry’s “nether end” (bottom).  It was his duty to be ever available with line to wipe, water to wash and a towel to dry the Royal backside whenever called upon to do so.

Further Activities

  1. Introduce Tudor terms such as “Groom of the Stool” and “nether regions”.  Refer to family members who spend too long on the toilet as wannabe Kings Henrys. 
  2. Google Hampton Court Palace
  3. If at all possible visit Hampton Court Palace 

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  1. Posted November 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    This was in need of a rewrite ages ago but still haven’t had time. One day, eh?

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