1902 Encyclopedia > Royal Household

Royal Household

ROYAL HOUSEHOLD. In all the mediaeval monarchies of western Europe the general system of government sprang from, and centred in, the royal household. The sovereign's domestics were his officers of state, and the leading dignitaries of the palace were the principal administrators of the kingdom. The royal household itself had, in its turn, grown out of an earlier and more primitive institution. It took its rise in the comitatus described by Tacitus, the chosen band of comites or companions who, when the Roman historian wrote, constituted the personal following, in peace as well as in war, of the Teutonic princeps or chieftain. In England before the Conquest the comitatus had developed or degenerated into the thegnhood, and among the most eminent and powerful of the king's thegns, were his dishthegn, his bowerthegn, and his horsethegn or staller. In Normandy at the time of the Conquest a similar arrangement, imitated from the French court, had long been established, and the Norman dukes, like their overlords the kings of France, had their seneschal or steward, their chamberlain, and their con-stable. After the Conquest the ducal household of Normandy was reproduced in the royal household of England; and since, in obedience to the spirit of feudalism, the great offices of the first had been made hereditary, the great offices of the second were made hereditary also, and were thenceforth held by the grantees and their descend-ants as grand-serjeanties of the crown. The consequence was that they passed out of immediate relation to the practical conduct of affairs either in both state and court or in the one or the other of them. The steward and chamberlain of England were superseded in their political functions by the justiciar and treasurer of England, and in their domestic functions by the steward and chamber-lain of the household. The marshal of England took the place of the constable of England in the royal palace, and was associated with him in the command of the royal armies. In due course, however, the marshalship as well as the constableship became hereditary, and, although the constable and marshal of England retained their military authority until a comparatively late period, the duties they had successively performed about the palace had been long before transferred to the master of the horse. Under these circumstances the holders of the original great offices of state and the household ceased to attend the court except on occasions of extraordinary ceremony, and their representatives either by inheritance or by special appointment have ever since continued to appear at corona-tions and some other public solemnities, such as the open-ing of the parliament or trials by the House of Lords.

The materials available for a history of the royal house-hold are somewhat scanty and obscure. The earliest record relating to it is of the reign of Henry II., and is contained in the Black Book of the Exchequer. It enumer-ates the various inmates of the king's palace and the daily allowances made to them at the period at which it was compiled. Hence it affords valuable evidence of the antiquity and relative importance of the court offices to which it refers, notwithstanding that it is silent as to the functions and formal subordination of the persons who filled them. In addition to this record we have a series of far later, but for the most part equally meagre, docu-ments bearing more or less directly on the constitution of the royal household, and extending, with long intervals, from the reign of Edward III. to the reign of William and Mary. Among them, however, are what are known as the Black Book of the Household and the Statutes of Eltham, compiled the first in the reign of Edward IV. and the second in the reign of Henry VIII., from which a good deal of detailed information may be gathered concerning the arrangements of the court in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Statutes of Eltham were meant for the practical guidance merely of those who were responsible for the good order and the sufficient supply of the sovereign's household at the time they were issued. But the Black Book of the Household, besides being a sort of treatise on princely magnificence generally, professes to be based on the regulations established for the governance of the court by Edward III., who, it affirms, was " the first setter of certeynties among his domesticall meyne, upon a grounded rule " and whose palace it describes as " the house of very policie and flowre of England;" and it may therefore possibly, and even probably, take us back to a period much more remote than that at which it was actually put together. Various orders, returns, and accounts of the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., Charles I., Charles II., and William and Mary throw con-siderable light on the organization of particular sections of the royal household in times nearer to our own. Moreover, there were several parliamentary inquiries into the expenses of the royal household in connexion with the settlement or reform of the civil list during the reigns of George III., George IV., and William IV. But they add little or nothing to our knowledge of the subject in what was then its historical as distinguished from its contem-porary aspects. So much, indeed, is this the case that, on the accession of Queen Victoria, Chamberlayne's Present State of England, which contains a catalogue of the officials at the court of Queen Anne, was described by Lord Melbourne the prime minister as the " only authority" which the advisers of the crown could find for their assistance in determining the appropriate constitution and dimensions of the domestic establishment of a queen regnant.

In its main outlines the existing organization of the royal household is essentially the same as it was under the Tudors or the Plantagenets. It is now, as it was then, divided into three principal departments, at the head of which are severally the lord steward, the lord chamber-lain, and the master of the horse, and the respective pro-vinces of which may be generally described as "below stairs," "above stairs," and "out of doors." But at present, the sovereign being a queen, the royal household is in some other respects rather differently arranged from what it would be if there were a king and a queen consort. When there is a king and a queen consort there is a separate establishment "above stairs " and "out of doors" for the queen consort. She has a lord chamberlain's department and a department of the master of the horse of her own, and all the ladies of the court from the mistress of the robes to the maids of honour are in her service. At the commencement of the reign of Queen Victoria the two establishments were combined, and on the whole considerably reduced. Hence the royal house-hold, although it is of course much larger than that of a queen consort would be, is also appreciably smaller than that of a king and queen consort together has been since the reigning family came to the throne.1

I. Department of the Lord Steward of the Household.—The hall; the kitchen, ewry, and pantry ; the wine, beer, and coal cellars; and the almonry are in the lord steward's department. The lord steward is the first dignitary of the court, and presides at the Board of Green Cloth, where all the accounts of the household are examined and passed. He is always a member of the Govern- ment of the day, a peer, and a privy councillor. He receives his appointment from the sovereign in person, and bears a white staff as the emblem and warrant of his authority. In his department the treasurer and comptroller of the household are the officers next in rank to him. They also sit at the Board of Green Cloth, carry white staves, and belong to the ministry. They are always peers or the sons of peers, and privy councillors. But the duties which in theory belong to the lord steward, treasurer, and comp- troller of the household are in practice performed by the master of the household, who is a permanent officer and resides in the palace. It is he who really investigates the accounts and main- tains discipline among the ordinary servants of the royal establish- ment. He is a white-staff officer and a member of the Board of Green Cloth but not of the ministry, and among other things he presides at the daily dinners of the suite in waiting on the sovereign. In the lord steward's department are the secretary and three clerks of the Board of Green Cloth ; the coroner and paymaster of the household ; and the officers of the almonry, namely, the hereditary grand almoner, the lord high almoner, the sub-almoner, the groom of the almonry, and the secretary to the lord high almoner.

II. Department of the Lord Cliamberlain of the Household.—The bedchamber, privy chamber, and presence chamber, the wardrobe, the housekeeper's room, and the guardroom, the metropolitan theatres, and the chapels royal are in the lord chamberlain's depart- ment. The lord chamberlain is the second dignitary of the court, and is always a member of the Government of the day, a peer, and a privy councillor. He carries a white staff, and wears a golden or jewelled key, typical of the key of the palace, which is supposed to be in his charge, as the ensigns of his office. He is responsible for the necessary arrangements connected with state ceremonies, such as coronations and royal marriages, christenings, and funerals. All invitations to court are sent out in his name by command of the sovereign, and at drawing rooms and levees he stands next to the sovereign and announces the persons who are approaching the throne. It is also part of his duty to conduct the sovereign to and from his or her carriage. The vice-chamberlain of the household is the lord chamberlain's assistant and deputy. He also is one of the ministry, a white-staff officer, and the bearer of a key; and he is always a peer or the son of a peer as well as a privy councillor.

When there is a king the groom of the stole comes next to the vice-chamberlain in rank and authority. At present, however, the mistress of the robes in some measure occupies the position of the groom of the stole. She is the only lady of the court who comes into office and goes out with the administration, and the duties she performs are merely occasional and formal. She is always a duchess, and attends the queen at all state ceremonies and enter-tainments, but is never in permanent residence at the palace. On the contrary the ladies of the bedchamber share the function of personal attendance on the sovereign throughout the year. Of these there are eight, always peeresses, and each is in waiting for about a fortnight or three weeks at a time. But the women of the bedchamber, of whom there are also eight, appear only at court ceremonies and entertainments according to a roster annually issued under the authority of the lord chamberlain. They are usually the daughters of peers or the wives of the sons of peers, and in the old time, like the mistress of the robes and the ladies of the bedchamber, habitually assisted the queen at her daily toilette. But this has long ceased to be done by any of them. The maids of honour, whose situations are by no means sinecures, are like-wise eight in number and have the same terms of waiting as the ladies of the bedchamber. They are commonly if not always the daughters or granddaughters of peers, and when they have no superior title and precedence by birth are called " honourable " and placed next after the daughters of barons. The queen as a special mark of her favour nominates "extra" ladies and women of the bed-chamber and maids of honour. But their position is altogether honorary and involves no charge on the civil list. There are eight lords and eight grooms, who are properly described as " of the bed-chamber" or "in waiting," according as the reigning sovereign is a king or a queen, and whose terms of attendance are of similar duration to those of the ladies of the bedchamber and the maids of honour. Occasionally "extra" lords and grooms in waiting are nominated by the queen, who, however, are unpaid and have no regular duties. The master, assistant master, and marshal of the ceremonies are the officers whose special function it is to enforce the observance of the etiquette of the court. The reception of foreign potentates and ambassadors is under their particular care, and they assist in the ordering of all entertainments and festivities at the palace. The gentleman usher of the black rod—the black rod which he carries being the ensign of his office—is the principal usher of the court and kingdom. He is one of the original functionaries of the order of the Garter, and is in constant attendance on the House of Lords, from whom, either personally or by his deputy the yeoman usher of the black rod, it is part of his duty to carry messages and summonses to the House of Commons. The gentlemen ushers of the privy chamber and the gentlemen ushers daily waiters, of whom there are four each, and the gentlemen ushers quarterly waiters and the sergeants-at-arms, of whom there are eight each, are in waiting only at drawing rooms and levees and state balls and concerts. But of the sovereign's sergeants-at-arms there are two others to whom special duties are assigned, the one attending the speaker in the House of Commons, and the other attending the lord chancellor in the House of Lords, carrying their maces and executing their orders.11 The yeomen of the guard date from the reign of Henry VII., and the gentlemen-at-arms from the reign of Henry VIII. The captain of each corps is always a member of the ministry and a peer. Besides the captains, the former, now called the queen's bodyguard, consists of a lieutenant, ensign, clerk of the cheque and adjutant, four exons, and a hundred yeomen; and the latter, once called the gentlemen pensioners, consists of a lieutenant, standard-hearer, clerk of the cheque and adjutant, a sub-officer, and forty gentlemen. The comptroller and examiner of accounts, the licenser of plays, the dean and subdean of the chapel royal, the clerk of the closet, the groom of the robes, the pages of the backstairs, of the chamber, and of the presence, the poet laureate, the royal physicians and surgeons, chaplains, painters and sculptors, librarians and musicians, &c, are all under the superintendence of the lord chamberlain of the household.12

III. Department of the Master of the Horse.—The stables and coachhouses, the stud, mews, and kennels, are in the master of the horse's department. The master of the horse is the third dignitary of the court, and is always a member of the Govern- I ment of the day, a peer, and a privy councillor. All matters connected with the horses and hounds of the sovereign are within his jurisdiction. The master of the buckhounds, who is also one of the ministry, ranks next to him, and it is his duty to attend the royal hunt and to head the procession of royal equipages on the racecourse at Ascot, where he presents himself on horseback in a green and gold uniform wearing the couples of a hound as the badge of his office. The hereditary grand falconer is also sub-ordinated to the master of the horse. But the practical manage-ment of the royal stables and stud in fact devolves on the chief or crown equerry, formerly called the gentleman of the horse, who is never in personal attendance on the sovereign, and whose appoint-ment is permanent. The clerk marshal has the supervision of the accounts of the department before they are submitted to the Board of Green Cloth, and is in waiting on the sovereign on state occasions only. Exclusive of the crown equerry there are seven regular equerries, besides extra and honorary equerries, one of whom is always in attendance on the sovereign and rides at the side of the royal carriage. They are always officers of the army, and each of them is "on duty" for about the same time as the lords and grooms in waiting. There are also three pages of honour in the master of the horse's department, who must not be confounded with the pages of various kinds who are in the department of the lord chamberlain. They are youths aged from twelve to sixteen, selected by the sovereign in person, to attend on her at state ceremonies, when two of them arrayed in an antique costume assist the groom of the robes in carrying the royal train.

It remains to be said that to the three ancient departments of the royal household which we have already noticed two others have been added in comparatively recent times. The departments of the private secretary and the keeper of the privy purse to the sovereign, which are for the present combined, assumed their existing shape no longer ago than the earlier part of the current century. Very great doubts were at one time entertained as to whether such an office as that of private secretary to the sovereign could constitu- tionally exist. As now organized these branches of the royal household consist of the private secretary and keeper of the privy purse, two assistant private secretaries and keepers of the privy purse, and a secretary and two clerks of the privy purse. By the statute which settled the civil list at the beginning of the current reign (1 & 2 Vict. c. 2) the privy purse was fixed at £60,000' a year, and the salaries, allowances, and other expenses of the royal household were fixed by the same statute at £303,760 a year. ' (F. DR.)


1 Hansard, Part. Debates, vol. xxxix. pp. 146 sq., 1342 sq.

the Privy Council, vol. vi., Preface, p. xxiii).

4 Liber niger domus Regis Edward IV. and Ordinances for the Household made at Eltham in the seventeenth year of King Henry VIII., A.D. 1526, are the titles of these two documents. The earlier documents printed in the same collection are Household of King Edward III. in Peace and War from the eighteenth to the twenty-first year of his reign ; Ordinances of the Household of King Henry IV. in the thirty-third year of his reign, A.D. 1455, and Articles ordained by King Henry VII. for the Regulation of his Household, A.D. 1494-

The above article was written by: F. Drummond.

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