Groom of the Stool

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The 1st Earl of Holland, Groom of the Stool to Charles I, until 1643
William III's close-stool. 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 hygiene.

The physical intimacy of the role naturally led to his 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, for it would have led to the discredit of his honour—in turn led to his 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]

Later, the office was renamed Groom of the Stole. 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";[3] however, the change is in fact seen as early as the 17th century.[4]



The Groom of the Stool was a male servant in the household of the English monarch who was responsible for assisting the king in his toileting needs.[5] It is a matter of some debate as to whether the duties involved cleaning the king's anus, but the groom is known to have been responsible for supplying a bowl, water and towels and also for monitoring the king's diet and bowel movements[6] and liaising with the Royal Doctor about the king's health.[5] 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".[7][8]

In the Tudor era[edit]

By the Tudor age, the role of Groom of the Stool was fulfilled by a substantial figure, such as 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.[9][10][11]

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.[12]: 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."[13] 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".[14]

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.[15] The office effectively came to an end when it was "neutralised" in 1559.[11]

In Scotland the valets of the chamber like John Gibb had an equivalent role.[16] On the accession of James I, the male office was revived as the senior Gentleman 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. From 1660 the office of Groom of the Stole (revived with the Restoration of the Monarchy) was invariably coupled with that of First Gentleman (or Lady) of the Bedchamber; as effective Head of the royal Bedchamber, the Groom of the Stole was a powerful individual who had the right to attend the monarch at all times and to regulate access to his or her private quarters.[17] Incongruously, the office of Groom of the Stole continued in use during the reign of Queen Anne, when it was held by a duchess who combined its duties with those of Mistress of the Robes.[18]

Under the Hanoverians the 'Groom of the Stole' began to be named in The London Gazette.[19] In 1726, John Chamberlayne wrote that while the Lord Chamberlain has oversight of all Officers belonging to the King's Chamber, 'the Precinct of the King's Bed-Chamber […] is wholly under the Groom of the Stole'.[20] Chamberlayne defines the Groom of the Stole as the first of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber; translating his title ('from the Greek') as 'Groom or Servant of the Long-robe or Vestment', he explains that he has 'the Office and Honour to present and put on his Majesty's first Garment or Shirt every morning, and to order the Things of the Bed-Chamber'.[20] By 1740 the Groom of the Stole is described as having 'the care of the king's wardrobe'.[21]

The office again fell into abeyance with the accession of Queen Victoria, though her husband, Prince Albert, and their son, Edward, Prince of Wales, employed similar courtiers;[citation needed] but when Edward acceded to the throne as King Edward VII in 1901, he discontinued the office.[citation needed]

List of Grooms of the Stool[edit]

Before the Tudors[edit]

Tudor monarchy[edit]

Grooms of the Stool under Henry VII[edit]

Grooms of the Stool under Henry VIII (1509–1547)[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".[27]

Grooms of the Stool to Edward VI (1547–1553)[edit]

Neither Mary I nor Elizabeth I appointed a Groom of the Stool.

Stuart monarchy[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to James I (1603–1625)[edit]

Grooms of the Stool to Charles I (1625–1649)[edit]

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

Grooms of the Stole to Charles II (1660–1685)[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to James II (1685–1688)[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to William III (1689–1702)[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Anne (1702–1714)[edit]

Grooms of the Stole to Prince George[edit]

Hanoverian monarchy[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]

Victoria did not appoint a Groom of the Stole; appointments were made, however, in the households of her husband and eldest son.

Grooms of the Stole to Prince Albert[edit]

Grooms of the Stole 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. ^ "Majesty in all its magnificence". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  4. ^ "Page 1 | Issue 2054, 23 July 1685". The London Gazette. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b Ridgway, Claire (19 April 2016). "What is a Groom of the Stool?". Tudor Society. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  6. ^ Johnson, Ben. "Groom of the Stool". Historic UK. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  7. ^ Brewer, E. Cobham. "Grom of the Stole" Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1898; Page 369.
  8. ^ A Dictionary of the English Language. By Noah Webster, Chauncey Allen Goodrich, John Walker. Page 466.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b c d Weir, Alison (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Random House. ISBN 978-0-345-43708-2.
  13. ^ Quoted in Patterson, Orlande (1982). Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Harvard UP. p. 330.
  14. ^ Sharpe, Kevin M.; Steven N. Zwicker (2003). Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England. Cambridge UP. p. 51. ISBN 9780521824347.
  15. ^ Brimacombe, Peter (2000). All the Queen's Men: The World of Elizabeth I. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-312-23251-1.
  16. ^ Bowes Correspondence (London, 1843), pp. 205-6: Roderick J. Lyall, Alexander Montgomerie: Poetry, Politics, and Cultural Change in Jacobean Scotland (Arizona, 2005), p. 97.
  17. ^ Bucholz, R. O. "'The bedchamber: Groom of the Stole 1660-1837', in Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660-1837, ed. R O Bucholz (London, 2006), pp. 13-14. British History Online". British History Online. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  18. ^ Haydn, Joseph (1851). The Book of Dignities. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans.
  19. ^ "Search Result".
  20. ^ a b Chamberlayne, John (1726). Magnae Britaniae Notitia Or the Present State of Great Britain, Volume 1. pp. +100–104.
  21. ^ Dyche, Thomas (1740). A New General English Dictionary. London: Richard Ware.
  22. ^ David Starkey, 'Intimacy and Innovation', The English Court (London: Longman, 1987), p. 78: A collection of ordinances and regulations for the government of the royal household (London, 1790), p. 18, (cited OED).
  23. ^ Starkey, D., The Virtuous Prince, 2008. Discussion about Hugh Denys and his role in the chamber
  24. ^ Starkey, D.
  25. ^ Ives, Eric William (2004). The life and death of Anne Boleyn: 'the most happy'. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-631-23479-1.
  26. ^ 'Accounts of the Groom of the Stole', The Antiquary, 20 (London, 1889), pp. 189–192.
  27. ^ John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 1 part 2 (Oxford, 1822), 458-9, depositions of Heneage and Denny.
  28. ^ Stanhope, Michael (by 1508–1552), History of Parliament Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  29. ^ Neil Cuddy, 'The Revival of the Entourage' in David Starkey, The English Court (London, 1987), p. 185.
  30. ^ "FULLERTON, Sir James (c.1563-1631), of Broad Street, London and Byfleet, Surr". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  31. ^ "FULLERTON, Sir James (c.1563-1631), of Broad Street, London and Byfleet, Surr". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ a b Evelyn, John (1907). The Life of Margaret Godolphin. Chatto and Windus. p. 4.
  34. ^ O'Conor, Charles (1819). Bibliotheca Ms. Stowensis. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Stowe Library, Vol. II. Seeley. p. 527.