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Is Bathing an Important Part of the Royal Routine?

It might be good to be the king, but if you lived before the days of indoor plumbing, it wouldn't have been pleasant to stand particularly close to the king -- or the queen, for that matter. Despite their prestige, riches, and fancy surroundings, some well-known royals tended to skip an important part of the daily routine: bathing.

England's Queen Elizabeth I, for example, famously stated that she took a bath once a month "whether she needed it or no." James I, the king who succeeded her, hated washing himself, and he didn't even clean his hands before eating. And it wasn't just the British who balked at bathing. In Spain, Queen Isabella I reportedly had a bath only twice in her life: at birth and just before marrying.

Of course, it's important to remember that daily showers have been the norm for only a relatively short time, at least in part because sanitation systems were not invented until the late 19th century. In the old days, if someone wanted a hot bath, an empty tub would have to be dragged into a room and the water heated up one bucketful at a time. The bather would then have to do his or her best to get clean before the water cooled off.

Royal weirdness:

  • Queen Elizabeth I ordered gingerbread effigies made of foreign dignitaries who came to her residence.
  • King James I had an elephant as a pet; he kept it in St. James's Park and gave it a gallon of wine every day in winter.
  • Speaking of bathing habits, Mary, Queen of Scots allegedly enjoyed washing herself in white wine because she believed it kept her complexion nice and bright.
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