Introduction: III, Patronage

Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660-1837. Originally published by University of London, London, 2006.

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'Introduction: III, Patronage', in Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660-1837, (London, 2006) pp. xlviii-liii. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


In theory, the patronage structure of the royal household was far more clear-cut, even logical, than its administrative or financial chains of command (see Fig. 4). At the beginning of the period, the monarch appointed all household officers of high rank, such as the lord and vice chamberlains, the lord steward and officers of the green cloth, the groom of the stole and lords (or ladies) of the bedchamber, the masters of the horse, robes, jewel office, great wardrobe and buckhounds, the captains of the gentlemen pensioners and yeomen of the guard, the lord almoner and the dean of the chapel royal. In addition, the Crown had the appointment of the most prestigious and lucrative middling posts, including the grooms, women and maids of honour in the bedchamber; the subordinate officers of the gentlemen pensioners and yeomen of the guard; the clerk of the closet; the equerries, pages of honour, clerk and surveyors of the stables; and the sergeants, gentlemen and clerks of the catering subdepartments below stairs. (fn. 1) In this last case, however, royal initiative was circumscribed by the `Ancient Order of Succession' that was supposed to fill these offices from below. Altogether, the Crown had, before 1782, about 90100 of the most desirable household posts in its disposal. That number fell to perhaps 75 thereafter.

The remaining household patronage was divided among heads of department. Thus, the lord chamberlain had at his disposal a patronage field which fluctuated between 285 and 450 offices between the Restoration and Economical Reform. (fn. 2) These included middling and menial chamber attendants, artists and tradesmen, ranging in status from the masters of the ceremonies and revels down to the royal watermen. The captain of the yeomen of the guard had the appointment of 200 yeomen before 1670, 100 thereafter. The captain of the gentlemen pensioners appointed 50 gentlemen of the band before 1670, 40 thereafter. (fn. 3) The dean of the chapel appointed the subdean, about 40 gentlemen, children and officers of the vestry and, from 1724, 24 preachers at Whitehall Chapel; (fn. 4) the master of the great wardrobe, between 30 and 70 tailors, arrasworkers and tradesmen and the master of the robes about 15 to 25 tradesmen. (fn. 5) The groom ofthe stole had the appointment of about ten menial servants in the bedchamber.

Below stairs, the lord steward had the appointment of between 90 and 250 yeomen, grooms, pages and children in the catering subdepartments, though here, too, the `Ancient Order of Succession' should have prevented his having a free hand. (fn. 6) At the lowest levels of the department, turnbroaches, coal porters, doorkeepers, and soil carriers were appointed by individual clerks and clerks comptrollers of the green cloth or clerks of the kitchens and master cooks in a variety of rotations. (fn. 7) In the stables, the master of the horse had the appointment of between 60 and 150 footmen, grooms, coachmen, chairmen, postilions, helpers, stablekeepers, tradesmen and other menial personnel. (fn. 8)

Finally, as first Treasury and then parliamentary control of the household grew, the former began to appoint officers in its own right, beginning with the comptroller and surveyor of the great wardrobe in 1667 and continuing with the comptroller of the treasurer of the chamber's office in 1690. By the end of the period the Treasury had the appointment of an auditor of the civil list, and Treasury approval was necessary for any appointment that increased the size of the household establishments. (fn. 9)

In fact, from the beginning of the period a wide variety of factors could, in practice, sway or prevent the appointing officer from being able to exercise his or her right without constraint. The sovereign himself was, of course, subject to influence from courtiers whom it was desirable or necessary to please. By at least the reign of Anne, appointments at the highest levels of the household were determined in consultation with the ministry. By the end of the period, they were increasingly made at its behest. (fn. 10) Finally, the monarch's choice might be constrained by a customary ladder of promotion, as below stairs, or by a previously granted reversion. On the other hand, no monarch seems to have felt the least qualm in interfering in the patronage of his department heads. (fn. 11) The most spectacular example of this came at the Restoration, when the new King made 26 such requests of his lord steward alone - at the cost to the latter of an estimated £14,100 which would have accrued to him from the sale of the offices in question. Nor could a department head ignore easily the requests of a member of the royal family, a prominent politician or a favoured courtier or mistress. (fn. 12) Indeed, it was the wise appointing officer who secured the monarch's approval, whether explicit or tacit, in making any appointment, particularly one to an office which brought its holder into the royal presence or social prominence. For example, in 1723, Lord Chamberlain Newcastle consulted the King before appointing Charles Jervas principal painter, despite the position's being in his own gift. (fn. 13)

As the period wore on, there were two noticeable developments with regard to household patronage. The first was the Treasury's increasing role, as noted above. The second was the gradual reduction of the patronage fields of the greatest department heads after 1782 (see Fig. 1A). Most dramatically, the lord chamberlain lost the disposal of about 70 places between that date and the end of the period. (fn. 14) The masters of the great wardrobe and jewel house saw their offices and departments cease to exist entirely.


  • 1. Bucholz, pp. 65–8.
  • 2. In general, the higher figure given for patronage applies to the household in the early years of Charles II. The lower figure occurred, in most cases, under James II or Anne. For places in the lord chamberlain's disposal, see Stowe MS 152 f. 114; PRO, LC 5/205, entry of 12 Aug. 1727.
  • 3. Under Charles II, the monarch reserved the right to approve the appointment of individual yeomen of the guard and gentlemen pensioners: PRO, LC 5/196 ff. 13, 18; CTB, iii, 853–4.
  • 4. LC 5/202 pp. 318–19.
  • 5. The tradesmen in the chamber, great wardrobe and robes, like the purveyors below stairs and in the stables, were not regularly paid servants of the crown. As such they have not been counted in Figs. 1 and 4 and do not figure in the lists printed in this volume.
  • 6. For places in the lord steward's disposal, see Stowe MS 306 ff. 93–96v; MS Carte 59 ff. 121–3.
  • 7. Stowe MS 306, ff. 93–96v; LS 13/117 pp. 93, 218–19; LS 13/118 p. 45; LS 13/171 p. 382; LS 13/200–1 (reversed).
  • 8. See MOH WB 1–2.
  • 9. LS 13/266 ff. 73v, 77; LC 1/2–20; MOH LB D-F.
  • 10. See Bucholz, pp. 92–4; Beattie, pp. 138–52; R. Pares, King George III and the Politicians (Oxford, 1953), pp. 145–6; Corr. of George III, iv, 506; ibid. v, 464, 502–3, 504–5, 506; ibid. vi, 1, 382, 395; Later Corr. of George III, i, 11–12, 109; ibid. iv, 163–4 and n., 169–75 and n.; ibid. v, 617–18; Letters of George IV, i, pp. lxxiv–lxxvi; but cf. ibid. ii, 169–170, 448–9 and n. 1, 471 n. 1.
  • 11. See HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv, 93, 139, 393–4; Harl. MS 1843 pp. 15–16; LS 13/175 f. 24v; Bucholz, pp. 78–9; Beattie, pp. 135–8; Colvin, vi, 41; Corr. of George III, iii, 2; Later Corr. of George III, iii, 75.
  • 12. MS Carte 59 ff. 121–3; Beattie, p. 137.
  • 13. Beattie, p. 137. For a later example, see Later Corr. of George III, iii, 479.
  • 14. That is, his field of patronage diminished from about 350 in 1780 to about 280 in 1836.