As research for something I’m writing, I recently re-read Aldous Huxley’s book The Devils of Loudun (1952), which is a very thorough, sardonic account of the 1630s outbreak of mass nymphomaniac diabolical hysteria instigated by a bunch of “possessed” nuns to get back at an unpopular local clergyman. I hate it when that happens. Nowadays the book is primarily known as the source material for Ken Russell’s salacious 1970s nunsploitation version with Oliver Reed, The Devils. Why this pertains to what I’m writing is not important to relate right now, but among the excellent background material about France in the 17th century is the following section about the general filthiness of things:
“The most grotesque of avoidable mishaps would mar the most solemn occasions. Consider, for example, the case of La Grande Mademoiselle*, that pathetic figure of fun who was Louis XIV’s first cousin. After death, according to the curious custom of the time, her body was dissected and buried piecemeal– here the head and there a limb or two, here the heart and there the entrails. These last were so badly embalmed that, even after treatment, they went on fermenting. The gases of putrefaction accumulated and the porphyry urn containing the viscera became a kind of anatomic bomb, which suddenly exploded, in the middle of the funeral service, to the horror and dismay of all present.”
* Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier (1627-1693) wrote a self-pitying memoir (with appalling grammar and spelling) in which she complained that being rich didn’t make her happy. When she died childless and unmarried she left one of the largest inheritances of any woman in recorded history.