Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660-1837. Originally published by University of London, London, 2006.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Remuneration and Value of Office
The details of remuneration for individual offices are enumerated in the main body of the text. Overall, that remuneration may be divided into established monetary emoluments on the one hand and non-established fees, perquisites, privileges and even less tangible rewards on the other. As the period began, the latter were far more significant to holders of household office than the former. That is, established wages, even for officers of high rank, tended to be based upon medieval precedent and so were quite small. (fn. 1) However, as Edward Chamberlayne observed, `although the King payes still the antient Fees which at first were above 10 times the value they are now, yet the Perquisites in many Offices make sometimes a place of 10l. Fee to be worth near 500l. per annum'. (fn. 2) Early in the period, household officers and servants received the bulk of their rewards in the form of diet, which was allotted during the first years of Charles II's reign to all major department heads and to gentlemen waiters in the chamber, bedchamber and stables, officers of the removing wardrobe, the clerk of the closet and chaplains, court medical personnel, musicians, the yeomen of the guard, officers and servants of the catering subdepartments and even some tradesmen. (fn. 3) Many household servants were entitled to lodgings, livery (in the form of actual clothing or payments out of the great wardrobe in lieu thereof), plate and provisions such as wine, bread, beer, fuel, candles and other supplies. Some were allowed fees for performance of duty. The gentlemen ushers daily waiters collected fees for swearing-in household officers. Clerks did so for drawing up warrants and collected poundage on goods received. There were riding wages for travel beyond Whitehall and St. James's, New Year's gifts from superiors and fees of honour upon the promotion of peers, bishops, baronets and knights. Officers and servants in the lord steward's department were allowed `waste, command and remains', that is, scraps of food left over from the process of preparation or which had remained uneaten. (fn. 4) Finally, appointing officers had the right to sell places. This perquisite could yield several hundred pounds a year in the case of a large department. (fn. 5)
It is, naturally, difficult to pin down the exact value of such non-established emoluments, but where possible, the most important receive an estimate in the headnote to each office, below. To give just one example of how large bulked such non-established remuneration, Sir Gilbert Talbot, the master of the jewel office, estimated that his place had been worth at least £1,000 to him at the beginning of the reign of Charles II. This included a diet which he calculated at £700 a year, the right to present gifts to ambassadors, worth £200, and poundage on New Year's Gifts worth £150 a year. (fn. 6)
Unfortunately for Talbot, his colleagues and their successors, the initial profligacy of the Restoration was short lived. For the rest of the period the Treasury, eventually urged on by parliament, did its best to suppress such non-established rewards in favour of set wages. There were two reasons for this. First, such emoluments were virtually uncontrollable and so tended to cost the court far more than wages or boardwages. Second (and this helps to explain the first), they were open to abuse. Many officers and servants lost their right to diet by the establishment of 1 December 1662 and the royal warrant of 25 August 1663. From this point on, most of the court was put to boardwages, which formed the bulk of established remuneration. (fn. 7) By 1702 only the royal family, gentlemen waiters, ladies of the bedchamber, maids of honour, pages of the bedchamber, chaplains, officers of the green cloth, clerks of the kitchen and yeomen of the guard had tables. (fn. 8) The fiction that the remaining household servants were being reimbursed for board was abandoned by the establishment of 1782, which expressed remuneration for each such servant by a single figure. (fn. 9) Subsequent establishments gradually eradicated the remaining tables. In 1813, the yeomen of the guard became the last society at court to lose the privilege of dining at the monarch's expense when their table was commuted to a fee of £2,230 3s a year, to be divided among the efficient members of the society. (fn. 10)
In parallel to the reduction of diets, the later seventeenth century witnessed a piecemeal attack on fees and perquisites which, however, did not get much further than the highest ranking officers. Most notably, the royal warrant of 29 June 1702 proscribed sale of household offices. (fn. 11) In addition, during the period 1660–1714, the masters of the great wardrobe, robes and jewel office, groom of the stole, and clerks of the green cloth lost valuable rights to poundage and remains. (fn. 12) Indeed, Talbot's calculation of the value of his office, quoted above, was part of a protest against the loss of its perquisites, leaving him, after the deduction of exchequer fees, `but £31 10s p. an....to support the dignity of his place'. (fn. 13) At a lower level, the period saw an attempt to restrain fees and extraordinaries by reducing to fixed salaries servants whose work had previously been paid for via bills. (fn. 14) But the fees and perquisites available to most officers of middling and menial rank remained available to them very largely until the reforms of the 1780s. (fn. 15)
The period from Economical Reform to the death of George III witnessed the gradual erosion of payment in kind, fees and perquisites to middling and menial servants. New Year's gifts to servants were abolished in 1797. (fn. 16) More importantly, the reform of 1813 which eliminated diet for the yeomen of the guard was part of a concerted attempt during the last years of George III and those of George IV to eliminate the remaining forms of non-established income. By 1819, gratuities to inferior servants had been stopped and payment in kind had been commuted to cash allowances which were themselves set to determine upon the deaths of the current incumbents. The establishment of 1820 eliminated the fees of the first clerk to the lord chamberlain. (fn. 17) These developments led the lord chamberlain to lament that the loss of such perquisites diminished the attractions of office, and so of his patronage. To this the Treasury replied with admirable steadfastness: `should such a principal [sic] be admitted, no regulations however salutary could be adopted with a view to reduce Public Expenditure within the limits fixed'. (fn. 18)
This process rendered household servants ever more dependent upon their established salaries, and, therefore, on the health and despatch of the royal Treasury and Exchequer. As implied above, the results were sometimes disastrous for individual officers and servants. The reign of Charles II saw four long suspensions or retrenchments of virtually all salaries and pensions, in 1663–4, 1668–9, 1676–7 and 1679–85. While an effort was made to repay servants for the first three, the Crown's unreliable financial situation resulted in arre ars ranging from two to eight years and longer during this reign. (fn. 19) When ready money was not available, a department head or an individual officer or servant to whom wages were owed might be issued treasury orders or tallies of anticipation - in effect, promises to pay which could be sold on a buyer's market, usually for far less than their face value. (fn. 20) Nor was it unknown for a household paymaster to have to borrow money outright or supply it from his own pocket to keep up with his responsibilities - although one must be wary of accepting the latter claim at face value. (fn. 21) Talbot undoubtedly exaggerated, yet expressed the feelings of many, when he described himself in the wake of recent reforms as `therefore having nothing in his prospect but a desperate exp ectation of starving (and which is yet more insupportable to him) the disability of maintaining your Majesty's honour in the discharge of his place...'. (fn. 22)
Subsequent monarchs approached more closely to solvency, but arrears of one and two years' duratio n were not uncommon under William III, Anne and George I. All left large numbers of servants unpaid at their deaths. (fn. 23) During the deepest financial crisis of William's reign, in 1695, the scourers, turnbroaches, pankeepers, soil carriers `and other poor Servants of His Majesty's Household' represented their dire situation to the board of green cloth thus:
That the immediate maintenance of your Peticoners and their Families arising from the several Dyetts & by Books of Liveries dayly served in His Majesty's Family, being now wholly taken away, your petitioners have nothing left to Subsist on, but their Salaries, which they have Spent, and Assign'd greatest part of them to their Creditors, have nothing left: the small allowance of Bread and Beer being also taken from them, soe that they are now likely to begg about the street. That your Peticoners ...are most of them aged, and the rest altogether uncapable of undertaking any other Means of support. (fn. 24)
Though George II enjoyed the most favourable civil list arrangements of any eighteenth-century monarch, the 1740s witnessed arrears of over one year. (fn. 25) George III's troubled civil list was in an almost continuous state of debt, which likewise led to long arrears and frequent complaints by stables' servants in particular. (fn. 26)
The reduction of servants' remuneration to salaries was injurious in another respect: it fixed that remuneration at times of high inflation. The period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, in particular, saw several sharp incre ases in the cost of necessary goods, as well as high taxes. Many royal servants had experienced a rise in pay in 1760, but little thereafter unless in compensation for the loss of some perquisite or provision. (fn. 27) Thus, early in 1807, the livery servants in the master of the horse's department wrote that
the high price of all the necessaries, of Life, and the Depreciation of the Value of money since their Salaries were fixed, added to the Deductions of Land Tax &c (amounting to between 20 & 30 per Cent) have tended to make their Situations in His Majesty's Service so very uncomfortable that the greater part of them are unable to subsist thereon. (fn. 28)
For many, household office carried a countervailing material cost. Those at the top of the court hierarchy were expected to entertain, those in the middle to dress and act like gentlemen or ladies. Household servants of all ranks were required to pay fees upon appointment and receipt of salary, and, of course, to maintain minimal standards of decent behaviour. (fn. 29) This raises the question of why individuals continued to seek employment in the royal household. It has been argued that the significance - political, social, artistic - of those who did so declined somewhat as the period wore on. (fn. 30) However the reality, extent and significance of this decline for the Hanoverian courts awaits its historian. When department heads objected that reductions in the perquisites of office would limit the appeal of the court, the Treasury was quick to reply that there never seemed to be a shortage of eager applicants for positions there. (fn. 31) Perhaps the attraction of court office came increasingly to lie with its intangible rewards of access and proximity to the sovereign and the resultant political and social prestige which these could still generate. Chaplains, for example, could, throughout the period, count upon a kind of exposure to royalty which often led to deaneries and bishoprics. (fn. 32) For those with little such contact, the privilege affording royal servants immunity from arrest (fn. 33) or service in the community would have been attractive for many. There is evidence that tradesmen continued to compete avidly - as do their modern counterparts - for the lord chamberlain's or lord steward's warrant. (fn. 34) Perhaps equally telling are the petitions of 1830 and 1831 by a group of gentlemen of the privy chamber - a position which, at that point, had neither duties nor remuneration - to be allowed to wear the royal uniform and button `at their own expence of course'. (fn. 35) Service in the household of the monarch, however diminished in material rewards, seems still to have lent social prestige and carried personal significance for many. As one of George III's equerries concluded, philosophically: `It's honour! That's one comfort; it's all honour!'. (fn. 36)