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 were very limited in the 18th century, so here is how they solved the problem!

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!

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
Sevres – 1757-58 Courtesy of LotPrivé.com
Tin-enameled earthenware Met museum
Tin-enamelled 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.


Belle Assemblée: Or, Court and Fashionable Magazine 1823