Groom of the Chamber
Groom of the Chamber and Groom of the Privy Chamber were positions in the Royal Household of the English monarchy, the latter considerably more elevated. Other Ancien Régime royal establishments in Europe had comparable officers, often with similar titles. In France, the Duchy of Burgundy, and in England while French was still the language of the court, the title was varlet or valet de chambre. In German, Danish and Russian the term was "Kammerjunker" and in Swedish the similar "Kammarjunkare".
Traditionally, the English Court was organized into three branches or departments:
1) the Household, primarily concerned with fiscal more than domestic matters, the "royal purse;"
2) the Bedchamber, focused on the most direct and intimate aspects of the lives of the royal family, with its own offices, like the Groom of the Body and the Squire of the Body;
3) the Chamber, concerned with the Presence Chamber, the Privy chamber, and other more public rooms of the royal palaces, as the Bedchamber was concerned with the innermost.
The Chamber organization was controlled by the Lord Chamberlain; if he was the general of a small army of servitors, the Grooms of the Chamber were his junior officers, with ushers and footmen the footsoldiers. The Grooms wore the royal livery (in earlier periods), served as general attendants, and fulfilled a wide range of specific functions. (One Groom of the Chamber had the job of handing the "King's Stuff" to a Squire of the Body, who would then dress the King.) Grooms ranked below Gentlemen of the Chamber, usually important noblemen, but above Yeomen of the Chamber. They were mostly well-born, on a first rung of a courtier's career.
The office of Groom of the Chamber could also be bestowed in a more honorific manner, upon people who served the royal household in some less direct way. The early Tudor poet Stephen Hawes became a Groom of the Chamber in 1502, under Henry VII. In the reigns of the early monarchs of the House of Stuart, James I and Charles I, the actors of the King's Men, the playing company under royal patronage, were officially "Grooms extraordinary of the Chamber". They did not usually fulfill the normal functions of the office; rather, they served the King by performing plays for him. Although on busy occasions, the King's Men appear to have acted as more ordinary servants: in August 1604 they were "waiting and attending" upon the Spanish ambassador at Somerset House, "on his Majesty's service" — but no plays were performed.) They were also turned out to bulk up the Household for grand ceremonial occasions.
A similar arrangement held for some of Queen Anne's Men, including their playwright Thomas Heywood; they became Grooms of the Queen's Chamber, under the Queen's Chamberlain. On some occasions, Shakespeare, Heywood, and their compatriots wore the royal livery, marched in processions, and played other roles in the ceremonial life of the monarchy. (Grooms could not be arrested for debt without the permission of the Lord Chamberlain — a big advantage for sometimes-struggling actors.) In at least two cases, those of George Bryan (Lord Chamberlain's Men) and John Singer (Queen Elizabeth's Men; Admiral's Men), professional actors became "normal" Grooms of the Chamber, with the normal duties, after retiring from the stage.
List of Grooms of the Chamber
- Stephen Hawes, 1502–
- William Sharington, 1542–1544
- Daniel Bacheler, 1603–1619
- Sir Henry King, 1817–1830
List of Grooms of the Bedchamber
- Daniel O'Neill, 1660–1664
The French portrait painter Jean Clouet (c. 1485–1540) was appointed a valet de chambre groom of the chamber of the French monarchy in 1523, as was his son François Clouet later. The office could serve as a sinecure to provide a minimum income and social place for someone who enjoyed royal favor.
Many noble households in Europe had their own grooms of the chamber, known by various titles. See Valet de chambre for a fuller account.
- "Hawes, Stephen". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Halliday, p. 460; spellings modernized.
- At that time, Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester (1563–1626), younger brother of Sir Philip Sidney.
- C. E. Challis, 'Sharington, Sir William (c. 1495–1553), administrator and embezzler', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004
- Batchelor A, A Batchelor's Delight, 1990, Highgate Publications (Beverley), Ltd, ISBN 0-948929-40-5
- Brown, Cedric C., ed. Patronage, Politics, and Literary Traditions in England, 1558-1658. Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1993.
- Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
- Walter, James. Shakespeare's True Life. London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1890; reprinted Kessinger Publishing, 2003.