In modern times, many people are interested in the daily lives of the royal family and like to discuss the latest scandal or the newest marriage. The interest in royalty dates back hundreds of years. In the past though, the interest was much more profound, and the royals were revered. Some of the interest may have been due to the fact that the royals decided the people’s fates.
It was in the people’s best interest to try and please the king or queen and to get close to them. Typically, only nobles ever succeeded in getting close to their esteemed royals, though. There was one job title that would ensure that you were close to the king or queen however: the Grooms of Stool. Now, if you recognize the word “stool,” you may already know where this is going.
The Grooms of Stool were nobles that helped the king or queen with their bowel movements. How exactly they assisted, I’m unsure, but one of their main jobs was to help their boss dress and undress. This was necessary due to the fact that clothing was a lot more complicated in the past, and often required more than one person to put on or remove. These weren’t the Groom of Stool’s only duties though. They also kept track of the king’s diet, and would organize their day around the king’s bathroom schedule.
The Grooms of Stool also had a much more important, and much less disgusting and degrading role. By the time King Henry VIII had reign, the Groom of Stools often acted as a personal secretary and took care of the kingdom’s money. On the flip side, it’s unknown if the job description included wiping the royal behind, which should probably make the advantages of the position null and void.
Another disadvantage to the position was that being so close to the king, it was all too easy to be gunned after and executed. King Henry VIII had three Grooms of Stool, Sir William Compton, Sir Henry Norris, and Sir Anthony Denny, the second of whom was executed for supposed adultery with King Henry VIII’s wife, Anne Boleyn. It’s been reported that Thomas Cromwell, the Chief Minister to King Henry VIII, felt that his power was threatened by Anne Boleyn and her cronies, and thus tortured the Court Musician into admitting that he and Norris (among others) had slept with the queen. Every single one of them was executed.
King Henry VIII was unusually close to his Grooms of Stool, with the first, William Compton, having been a close childhood friend whom he showered with nice positions. Among these was the Groom of Stool, three different Sheriff positions, and chancellor of Ireland. Compton also seemed to have been King Henry VIII’s wingman, having set up more than a couple rendezvous for the king. King Henry also seemed to have been close to his third Groom of Stool, Sir Anthony Denny, with the man having been the king’s personal confidant. At one point, the King told Sir Denny that he was severely unattracted to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as her “breasts [were] so slack…that he somewhat suspected her virginity.” Shortly after, his marriage with Anne of Cleves was annulled, she was given a settlement to make up for the annulment.
As close as King Henry VIII was with his Grooms of Stool, not all of the Monarchs employed a Groom of Stool, although the position was much more popular than one might imagine. For example, King George III, who was known as being an insane king, employed nine different Grooms of Stool. Among these was John Stuart, who had gotten such a good start through this role that he was able to go on to become prime minister.
Women also occasionally would have a Groom of Stool, although they used them much less often than their male counterparts, and their Groom of Stool was always a woman. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I changed the title to the “First Lady of the Bedchamber,” and her successor changed the title once more to “Lord of the Bedchamber.” At some point around the Victorian Era, the title was changed to “Groom of Stole.”
The office fell out of use in 1901, when King Edward VII was coronated. It’s unlikely that the office will be taken up again, which is likely for the best.