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Monday, April 17, 2017

"GROOM OF THE STOOL"


It could be crappy!

Mel Brooks had a great line in his movie, The History of the World: "It's good to be the king!"
There was one duty as the king that needed attention to every day, that duty was on the chamber pot, where his Royal Highness placed his royal Hinny but you can bet he wasn't going to do it on his own. Back in the day, around the 1500s, the King of England's head was a luxurious velvet-cushioned, portable seat called a close-stool, which sat a pewter chamber pot enclosed in a wooden box! From the 1500s to the 1700s, British kings appointed lucky nobles the prestigious chance to perform the king's most private task of the day, as the Groom of the Stool.

Being ‘Groom of the Stool'—named for the close stool, the king's 16th-century toilet—was actually a highly-coveted position in the royal house This is not the glamorous job you normally would imagine in a palace. Every day, as the king sat on his padded, velvet-covered close stool, he cleared his mind among other things and revealed secrets. He asked for counsel for everything from taxes to war and the best brands of toilet paper, and could even hear of the personal and political woes of his personal groom, and offer to help.

According to Natalie Zarelli: the job likely began as a rather less prestigious position. In The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman quoted the earliest mentions of the job: a written order from 1497 for Hugh Denys, "our Groom of the Stool," which included "black velvet and fringed with silk, two pewter basins and four broad yards of tawny cloth" for him to construct a close stool. Borman also points to instructions from 1452 in the Book of Nurture for "The office off a chamburlayne," which included a little rhyme to help new grooms to the task:

See the privy-house for easement be fair, sweet, and clean;
And that the boards thereupon be covered with cloth fair in green;
And the hole himself, look there no board be seen;
Thereon a fair cushion, the ordure no man to vex.
Look there be blanket, cotton, or linen to wipe the nether end,
And ever he calls, wait ready and prompt,
Basin and ewer, and on your shoulder a towel.

Some say he was "full of it!"
During King Henry VIII, the king's most trusted men of the court were given the title, ‘Groom of the Stool'. Upper crust gentry and noblemen who hung out with Henry (Hank as they called him) in his privy room, acting as his personal secretaries with his undivided attention while he sat on his close stool and wondered what it was he was smelling. Henry VIII and later kings appointed only one person to the task, who would travel with the king and his two-ply and portable stool if the royal cheeks went on a journey.

The Groom of the Stool was the man in charge. All the activities and affairs of the king's bedchamber and other private rooms; making sure the king good and clean, his bed made, and even his personal finances were in order. Monarchs were surrounded by servants and attendants all hours of the day, sleeping in the same room as attendants. Some kings kept their close stool in "more private" rooms than others, but even private rooms would allow a handful of people, with the Groom of the Stool always among them.

Having the King's ear, Grooms of the Stool were often feared by members of the court; having highly confidential information about political and personal affairs. The Groom to Henry VIII was even given the responsibility of Henry VIII's stamp, which acted as his signature for documents. The Groom of the Stool got a special golden key attached to a blue ribbon to handle, of which no other copies could be made, just for the king's personal rooms. Personal attendants, in general, were proud about their status symbols as such and often bragged about it—but to be the king's groom was the most coveted of all.

Grooms were sometimes embroiled in other areas of political power, also—Henry VIII's groom Sir Henry Norris was politically involved with the queen, Anne Boleyn, and was executed along with her after she fell from her husband's favor. It has been written that both James I and his successor King Charles I was so swayed by their grooms' counsel that in some respects, political discussions of the king's privy helped fuel the 17th-century English Civil War.

 





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