Introduction: V, Promotion and Tenure

Pages lxiii-lxix

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.


Promotion and Tenure

Promotion within the household was rare. (fn. 1) There was little opportunity for servants in the public rooms, artistic, trades or stables personnel to rise. Most household departments and subdepartments were too small or too fragmented to have a clear ladder of promotion. Some groups of officers did have a principal: one musician rose to be master of the music, one waterman to be master of the barges. The eldest gentleman usher daily waiter usually officiated as black rod. Later in the period there existed places for first footman, first groom, body coachman and head postilion. Obviously, only one individual could fill each such position at a time.

Only in the lord steward's department were there regular opportunities for promotion, but these tended to diminish in the course of time. There were two ladders, one for clerks and one for menial culinary personnel. In theory, a clerk of the pastry could rise through the clerkships of the scullery, woodyard, bakehouse, poultry and acatry to that of the kitchen or spicery or avery, in turn. The last three clerks rotated in filling vacancies among the clerks comptrollers and clerks of the green cloth. The senior clerk of the green cloth was supposed to rise, in turn, to the cofferership of the household. Within each catering subdepartment, menial servants rose via seniority from child or page through groom and yeoman, to master cook, sergeant or gentleman, depending upon the subdepartment. (fn. 2) However, the `Ancient Order of Succession' was never entirely reliable (fn. 3) and became less so as the period wore on. In fact, the cofferer's place was never filled from below during the period, Sir Stephen Fox failing to enforce his reversion. By the reign of George I, the clerkships at the board and even inferior subdepartmental clerkships came to be filled by the well born and well connected. (fn. 4) As for the other ladder, the retrenchments of the periods 1660–1702 and 1782–1820 played havoc with it, lessening chances for promotion among the menial servants below stairs. (fn. 5)

Fortunately, retention of a current position seems to have been something upon which the vast majority of household servants (that is, those below the politically sensitive echelons of the highest ranking officers) could count within a reign, barring periods of retrenchment. Officially, offices held for life or during good behaviour had always been a small minority in the royal household, and most were reduced to tenure during pleasure under Charles II and James II. (fn. 6) By the early eighteenth century, only the masters of the great wardrobe and revels, the knight marshal, the sergeant surgeon and the housekeeper at Whitehall held for life. With the exception of the knight marshal, life tenures had been eliminated entirely by the end of the century. (fn. 7)

However, because many household officers, at the beginning of the period, at least, had purchased their places, there was a strong contemporary tradition that office was a freehold, subject to the same rights as other forms of property. (fn. 8) Despite the official proscription of purchase at the beginning of the eighteenth century, this tradition had not died out by Burke's time. As a result, even the most dramatic retrenchments of the household, such as James II's in 1685 or Economical Reform in 1782 made provision for displaced officers. In the seventeenth century, they became supernumeraries at half-pay, with the promise of reinstatement to ordinary status at the departure of an incumbent. (fn. 9) After 1782 servants whose positions had been abolished were entitled to compensation at rates very close to the annual established value of their offices. (fn. 10)

Moreover, successive royal regimes provided superannuation to old or decrepit menial servants and, often, their dependants throughout the period under a variety of titles. (fn. 11) In addition, towards the beginning of the eighteenth century particular societies, such as the yeomen of the guard, the messengers of the chamber and the gentlemen of the chapel, began to establish their own contributory schemes. However, these were rarely able to do more than provide a lump sum to survivors on the death of an incumbent; they could not fund a pension upon which to retire. (fn. 12) Arrangements for superannuation to middling as well as menial servants became formalized after 1809 when a Treasury inquiry was launched in response to the suggestions of the Third Report from the Commission on Public Expenditure. (fn. 13) In 1822 an order in council pursuant to the Treasury minute of 25 February directed a 10% deduction from the salaries of all high and many middle-ranking officers to supply a Superannuation Fund. By 1833 a pension fund for widows had been set up under the lord steward, and a suggestion had been made for similar arrangements in the lord chamberlain's department. (fn. 14)

Because these initiatives were in most cases too little or too late in the period to be of much use, many household officers and servants elected to stay on for as long as they could, which was often until death. It was notorious that, for example, members of the King's Band continued in that employment well past prime or even possible playing age. In 1735 the lord chamberlain asked Maurice Green for `the Names of such who by Old Age or other Infirmitys are unable to do their Duty, and of those that are excused'. (fn. 15) The most recent study of officeholding at court finds that for Anne's reign, the average length of career was almost 22 years; `service of 40, 50 and even 60 years was not unknown'; and a remarkably high number of servants remained in harness into their seventies, eighties or nineties. (fn. 16) During the course of a reign, removals for political reasons were rare below the level of the highest ranking officers; (fn. 17) those for disciplinary reasons were even rarer. A change of reign or a major retrenchment was more difficult for an incumbent to negotiate, but, in the absence of a quantitative analysis for the whole period, cursory examination of the lists printed herein suggests that what previous work has found for the early eighteenth century applies across the period: de facto life tenure was a near certainty for most household servants. (fn. 18)


  • 1. See Bucholz, p. 136. The assertions contained in ibid. about the early 18th century seem to be borne out for the whole period by the information contained in the lists below.
  • 2. Prior to 1660, the senior clerk of the green cloth rose to be master of the household, the master to be cofferer, the cofferer to be comptroller, the comptroller to be treasurer: Aylmer, King's Servants, p. 87; MS Carte 60 f. 9v. For the `Ancient Order of Succession' after 1660, see LS 13/34 f. 31v; LS 13/171 pp. 270–1; MS Carte 60 ff. 59v–61; Bucholz, pp. 88, 301 n. 6; Beattie, pp. 73, 168–71; and lists below.
  • 3. See Aylmer, King's Servants, p. 88.
  • 4. In 1689, John Fox became the last clerk of the spicery to rise to the green cloth; the last clerk of the kitchen, Charles Isaac, followed in 1691; the last avenor, Anthony Rowe, in 1693. Their successors in these inferior clerkships were disappointed in 1693 and 1702. Indeed, the clerk of the kitchen, Henry Lowman, failed repeatedly to make good his claim (Bucholz, pp. 102–3). For inferior clerkships, see the cases of James Eckersall and John Shaw (Beattie, pp. 168–71). Some idea of the confusion which befell this ladder of promotion by the end of the 18th century may be gathered from the later careers of Joseph Ramus, John Tarris and Henry Norton Willis, detailed in vol. ii.
  • 5. Promotion from yeomen's and grooms' positions to gentlemen's and sergeants' posts died out under George II: for example, the last yeoman of the ewry to become the gentleman of that department was William Beger in 1731, despite the continued existence of both positions to 1832. On the other hand, promotion from groomships to yeomen's positions continued throughout the period.
  • 6. Under Charles II, the following offices were held for life: treasurer of the chamber, master of the horse, master of the hawks, master and clerk of the great wardrobe, master and clerk of the jewel office, master of the revels, knight marshal, knight harbinger, groom porter, paymaster of the gentlemen pensioners, clerk comptroller of the tents, sergeants at arms, library keepers, bookseller, bookbinder and stationer, some physicians and surgeons, pages of the presence, grooms of the hunting and padd stable, musicians and falconers: see sources cited for lists below and LS 13/257 ff. 43v, 117, 146v; Stowe MS 196 ff. 104, 132; CTB, iii, 381; ibid. iv, 692, 698, 743, 747; ibid. v, 296, 649, 653, 661, 668, 991; ibid. viii, 379. In addition, the salaries of the gentlemen of the bedchamber were granted as life pensions until 1680.
  • 7. See J. C. Sainty, `A Reform in the Tenure of Offices during the Reign of Charles II', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xli (1968), pp. 151, 162; CTB, iii, 381; ibid. viii, 430, 457, 475; HMC 12th Report, App., vi, 309; HMC Buccleuch at Montagu House, i, 352; LC 3/53 p. 87; LC 5/155 p. 312; LS 13/183 pp. 4–5.
  • 8. The discussion of offices in the courts of law in W.S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law (1922–52), i, 246–64; ibid. vii, 312 has a wider applicability; see also N. Chester, The English Administrative System 1780–1870 (Oxford, 1981), p. 18.
  • 9. See LS 13/31–8; LS 13/10 ff. 15–16. Ominously for those involved, this status converted to that of pensioner on the establishment of 1699: LS 13/40.
  • 10. For example, in the master of the horse's department, Francis Mackenzie, page of honour receiving £260 year, was allowed £230 in compensation. The clerk of the avery, receiving £125 plus £69 2s for rent was compensated at £145. The sergeant of the carriages at £86 a year was compensated at £70: MOH PB 1 pp. 168–9.
  • 11. Prior to the 1720s, such servants were named via royal warrant to pensions lists included in the household establishments (LS 13/31–44; LS 13/252–3, 255, 257–8, 260). Under George II and early in the reign of George III, annual warrants authorizing payments of royal bounty were the norm: LS 13/262 ff. 22v, 23, 29v, 30v, 31v, 35, 38v; LS 13/265 ff. 12, 20v, 21v, 22v; CTP 1720–8, p. 340. Late in George III's reign the Treasury began to examine requests for superannuation according to a systematic scheme, as indicated below.
  • 12. See PRO, LC 9/6 pp. 24–5; LC 9/343, entry of 30 Jan. 1733; D. J. Burrows, `Handel and the English Chapel Royal during the Reigns of Queen Anne and George I' (Open University Ph.D. thesis, 1981), i, 413–14.
  • 13. LC 1/3 nos. 94, 95; MOH LB C pp. 164–5. For Treasury regulation of superannuations, see MOH LB D.
  • 14. LC 1/9 no. 618; LC 1/17 no. 1340. See also LC 1/15 no. 1148; 3 Geo. IV, c. 113.
  • 15. LC 5/160 f. 268: J. Pelham to Dr. Maurice Green, 24 Jan. 1735. For similar examples among the yeomen of the guard, see Pegge, pt. iii, 73.
  • 16. Bucholz, pp. 145–7.
  • 17. Soon after the Restoration a number of menial servants were removed for suspected association with Cromwell's regime or disaffection to that of Charles II: see LS 13/170 ff. 57v, 67, 102; MS Carte 59 ff. 2r–v, 119r–v. In 1710 a yeoman of the guard and a waterman lost their places for participation in the Sacheverell Riots. The following year, several middling and menial servants appointed by or associated with the Churchills fell with the Duchess of Marlborough: Bucholz, pp. 83, 323 n. 167. A number of messengers were removed for unspecified reasons during and after the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, and there were a few dismissals at the Whig split two years later: Beattie, pp. 175–6; LC 3/63 pp. 113, 127. While the courts of the later period await their historian, the lists printed below do not suggest widespread removals (apart from retrenchments) within reigns.
  • 18. See Bucholz, pp. 144–9; Beattie, pp. 173–80. The passage of 6 Anne, c. 3, which decreed that all public officers (including household servants) were to remain in office for 6 months after the death of the reigning monarch, probably increased the chances of retention.