What was a Bourdaloue?

Ok, so we have finally lowered the tone of our blogs posts, but a question frequently asked is, ‘how on earth did women relieve themselves when wearing those enormous 18th century dresses’. Let’s face it when nature calls then there is little choice and public toilets did not exist in the 18th century, so here is how they solved the problem!

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Courtesy of The Rijksmuseum

Women of the 18th century didn’t wear knickers, they hadn’t been invented which may have been something of a blessing when you find out that hanging around at court for hours necessitated the need for women to relieve themselves where they stood. Today, when needs must we have a modern equivalent, the ‘she-wee’, and of course those Georgians were no different. Just prior to the Georgian era they did had the chamber pot, but that was not very practical to be used in public so they devised an object known as a ‘Bourdaloue’. Personally, we think that the Bourdaloue would have been more discreet to be honest.

Rumour was (as no proof seems to exist) that the name of the object evolved courtesy of a Jesuit priest, Louis Bourdaloue who gave such long speeches that could last for hours that ladies needed to relieve themselves.  Another school of thought is that they came about as a result of women not wishing to miss a second of his amazing sermons, either way, whether true or not the ‘Bourdaloue’ evolved.  Certainly he gave his name to part of a hat* which seems far more acceptable. It also seems feasible that the modern word ‘loo’ came from this term, but again we have no proof of this – maybe one of our readers would be able to assist with this?

It was a boat shaped vessel with a raised lip at one end and handle at the other, a bit like a gravy boat and the maid would be expected to carry this for her mistress and likewise empty it after use. If you didn’t have a maid then you dealt with this yourself. Apparently it was designed to be used standing up, possibly not that easy to use then!

So with that we thought we would take a look at a few – and yes, these really were used for that purpose. If you couldn’t afford a china version then tin and leather ones were available, although it’s doubtful that any of those survived!

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c1811. Courtesy of the Winterthur Museum
Courtesy of Langeloh Porcelain
Courtesy of Langeloh Porcelain
Bourdaloue Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco 1735-1745
Bourdaloue dated 1735-1745, courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Tin-glazed earthenware painted with in-glaze colours, enamels and gilding Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum
image1-169-sevres-bourdaloue-ovale-en-porcelaine-tendre-a-decor-en-1
Sevres – 1757-58 Courtesy of LotPrivé.com
Tin-enameled earthenware Met museum
Tin-enameled earthenware courtesy of the Metmuseum

And finally, courtesy of the artist François Boucher ‘La Toilette intime (Une Femme qui pisse)’ – we will make no comment as to why Boucher would have chosen to paint such an intimate scene.

Sources

Belle Assemblée: Or, Court and Fashionable Magazine 1823

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15 thoughts on “What was a Bourdaloue?

  1. I’ve been working on the assumption that “loo” stemmed from “gardez l’eau,” that old Parisian heads up warning for chamber pots being emptied from upper story windows into the streets. Maybe that’s complete fabulation, though.

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Hmm, your explanation of its origin seems equally as plausible, maybe someone out there will be able to help establish the truth once and for all 🙂

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  2. Actually, there were some places that had public toilets in the 18th Century. Vauxhall Gardens for instance had a (very) public rest room as can be seen in the satirical print “The Inside of the Lady’s Garden at Vauxhall”, 1788 by SW Fores, shown as an example in the article on Regency Hygiene: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/regency-hygiene-the-bourdaloue/
    And I love Boucher’s painting of the lady using her bourdaloue. Such intimate paintings help us better understand the times. 🙂 TY for sharing these wonderful images of such a useful and quite beautifully decorated, and most necessary, female receptacle! 🙂

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Thank you so much for your comments – we learn something new everyday, we hadn’t seen the Lady’s Garden at Vauxhall, definitely one to store for future reference 🙂

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  3. OK, so it seems like a reasonable answer to an un answered question about how women went to the bathroom while wearing such voluminous skirts. And, thanks to the artist we have proof. What I still can’t believe is that they hiked those skirts up in public. As my kids would say, “Really?”

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Thank you so much for your comment and yes, apparently they did hike their skirts up in public or perhaps they disappeared to a side room or similar. according to historian Lucy Worsley ‘Privacy is not essential, and the French ambassador’s wife annoys everyone with the “frequency and quantity of her pissing which she does not fail to do at least ten times a day amongst a cloud of witnesses”.’ 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Dealing with Toilets, or the Lack Thereof, in the Regency | ReginaJeffers's Blog

      1. Lol, it’s okay just to say ‘vulgar! If you are ever in Suffolk I’ll show you our garde de robe remnants, which would once have required you to hang your behind over the stream. We’ve also uncovered a doorway in the outside wall to what the architectural historian thinks would have been the entrance to a two storey wooden lavatory block. Your port-a-potties seem quite sophisticated by comparison. 🙂

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