Friday, November 26, 2010

King's anus

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that many generations of French kids have been inspired by charming tales about the anus of Louis XIV [1638-1715]… but it's almost true.

All the monarch's bodily functions such as urination and defecation were analyzed assiduously at close range by a privileged group of male and female members of the royal court, invited into his bedchamber, because it was generally considered that these banal activities were an essential dimension of the king's overall existence and well-being. And who would deny that?

Last Wednesday evening, the excellent TV series on French history and heritage named Les racines et les ailes [Roots and wings] talked at length about the health problems that beset the great monarch. His most serious disorder was an anal fistula, in 1686, when surgery as we know it today did not yet exist. [I'll let you use Google to access descriptions and color images of this painful affliction.] A brilliant young physician, Charles-François Félix, invented an ingenious instrument that enabled him to perform a successful surgical operation upon the monarch's rear end. Since then, if this medical act has been revered in French history, it's because it marked the turning point at which the middle-aged monarch was truly transformed into the resplendent personage to be known, from then on, as the Sun King. Besides, it's not hard to imagine why it might have been difficult at times for the king, before this operation, to adopt majestic airs and strut around in a relaxed regal manner.

For a long time, I've been aware of the basic facts that I've just described. But the rest of Wednesday evening's story on French TV was totally new information. A curator of the museum at the faculty of medicine where the above-mentioned surgical instrument was housed informed us that a French Baroque composer—probably either Jean-Baptiste Lully or Marc-Antoine Charpentier—promptly wrote a Te Deum to thank God for the monarch's spectacular recovery from his anal fistula, and that the theme of this hymn of praise was Dieu Sauve le Roi, which translates into English as God Save the King. And here is a rendition of that French hymn dedicated to Louis XIV (it's lengthy and boring, so stop it after you've heard a few bars):

Apparently, when this hymn was first performed in front of the Sun King, sung by a choir of nuns, it was overheard by an English visitor, who copied down the music and the theme of the lyrics, took them back to his homeland on the other side of the English Channel, and offered them to his monarch: one of the early Hanoverian Georges. In other words, you can forget what we were told at school about the creation of God Save the King in the middle of the 18th century. Our dear English national anthem would appear to be nothing more than a remake of French vocal music composed in the 17th century to celebrate a surgical intervention on the asshole of Louis XIV! Now, this explanation relayed by national French TV may or may not be true. Some experts claim that it's a hoax story perpetrated by a French forger who published the fake memoirs of the Marquise de Créquy.

Be that as it may, while investigating this strange affair over the last 24 hours or so, I've unearthed an astonishing fact. But, in order to fully understand what I'm about to reveal, I urge you to do what I suggested a moment ago: use Google to display a few really ugly photos of anal fistulas. If you do this, you'll understand what I mean when I say that the infected backside of the king Louis XIV in 1686 presented a horrible vision that can be described in medical Latin as an anus horribilis. Now, let us jump forward to the great fire at Windsor Castle in 1992.

It goes without saying that our gracious queen Elizabeth II has a vast and profound grasp of all aspects of the history of European royalty. Aware of the French origins of God Save the Queen, she knows the gruesome details of the painful abscess on the butt of Louis XIV, and she has no doubt had an opportunity of examining photos of anal fistulas. So, when she looked back upon the terrible fire at Windsor, it was not unusual that her words should evoke the ugly image of the suffering French monarch: "1992 is not a year I shall look back on with undiluted pleasure. It has turned out to be an anus horribilis." She was simply using the royal metaphor of the Sun King's nasty affliction to say that 1992 had been an ugly asshole year. Unfortunately, a member of the queen's cabinet, considering that her language was a little too colorful, changed the official press dispatches (by inserting an extra 'n' in 'anus', transforming it into the Latin word for 'year') so that it looked as if the queen wasn't even referring to the horrible asshole of her royal forerunner in France. Apparently Elizabeth II was furious when she learned that she had been censored. I'll let you guess the expression she used to describe the chap who did the censoring.


  1. Good Grief William! I tuned in for some light refreshment with the French touch and get Anal Fistulas. You may have to put a PG warning on your Blog!

  2. I sympathize with you, in that I often get trapped by this kind of a situation when I happen to eat lunch a little later than usual of a weekend, while watching the start of the afternoon programs on TV. They wait until the end of the normal lunch break before airing all the publicity for lovely little pads that soak up blood and urine, deodorants that work wonders on sweaty armpits, horse medicine that unclogs constipated entrails as if they were drainpipes, etc.