Groom of the Stool

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The 1st Earl of Holland, Groom of the Stool to Charles I, until 1643.
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, responsible for assisting the king in excretion and ablution.

The physical intimacy of the role 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—while 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]



The Groom of the Stool was, in the earliest times, a male servant in the household of an English monarch who was responsible for assisting the king in excretion and ablution, whilst maintaining an aura of royal decorum over the proceedings. The appellation "Groom of the Close Stool" derived from the item of furniture used as a toilet. It also appears as "Grom of the Stole" as the word "Groom" comes from the Old Low Franconian word "Grom".[3][4]

In the Tudor era[edit]

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 manors. The function was transformed into that of a virtual minister of the royal treasury, being then an essential figure in the king's management of fiscal policy.[5][6][7]

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 unobstructed access to the king.[8]:42 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 honourable, 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]

Evolution and discontinuation[edit]

The office was exclusively one serving male monarchs, so on the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, it was replaced by the First Lady of the Bedchamber, first held by Kat Ashley.[11] The office effectively came to an end when it was "neutralised" in 1559.[7] On the accession of James I, the male office was revived as the senior Lord of the Bedchamber, who always was a great nobleman who 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.

The office fell into disuse with the accession of Queen Victoria, though her husband, Prince Albert, and their son, Edward, Prince of Wales employed similar courtiers[citation needed], now renamed "Groom of the Stole", from the Latin stola, a long outer garment or robe worn by Roman ladies.[12] The Tudor historian David Starkey classes this change as 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."[13] When Edward acceded to the throne as Edward VII in 1901, he discontinued the office.

List of Grooms of the Stool[edit]

Grooms of the Stool under Henry VII[edit]

Hugh Denys controlled the private and secret finances of King Henry VII.[16]

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".[18]

Grooms of the Stool to Edward VI[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to James I[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to Charles I[edit]

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

Grooms of the Stool to Charles II[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to James II[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to William III[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to Queen Anne[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to Prince George[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to George I[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to George II[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to George III[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to George IV[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to William IV[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to Prince Albert[edit]

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

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 online 2003.
  3. ^ Brewer, E. Cobham. "Grom of the Stole" Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1898; Page 369.
  4. ^ A Dictionary of the English Language. By Noah Webster, Chauncey Allen Goodrich, John Walker. Page 466.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b 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.
  8. ^ a b c d Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Random House. 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. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary, rev. by Marchant, J. & Charles, J.
  13. ^ Starkey, D. "Monarchy in all its Magnificence", Daily Telegraph 21/12/2004 [1]
  14. ^ Burke, John, "A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, Enjoying Territorial Possessions Or High Official Rank: But Univested with Heritable Honours", 1838. A genealogy of the Burton family of Shropshire by Burke's Peerage.
  15. ^ Starkey, D., The Virtuous Prince, 2008. Discussion about Hugh Denys and his role in the chamber
  16. ^ Starkey, D.
  17. ^ Ives, Eric William (2004). The life and death of Anne Boleyn: 'the most happy'. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-631-23479-1.
  18. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 1 part 2, Oxford (1822), 458-9, depositions of Heneage and Denny.
  19. ^ Stanhope, Michael (by 1508–1552), History of Parliament Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  20. ^ Neil Cuddy, 'The Revival of the Entourage' in David Starkey, The English Court (London, 1987), p. 185.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ a b Evelyn, John (1907). The Life of Margaret Godolphin. Chatto and Windus.
  23. ^ O'Conor, Charles (1819). Bibliotheca Ms. Stowensis. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Stowe Library, Vol. II. Seeley. p. 527.