What is a Bourdaloue?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bourdaloue is a type of a chamberpot, supposedly named for Louis Bourdaloue, a famous 17th century priest; the story goes that his sermons were so long that listeners would need to bring along a chamberpot to get through them. As delightfully juvenile as this story is, the origins of the bourdaloue are probably much more mundane. Numerous examples of antique bourdaloues can be seen on display in museums, and it is also possible to buy modern versions, for people who might have need of a chamberpot.

Louis Bourdaloue, a famous 17th century priest, was said to give sermons that were so long, listeners needed to bring along a chamberpot to get through them.
Louis Bourdaloue, a famous 17th century priest, was said to give sermons that were so long, listeners needed to bring along a chamberpot to get through them.

The design of the bourdaloue is extremely unique. This chamberpot is designed for the use of women, having an oval shape with a lip at one end and a handle at the other. The design allows women to use the bourdaloue while standing or squatting, rather than forcing them to sit. It is most likely that the bourdaloue was designed for traveling, allowing women to attend to their biological needs without disturbing their voluminous skirts.

Because the bourdaloue was designed for women, many antique varieties are quite beautiful. Most are made from porcelain, but many are gilded, and a variety of scenes may be depicted both inside and outside the chamberpot. Many bourdaloues were quite small, making them easy to pack along on long trips and facilitating discreet use.

You may also hear the bourdaloue referred to as a coach pot or traveling chamberpot, a reference to the uses it was likely developed for. This chamberpot may have acquired the name “bourdaloue” in jest, in a reference to the priest's famous sermons, or the name may be a reference to the fact that women traveled long distances and were willing to wait for hours to get a seat in one of Bourdaloue's lectures.

The chamberpot has been heavily displaced in many regions of the world by the toilet, which is viewed as much easier and more pleasant to use. There are still some areas where chamberpots are used, however, and even in areas with toilets, a chamberpot can be useful, especially in a large, drafty house with one remote toilet, or on camping trips. For camping trips especially, a bourdaloue can be immensely useful, since women can use it standing up and dump the contents in a designated place.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Every Scottish school child learns the word 'loo' is derived from the French word for 'water'. In Medieval times it was common practice to empty the contents of chamber pots out the window onto the streets below. This would be accompanied with the warning shout “gardy-loo!” a corruption of the French phrase “garde a l’eau!” (“watch out for the water!”).


My uncle has a fine cobalt blue bourdaloue decorated outside and in, here in Poland. I think its circa 1750.


where may I buy a Bourdaloue?


Also wondered about possible connection to the term loo. Anyone got info to research this?


Is it possible that the term "The Loo" has originated from the "Bourdaloue" personal potty that was made for ladies to relieve themselves during the very long sermons by Father Bourdaloue.

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