that time in pre-Revolutionary France where bleeding from your anus was a fashion statement

No, really.

I’ve told this story before, but it never fails to amuse me. Strap in, boys and girls: it’s time to learn about that time in pre-Revolutionary France where bleeding from your anus was a fashion statement.

In early 1685, King Louis XIV of France developed a fistula: a small channel near his anus, resulting in great pain. Fistulas, much like the Wu Tang Clan, ain’t nothin’ to fuck with. Eventually the pain got so bad that he couldn’t ride a horse, sit for long periods (which is kind of important when you’re a king) or even make a bowel movement without regretting it immensely. The normal remedies were applied; enemas and poultices from morning until night, with zero effect. Louis decided, ‘You know what? Fuck it. Let’s go down the surgical route.’

Unfortunately for Louis, at the time there was no surgical route. He hired a surgeon barber named Charles-François Felix and asked him to fix him. Not entirely stupid — and not willing to risk fucking up a novel surgery on the king of France — Felix requested six months to practice, which he did on prisoners. Live prisoners. Live, healthy prisoners — sometimes as many as four a week, in an era where antiseptics and anaesthetics didn’t exist. The success rates were about as you’d imagine — although at least some of the prisoners survived — and eventually Felix felt confident enough to perform the surgery on the king.

And it worked! Within three months, the king was riding his horse like nothing had happened, and Felix was the talk of the town. People were desperate to emulate the king so badly that people who were entirely healthy would pay Felix to perform the surgery on them, and those less willing to suffer (or at least, less willing to pay) would fake having the surgery, wearing bandages known as le royale to mimic the king and pretend that they too were cool and with it… even though ‘with it’ meant suffering from a painful condition of the anus.

Putting the ‘colon’ back in ‘colonialism’…

“instrument used for injecting tobacco-smoke into the anus of drowned persons, with a view to excite the irritability of the muscles”


Curtis, Thomas, ed. (1839). London Encyclopaedia or, Universal Dictionary of Science, Art, Literature, and Practical Mechanics, Comprising a Popular View of the Present State of Knowledge, Vol. IX: F to GARTER. Thomas Tegg. p. 676.