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?

Why Are We So Scared of Clowns?

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

With the recent box office-smashing success of Stephen King's It, it’s safe to say that coulrophobia (fear of clowns) isn’t a fringe phenomenon. The colorful circus performers are right up there with vampires and werewolves on the list of iconic horror villains. But unlike other movie monsters, clowns were originally meant to make kids laugh, not hide under their beds in terror. So what is it about clowns that taps into our deepest fears?

According to Yale doctoral candidate Danielle Bainbridge, the unsettling clown stereotype goes back centuries. In the inaugural episode of the PBS digital series Origin of Everything, Bainbridge explained the long history of this pervasive part of our culture.

Before clowns wore floppy shoes and threw pies at each other’s faces, early versions of the performers could be found in royal courts. The court jester wasn’t evil, but he was the only person in the kingdom who could poke fun at the monarch without fear of (literally) losing his head. The fact that fools didn’t fall within the normal social hierarchy may have contributed to the future role clowns would play as untrustworthy outsiders.

From the medieval era, clowns evolved into the harlequins of 16th-century Italian theater. Again, these weren’t bloodthirsty monsters, but they weren’t exactly kid-friendly either. The characters were often mischievous and morally bankrupt, and their strange costumes and masks only added to the creepy vibes they gave off.

Fast-forward to the 19th century, when the white-faced circus clowns we know today started gaining popularity. Unlike the jesters and harlequins that came before them, these clowns performed primarily for children and maintained a wholesome image. But as pop culture in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s showed us, that old perception we had of clowns as nefarious troublemakers never really went away. Steven King’s It, the cult classic Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988), and that scene from Poltergeist (1982) all combined these original fears with the more modern association of clowns with children. That formula gave us one of the most frightening figures in horror media today.

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The Mongolian Princess Who Challenged Her Suitors to a Wrestling Match—and Always Won

iStock.com / SarahWouters1960
iStock.com / SarahWouters1960

In a lot of fairy tales, a disapproving father or a witch's curse stops the princess from finding Prince Charming. But things were a little different in 13th-century Mongolia. Any single lad, regardless of status or wealth, could marry the khan's daughter, Khutulun. There was just one caveat, which the princess herself decreed—you couldn't take her hand in marriage until you took her down in a wrestling match. If you lost, you had to give her a handful of prize horses.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. After all, this is the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan we're talking about!

Born around 1260, Khutulun was an intimidating presence. According to The Travels of Marco Polo, the princess was "so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess." She was also the picture of confidence. She had mastered archery and horsemanship in childhood and grew up to become a fearless warrior. Whenever her father, Kaidu—the leader of the Chagatai Khanate—went to battle, he usually turned to Khutulun (and not his 14 sons) for help.

Nothing scared her. Not only did Khutulun ride by her father's side into battle, she'd regularly charge headfirst into enemy lines to make "a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father," Marco Polo wrote. The 13th- and 14th-century historian Rashid al-Din was more direct, writing that she "often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds."

It's no surprise that Khutulun had suitors lining up and down the street asking for her hand in marriage. The princess, however, refused to marry any of them unless they managed to beat her in a wrestling match, stipulating that any loser would have to gift her anywhere between 10 to 100 horses.

Let's just put it this way: Khutulun came home with a lot of prize horses. (Some accounts say 10,000—enough to make even the emperor a little jealous.) As author Hannah Jewell writes in her book She Caused a Riot, "The Mongolian steppes were littered with the debris of shattered male egos."

On one occasion, a particularly confident suitor bet 1000 horses on a match. Khutulun's parents liked the fellow—they were itching to see their daughter get married—so they pulled the princess aside and asked her to throw the match. After carefully listening to her parents' advice, Khutulun entered the ring and, in Polo's words, "threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement." The 1000 horses became hers.

Khutulun would remain undefeated for life. According to legend, she eventually picked a husband on her own terms, settling for a man she never even wrestled. And centuries later, her story inspired François Pétis de La Croi to write the tale of Turandot, which eventually became a famed opera by the composer Giacomo Puccini. (Though the opera fudges the facts: The intrepid princess defeats her suitors with riddles, not powerslams.)

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