A 16th-Century Guide to Pooping at King Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace

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iStock

In King Henry VIII’s pleasure palace, Hampton Court, there was no escaping class—not even in the loo.

The King, of course, had a luxurious place to squat. According to the Hampton Court Palace website, he and other royals sat atop a padded chair "covered in sheepskin, black velvet, and ribbons" lofted above a pewter chamber pot. This toilet was private, located in a so-called "stool room" that was attended to by a high-ranking courtier known as the Groom of the Stool. It was a privileged, well-respected gig to handle the monarch's waste. (Apparently the groom would even take notes on the sovereign's movements. In 1539, Henry VIII's groom showed a flair for euphemism by writing that the King had taken laxatives and experienced "a very fair siege.")

Down a social peg, Henry VIII's highest-esteemed courtiers weren't nearly as coddled as their king, but they were still lucky enough to have their own private chambers—and, therefore, their own chamber pots. The same, however, could not be said for Hampton Court's many servants.

The smelly truth is that Hampton Court was not well-equipped to serve the bodily needs of hundreds of servants. During the king's boisterous banquets, busy servants regularly heeded nature's call by relieving themselves in hidden hallway corridors and on sizzling fireplaces. In the kitchen, the boys assigned to turning the spit were commonly found "interlarding their own grease to help the drippings." The walls reeked of urine so badly that, according to historian Lucy Worsley in her book If Walls Could Talk, "the palace management would have crosses chalked onto the walls in the hope that people would be reluctant to desecrate a religious symbol."

To fix the problem, King Henry VIII constructed a giant toilet block by the River Thames called the Great House of Easement. (The king was no slouch at deploying the occasional euphemism either.) The toilet had two levels and could seat 28 people at one time. As a common space, it had no stalls and no walls and greatly resembled the other public toilets in England, which were basically glorified benches with holes cut through them. (In London, there was an impressive 128-seater called Whittington's Longhouse, which was divided into two sections for men and women.)

The only thing arguably worse than using the Great House of Easement was cleaning it. The communal privy led to a tank that, after the King's festivities, had to be scrubbed by a group of king-appointed boys known as Gong Scourers. In 1995, Simon Thurley—then-curator of Historic Royal Palaces—told The Independent, "After the court had been here for four weeks, the brick chambers would fill head-high."

Cleaning your home's toilet doesn't seem like such a chore after all, does it?

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.