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Strange Jobs of the Royal Household

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Life as a Royal can appear lavish and sumptuous but it is also demanding: never-ending diplomatic and ceremonial duties, traditions to upkeep, crumbling palaces to renovate and every one of your actions scrutinised by the tabloids.

In order to navigate the challenges of their office, members of the Royal Family have often employed large-scale retinues. Prince Charles, for example, has over 100 staff alone.

By Royal standards, Harry and Meghan are down to earth, and though a few niche appointments including a housekeeper will be essential,  it is unlikely they will employ servants for the more esoteric jobs that traditionally needed doing in Royal households. Read on to discover some of the more eccentric roles in the Royal Household past and present. 

Clock-winder

Gilt-bronze clock made given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are chock-a-block with clocks: more than 500 at Buckingham Palace, and over 370 in Windsor Castle.

Some of these are beautiful time-pieces, with fascinating histories. For example, the Royal Library in Windsor contains a gilt-metal bracket clock reputedly given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn in 1532.

With so many clocks it’s not surprising that the Queen employs clock-winders to manage the time. But being a horological conservator is no walk in the park, especially during switches to daylight saving. Previous post-owners have incurred Repetitive Strain Injury.

Shoe-breaker-inner

Heading for a night on the town and want to show off your new shoes but haven’t worn them in? It can be a terrible idea fraught with risk. The Queen knows this, and she has the budget to mitigate against blisters.

How, you ask?

By simply employing a full-time shoe-breaker-inner. Candidates must have size 4 (UK) feet and wear ankle-length beige socks apparently.

Warden of the Swans

A Royal servant holding a swanThe Royal family officially owns all unmarked mute swans in open water in the UK. And in the 12th century members of the Royal household would scour the Thames for swans to cook for royal banquets.

These “Swan-upping” ceremonies still exist, but these days the emphasis is more on conservation (checking for signs of injury, disease, conducting a census) than gluttony.

They are overseen by two individuals, the Warden of the Swans, and the Marker of the Swans, both appointed by the Queen.

Piper to the Sovereign

In 1842 Queen Victoria left a visit to the Marquess of Breadalbane at Taymouth Castle enamoured by the sound of bagpipes.

“We have heard nothing but the bagpipes since we have been in the beautiful Highlands and I have become so fond of it that I mean to have a Piper, who can if you like it, pipe every night at Frogmore,” she wrote in a letter to her mother, the Dowager of Kent, shortly afterwards.

Pretty much ever since, the Crown has employed a Piper to the Sovereign whose main duty is to play at 9am for 15 minutes under the Queen’s window.

Prince Charles also has an official Harpist, a position that has attracted some controversy in the past.

Gone but not forgotten

Commode Stool circa 1650 from Hampton Court PalaceMany within the royal household consider it an honour to serve.

But the Groom of the Stool had the unenviable task of monitoring and assisting the King in bowel movements. The role was usually ‘awarded’ to the sons of noblemen and came with benefits including high pay, and the right to lodgings in palaces across the country. Post-holders often enjoyed intimate relationships with their monarch, and under Henry VIII, one Groom of the Stool is even said to have played a powerful role in setting fiscal policy. The position was abolished in 1901.

While Groom of the Stool is surely one of the most repulsive roles in the history of the British Royal Household, being a whipping boy was perhaps more brutal.

A position that existed in the 15th and 16th Centuries, whipping boys – usually the son of a nobleman – were educated with a prince. Because a prince enjoyed a higher royal status than his tutor he could not be punished personally. Therefore, his whipping boy would step in to receive punishment for the prince’s transgressions.

Many whipping boys received great Royal favour. For example, Charles I’s whipping boy, William Murray, was granted a previously non-existent Earldom in 1643 that still exists today: the Earldom of Dysart.


Watch Meghan Markle: Inside the Home of a Princess only on True Royalty TV.

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