When Anal Fistulas Were All The Rage
In the 17th century, walking like you had an infected rectum was so hot.
Kings have been always been trendsetters. Alexander the Great brought Persian garb into vogue among Macedonians. King Henry VIII of England popularized beheadings and the phrase “Your Majesty.” Louis XIV, who ruled France from 1638–1718 (yep, 72 years!) brought haute couture fashion to France — and was also pretty much single-handedly responsible for making anal fistulas stylish.
The French monarch was at the height of his reign in 1685 when his butthole started to hurt. Within a year, the pain had become so great he was unable to sit down comfortably. His poops grew more agonizing with each passing day; no amount of profusely-slathered apothecary lotions provided relief.
There were a couple of other things that, I would wager, didn’t help the situation: Louis’s aversion to bathing (he’s said to have bathed just twice in his entire life) and “constant treatments [to his leaky butthole] with a red-hot iron.”
Anyway, after months of uncertainty and tortuous attempts to make his sphincter feel better, Louis was diagnosed with an anal fistula. An anal fistula is an infected tunnel or cavity between the anus and the skin. If you feel like cringing, check out its Google Image page.
Enter the Hero of our Story: Charles-Francois Felix. Felix is best described as a barber-surgeon: see, back in those days, physicians didn’t cut into people — anything involving slicing was the sole domain of barbers. Cutting hair was basically the same as cutting open a human — or so the logic went.
Thus, Felix was brought on to cure the Sun King of this rather dark problem.
Felix agreed to perform the operation, but only if he was given 6 months to custom-build the proper instruments (see below) and to find enough poor souls (up to 75, by some accounts) to practice on as guinea pigs.
Here’s one his custom-designed medical instruments (you can see another at the top of this article):
At last Felix was ready to operate on Louis XIV. His surgery lasted about 3 hours — and was a success: On Nov. 18, 1686, His Royal Majesty emerged from the operating room fistula-free. He was walking well within days, and a few months later he was back in the saddle, literally.
All of France was celebrating! The royal courts were ecstatic! Courtiers were so stoked, they declared 1686 L’anne de la Fistule (“The Year of the Fistula”) as everyone at Versailles began sashaying around with their butts in a swaddle — fistula-afflicted or not.
Whether this was due to raging sycophancy at Versailles or a testament to Louis’ trend-setting acumen is a question that may forever go unanswered.
There were two other positive side effects of Louis’s fistula operation.
The first was that Felix successfully convinced Louis to elevate surgical medicine to a prestigious new level at lightning speed. France soon became known for having outstanding surgeons; people traveled from all over the world to have operations in Paris.
The second unexpected side effect of Louis the Great’s surgery was that — unbeknownst to anyone at the time — it served as the inspiration for the British national anthem.
Here’s how: People in France were nervous about their king undergoing an anal surgery. What if something went wrong? Who would rule France if Louis perished under the retractor’s cruel tongs? To give courage to the people of France during this trying time, a headmistress of a school for girls near Versailles wrote an inspiring song, which later became known as “God Save The King.”
About 30 years later, a certain German composer you may have heard of — George Frideric Handel, anyone? — was passing through Paris when he heard the enchanting tune. Handel enjoyed it so much that when he returned to the UK (where he was living at the time) he had it translated (really, plagiarized) into English and repurposed for the Queen.
So to sum up: Louis XIV’s butthole inspired the British National Anthem and popularized surgical medicine. So now you know who to thank the next time someone you love regains their health due to surgery: a 17th century royal anal fistula.