Groom of the Stole

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Groom of the Stole in the British Royal Household is a position dating from the Stuart era (1603 onwards) but which evolved from the earlier Groom of the Stool, an office in existence until the accession of Elizabeth I. The original nomenclature derived from the chair used in the performance of the function (Stul being Norse and Early English for Chair). In the Victorian era the office was re-examined and renamed, retrospectively apparently to the start of the Stuart era, Groom of the Stole, from the Latin stola, a robe.

Origins of the office[edit]

The Groom of the Stool, officially styled "Groom of the King's Close Stool", in the very earliest times was responsible for assisting the King in the performance of the bodily functions of excretion and ablution, whilst maintaining an aura of royal decorum over the proceedings. That is to say the necessary articles of furniture, the stool, or portable commode lavatory ("close" because it was used in a closed and private room), water, wash bowl, toweling, had to be on hand, and a suitable room reserved for the function, complete with curtains and hangings suitable to preserve the royal dignity.

It is hardly surprising that there is no known contemporary historical source that reveals the exact nature of the duties involved in the role, so of necessity reasoned speculation must be employed if the subject is to be considered seriously. When the King was travelling the importance of the post would become more apparent. Monarchs do not ask the question "Excuse me, can you tell me where the lavatory is?", a question which, however it is phrased, is infra dignitatem certainly to a King.

The maintenance of the Royal Aura was an important part of the politics of royalty, therefore not without importance to the running of a kingdom. It was surely the Groom of the Stool's job to plan everything in advance, perhaps to monitor the King's diet and expected mealtimes, to assist during the process as needed, and to dispose of the waste created, storing the equipment away for next use. A cursory glance at a full-length portrait of a Tudor monarch will reveal the thick and heavy clothes worn, especially in the winter before the central-heating era, no doubt incorporating dozens of buttons and fastenings. Someone was needed to assist in removing these, and re-dressing the King. The clothes were very valuable, frequently incorporating gold embroidery, and had to be suitably arranged after having been removed.

The question must be faced in a serious examination of the Office of Groom of the Stool, as to whether the Groom actually cleansed the royal posterior himself. The answer is probably affirmative, but only when necessary, for example if the King was wearing an awkward garment. Yet in the days before the disposable paper tissue, cleansing of the body was a complicated matter. The King had to endure every day with decorum the difficulties only experienced by the modern person on the odd camping holiday.

In the popular imagination, the role is seen as one of subservience, designed to boost the royal ego. This is unlikely to be the case if the matter is given some thought, for the relationship was one of trust and confidence. The Groom must have been selected for special personal qualities which made the king feel at ease in his company; he must have had the easy, confident and firm manner of a tailor in measuring up a client without causing awkwardness. The personal power play was surely reserved for the world of the Court beyond the Room of the Close Stool. The position soon developed into one of a trusted and tactful personal royal adviser, who had the ear of the King, and who therefore became respected, even feared, by the other courtiers, all jealous of such access to royal power.

By the Tudor age, the Groom of the Stool was a substantial figure like Hugh Denys (d.1511) who was a member of the Gloucestershire gentry, married to an aristocratic wife, and who died possessing at least four of his own manors. The function had also transformed into that of a virtual minister of the royal treasury, being then an essential figure in the King's setting of fiscal policy.[1][2][3]

Evolution of the office in Stuart times[edit]

The office was exclusively one serving male monarchs so on the death of Elizabeth and the accession of James I the office was revived. The holder of the position became in the Stuart era (17th century) the senior Lord of the Bedchamber, always a great nobleman (having become the equivalent appointment in the household of the King or Prince-Consort to the Queen's Mistress of the Robes). The position had considerable power because of its intimate access to the king. During the reign of Charles I the term "stool" appears to have lost its original signification of chair, more particularly commode. The office fell into a final abeyance with the accession of another female monarch in the form of Queen Victoria, and made only a very brief final appearance early in the reign of her successor, with the spelling having been altered to "stole", from the Latin stola, a long outer garment or robe worn by Roman ladies, and male flute players at the festival of Minerva.[4] The Tudor historian David Starkey classes this change as a classic Victorianism:

When the Victorians came to look at this office, they spelt it s-t-o-l-e, and imagined all kinds of fictions about elaborate robes draped around the neck of the monarch at the coronation.[5]

The office was finally discontinued following the accession of King Edward VII in 1901, to whom a Groom of the Stole had been appointed while he was Prince of Wales.

Incumbents[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Charles I[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Henrietta Maria of France[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Charles II[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to James II[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to William III[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Queen Anne[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Prince George[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to George I[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to George II[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to George III[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to George IV[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to William IV[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Prince Albert[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Starkey, David. The Virtuous Prince, 2004, chap. 16 discusses the important fiscal role of Hugh Denys, Groom of the Stool to Henry VII; & an article in the Independent Newspaper (28/6/2004) by the same author, who states that the position effectively became neutralised on the accession of Elizabeth I
  2. ^ Bruce Boehrer. The Privy and Its Double: Scatology and Satire in Shakespeare's Theatre. in Dutton, Richard: A Companion to Shakespeare's Works: Poems, problem comedies, late plays, 2003. "The Groom of the Stool presided over the office of royal excretion that is, he had the task of cleaning the monarch's anus after a bowel movement.
  3. ^ Nicholls, Mark (1999). A history of the modern British Isles, 1529-1603: the two kingdoms. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-631-19334-0. 
  4. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary, revised by Marchant, J. & Charles, J. 260th. thousand.
  5. ^ Starkey, D. Monarchy in all its magnificence. Daily Telegraph 21/12/2004 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3633793/Majesty-in-all-its-magnificence.html
  6. ^ a b Clarendon, Edward Hyde (1888). William Dunn Macray, ed. The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England: Begun in the Year 1641. Clarendon Press. p. 146. 
  7. ^ Evelyn, John (1907). The life of Margaret Godolphin. Chatto and Windus. p. 4. 
  8. ^ Evelyn, John (1907). The life of Margaret Godolphin. Chatto and Windus. p. 6. 
  9. ^ O'Conor, Charles (1819). Bibliotheca Ms. Stowensis. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Stowe Library, Vol. II. Seeley. p. 527.