The Anal Fistula of King Louis XIV,
In 1685, King Louis XIV of France began to feel a terrible pain from his royal bottom. Court physicians closely attended the King, prescribing a variety of poultices and lavaments (herbal enemas) to cure the problem. However, despite his physician’s best, the problem only got worse, making it difficult for the King to sit or mount a horse. What Louis XIV was suffering from was called an anal fistula. An anal fistula is a painful medical condition in which unnatural canals form between the anus and the rectum. Often these fistulas can become irritated, inflamed, infected, and even form a painful abscess. By the time the Sun King was looking for an alterative treatment, his fistula’s had abcessed.
None of his court physicians wanted to perform surgery on the King, back then surgery was considered beneath respected doctors. So Louis XIV turned to a renowned barber-surgeon named Charles Francois Felix. Felix had never performed rectal surgery before, so he agreed to do it on the condition that he be given 6 months to practice. Over those six months, Felix experimented on 75 prisoners before he was able to develop a reliable and proven technique through trial and error. During his experiments, he invented a new type of scalpel and a special retractor to hold the king’s rectum open as he performed the surgery.
Felix conducted the surgery on November 18th, 1686 while in attendance were his physicians, the Dauphin, his mistress, a priest, and his government ministers. With a practiced hand Felix was able to remove the abscess and close the fistulas. The King recovered in around a month. Because of the success of the surgery Felix became an overnight celebrity. Nobles and people of the court approached him on several occasions to have the same surgery on them, many of them dejected after learning that they had no anal fistulas. Others wore bandages around their bottoms in homage to the King and the surgery. After recovery Louis XIV rewarded Felix handsomely, giving an extremely large sum of money, an estate, and noble titles. Charles Francois Felix never performed surgery again, living out the rest of his life in luxury.