Esquire of the Body

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An Esquire of the Body was a personal attendant and courtier to the Kings of England in the late-medieval and early-modern periods.[a] The position also existed in some lesser courts, such as that of the Prince of Wales. The next grade up in the hierarchy of royal courtiers was the Knight of the Body.

History[edit]

Esquires in Ordinary of the King's Body, often abbreviated to Esquires of the Body, became a formal position and title in the English royal household.[1] The Liber Niger (the management manual of the English Royal Household from the reign of Edward IV through to the reign of Henry VIII) states that the Esquire of the Body should be "attendant upon the king's person, to array and unray him, and to watch day and night" to be ready to help the King because "no man else [is] to set hands on the king".[2] It was considered a great honour to be granted the position and because of the intimate and frequent access it gave to the king, though less than that of the Groom of the Stool, it was a position of considerable influence.[2] For example, while George Boleyn did dress Henry VIII and certainly had the King's ear,[2]

By the time of Henry VIII, the position holders were usually knights (who were entitled to the help of two esquires and a page boy), of which at least two would always be in attendance on the King.[1]

There were six such courtiers, with a barber and a page, to attend on the King in his bedchamber when he arose in the morning. They were responsible for dressing the King in his undergarments before he entered the privy chamber to finish dressing attended by the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. While the King ate two Esquires would sit at his feet while at least two served the food, and another served drink in a cup which had been handed to him by the Chief Butler, and others presented the ewer and basin. At other times the Esquires would be on hand to help the King with menial tasks such as carrying his cloak.[1]

During the night the duty Esquires of the Body had complete control of the King's household and combined in one office the functions which during the day were shared between the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Vice-Chamberlain, Gentlemen Ushers, and the Esquires of the Body. No night-time household business could be conducted and no dispatches could be delivered to the King without the permission of the duty Esquire.[1]

Eventually the position in the English royal household became more formal and did not primarily involve dressing and undressing the monarch. The function clearly needed to change in the case of a female monarch, for example the poet and dramatist John Lyly was appointed an honorary Esquire of the Body in the late 1580s to Queen Elizabeth I in recognition of his services to her as an entertainer. Ladies-in-waiting performed the intimate tasks for the Queen which the Esquires had done for her father.[3]

The position of Esquire of the Body also existed in some other courts, such as that of the Prince of Wales. For example Sir Robert Fullhurst served as an Esquire of the Body to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of King Henry VI.[4]

By the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, there were only four appointed Esquires of the Body. This number was reduced to two on the accession of King James II in 1685. The position was eliminated in the English royal household on the accession of Queen Anne in 1702.[5]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Also mentioned in some other sources as Esquire to the Body and Esquire for the Body
  1. ^ a b c d Norris 1997, pp. 164–165.
  2. ^ a b c Lerer 2006, pp. 107–108.
  3. ^ Tassi 2005, p. 96.
  4. ^ Mercer 2010, p. 69.
  5. ^ Bucholz 2005, p. 26.

References[edit]

  • Bucholz, Robert O. (2005), "The Public Rooms: Privy Chamber", Database of Court Officers, Loyola University, pp. 26–27, retrieved November 1, 2013 
  • Lerer, Seth (2006), Courtly Letters in the Age of Henry VIII: Literary Culture and the Arts of Deceit, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture 18, Cambridge University Press, pp. 107–108, ISBN 9780521035279 
  • Mercer, Malcolm (2010), The Medieval Gentry: Power, Leadership and Choice During the Wars of the Roses, Continuum, p. 69, ISBN 9781441190642 
  • Norris, Herbert (1997), Tudor Costume and Fashion (illustrated, reprint ed.), Courier Dover Publications, pp. 164–165, ISBN 9780486141510 
  • Tassi, Marguerite A. (2005), The Scandal of Images: Iconoclasm, Eroticism, and Painting in Early Modern English Drama (illustrated ed.), Susquehanna University Press, p. 96, ISBN 9781575910857 

Further reading[edit]