Groom of the Stool
The English court was the home to many quaint jobs and that of the Groom of the Stool was, curiously, much sought after. The rationale for the role was that the monarch was incapable of doing even the most mundane things for himself, even going to the toilet. It must have been that he needed help in lifting his tail at the critical moment.
The job description of the lucky office holder included presiding over the office of royal excretion. In other words, he had the dubious pleasure of cleaning the royal anus after defecation. Naturally, being in so close proximity to the king meant that he was privy to many secrets and so had to be the soul of discretion. Equally, by being close to the monarch in these intimate moments, the office holder could wield enormous influence and was often feared and respected by the fellow courtiers.
Over time the office widened its remit and included such responsibilities as looking after the royal finances. Under the auspices of Henry VII the Groom of the Stool was responsible for setting national taxation policy – it provides a new insight into the role of the Chancellor of the Exchequer!
The role was particularly sought after during the reign of Henry VIII – perhaps his size and voracious appetites meant he went a lot – and was generally awarded to sons of noblemen or important members of the gentry.
As an illustration of what the role could lead to, consider the career of William Compton (1482 – 1528) who was appointed to the role on Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. His role was extended to being responsible for the King’s linen and clothing, his jewellery and tableware. He also had responsibility for looking after several of the royal manors. One of Compton’s most important roles was that of procuring women for the lusty monarch and to arrange suitable venues so that the king could embark upon his amatory adventures. Compton was knighted after the Battle of the Spurs at Tournai when he was said to have mustered 578 soldiers from the manors which he stewarded, almost as many as the rest of the Privy Chamber mustered together. A man of great influence, Compton was the man to suck up to for land and titles and as a result he made himself a fortune.
His successor, Sir Henry Norris, illustrates that the role was not without his dangers. Norris supported Anne Boleyn and when she fell out of favour, so did he and lost his head, having been charged with treason.
With the accession of Queen Elizabeth I the role fell into disuse, being replaced by that of the First Lady of the Bedchamber.
An unpleasant job with some attractive side benefits. Someone had to do it, I suppose.