Introduction: Financial structure

Pages xxxvii-xlviii

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

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Financial Structure

It was, perhaps, in the financial arrangements of the royal household that its medieval origin, ad hoc development and idiosyncratic structure appear most plainly. As indicated in Fig. 3, between 1685 and 1782 there were some ten household paymasters, (fn. 1) corresponding roughly to the major household departments and subdepartments. However, a large number of officers and servants, including the wh ole of the bedchamber, revels, ceremonies and works received the bulk of their salaries directly at the Exchequer until 1782; thereafter this number was reduced piecemeal until hardly any were so paid by 1830. (fn. 2) Moreover, of the ten paymasters, only seven were required to submit accounts to the Exchequer of Audit. The keeper of the privy purse, paymaster of the gentleman pensioners and jeweller and goldsmith operated without account. (fn. 3)

As with the administrative chain of command, it was the lord chamberlain's department which had the most complicated financial arrangements. In theory, the chief financial officer of the department was, before 1782, the treasurer of the chamber. He had been a formidable figure during the Yorkist and early Tudor periods, but the reforms of Thomas Cromwell and subsequent developments had reduced his responsibilities to that of paying a portion of the salaries, the lodging money, riding wages and bills of the officers and servants of the public rooms and chapel, some of the artisans, the groom porter, harbingers, messengers of the chamber, some hunting personnel and the watermen. (fn. 4) A number of subdepartments whose salaries were paid at the Exchequer, such as the ceremonies, revels and (through their paymaster) the gentlemen pensioners, had expenses paid by the treasurer of the chamber. In 1690–2, after a notorious case of peculation by the incumbent treasurer, a comptroller of the treasurer of the chamber was established by the Treasury. This officer examined the warrants which accompanied the lord chamberlain's requests for goods, certified that the money earmarked for those goods was paid to the proper person, kept his own set of accounts and signed the treasurer's accounts before they were sent to the auditor of receipt. (fn. 5)

In 1782 the treasurer of the chamber and associated officers' places were eliminated. The lord chamberlain became the chief financial as well as administrative officer of his department. (fn. 6) In 1801 a superintendent of payments was added; in 1823 he was joined by a comptroller and an inspector of accounts. The superintendent and comptroller examined requests for goods and services. (fn. 7)

The great wardrobe, robes, tents and toils and works, though subordinate to the lord chamberlain in point of administration, were financially autonomous, receiving their money on imprest from the auditor of receipt and accounting for it directly at the Exchequer. (fn. 8) This put the lord chamberlain in the position of ordering matériel without having any idea of its possible cost. Since these departments existed to supply the household with goods as needed, and since the price of materials and workmanship fluctuated, they were impossible to reduce to an establishment. Instead, the later Stuart Treasury attempted to impose order upon these subdepartments by requiring the submission of estimates for each piece of work undertaken and of annual estimates of the next year's expenses; and, in 1667, by creating a comptroller and a surveyor of the great wardrobe. (fn. 9)

A series of inquiries into the great wardrobe, works, jewel office and removing wardrobe between 1711 and 1730 (fn. 10) revealed that these measures were largely ineffectual, not least because the Treasury had no way of judging the accuracy of each estimate nor the means to prevent its being exceeded in the finished product. (fn. 11) The inquiries into the great wardrobe undertaken at the beginning of George II's reign, in particular, proved that the Treasury estimates were, indeed, not always accurate and were sometimes left unexamined; that work was often ordered before the Treasury had countersigned the warrants; that the Treasury had not always done so; that goods were sometimes ordered by verbal contract, sometimes by no contract at all; that there was no check by the officers of the department (let alone the Treasury) on either the quantity or quality of goods supplied; that tradesmen's bills were simply accepted as true; and, finally, that no vouchers were required in order for the auditor to pass the account. In the works, the King was paying for buildings which he had not approved, for workers who had done no work, and for materials which had been measured falsely or embezzled. (fn. 12) This led, in turn, to the revived establishment of a Treasury-sponsored comptroller in the great wardrobe (1729) and several new sets of instructions for the works (1715, 1718, 1719, 1726). (fn. 13) But the great wardrobe, jewel office and works remained notorious for their expense and corruption. The functions of all three were absorbed by the lord chamberlain's department in 1782, but these services continued to be the major source of overruns in household expenditure until most were removed from the chamberlain's responsibility late in the reign of George III.

Finally, many officers and servants in the lord chamberlain's department began the period by receiving diet, which was soon commuted to boardwages, on the lord steward's establishment. In fact, the major head of expenditure on that establishment was the provision of food, drink, fuel, forage and other necessaries for the court. Prior to 1660, these had been supplied out of the countryside by the monarch's ancient rights of purveyance, that is `of buying goods for the king by forced purchase at low static rates', or by composition, `that is an agreement [by an individual county] to deliver stated quantities at stated prices below the market rate'. These practices were abolished soon after the Restoration by 12 Charles II, c. 24. (fn. 14) Instead, the lord steward negotiated annual contracts at the board of green cloth with officially designated and sworn purveyors. (fn. 15) The day-to-day financial decisions below stairs were made by the board of green cloth. It was to the board that individual catering subdepartments such as the larder or kitchens were required to submit monthly accounts for both established and extraordinary expenditure. In addition, the clerks of the kitchen made up daily bills of fare for the board's approval, ordered provisions from purveyors and kept records of servants receiving board wages. (fn. 16)

The chief financial and accounting officer of the household was, before 1782, the cofferer. He paid and accounted at the Exchequer for all the wages and boardwages of the lord steward's department, the wages of the master of the horse's department and the aforementioned boardwages of the chamberlain's department. In addition, he paid the purveyors who supplied the royal household with food, fuel, hay, oats and other necessaries according to the above-noted annual contracts. (fn. 17) After his elimination in 1782, the paymaster of the household became the accounting officer. (fn. 18) Similarly, the master of the horse was responsible for equipage and extraordinary expenses in the stables supplied according to contracts which he and the lord steward negotiated with its purveyors. (fn. 19) From 1782, he paid the officers and servants of the stables, and gained increasing responsibility for the provision of forage. (fn. 20)

As the period began, the arrangements made for the supply of funds to the royal household might charitably be des cribed as makeshift. (fn. 21) Prior to 1698, each household paymaster and servant paid at the Exchequer had to vie with those from other government departments, many of which were considered, during time of war or scarcity, in particular, more essential. In 1698, parliament voted William III a civil list revenue intended to provide him with £700,000 a year, of which the household departments were supposed to receive just over 40%. Henceforward, the problem of household finance was inextricably bound up with the problems of the civil list. The most important of those problems was the repeated failure of the civil list revenue to produce its intended yield. (fn. 22) The situation was exacerbated by royal extravagance (especially under Charles II and William III) and made worse by the fact that there was, at first, no central authority to brake that extravagance at either royal or departmental level and by the confused nature of the household's internal financial arrangements. In these circumstances it is not surprising to learn that the court was, during the later seventeenth and most of the eighteenth centuries, often short of money and not always sure of how that money had been spent. This led to massive cumulative debt and lengthy arrears under Charles II, William III, A nne and each of the first three Georges. This led, in turn, to repeated requests for both permanent and temporary augmentations of the civil list, detailed below in section VII.

Given the uncertainty of supply for household expenses, it was imperative that there be some means to regulate spending. The only agency of government with any hope of imposing such regulation on the tangled apparatus of household finance was the Treasury. But, despite the advances in control over the spending departments achieved by the commissions of 1667 and 1679, and the more specific measures for the household described above, `Treasury control' of the household departments was weak for most of the period. For example, the Treasury, while commonly consulted in the framing of household establishments, did not have the ultimate authority in determining their final form. As noted previously, that right was reserved to the King, who could also modify a signed establishment toward greater expenditure by virtue of a royal warrant. (fn. 23) The Treasury did what it could to set limits for departments for which it was impossible to fix establishments because they provided goods on an `as needed' basis, such as the great wardrobe and works. (fn. 24) But, because the household was still considered the King's private concern and because great department heads were usually peers who held their offices at his pleasure, there was little attempt to hold the household departments - whether established or non-established - to these limits: Treasury warrants authorizing payment of the excess were common in the mid eighteenth century. (fn. 25)

Nor did the Treasury have a very clear idea of how monies had been spent in the immediate past, thanks to `the ancient course' of eighteenth-century accounting procedure. First, the legal remedies to force a household paymaster to submit his accounts were weak. (fn. 26) Second, the accounts of even a conscientious paymaster could take years to move through the system. (fn. 27) Third, the accounting years of the various household paymasters varied wildly. In some departments, the expenditure for several years would be declared in a single seamless account. (fn. 28) As a result, it was almost impossible to know what a department's current - let alone anticipated - expenditure was likely to be. This led to the Treasury's first call in September 1710 for each household department to provide an estimate of its median expense for the previous seven years and for the Exchequer year about to begin. This was an isolated case in Anne's reign, but the practice became common after 1718. Moreover, as the eighteenth century wore on, the Treasury demanded annual and quarterly accounts from an increasing number of departments and estimates of the cost of individual items. (fn. 29) Burke's Economical Reform Act gave parliamentary sanction to such control while adding an incentive to avoid such parliamentary scrutiny in future.

By the early nineteenth century, the need to defend household expenditure in parliament led the Treasury to make increasingly frequent and, often, peremptory assertions of the right to determine establishments and revise or refuse permission to implement individual and quarterly estimates. (fn. 30) In 1810 the House resolved that no `Pension or Allowance should either be granted in any Office, or presented by way of Estimate to this House, until it shall have been submitted to the Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury'. (fn. 31) This control was facilitated in 1816 by the establishment of an auditor of the civil list by 56 George III, c. 46, which finally put the court's financial structure under a single authority other than, and independent of, the monarch. His job was to examine required quarterly estimates of future expenditure and quarterly accounts of past expenditure, orders, bills and vouchers provided by the household departments, compare them against each other, against required annual estimates sanctioned by parliament and against current market prices and report any excess to the Treasury Board for approval or rejection. He was also to enforce financial regularity, uncover fraud in tradesmen's bills (for which he had the right to examine persons under oath), make suggestions for `the better management of the Civil List' and compile an annual account which would give the Treasury a much better idea of recent expenditure than that available to its predecessors. (fn. 32) The result was a true Treasury sovereignty over spending in the departments of the royal household, a sovereignty which did much to bring that spending down to predictable, and so manageable, levels by the 1830s.


  • 1. The office of the tents and toils, which had accounted separately to the Exchequer, was transferred to the Ordnance office in 1685: see Barclay, `Impact of James II', p. 63.
  • 2. Some of the positions in ques tion were eliminated in the reforms at the end of George III's reign; others were transferred entirely to the accounts of the household paymasters. Only the hawks, the latin secretary and the reader at Hampton Court chapel were paid at the Exchequer by the civil list settlement of 1830.
  • 3. However, privy purse accounts for the years 1668–85 and 1687 may be found in PRO, E 351/2795–7 and AO 1/2021.
  • 4. Declared accounts of the treasurer of the chamber for the period 1660–1782 may be found in PRO, AO 1/395–426; AO 3/130–9 [1660–1715]; and E 351/545–68 [1618–1741]. See also PRO, LC 5/11–25; LC 5/167–8.
  • 5. CTB, ix, 759; LC 1/2 [31 July 1707]; PRO, LC 5/27–30; Beattie, p. 121; Baxter, Treasury, p. 71.
  • 6. Declared accounts of the lord chamberlain 1782–1812 may be found in PRO, AO 1/427–36.
  • 7. LC 1/15 no. 1160.
  • 8. Great wardrobe accounts for the period 1660–1782 may be found in PRO, AO 1/2353–90; AO 3/1122–85, 1188–93 and E 351/3103–40, 3147–52. Robes accounts for the period 1660–1812 may be found in PRO, AO 1/2050–67; AO 3/910–46 and E 351/2818–49. For the tents and toils 1660–76, see PRO, AO 1/2295–7; AO 3/1093 and E 351/2958–9. For the works 1660–1832, see PRO, AO 1/2433–73, 2476–501; AO 3/1243–75 and E 351/3274–320, 3423–69.
  • 9. Colvin, v, 7; PRO, LC 5/11 f. 24; CTB, ii, 121; ibid. iii, 533; ibid. vii, 753–4; ibid. xv, 245; ibid.xviii, 313; PRO, LC 5/53 f. 148. The works had been required to submit estimates since before the Restoration; the great wardrobe from 1662, but the rule had to be reiterated in 1699; and the jewel office from 1703. For the work of the comptroller and surveyor of the great wardrobe and the difficulties which they faced, see PRO, LC 5/85 ff. 5–6, 29.
  • 10. For the great wardrobe see Beattie, pp. 122–6; CTB, xxv, 110; ibid. xxvi, 126, 390, 398; CTP 1720–8, pp. 531–3; CTBP 1729–30, pp. 11, 12, 16, 22, 114, 131, 136, 168, 234, 474. For the works, see CTP 171419, pp. 309–10, 416, 418, 443, 448–9, 477. For the jewel office, see CTP 1720–8, pp. 472–3. For the removing wardrobe, see CTBP 1729–30, p. 474; CTBP 1731–4, p. 7; LC 5/160 pp. 140–6.
  • 11. See, for example, CTP 1720–8, p. 472.
  • 12. Beattie, pp. 122–3; CTP 1714–19, pp. 416, 418; CTP 1720–8, pp. 472–3, 531–3.
  • 13. For the great wardrobe, see CTP 1720–8, p. 1; CTBP 1729–30, pp. 168, 234; Beattie, pp. 125–6. For the works see Colvin, v, 58–9, 67–9; CTP 1720–8, p. 404; CTBP 1742–5, p. xli. For evidence of greater Treasury scrutiny of warrants in the wake of these investigations, see CTBP 1729–30, pp. 168, 320; CTBP 1739–41, p. 25.
  • 14. See Beveridge, i, 319–20; G. E. Aylmer, `The Last Years of Purveyance 1610–60', Economic History Review, 2nd ser. x (1957), pp. 81–93.
  • 15. Beveridge, i, 319–22; Beattie, pp. 76–7.
  • 16. Beattie, pp. 79–82, 87; LS 13/116 ff. 46, 62, 73v; LS 13/117 p. 36; LS 13/118 f. 41; LS 13/170 f. 106; LS 13/177 f. 42.
  • 17. Declared accounts of the cofferer 1660–1782 may be found in PRO, E 351/1836–946.
  • 18. See LS 13/118, entry of 5 May 1815. The declared accounts of the paymaster 1782–1816 may be found in PRO, E 351/3623–57. After 1782, the main account of the department is contained in the estimates preserved to 1814 in PRO, LS 13/303–4. See also the civil list accounts for the lord steward's department 1784–1810 in PRO, T 38/511–22.
  • 19. Declared accounts of the master of the horse 1660–1813 may be found in PRO, AO 1/1443–65 and E 351/1749–69. From 1694, the master of the horse also provided liveries for stables servants, a right previously vested in the great wardrobe: Stowe MS 194 f. 91; CTB, iii, 778; ibid. iv, 514; ibid. v, 186; ibid.viii, 582–3; Beattie, p. 98 n. 2. For the negotiation of contracts, see MOH LB A pp. 38–40; MOH LB C p. 273; LS 13/116 f. 70 and PP 1812–13 (342) iv, 578.
  • 20. MOH WB 1; MOH PB 1, p. 157; MOH LB A-F.
  • 21. For the process by which funds were supplied to spending departments see J. E. D. Binney, British Public Finance and Administration 1774–92 (Oxford, 1958), pp. 172–6; Baxter, Treasury, pp. 132–6; PRO, LC 5/11 ff. 4–5; Roseveare, pp. 33–4.
  • 22. See especially Reitan, `Revenue to Civil List' and `Civil List'.
  • 23. See above, p. xxi.
  • 24. In 1718 the Treasury set a limit of £13,000 a year on the expenses of the great wardrobe, £14,400 on those of the works: CTB, xxxii, 535; Beattie, pp. 127–8.
  • 25. For the warrants authorizing excesses of, sometimes, double or treble the great wardrobe's limit of £13,000, see CTBP 1729–30, p. 45; CTBP 1731–4, pp. 370, 628; CTBP 1735–8, pp. 214, 361, 527; CTBP 1739–41, pp. 302, 532; CTBP 1742–5, pp. 139, 375, 589, 785. The works was also allowed frequently to exceed its limit of £14,400: CTBP 1735–8, p. 224; CTBP 1739–41, p. 314; CTBP 1742–5, pp. 353, 785.
  • 26. See Roseveare, pp. 48 and n. 4, 49; CTB, vi, 510; ibid. viii, 643; ibid. ix, pp. clxi, 745; ibid. xiii, 389; ibid. xvi, 124–8; ibid. xvii, 372–3.
  • 27. See CTB, ii, pp. xxxiv, 413; ibid. iii, 153, 228, 870, 1075, 1235, 1242; ibid. viii, 50; ibid. xix, 390; ibid. xx, 362; Colvin, v, 43.
  • 28. The accounts of the cofferer and master of the great wardrobe ran 1 Oct. to 30 Sept. and Michaelmas to Michaelmas, respectively; the treasurer of the chamber from Michaelmas to Michaelmas, Christmas to Christmas, Lady Day to Lady Day or Midsummer to Midsummer; the works and master of the horse usually from 1 Apr. to 31 March. Those for the robes covered, generally, 3 or 4 years at a time. Indeed, a change of department head or reign might lead any of these accountants to lump several years together or otherwise vary the above `pattern': see printed versions of these accounts in the introductions to successive vols. of CTB.
  • 29. Bucholz, p. 58; Beattie, pp. 118–19. For accounts of annual expenditure, see LS 13/176 pp. 108–9, 130–2, 149–51, 160, 191, 205, 216; LS 13/177–84. For estimates of future expenditure, see LS 13/176 pp. 131–2, 1712, 191, 217, 224, 231; LS 13/177–84. For quarterly accounts below stairs beginning in 1715, see LS 13/176 pp. 37, 45, 50, 59; LS 13/177–84; for the master of the horse's department, beginning in 1777, see MOH LB A p. 21 and passim; MOH LB B-F. For additional evidence of increased Treasury interference in departmental establishments and finances, see LS 13/179 ff. 87v, 102v, 132r–v.
  • 30. Roseveare, p. 69; see, for example, LC 1/8 nos. 550, 552; MOH LB E pp. 269, 285–91, 303–4, 496.
  • 31. PP 1810 ii, 366–7 quoted in Roseveare, p. 66.
  • 32. For the establishment of and instructions for the office, see LC 1/7 nos. 446–50; MOH LB D pp. 324–32. For evidence of performance of these duties, see LC 1/7 no. 513; LC 1/16 no. 1235; LC 1/19 no. 1642; MOH LB E pp. 55, 56, 162, 180, 443; MOH LB F, p. 165. For the holders of the office, see Treasury Officials 1660–1870, comp. J.C. Sainty (1972), p. 60.