John Harrington, 1561-1612 : Toilet Humor

Treason doth never prosper. What’s the reason?
If treason prosper, none dare call it treason

Old joke, and a good one.  The other night we were trying to remember whose it was.  Too light hearted for Milton.  Too old timey for Dr. Johnson.  Not quite good enough for Shakespeare, but about that period.

It was John Harrington.

He was one of your basic old Etonians who went on to Cambridge. He was also the godson of Elizabeth I, which connection helped him get a minor place at court.  He was witty, or close enough for courtly work.   Seemed to have a taste for dirty jokes.  They must have been utterly filthy – the story is they got him exiled to Kelston, near Bath.*  Well, the jokes, and the stuff insulting the government in general

It’s a rare courtier who doesn’t yearn to be back in the rulers good graces.  Poetry wasn’t going to do it.  Perhaps if he came up with some kind of invention.  Something useful.  Something everyone needs.

He pulled it off, too.  He invented the Ajax.

Aka Jakes.

Aka WC.

Elizabeth got over her upsettedness.  She gave it a test run and ordered one for herself.

He did a bit of soldiering in Ireland (earning him a knighthood), and was unable to make the transition to the court of King James when the old queen died.   No info on how the new monarch felt about the toilet.

The question is, why did it take another two hundred years to get us to Alexander Cummings and Thomas Crapper.

People like the old ways, it seems.

* I have to wonder if there’s someone at the Kohler fixtures company who had a sense of humor in creating the Kelston line.


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