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.
The Early Hanoverian Royal Household 1714–1760
In 1714 George I was granted the same civil list settlement and the same ostensible yield of £700,000 as his predecessors. (fn. 1) The following year he secured the grant of a further £120,000 to make up for the shortfall which had become so pronounced under Queen Anne. Moreover, the statute of 1715 guaranteed the King's income for the first time: if the taxes appropriated in the act failed to produce the hoped-for total of £700,000, parliament was committed to voting additional funds to supply the remainder. (fn. 2) The Treasury and household administrators did not attempt to avoid this by means of a major reform at the beginning of the reign. Rather, after a dip in 1714–15 the household establishments grew steadily in size to almost 1,000 servants by 1726 (Fig. 1A). (fn. 3) Issues to the household rose from £278,707 in 1714–15 to £305,804 in 1716–17. The following year saw a drop to £263,444 (see Fig. 5), but the civil list debt at Michaelmas 1718 still stood at £396,206 or about £100,000 a year since the King's accession. (fn. 4)
As in the past, financial crisis led the King to attempt both options available to the insolvent: retrenchment and augmentation of revenue. Unfortunately, the retrenchment of 1718 avoided a fundamental rethinking of household structure or expenditure. (fn. 5) Instead, it concentrated upon two areas. First, the Treasury sought greater control over the spending departments by requiring annual estimates of the coming year's expenditure. More specifically, it sought to restrain expenditures in the great wardrobe and works by drawing up new ordinances and setting spending limits of £13,000 and £14,400 a year respectively. Contracts were to be more closely regulated and, in the former subdepartment, a comptroller and a surveyor, both nominated by the Treasury, were to examine bills and estimates. (fn. 6) Secondly, there was an attempt to restrain outlays on the King's German courtiers. Schulenberg and Kielmannsegge were each given £3,000 and a kitchen in lieu of diet and other necessaries. The following year saw the granting of a similar allowance in lieu of new furniture. (fn. 7)
The results of this, the last major retrenchment of the household until 1761, were mixed. The attempt to restrain the expenses of favoured courtiers seems to have reduced expenditures on these heads. On the other hand, the Treasury's regulation of the great wardrobe and works, though important as a precedent, did little to restrain their cost, as indicated by the routine issue by the Treasury of warrants to pass accounts for expenditures exceeding the above figures. (fn. 8) Nor did the estimates of the next year's expenditures do much to restrain them. The last seven years of the reig n included four in which issues to the royal household exceeded £280,000 (Fig. 5). This contributed to a growing debt on the civil list which led, in turn, to appeals to parliament for extra funds in 1720, 1721 and 1724. In the end, over £1,300,000 was a cquired by this means. (fn. 9) But neither parliament, nor the Treasury, nor the household administrators used these occasions as opportunities to re-think the King's civil revenue or his household expenditure. As a result, the King's civil departments were ama ssing more debt by the time of his death in 1727. (fn. 10)
Nevertheless, the lessons of these occasions were not lost on Sir Robert Walpole. At the accession of George II in 1727 he secured the most liberal civil list settlement of the eighteenth century. This included a parliamentary guarantee of £800,000 a year and, for the first time, the King's right to keep any surplus which might arise. The result was a civil list which, in the words of its historian, `would grow with the wealth of the country'. (fn. 11) The generosity of this settlement, the new King's desire to provide for his servants as Prince of Wales, as well as his love of ceremony, may explain why George II's initial household establishment, almost uniquely, did not experience even the semblance of a reduction in personnel in its first year. (fn. 12) Rather, the new King added about 40 officers and servants to his father's totals (Fig. 1A). This tendency is most marked in the lord steward's department, largely because of the addition of a Queen's privy kitchen and a household kitchen. (fn. 13) This expansion, like that in 1689, did not necessarily mean that an incumbent's position was secure. The new King displaced a number of servants in the bedchamber and at the green cloth and replaced them with those who had served him previously. (fn. 14)
The generous civil list settlement, the length of the reign and the refusal of parliament to inquire into matters still considered personal to the King may help to explain a seeming decline or stagnation in administrative standards at mid-century. The board of green cloth appears to have met less frequently under the second Hanoverian than under the first. Indeed, the minutes for June 1742 contain the following entry: `Nothing material occurring in the month of June no minutes were taken'. The attendance of the clerks and clerk comptrollers, whose social and political prominence lent weight to the decisions of the board, fell off, and some of their responsibilities seem to have been assumed by the assistant clerks. (fn. 15) It is probably significant that when, in the next reign, the Treasury called for old accounts from the household departments, neither the treasurer of the chamber nor the master of the horse could find any for this period. (fn. 16)
Nor does the Treasury appear to have been effective in restraining expenditure. A series of inquiries into the practices of the great wardrobe undertaken between 1728 and 1730 demonstrated that previous reforms had failed, very largely because there was no outside control from the lord chamberlain's warrant to the declared account. (fn. 17) The board's ultimate response was to create a comptroller of the great wardrobe, and to draw up a set of instructions very much like those to the comptroller of the treasurer of the chamber. (fn. 18) Nevertheless, great wardrobe expenditures continued to mount. (fn. 19) The year 1730 saw a parallel attempt to reform the removing wardrobe, which led to a pious call on the lord chamberlain to reform abuses and increasing scrutiny of works accounts. (fn. 20) A similar inquiry into the works in 1754 led to equally vague promises of greater attention to economy. (fn. 21)
It is no great surprise, therefore, to find that issues to George II's household consistently exceeded £300,000 during the first ten years of his reign (Fig. 5). Because this was reflected in high civil expenditures overall (often exceeding £900,000), and because George II's civil list fell short of the intended £820,000 during the early years of his reign, parliament was called upon for £115,000 in 1729. (fn. 22) Household expenditures fell below the £300,000 mark after the death of Queen Caroline in December 1737. This resulted from the elimination of the Queen's privy kitchen (many of whose servants were nevertheless absorbed into other kitchens), the discontinuance of tables to the Queen's servants, and a general retreat into privacy by the King. (fn. 23) Nevertheless, debt began to mount again in the late 1730s. By the early 1740s arrears of over a year became common. (fn. 24) These difficulties resulted in another request for a parliamentary supply to pay off the King's debts in 1747. The resulting act, 20 George II, c. 36 led to the payment of £456,734. Thereafter, the promise of George II's civil list bargain began to pay off. His civil revenues produced an average of £823,956 during the las t decade of the reign. (fn. 25) This, plus a new-found frugality, (fn. 26) left George II, uniquely, with a surplus at his death in 1760. It also left the old administrative system of the household more or less intact and largely unexamined as George III came to the British throne.