Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Question from Sarah - Duties of court positions

I have a few questions... has anyone ever come across a list or some kind of explanation about some of the titles during tutor times?

Such as...
Master Of the Horse, Master Of Court Requests and other things like that. I have a vague idea of what many of these mean however would like to get a full understanding of their duties.

My other question I would like to find out more information about the dress of Tutor times, I know fashions were constantly changing but it something that has never made sense to me exactly what a proper Lord/Lady's attire looks like.

Any help is greatly appreciated!

[Ed note - yeah, I know, I'm already breaking my rules about splitting multiple questions into multiple posts, but I figured the reply for the second part will mostly be links and book recommendations and references back to other posts on the topic]

4 comments:

Lara said...

Thanks for your question on that first topic Sarah... it gives me a good idea for another section to my way-too-neglected glossary section!

On your second question, I would suggest looking through some of the past submissions, since fashion topics have come up several times.

The Rose Crowned said...

There were various court duties such as usher of the chamber which was like a page a servant but only having to do duties in that one room.
Master of horse which means that the person's duty was to look after the kings horse or one of the nobles horses.
Groom of the stool which meant the person had to provide for the king when he needed to go to the toilet.
Lady in waiting the lady in waiting's job was to follow not all of the time though the Queen and serve her and give her what she wanted.
The King's council which included the king's cheif minister and the king's ministers this was where they would discuss what the law should be,legitimising an illigitimate child of the monarch,and finding a suitable marrage for the king especially if he could not find a suitor himself or when marrying a foreign princess.
As for your second question a lord or a lady would have been dressed in silk or velvet and would be bejewelled.

PhD Historian said...

"The Rose Crowned" provides the beginnings of an answer, but it is unfortunately incomplete and not entirely accurate.
There were (and still are) a multitude of offices associated with the royal court and household, from Lord Chamberlain to underhouse maids. Some of the offices were largely honorific titles, however. That is, many of the titles were given to certain nobility as a mark of royal favor, but the actual duties were carried out by someone else. But many of the better known offices were indeed carried out by the person who held the title, including the Lord Chamberlain and the Master of the Horse.
The list is very long, but to touch upon the ones named by the questioner:

The Master of the Horse was responsible for very much more than simply the king's own horse. He was actually responsible for ALL of the horses used by the court, as well as the hounds for hunting, carriages for transportation, the buildings that housed them all (stables, kennels, mews, etc), and the staff that kept everything functional. And since Tudor courts moved about constantly, this was a very critical job. It was a huge undertaking, and he was assisted by numerous deputies and assistants, together with a veritable army of "employees."

The Master of the Court of Requests was the head of a group of appointed officials who received and processed petitions from the monarch's subjects. Any person, whether high or low born, had the legal right to ask the king to intervene directly on his behalf when involved in any kind of issue or problem rather than waiting on a court of justice or some other official to act. This was a very lucrative office for the holder, as he often asked for or was given large bribes to speed the process for any given petitioner.

The Groom of the Stool did indeed start out as an emptier of chamberpots working in the king's inner chamber, but by the middle of the Tudor period they had become something like personal secretaries. The title had little to do with the actual duties by that time; other, lesser people took care of chamberpots and such by the reign of Henry VIII. The Groom of the Stool was a coveted and lucrative office in the Tudor period because it gave the holder direct access to the monarch and his/her personal business, and sometimes gave the holder the opportunity to influence that business, as well as to influence the affairs of state.

The functional portion of the King's Council in the Tudor period came to be called the Privy Council. And while it did discuss legislative matters, it did not formulate or pass laws. Nor did it legitimize illegitimate children. Both of those actions were, by the Tudor period, performed by Parliament. The Privy Council was usually composed of about two dozen men, some noble and some not, who advised the monarch on a wide variety of matters, from legislation to foreign policy to the granting of lands and titles. The records of their business has been published as "The Acts of the Privy Council," and it gives a fascinating view into the day-by-day workings of the group. The Council could not do anything without the consent of the monarch, however. They advised; they did not direct (i.e., they did not select spouses for monarchs).

The Lord Chamberlain that I have mentioned above was the head of operations for the royal Household (as distinct from the Court). He oversaw the day-to-day workings of everything from the attic to the cellars, kitchens to bedchambers. He was comparable to the Chief Operating Officer of a modern corporation. Like the MaSter of the Horse, he had an army of assistants and "employees."

I have a suspicion that KB may have more expertise in this area than I do ... perhaps she will weigh in and correct any errors I may have inadvertently introduced?

kb said...

phd historian - you pretty much nailed it. I'm more familiar with 'household' offices than the various other developing administrative offices like court of requests.

I am not aware of a complete list of all royal household offices and their duties for the Tudor period - mostly because it would be difficult to be specific. The court changed a great deal over the course of the century and household offices with it.

Master of the Horse is a perfect example. It could be a very prestigious post with great responsibilities which kept the office holder in close contact with the monarch. However, some holders passed most of their duties to deputies. On the other hand Robert Dudley threw himself into the post. For a few years, this was his only official post - yet his influence and power was greater than most privy councillors.

You mentioned groom of the stool. Under Henry VIII the groom also sometimes kept the privy seal - a huge potential source of power. Under Elizabeth the privy seal was not held by the female attendants.

There are several articles and some books written about various household and court offices but what is clear is that the person holding the office defined the post more than the other way around.

Sarah, you might want to see if you can get your hands on this article; Woodworth, Allegra. Purveyance for the royal household in the reign of Queen Elizabeth (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, ns, 35:1). Philadelphia (PA): American Philosophical Society, 1945. 1-89 p.

Purveyance was the obtaining of supplies for the court. Th first half of this article goes through some of the royal household posts both above and below stairs - as it were.

It's available through JSTOR or a university librarian may be able to get this for you.

Also there is a vigorous debate amongst historians about the role of the royal household in politics and government. See especially David Starkey's "The English Court: From The Wars Of The Roses To The Civil War" (1987). [I disagree almost completely with the chapter on Mary and Elizabeth's reign 'A Change in Direction' by Pam Wright]

Most of these debates negate the role women played - my particular cause - but all of them are intent on sorting out who did what regardless of the office they held.