Originally published as "15 Famously Filthy People From the Pages of History" at:
but no longer there.
Even though the rules of hygiene were extremely relaxed during some periods of history, the following 15 people – royalty, actresses, philosophers, and more – became known not only for their accomplishments but also their disastrous hygiene.
1. Benedict of Aniane
Saint Joseph once preached, “He who has bathed in Christ has no need for a second bath.” Early Christians took this literally and never bathed. Benedict was an odd monk that spent most of his life in rags, rarely eating, and speaking only in awkward outcries. He was canonized for saving monasticism in the 8th century, through which he spread the idea that bathing was a vanity that facilitated sins of the flesh. This meme stuck with Christians until the 18th century.
2. Henry IV of France
One of the most popular French kings, Henry tried to provide his citizens with a “chicken in the pot every Sunday.” Even though he believed in changing his shirt every morning, a rarity in 16th century France, he also loved hunting and refused to bathe or mask his odor with cologne afterwards. His mistress often told him he smelled like carrion. His second wife fainted from his stench the first time she met him and doused herself with perfume just to have sex with him on their wedding night.
3. Miyamoto Musashi
The Japanese have a long history of promoting hygiene, but Musashi was a different story. He spent most of the 17th century wandering Japan as a vagabond warrior, sword fighting anyone he ran across. His fighting style involved wielding two swords above above his head and was so complicated that none of his pupils ever mastered it. He never married, cut his hair, or bathed unless he was visiting a feudal lord because he did not want to be caught unprepared. Besides, there were better things to do like sword fighting.
4. Louis XIV of France
During the 72 year reign of Louis, France established an absolute monarchy, Versailles was built, and The Sun King waged war with everyone. Possibly hydrophobic, he refused to bathe unless his doctors forced him to and took two, possibly three, baths his entire life. He preferred to be dusted with scented powder and washed his face with a rag soaked in alcohol. Louis refused surgery on a gangrenous foot, leading to his death, and would lose chunks of it around Versailles.
5. Frederick II of Prussia
Frederick transformed Prussia from a European backwater to a world powerhouse, and then spent the rest of his life shuffling around Sanssouci with a pack of Italian greyhounds, berating anyone that cleaned up the ankle-deep dog shit. Possibly insane, he started refusing to bathe and stopped changing his clothes for years. When he died, in 1786, the shirt on his back was so rotten with sweat that his valet used one of his own to bury the king.
6. Charles Howard
A staunch opponent of George III, the 11th Duke of Norfolk rebuilt and refurbished Arundel Castle. In a time when bathing was starting to gain acceptance, he never took a voluntary bath his entire life and became known as the “Dirty Duke” as a result. His valets would trick him into it by getting him drunk and then scrubbing him down. He once complained to Dudley North that he had tried everything to cure his rheumatism. North quipped, “Pray, my lord, did you ever try a clean shirt?”
7. Ludwig van Beethoven
Influenced by the Enlightenment, a deaf Beethoven pushed Romantic music to the forefront in the 18th century. His refusal to bathe stemmed from the constant pain of lead poisoning. It also made him extremely crabby at concerts, he commonly threw things at people talking during his concerts. A speech impediment made it hard to understand Beethoven and often resulted in violent tirades if he was asked to repeat himself. The few friends he had would sneak away his clothes to wash while he slept.
8. Karl Marx
As the mind behind Communism, Marx wanted the working class to rise up but instead helped totalitarian regimes justify their existence. He suffered from pus leaking carbuncles and boils that were worsened by chain smoking, heavy drinking, and belief that cleanliness was a bourgeoisie excess. Marx took pride in pages of the original manuscript of Das Kapital that were splattered with blood from his lanced boils, claiming that it proved he understood the plight of the proletariat.
9. Henrietta Green
With an estimated net worth of $3.8 billion, Green became one of the richest women in history through her extreme frugality. She avoided surgery on a hernia because it cost $150, ignored her son’s broken leg until it had to be amputated, and tried to swindle a dying aunt out of money. The few times she bathed, she did so without hot water and soap, and she spent her entire life in a series of black dresses that she wore until they wore out. In her later years she became extremely paranoid and died while arguing about skim milk.
10. Diego Rivera
A famous Mexican muralist, Rivera helped bring art to the common Mexican by kick-starting the Mexican Mural Renaissance. He was also briefly married to Frida Kahlo and became famous for his constant cheating. Incredibly obese, often ballooning beyond 300 pounds, and avoided bathing (possibly because he didn’t see the point of if he could meet women without it). When one of his wives, Lupe Marin, met him for the first time she asked, “Is this the great Diego Rivera? He looks horrible to me.”
11. Chairman Mao Zedong
Mao’s harsh socio-political programs killed millions of his countrymen but helped turn China into a world power. He never brushed his teeth or bathed his entire reign. Instead, concubines were forced to scrub his body with damp towels while be chewed tea leaves to clean his teeth. When offered a toothbrush by one of his physicians, Mao refused on the grounds that tigers didn’t brush their teeth either. You can’t argue with that logic.
12. Geoffrey Pyke
A British spy during WWII and an innovator, Pyke is best known for developing pykrete, a type of ice that is extremely slow to melt. He wanted to use this material to build a fleet of ships that were impervious to U-Boat attacks. A typical boffin, he abhorred wearing socks and usually presented himself in a rarely washed suit. Pyke also hated bathing, rarely shaved, and avoided cutting his hair. Conversations with Pyke were just as wild as his appearance, as he often launching into extremely technical diatribes when questioned.
13. Howard Hughes
Hughes transformed from a polished, handsome aviator and movie producer to a 90 pound skeleton that only trusted Mormons. It started in 1957, when he locked himself in a studio with milk, chocolate, and Kleenex to watch movies completely naked. Upon emerging, he refused to bathe and trimmed his hair and nails only once a year. He became a recluse, living in Las Vegas and the Bahamas, and was so unidentifiable when he died that police had to use his fingerprints to make sure it was actually Hughes.
14. Ernesto Guevara
The Argentine revolutionary, Che Guevara helped Fidel Castro bring Communism to Cuba. He loved rugby, cigars, and Rolexes, but hated bathing his entire life. As a child he was called “Chancho”, pig, by friends and took pride in wearing the same shirt for a whole week. He kept this trend going through most of his life, rarely bothering to bathe or change out of his olive green fatigues. He became one of the most famous t-shirts in history after he died.
15. Marilyn Monroe
Considered an example of the feminine ideal, Monroe went through a long string of lovers that included Joe DiMaggio and John F. Kennedy. But according to a Clark Gable biography, Gable described her as extremely dirty, and not in the sexual sense. According to Gable she suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, rarely bathed, and ate exclusively in bed – shoving what was left under her bed.