The Groom of the Stool
The Groom of the Stool (formally styled: "Groom of the King's Close Stool") was the most intimate of an English monarch's courtiers, responsible for assisting the king in excretion and ablution.
The physical intimacy of the role naturally led to his becoming a man in whom much confidence was placed by his royal master and with whom many royal secrets were shared as a matter of course.
This secret information—while it would never have been revealed, for it would have led to the discredit of his honour—in turn led to his becoming feared and respected and therefore powerful within the royal court in his own right.
The office developed gradually over decades and centuries into one of administration of the royal finances, and under Henry VII, the Groom of the Stool became a powerful official involved in setting national fiscal policy, under the "chamber system".
Later, the office was renamed Groom of the Stole. The Tudor historian David Starkey classes this change as classic Victorianism:
"When the Victorians came to look at this office, they spelt it s-t-o-l-e, and imagined all kinds of fictions about elaborate robes draped around the neck of the monarch at the coronation however,
the change is in fact seen as early as the 17th century.
History & Origins
The Groom of the Stool was a male servant in the household of the English monarch who was responsible for assisting the king in his toileting needs.
It is a matter of some debate as to whether the duties involved cleaning the king's anus, but the groom is known to have been responsible for supplying a bowl, water and towels and
also for monitoring the king's diet and bowel movements and liaising with the Royal Doctor about the king's health.
The appellation "Groom of the Close Stool" derived from the item of furniture used as a toilet. It also appears as "Grom of the Stole" as the word "Groom" comes from the Old Low Franconian word "Grom".
In the Tudor era
By the Tudor age, the role of Groom of the Stool was fulfilled by a substantial figure, such as Hugh Denys (d. 1511) who was a member of the Gloucestershire gentry, married to an aristocratic wife,
and who died possessing at least four manors. The function was transformed into that of a virtual minister of the royal treasury, being then an essential figure in the king's management of fiscal policy.
In the early years of Henry VIII's reign, the title was awarded to court companions of the king who spent time with him in the privy chamber.
These were generally the sons of noblemen or important members of the gentry. In time they came to act as virtual personal secretaries to the king, carrying out a variety of administrative tasks within his private rooms.
The position was an especially prized one, as it allowed unobstructed access to the king.:42 David Starkey writes: "The Groom of the Stool had (to our eyes) the most menial tasks; his standing, though, was the highest ...
Clearly then, the royal body service must have been seen as entirely honourable, without a trace of the demeaning or the humiliating."
Further, "the mere word of the Gentleman of the Privy Chamber was sufficient evidence in itself of the king's will", and the Groom of the Stool bore "the indefinable charisma of the monarchy".
Evolution and discontinuation
The office was exclusively one serving male monarchs, so on the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, it was replaced by the First Lady of the Bedchamber, first held by Kat Ashley.
The office effectively came to an end when it was "neutralised" in 1559.
On the accession of James I, the male office was revived as the senior Gentleman of the Bedchamber, who always was a great nobleman who had considerable power because of its intimate access to the king.
During the reign of Charles I, the term "stool" appears to have lost its original signification of chair.
From 1660 the office of Groom of the Stole (revived with the Restoration of the Monarchy) was invariably coupled with that of First Gentleman (or Lady) of the Bedchamber; as effective Head of the royal Bedchamber,
the Groom of the Stole was a powerful individual who had the right to attend the monarch at all times and to regulate access to his or her private quarters.
Incongruously, the office of Groom of the Stole continued in use during the reign of Queen Anne, when it was held by a duchess who combined its duties with those of Mistress of the Robes.
Under the Hanoverians the 'Groom of the Stole' began to be named in The London Gazette.
In 1726 John Chamberlayne wrote that, while the Lord Chamberlain has oversight of all Officers belonging to the King's Chamber, 'the Precinct of the King's Bed-Chamber […] is wholly under the Groom of the Stole'.
Chamberlayne defines the Groom of the Stole as the first of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber; translating his title ('from the Greek') as 'Groom or Servant of the Long-robe or Vestment',
he explains that he has 'the Office and Honour to present and put on his Majesty's first Garment or Shirt every morning, and to order the Things of the Bed-Chamber'.
By 1740 the Groom of the Stole is described as having 'the care of the king's wardrobe'.
The office again fell into abeyance with the accession of Queen Victoria, though her husband, Prince Albert, and their son, Edward, Prince of Wales employed similar courtiers;
but when Edward, prince of Wales, acceded to the throne as King Edward VII in 1901, he discontinued the office.