Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660-1837. Originally published by University of London, London, 2006.
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The royal household served a unique and ever-evolving purpose during the later Stuart and Hanoverian periods. It existed to provide a wide variety of services to the monarch and the nation, not all of which are reducible to structural analysis or rational measures of efficiency or cost. To the extent that it provided the King and his attendants with their lodging, food, fuel, transportation and medical services, it is fairly easy to determine the responsible structures and personnel. More difficult is to gauge the quantity and quality of the services it provided, the rationality of its administrative and financial arrangements, the suitability and assiduity of its officeholders, the rectitude of its administrators, the shrewdness of its purchasing officers and the integrity of its purveyors and suppliers. To the extent that the court provided the monarch, his courtiers and the nation as a whole with useful and meaningful rituals and inspiring or pleasurable art or entertainment, it is more difficult still to explain its methods or assess its effectiveness. And to the extent that the court was intended to provide a habitat or a rallying point for members of the ruling class, the delineation of means and evaluation of success is even less amenable to traditional methods of historical inquiry.
The following pages seek to explain the administrative and financial structures and procedures of the court and to evaluate their effectiveness, primarily, against the first of these sets of functions. As a result, that most intangible thing called a court will be reduced to an assemblage of lists, establishments, ordinances and accounts. When examined from this perspective, the royal household can too readily seem an irrational and inefficient anachronism, rather than a vital organ of the body politic. Therefore, it would be well to recall the other functions of the court noted above, if only because they dictated that it could not always be on the cutting edge of administrative and financial evolution.
Administrative Structure and Work of the Royal Household
Before exploring the structure and history of the royal household during the period covered by this volume and its successor, it must be recognized that no other branch of government was more fully an expression of the sovereign's disposition, tastes or will. It was the sovereign who determined where the court would reside, how formal or informal were to be its daily routines and social occasions and, until nearly the end of the period, how strict was to be its adherence to administrative protocol or thrift. The sovereign set the tone for departmental heads and they, in turn, were careful to consult their master on matters of ceremony, administration, personnel, even finance. (fn. 1) Indeed, even after the establishment of the principle of Treasury control of the spending departments soon after the Restoration, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century monarchs not only set the parameters for household establishments, but could authorize expenditure exceeding those establishments by means of the royal sign manual. (fn. 2) This was in keeping with the idea that the royal household was the monarch's private affair and that the civil list was, in the words of the Duke of Newcastle, `your Majesty's own Money; you may do with it, what you please'. (fn. 3)
Nevertheless, as the period progressed, the sovereign's practical administrative and financial control over his household diminished, just as it did for his government as a whole. Because of the parlous finances of the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century monarchy, the sovereign found it increasingly necessary to conform to fixed household establishments, and convenient to leave many day-to-day decisions to the Treasury. After the advent of Economical Reform in 1782, ever-more stringent parliamentary requirements for Treasury control of civil list (and therefore household) expenditures diminished still further the monarch's freedom in anything affecting the budget. That control was cemented by the legisla tion which resulted from a series of inquiries into the civil list which took place in the wake of the establishment of the Regency between 1811 and 1816. (fn. 4) When, in the summer of 1816, the Prince Regent informed the master of the horse of his desire to appoint three supernumerary footmen and a number of other menial stables servants, the request was denied by the Treasury on the basis of this legislation and resultant Treasury orders which had been approved by the Prince. (fn. 5) When, at the beginning of his own reign, George IV expressed his intention to run his household by direct communication with its department heads, rather than through the Treasury, he was thwarted when the latter pointed out that their authority was now secured by both statute and usage. (fn. 6) Thus, the structures and procedures delineated below were subject, first, to the wishes of the King (or Queen), then, fairly early in the period, increasingly over its span, and decisively at its end, the Treasury. Finally, as the civil list became a matter of public debate in the eighteenth century, the Treasury found itself increasingly subject to the inquiring gaze and direction of parliament in the area of household administration and finance. This process achieved dramatic culmination in 1830 when the Wellington ministry fell on a vote on William IV's civil list provision. (fn. 7)
The early modern royal household may be divided into three parts: the lord chamberlain's and associated subdepartments, responsible for the ceremonial, social and artistic life of the monarch and his court; the lord steward's department, responsible for their culinary and domestic needs; and the department of the master of the horse, which provided their transportation. (fn. 8) Of these three, the chamberlain's was by far the largest, ranging from as many as 900 officers and servants in the early years of Charles II down to about 570 under his successor and, again, at the end of the period (Fig. 1A). The chamber was also the most loosely organized of the household departments (Fig. 2). At its head was the lord chamberlain. During the period in question, this position was invariably held by a peer of the rank of earl or higher. He, or, in his absence, the vice chamberlain, received orders directly from the monarch. These were communicated verbally through the gentleman usher of the privy chamber and the gentleman usher daily waiter in attendance to the array of gentlemen, grooms and pages who served in the public rooms; through their respective masters to the officers of the ceremonies, revels, buckhounds, harriers, hawks, staghounds, music and watermen; through their respective captains to the gentlemen pensioners and yeomen of the guard; and through its dean to the chapel royal. (fn. 9) Before 1782 financially independent subdepartments providing matériel, such as the great wardrobe, works or jewel office, received their orders for work or goods via lord chamberlain's warrant (see Fig. 2). (fn. 10) The lord chamberlain was also responsible for planning royal ceremonies, selecting Lent preachers, granting leave of absence, assigning lodgings, disciplining servants and regulating the London theatres. (fn. 11) The clerical work of the department was handled by the secretary to the lord chamberlain, supported by a deputy secretary and a clerical staff which grew from one servant under Queen Anne to five a century later. These officers worked at the lord chamberlain's office in the cockpit at Whitehall.
It has been argued that one reason for the fragmentation of chamber organization was that so many heads of subdepartments associated with the lord chamberlain's department were peers. (fn. 12) Indeed, towards the end of the seventeenth century, the chamberlain's authority was challenged by the heads of a number of these semi-independent subdepartments, who were, often, his social and political equals. These challenges were, for the most part, resisted successfully by the vigorous and politically significant lords chamberlain of the period, in particular Arlington and Mulgrave. (fn. 13) A major exception concerned the royal bedchamber, a department created under James I and headed by the groom of the stole. (fn. 14) This office was held by a peer almost always of the rank of earl or higher. Under a male sovereign, he was in charge of eight to nineteen gentlemen, eight to fifteen grooms, six pages and the menial servants of the bedchamber. Under Queen Anne, the groom of the stole supervised ten or eleven ladies of the bedchamber, four to six women of the bedchamber and six maids of honour in addition to menial servants. (fn. 15) These officers had supplanted those of the privy chamber at the beginning of the seventeenth century as providers of the monarch's `body service', that is, his ceremonial dressing and personal attendance generally. (fn. 16) The groom of the stole and gentlemen or ladies also provided companionship of an appropriate social rank. Their relationship to the rest of the lord chamberlain's department had always been ambiguous. (fn. 17) After a running battle through the early 1680s, a compromise was reached whereby the officers of the bedchamber were to obey the lord chamberlain outside the royal bedchamber and closet. Within these rooms the groom of the stole was supreme. (fn. 18) This supremacy was strengthened by the Bedchamber Ordinances of 1689, which remained in force well into the eighteenth century. (fn. 19)
The heart of the lord chamberlain's department was to be found among the gentlemen waiters and inferior servants who worked in the public rooms. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were about 220 of these, exc luding the 48 gentlemen of the privy chamber, who had lost nearly all of their duties and remuneration by 1685. (fn. 20) The remainder of the staff of the public rooms existed to open doors, light the way for visitors and generally to provide the court with a gentle or martial presence. (fn. 21) A visitor to St. James's in the early eighteenth century encountered porters and undermarshals (subordinate to the knight marshal in the lord steward's department) at the palace gates, footguards in open courtyards, and 40 yeomen of the guard lining the great staircase and guard chamber, with a yeoman usher to open the door to the latter. Also attending in this room were the grooms of the great chamber, who acted as household messengers, as well as a number of messengers of the chamber, who, though nominally under the authority of the lord chamberlain, were really the messenger-and-law-enforcement service of the secretaries of state. (fn. 22) At the opposite end of the guard chamber stood two gentlemen ushers quarterly waiters to open the door and, if necessary, light the way into the presence chamber. This room was manned by four sergeants at arms, two pages of the presence, a cupbearer, a carver and a sewer and lined by 12 to 40 gentlemen pensioners, depending on the occasion. (fn. 23) At all times, at the far end of the presence chamber, were stationed two grooms whose duty was to open the door and light the way into the privy chamber. At the far end of the latter stood two gentlemen ushers of the privy chamber, who provided the same service into the drawing room. These gentlemen ushers were the superior officers in the privy chamber and withdrawing rooms, the gentleman usher daily waiter in the presence and guard chamber; that is, each took orders for their respective rooms directly from the lord or vice chamberlain. (fn. 24)
Intermittently under the later Stuarts, and especially during periods of political crisis such as the Popish Plot, the yeomen of the guard, one gentleman usher quarterly waiter or page of the presence and an esquire of the body (in the presence chamber), two gentlemen of the privy chamber, a groom of the bedchamber (in the withdrawing room) and the gentleman of the bedchamber in waiting slept on pallet beds in their respective rooms of attendance, for the King's protection. This was a revival of an ancient practice known as the service of `All Night'. (fn. 25) But as access to the monarch came increasingly under the purview of the groom of the stole and the gentlemen and grooms of the bedchamber, the office of esquire of the body became superfluous and was abolished in 1702. During the day, the officers of the bedchamber in waiting (that is, the gentleman or lady, groom or woman and page) generally guarded access to the closet, usually at the backstairs. In addition, there was often an equerry of the stables in readiness there should the monarch decide on a remove. (fn. 26) The duty of sleeping in or near the monarch's bedchamber seems to have been performed by a gentleman of the bedchamber as late as the reign of James II and by a woman of the bedchamber under Anne. A page of the bedchamber continued to sleep just outside the King's bedchamber into the reign of George III and it was the pages who bore the brunt of close attendance during his periodic bouts of insanity. (fn. 27) The King's illn ess eventually resulted in a new layer of attendance about him with the creation of a private secretary in the person of Herbert Taylor in 1805. Henceforward, this officer was the main regulator of access and conduit of information to and from the King. (fn. 28)
The lord chamberlain's department included or was associated with a number of important subdepartments. The ceremonies was responsible for the ritual surrounding the reception and entertainment of ambassadors. (fn. 29) The revels concerned itself with the censorship of plays put on in London during the first half of the period. This function, part of the chamberlain's general power to regulate the theatre, was transferred to a newly created examiner and deputy examiner of plays by the Licensing Act of 1737. (fn. 30) The removing wardrobe and wardrobe keepers were responsible for the King's furniture and the housekeepers had caretaking functions. The lord almoner and sub almoner distributed royal charity through the office of the almonry (which came under the jurisdiction of the lord steward). The dean and subdean, chaplains, gentlemen and children of the chapel royal provided for the monarch's daily and Sunday worship, as well as forming, in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, especially, the most significant centre for the production and performance of church music in the country. (fn. 31) The court musicians (who, under Charles II, numbered over 100 outside the chapel, but fell to less than half that number thereafter), the poet laureate, historiographer, principal painter and surveyor of the pictures were paid servants of the chamber. An army of auxiliary artistic personnel and tradesmen, including the members of the licensed theatre companies during the first half of the period, were sworn under the lord chamberlain. However, they were paid only for occasional services and so had only an occasional connection with the household proper.
As indicated above, a number of semi-independent subdepartments received their orders via lord chamberlain's warrant prior to 1782. Of these the largest was the great wardrobe, which provided livery for household servants and furniture, tapestries and bedding for the royal palaces and some government offices. (fn. 32) The department was headed by a master who was usually a peer. He was aided by a deputy master and a clerk, who presided over a staff of between 30 and 70 tailors, arrasworkers and tradesmen. As the period progressed, a number of officers intended by the Treasury to exert financial regulation were inserted into this hierarchy. The jewel office provided plate for the household, for ambassadors, great officers of the state and household department heads and as prizes for horse races. This subdepartment also kept the royal jewels and regalia. (fn. 33) It, too, was headed by a master, aided by a clerk and several yeomen, grooms and pages. The works, headed by a surveyor, was responsible for the construction and upkeep of royal buildings. (fn. 34) The robes, responsible for the monarch's clothing, was headed by a master and was of about the same size and structure as the jewel office. (fn. 35) Finally, the keeper of the privy purse was responsible for the monarch's private fund of that name. The departments of the great wardrobe and jewel office were abolished in 1782, that of the works removed from the lord chamberlain's jurisdiction in 1815.
The lord steward's department was smaller than that of the chamberlain, ranging in size from nearly 350 places in the early years of Charles II down to about 120 by the end of the period (Fig. 1A). It was headed by the lord steward, invariably of the rank of earl or above. (fn. 36) While the steward received the King's verbal orders and had the final say (after the monarch) on administrative procedure (as well as, early in the period, financial and patronage matters (fn. 37) ), he tended, in practice, to leave the day-today running of the department to the board of green cloth. (fn. 38) This body, which met at Whitehall before 1715 and at St. James's thereafter, drew up establishments, co-ordinated the work of the various catering subdepartments, disciplined recalcitrant officials and acted as a lower court of law for the Verge, that area within 12 miles of the royal household, excluding the city of London and other liberties. (fn. 39) It consisted, from 1660 to 1782, of the treasurer, comptroller and master of the household (positions which were, for the most part, sinecures), the cofferer (the department's financial and accounting officer), two clerks and two clerk comptrollers of the green cloth. In 1761 two additional clerk comptrollers of the green cloth, two clerks of the debentures and a clerk to the master of the household were added to the departmental establishment. (fn. 40) In 1782 the cofferer was replaced by a paymaster and the clerical staff by two clerks of the household. (fn. 41) The clerks of the green cloth and their successors, the clerks of the household, made the day-to-day decisions on running the household below stairs, often in consultation with the lord steward through his secretary. The actual clerical work of the department was done by a number of assistant clerks, and, prior to 1782, the yeomen and grooms of the accompting house.
Below the level of the green cloth, the lord steward's department consisted of a series of subdepartments, mostly concerned with the catering and supply of necessary articles. The most important and largest of these offices were the royal kitchens. During the first half of the period there was usually a King's privy kitchen and a household kitchen, with a Queen's privy kitchen in existence 1663–94 and 1727–37. The kitchens had a staff of clerks to record the delivery and outlay of provisions. The work of cooking for the court was performed by a series of master cooks, yeomen, grooms and children, supported by menial servants such as turnbroaches, pankeepers and scourers. Next in importance came the cellar, headed by a gentleman and responsible for keeping the monarch's wines. The buttery stored and delivered liquors other than wine. The poultry was responsible for providing fruit, greens, butter and eggs for the royal tables. The acatry procured meat, fish, bacon and other goods and delivered them to the larder, where they were stored prior to delivery to the kitchens. The scalding house prepared fowl for dressing by the cooks. The bakehouse baked the court's bread and delivered it to the pantry. The confectionery prepared fruit desserts, the pastry bakemeats, pies and tarts. The spicery delivered spices, candles and goods supplied by the grocer and oilman. The ewry and laundry were responsible for the royal table linen (the former for provision and storage, the latter for cleaning), the scullery for royal plate and pewter. The woodyard (later known as the coalyard) provided the court's fuel. (fn. 42)
The size and number of these subdepartments decreased steadily over the course of the period as the Crown gradually abolished tables of hospitality and the right to diet of its own servants, beginning in 1663. Early in the period, a separate boiling house, chandry (responsible for candles), pitcher house and wafery were consolidated into other subdepartments or were eliminated in favour of purchase from off-site vendors. The acatry, bakehouse, household kitchen, larder, poultry and scalding house were abolished in 1761, the pastry (apart from a single pastry cook) by 1812, the buttery by 1816 and the spicery by 1820. (fn. 43)
Most subdepartments had at least one established clerk who was responsible for bookkeeping and accounting. Heading the staff of each subdepartment was usually a sergeant or a gentleman, followed by a series of yeomen, grooms, and in the case of the largest subdepartments (cellar, kitchens, scullery, etc.), children, pages and other menial servants, whose places were all filled by promotion according to seniority. Before 1782, the lord steward also had the supervision of the royal harbingers, responsible for finding lodgings for the court while on progress; the marshals, servers and daily waiters in hall, who maintained order and served food and drink in the dining hall; the porters at the gate; the cartakers, who procured carts for the court's progresses and removes; and the knight marshal and his men, who acted as a kind of security force for the household as a whole. But the changing nature of the royal household reduced these responsibilities: the officers of the hall, unnecessary once household servants lost diet, were gone by 1716. Similarly, a less peripatetic court could do without the harbingers and all but one cartaker by 1783. Finally, there was a vast array of purveyors sworn into royal service who were paid for goods as delivered. (fn. 44) Prior to reforms enacted in 1761, many of these also had salaried positions in the catering subdepartments noted above.
The smallest of the household departments was that headed by the master of the horse. It ranged in size from about 170 officers in the 1670s down to around 80 under Queen Anne (Fig. 1A). When not in commission, the master's position was usually held by a peer, generally of the rank of earl or above. (fn. 45) He was both his department's administrative head and its chief accounting officer. When in attendance, he accompanied the monarch abroad and conveyed his or her verbal orders to the gentleman of the horse and the equerry in attendance, who, in turn, communicated necessary arrangements to the footmen, coachmen, chairmen, grooms, postilions and helpers who did the work of transporting the court and caring for its horses and equipage. (fn. 46) In the absence of the master, the equerry in attendance received the monarch's orders and accompanied him or her on horseback when abroad. In addition, the equerries of the crown stable and the yeomen riders were responsible for training the pages of honour (who were adolescent boys) in horsemanship. (fn. 47) There was also a staff of farriers, saddlers, purveyors and granitors, stablekeepers and surveyors whose jobs were to keep the stables in good repair and supplied with necessaries. Many of these latter servants were on the payroll until 1782, when they were reduced to the status of purveyors; that is, paid only for specific work. Finally, the officers and servants of the buckhounds were transferred to the jurisdiction of the master of the horse in 1783. (fn. 48)
The master of the horse made administrative decisions for the department which were implemented via orders written up by the clerk of the stables. This officer was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the stables. (fn. 49) There was no office to transact the business of the department in the Royal Mews at Charing Cross until December 1760. (fn. 50) This office and the Mews themselves moved to Pimlico in the mid-1820s. (fn. 51)