Groom of the Stool

by Ben Johnson

Surely one of the most repulsive jobs in history, the ‘Groom of the King’s Close Stool’ (or just Groom of the Stool for short) was a role created during the reign of Henry VIII to monitor and assist in the King’s bowel motions.

The word ‘Stool’ was in reference to a portable commode which would have been carried around at all times, along with water, towels and a wash bowl. To ensure he was carrying out his job at peak efficiency, the Groom of the Stool would also have closely monitored the king’s diet and mealtimes, and would have organised his day around the king’s predicted motions.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was the sons of noblemen or members of the gentry that were usually awarded the job. Over time, they came to act more as personal secretaries to the king and were rewarded with high pay and some great benefits such as the right to lodgings in every palace, the Sovereign’s old clothes, and the option to have any used bedchamber furnishings.

Of course, one might hope to be reimbursed handsomely for such a role, especially if the Groom actually cleansed the royal posterior himself. In all fairness though, there are no historical records to suggest that the Groom went to these extremes, although he would have almost certainly helped the monarch undress for each occasion.

Of the monarchs to have most enjoyed this personal attention, it was ‘mad’ King George III who employed the most Grooms throughout a single reign; a total of nine, including John Stuart who would later go on to be Prime Minister of Great Britain!

Quite amazingly, the role of Groom of the Stool (known as Groom of the Stole from the Stuart era onwards) carried on all the way until 1901 when King Edward VII decided to abolish it.

Published: 2nd March 2015

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