Saturday, January 24, 2009

Question from Tom - Duties of The Groom of the Stool

I'm sorry if this question is somewhat inapropriate but I need the answer to put a long-running debate with my History teacher to bed. In all my tudor reading I have encountered 'the groom of the stool' a number of times. However; whenever I have read of the particular post there has been plenty of reference to 'emptying' and nothing whatsoever mentioned to do with 'wiping' (if you catch my drift). Is it the case that the groom's toiletary duties extended further than just emptying it when the king had finished?


  1. As far as I know the Groom of the stools job was to empty and clean the stool for the king and the queen and to transport it anywere and everywere the monarch attended.
    It was also the groom of the stools job to take care of the rest of the household (royal or non royal) when he or she wanted to use the loo aswell.

  2. You know, I never thought about this particular aspect of the job until I saw the movie Vatel, in which Louis XIV was shown casually accepting that service from a courtier as a routine part of his day, with everyone standing around chatting. So I assumed that yes, this was part of the Groom of the Stole's duties. Henry's Grooms also spent a lot of time pimping for him, so if you are correct evidently the job involved someone doing the king's "dirty work" on all levels.

    Not to get really scatological but I am curious ... but did Elizabeth and Mary have "ladies of the stole"? If you are right about this special duty being obligatory, I don't think a male would have been allowed to perform it.

  3. The equivalent post for Mary and Elizabeth was still titled Groom of the Stool.

    This was considered an honored post. Under Henry VIII, the Groom of the Stool also kept a privy purse and occasionally the dry stamp of the king's signature. Clearly only those on the most intimate terms with the monarch would hold such a position.

    Both Mary and Elizabeth had grooms of the stool who were female. The problem with tracking female privy chamber offices is that they were fluid. The women seemed to have shared responsibilities as well as trading off with each other. This was especially true in Elizabeth's chamber. For example, Mistress of the Robes has been presumed to have been a permanent post held by someone over the entire length of both Mary and Elizabeth's reigns. However, there are very few, if any mentions of one person holding that title until 1603. As new research is done, these old assumptions are dissolving. Several women managed the transfer and inventorying of Elizabeth's wardrobe.

    There is a specific mention in the records of Katherine Carey Howard baroness Effingham later countess of Nottingham holding the post for Elizabeth late in her reign - 1598.

    I suspect 'clean up' was part of the duties. How you would reach through all those clothes and undergarment structures on your own would have required unimaginable feats of acrobatics. Practically speaking it seems likely that clean-up was part of the groom's duties.

  4. A bit off-topic, but would gentlewomen at court have a servant who attended to this too? Or did they manage for themselves? I wonder because Henry had four commoner queens and I imagine it must have been a major mental transition to have been presented, upon their elevation, with a minion designated to that particular duty. (Yes, I know modern notions of privacy do not apply in Tudor England and servants commonly lived with their masters and mistresses in considerable bodily intimacy.) I hope, at least, the minion was female. Anne Boleyn had several years of living like a royal before she was married, so she had time to work up to it.

  5. Yes, depending on rank. At Elizabeth's court different ranks were allowed different numbers of servants. Of course the lower your rank, the simpler your clothing so I suspect that the lower down you were on the rankings the more likely you would be on your own in this department. I also suspect, some of the servants' duties were to hold garments out of the way while the principle did her business - as opposed to actually cleaning up.

  6. I know I have already linked to this before, but if you want to have a visual reference to the day in the life of the groom of the stool then this Worst Jobs is a must see:

    According to the show, you can find information about the groom of stool’s duties in the “Baby’s Book of Nurture”. I just love Toni Robinson even if he makes some bad enema jokes!

  7. oh one more thing, the tudor expert in the show does claim there were wipe up duties and he shows what was used to wipe the king's backside too.

  8. Bearded lady -
    Watched the video clip - how funny! Thanks for posting

  9. 'Groom of the Stool' in Henry VIII's time, was the Servant who had to wipe the Royal Backside after the King had done his 'Pooh' for the use of a word.

  10. what would they wipe the royal bum with


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