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  • Not the Shawl, Josephine! March 24, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    josephine the empress

    This is a chamber pot story, one which Beach stumbled upon during his recent research into chamber pot enemies. We are in France in the theatre at Saint-Cloud and during the first act, Napoleon’s wife, the Empress Josephine ‘was seized with an uncontrollable desire to make water’. This comes from an edition in 1896 and Beach is a little surprised that this story was seen as being permissible in high Victorian England, memories of those outrageous Victorian mermaids. This was, after all the period, when sexual acts in translated medieval penitentials were left in Latin.

    Unfortunately [a chamber pot] could not be found, and a messenger had to be sent to fetch one from the château. At last the Empress could wait no longer. She herself requested the chamberlains to withdraw, and bade her ladies stand round her in a circle, in case of being surprised. Then putting her cashmere shawl on the parquet floor, she used that instead of the missing chamber-pot. The Empress and Queen Hortense were of course both much inclined to laugh; in fact, the incident provoked loud bursts of merriment among the circle of Court ladies. This hilarity had almost subsided, when all at once it broke out anew, and reached such a pitch that the Emperor, who, from his box, heard the giggling, and afraid it might make the audience notice it, sent an equerry to say ‘Hush!’ The Empress found great difficulty in stifling her laughter, and it was a good half-hour before she was sufficiently composed to re-appear in the box.

    The story gets, if anything, worse.

    The reason for the ladies’ second laughing-bout was the following. After the Empress had put her shawl to this singular use, the chamberlains came back into the little room again, and one of them. Monsieur de B., picked up the precious wrap. Finding it in such a pitiably moist state, he did not deem it worthy to clothe the shoulders of his august mistress, so he put it, all wet as it was, into his pocket, intending to make a present of it to the Countess, his wife.

    If you are thinking that this is a sorry and vulgar story and not really worth putting on a serious (ahem) history site, don’t worry. There is some social history at the end that we can all salve our conscience with.

    The ladies-in-waiting were much chagrined at this [the chamberlain taking the wet rag], as the shawl belonged to them by right.

    Now that sentence begs for a footnote.

    Other chamber pot stories: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com