Queen Elizabeth I and Halitosis

The Past was a very smelly place. I’m quite sure that we would all just about fall over should we have to return to a time of tanneries along rivers, open sewers, horse-powered transport, rushes as carpet into which you would throw your leftovers, and people not overly fond of taking a bath. Having said this, I am still horrified to have discovered that Queen Elizabeth I – that beautiful, iconic Virgin Queen with bejewelled ruffles – had chronic halitosis.

English: The "Darnley Portrait" of E...

Not only did Good Queen Bess have very bad breath, but she was given very bad medical advice to deal with it; her doctor at the time suggested that she eat sweets to sweeten her breath. The sugared remedies obviously rotted her teeth further and led to further odiferous complaint, which led to more sweets, which eventually left the great beauty toothless.

For court appearances late in her life, she stuffed her cheeks with cotton to flesh them out, which were sunken and gaunt as a result of having no teeth.

(In connection with bad medical advice and nothing else here, William Pitt the Younger, English Prime minister at the time of the Napoleonic Wars was advised to drink A BOTTLE of port a day as a health tonic. Obviously not a man to pass up good advice when he heard it, he increased this dose to three bottles. He was so regularly drunk in the House of Commons that he was quite able, on one occasion, to excuse himself for a minute to vomit behind the Speaker’s chair before resuming his speech!)

Now, I’m not sure why I am so disturbed by the fact that Elizabeth might have cotton stuffed in her cheeks in the portrait above, but I am. It’s like discovering the truth about Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy. It’s like discovering that Kim Kardashian’s backside is a grown-up and wrong-side up equivalent of socks in bras; that Brad Pitt’s Fight Club abs were airbrushed on.

Actually, I don’t care about either of the latter.

I care though that Queen Victoria, that beacon of dour Victorian prudence, was actually rather saucy. She and Albert regularly exchanged erotic art. The picture below was her birthday gift to Albert in 1852. There are rumours that she had a secret tattoo. She denied ever having said, “We are not amused”. She does not deserve to have Victorian morals named for her.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s “Florinda”

I’m sure I should be heartened that there were real people behind historical facades; that people aren’t always what they seem. Perhaps I should use them to excuse my giant forehead and bitten finger nails. I am not heartened, though. I can’t help but wish the fairy tales were true.

“Once upon a time, the good queen who was beautiful beyond compare, charmed all the princes with her fierce wit and her blackened incisors.”

Oh, it’s just not right at all. What a crushing disappointment! I fear if I don’t rush off this minute, I will infect you all with my rainy-day mood. A little Much Ado About Nothing before I do though:

Benedick: “Only foul words; and thereupon I will kiss thee.”
Beatrice: “Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome; therefore I will depart unkissed.”
~William Shakespeare

14 thoughts on “Queen Elizabeth I and Halitosis

  1. My mental image of Queen Elizabeth I is a combination of the way she is portrayed in the television shows Blackadder and Horrible Histories. Not really a romantic version of her at all! Funny, but not very queeny…

    • I must watch the Blackadders again. I haven’t seen them for years. Rowan Atkinson in Mr Bean is about as far away from entertainment as I can imagine; I just don’t get him and he sets my teeth on edge, but Blackadder is such fun!

      • I liked the original Mr. Bean series, but didn’t like the movie at all, too long and painfully dragged out. 😦 Blackadder though, I just loved every series. Baldrick’s saying, “I have a cunning plan….” is still used in our house!

        Horrible Histories obviously sticks in the kids brains (it is a kids show just in case you don’t get it there). When I opened your blog number 2 son was sitting next to me and immediately said “Is that about Queen Elizabeth?” Warms my heart! 🙂

  2. All I can say is, “Feet of clay, run awaaaaaay!” I, too, feel disheartened. I guess I just like my romanticized version better. But it IS interesting to learn this stuff, even if you don’t really want to accept it. Like looking at a car wreck. You can’t help yourself. (And I agree whole-heartedly about Mr. Bean.)

  3. I love your blog, your husband’s blog, your cleverly named wares, and history. I also love Mr. Bean. Nobody’s perfect.

    • Thanks for stopping by Tam. In my book, odd is generally better when it comes to Oumas as well as lovers! I’m not sure about Queen Victoria’s lovers. She was so devoted to Albert. If you read my post Shoes Glorious Shoes, there is an passage from her diary on the night of her wedding. Such lovely love!

  4. Pingback: Happy 480th Birthday, Big Chief Elizabeth (almost) | tracyloveshistory

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