Yeoman of the Chamber

Yeoman of the Chamber a 14th-Century Job
A 14th-Century Job. Image Source: History Extra

Intro

Groom of the Stool was a job that existed in England from the medieval period until the reign of King Edward VII in the 19th century. It is a position that has now been forgotten, but one that provided comfort and convenience to many monarchs throughout the years.

A distant cousin of the Egyptian ‘Guardian of the Anus’, the Groom of the Stool was the most important position of all the monarch’s attendants. Luckily, unlike the Egyptian’s Neru Phuyt, the Groom of the Stool was not asked to perform enemas on the King using a golden cannula and blowing through his mouth (that we know of) to empty the Royal bowls.  

Origin

 In modern times, the word stool is often used in medicine to refer to bowel movements. That is, undigested food, bacteria, mucus and cells from the lining of the intestines. In other words, faeces, or excrement.

It is named so because, for hundreds of years, the word stool was the name given to the toilet seat. With different variations on its spelling such as “stole’ or “stoole.”

Close Stool

The Groom of the Stool’s formal title was “Groom of the King’s Close Stool”. A close stool was a type of portable toilet. A closed cabinet box placed at sitting height with an opening at the top and a lid. The lid could be closed when not in use. A chamber pot was placed underneath it to collect the urine and excrement.

William III's close-stool. Hampton Court collection
William III’s close stool. Hampton Court collection

Yeoman of the Chamber

Some of the earliest mentions of the Groom of the Stool position can be found in the house ordinances of Henry VIII, dating between 1494 and 1501 and likely belonging to the previous monarch, Henry VII. These were known as Yeomen of the Guard, Crown, and Chamber.

Yeoman is an English term first documented in the 14th century and refers to middle-rank servants in an English Royal or noble household.

The Yeomen of the Chamber had existed as a group of royal servants at least since Edward II’s time, and they continued through the reigns of the Tudor monarchs. The number of yeomen of the Chamber varied at different times.

Groom of the Stool

The position of Groom of the Stool was an important one in the royal court of England dating back to the early fourteenth century and was held by some of the most powerful and influential figures in the court.

The post holder was responsible for the monarch’s stool and was in charge of the King’s personal hygiene and comfort. It was seen as the most important of all the attendants. He was usually a nobleman and had a high degree of contact and trust with the monarch.

Close stool, Freilichtmuseum Neuhausen ob Eck, Germany.
Close stool, Freilichtmuseum Neuhausen ob Eck, Germany.

The duties of the Groom of the Stool included providing the King with a comfortable chair and accompanying him to the privy when necessary, as well as attending to the King’s needs in the privy. The Groom of the Stool also had to ensure the King was properly washed, groomed, and dressed. In addition to these duties, the Groom of the Stool was also responsible for ensuring the King’s chamber and privy were kept clean and orderly.

Although many online articles seem to parrot the idea that the Groom of the Stool actually wiped the royal posterior, there are no historical records to suggest that they went to such extremes while performing their duties.

Despite its apparent degradable nature, the position ensured a much-prized high social stature as well as a handsome salary.

Common House Privy
Common House Privy – The Latin word privatus meaning “withdrawn from public life” led to Old French privé meaning “private”, as well as “private place” and “familiar friend”. That in turn led to the Middle English pryvy and then privy by the early 13th century. It eventually became a now-outdated term for an outdoor toilet. – Source

The position of Groom of the Stool as we know it remained in the royal court until the late nineteenth century when it was eventually abolished due to changing tastes and sensibilities. The last person to hold the title of Groom of the Stole was James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn (1838–1913) who served the Prince of Wales.

However, the position of Yeoman of the Chamber, that is, a servant who helped dress and groom the royals, remained in place until 1901. It is believed that King Edward VII abolished the position when he ascended the throne in 1901.

However, it is likely that a similar position exists today under a more appealing job title. That is, a person or person who helps the Royals dress, undress, take care of their grooming and make sure they are well-dressed on daily basis.

1 thought on “Groom of the Stool and Yeoman of the Chamber: a 14th-Century Job

  1. Muito interessante e de grande relevância poder ter conhecimento sobre um tema desconhecido e que nos enche de informações.

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