Groom of the Stool

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Not to be confused with the later office, Groom of the Stole.
A Close-Stool c.1650. Hampton Court collection

The Groom of the Stool (formally styled: "Groom of the King's Close Stool") was the most intimate of an English monarch's courtiers, whose physical intimacy naturally led to him becoming a man in whom much confidence was placed by his royal master and with whom many royal secrets were shared as a matter of course. This secret information he was privy to—whilst it would never have been revealed, to the discredit of his honour—in turn led to him becoming feared and respected and therefore powerful within the royal court in his own right. The office developed gradually over decades and centuries into one of administration of the royal finances, and under Henry VII, the Groom of the Stool became a powerful official involved in setting national fiscal policy, under the "Chamber System".[1][2]

Origin of the Office[edit]

The appellation "Groom of the Stool" derived from the item of furniture now known as a commode or portable lavatory[3] (Old English & Norse Stol or Stoll meaning a chair),[4] was in the earliest times a male servant in the household of an English monarch who was in charge of providing facilities for the monarch's defecation, and assisted in his cleansing or washing thereafter.

Often when the visit of a modern monarch is planned, for example during the construction of a new building, a special royal lavatory pavilion is built for the occasion.[5][6][7]

Evolution of the Office[edit]

In the early years of Henry VIII's reign, the title was awarded to court companions of the King who spent time with him in the Privy chamber. These were generally the sons of noblemen or important members of the gentry. In time they came to act as virtual personal secretaries to the King, carrying out a variety of administrative tasks within his private rooms. The position was an especially prized one, as it allowed one unobstructed access to the King's attention.[8] David Starkey writes: "The Groom of the Stool had (to our eyes) the most menial tasks; his standing, though, was the highest ... Clearly then, the royal body service must have been seen as entirely honorable, without a trace of the demeaning or the humiliating."[9] Further, "the mere word of the Gentleman of the Privy Chamber was sufficient evidence in itself of the king's will," and the Groom of the Stool bore "the indefinable charisma of the monarchy."[10]

Abolition of the Office[edit]

In 1558, the male domination of royal private quarters came to an end, and Kat Ashley was appointed First Lady of the Bedchamber by Elizabeth I of England, a position that put her "in charge of the bedchamber," a duty formerly performed by the Groom of the Stool.[11] The office effectively came to an end when it was "neutralized" in 1559.[12]

Re-establishment of the Office in altered form[edit]

The position survived in a much more senior form, devoid of its original functions, as Groom of the Stole (a Victorian spelling per Starkey, op.cit.), until 1901. These were always senior noblemen. In the French royal court, a similar position was called "Porte-Coton."

List of Grooms of the Stool[edit]

Grooms of the Stool under Henry VII[edit]

Grooms of the Stool under Henry VIII[edit]

Heneage and Denny, as servants 'whom he used secretly about him', were privy to Henry VIII's most intimate confidences about Anne of Cleves. He told them he doubted her virginity, on account of 'her brests so slacke.'[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For the role of the Groom of the Stool on the fiscal policy of Henry VII see: Starkey, D. The Virtuous Prince, 2009.
  2. ^ Re. the "Chamber System" and "Chamber Finance" see: Grummitt, D. Henry VII, Chamber Finance and the "New Monarchy": some New Evidence. Journal of the Institute of Historical Research, vol.72, no.179,pp.229-243; published on-line 2003.
  3. ^ Henry VIII, a "reckless" collector of expensive and opulent objects, was also in the possession of a magnificent collection of stools, according to David Starkey, who would include Henry VIII's stools in his "fantasy art collection": "Central to the inventory accounts are the Close Stools, covered in silk and satins, padded with swans' down, trimmed with gilt nails, with Venetian gold fringing and elaborate systems of cisterns and pots. (See: Starkey, D. Majesty in all its Magnificence. Daily Telegraph, 21 Dec 2004, from:
  4. ^ Collins Dict. Of the Eng.Lang., 2nd.ed.1979.
  5. ^ The Groom of the Stool, among other duties, "preside[d] over the office of royal excretion." See: Bruce Boehrer, "The Privy and Its Double: Scatology and Satire in Shakespeare's Theatre," in Dutton, R. & Howard, J. A Companion to Shakespeare's Works: Poems, problem comedies, late plays, 2003. that is, he had the task of cleaning the monarch's anus after defecation.
  6. ^ "David Starkey: An appointment with Dr Rude". The Independent. 2004-06-28. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  7. ^ a b Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Random House. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-345-43708-2. 
  8. ^ Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Random House. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-345-43708-2. 
  9. ^ Quoted in Patterson, Orlande (1982). Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Harvard UP. p. 330. 
  10. ^ Sharpe, Kevin M.; Steven N. Zwicker (2003). Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England. Cambridge UP. p. 51. 
  11. ^ Brimacombe, Peter (2000). All the queen's men: the world of Elizabeth I. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-312-23251-1. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Starkey, D. The Virtuous Prince, 2008. Discussion about Hugh Denys & his role in the Chamber.
  14. ^ Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Random House. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-345-43708-2. 
  15. ^ Ives, Eric William (2004). The life and death of Anne Boleyn: 'the most happy'. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-631-23479-1. 
  16. ^ Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Random House. p. 486. ISBN 978-0-345-43708-2. 
  17. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 1 part 2, Oxford (1822), 458-9, depositions of Heneage and Denny.