Catherine de Medici’s hairpin found in palace toilet

Catherine de Medici hairpinConservators have discovered a four-inch gold hairpin that once belonged to Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II and Queen of France from 1547 until his death in 1559, in a communal latrine at Fontainebleau Palace. Archaeologists were excavating the Henry IV courtyard at the royal palace outside of Paris in preparation for an upcoming restoration project when they found the precious object.

Catherine's monogram before cleaningThe pin is identifiable as Catherine’s because it is decorated with a pair of interlocking C’s that look exactly like the Chanel logo but are actually her monogram from when she was Dauphine of France, i.e., married to the heir presumptive, between 1536 and 1547. When Fontainebleau Palace conservator Vincent Droguet cleaned the encrusted grime off the jewel, he noticed the remnants of a white and green finish in the monogram area. White and green were Catherine’s colors.

Catherine de MediciThis small pin is of outsized historical significance because very little of Catherine de Medici’s jewelry has survived, especially jewels from before she was widowed. Other than what we see in portraits, there are only two jewels known to have belonged to Catherine extant. One is a gold and emerald pendant currently on display in a cabinet of medals in the National Library in Paris. The other is a portrait miniature medallion currently in Vienna. Neither of them have her characteristic monogram design.

The latrine itself was a surprise discovery as well. In 2013, the interior of the Henry IV section will be converted into offices for the tourism bureau of Seine-et-Marne (a French administrative division within the center-north region of Île-de-France). The adjacent courtyard was excavated to ensure they wouldn’t be damaging or disturbing archaeological remains during construction. They expected to find the remains of two long-gone buildings and so they did. They did not expect to find a third building containing the remains of a communal latrine. In the cesspit below, they found ceramics, glassware and three jewels: a cross, a gold Virgin Mary medal, and Catherine de Medici’s hairpin.

How it got there is and will doubtless remain a mystery. She had a royal commode of her own and it’s highly unlikely she would have used a communal latrine even under the direst of excretory pressure. Droguet surmises that the pin was either stolen by or given away to someone who then lost it or dropped it in the toilet.


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Comment by D. B. Cooper
2012-06-20 02:39:14

I can imagine dropping that. It would anger me in an unimaginable way.

Comment by livius drusus
2012-06-20 15:47:23

What’s worse than looking for a needle in a haystack? Looking for a hairpin in a sewer.

Comment by Hels
2012-06-20 06:58:24

It is comforting to know that even in important palaces and even with royal families, objects got misplaced or nicked. Fontainebleau was so big, I suppose royals, nobles and squill ions of staff wouldn’t have known where to look for tiny objects.

Well done, conservators.

Comment by livius drusus
2012-06-20 15:45:15

They certainly wouldn’t look through the cesspits, although I wouldn’t be surprised if someone actually had that job.

Comment by Android
2012-06-20 15:45:52

I can almost imagine what words were said as the pin dropped. Words also related to an outhouse.

Comment by livius drusus
2012-06-20 15:51:38


Comment by Mr. Murphy in VA
2012-06-20 16:05:11

Think about it. What would you have to be doing in order to loose a HAIRPIN in a cesspool? I doubt that this was the place to go when you had an upset tummy.

Think about this, too. Imagine the consequences of being discovered with the pin, especially in that day and age, regardless of how it actually came into your possession by–theft or discovery. Tossing it into a communal latrine would guarantee that it would not be discovered anytime soon. I rather image all of the culprits are safely gone by now. I rest my case for why it wasn’t found until now.

But then again, think about being the archeologist who was “lucky” enough to find it. Even it it had gone back to “dirt”… what a job!

Comment by livius drusus
2012-06-20 21:35:55

So you’re thinking it was a classic “flush the evidence of your crime before the cops bust in” situation? Makes sense to me.

Comment by Ambrosius
2012-06-20 23:06:51

Perhaps she did lose it on/in her own commode which would have had to have been emptied somewhere and the communal cess pit seems an obvious place. She may never have known exactly how the hairpin was misplaced so no one went looking in the cess pit.

@livius drusus….yes people did have the job of cleaning out cesspits, they were called ‘gong-screwers’ in Tudor England, they not only cleaned them out but repaired them. Cesspits were usually lined in stone, like wells and often needed maintenance so they wouldn’t pollute the water level. There are a good many legal documents from Tudor England that refer to cases involving people who didn’t keep their cesspits in good order.

Comment by noisome
2012-06-22 12:37:19

Are we sure this isn’t a toothpick?

Comment by livius drusus
2012-06-22 17:27:52

It’s a little thick at the business end for a toothpick, but you never know.

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2015-02-15 00:16:43

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