The Four Worst Jobs You Could Have in the Royal Court
Even today, one of the best ways to secure your family’s future is to get an in with the royal family. Befriend a princess or future king, and if you play your cards right, they’ll make up a position for you that’s little more than an excuse to get you on the royal payroll. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to sacrifice. In addition to dealing with their royal bullshit, you could lose your dignity, self-respect and maybe a finger or two. You might also literally have to deal with their royal shit.
If you think sex education is bad now, imagine growing up in the Middle Ages. Most people figured it out soon enough, since they were often married off the second they hit puberty, but King Henry VI of England was practically an old maid when he married Margaret of Anjou at age 23. A lot of young men wouldn’t have waited for marriage under such circumstances, but not the “famously chaste” Henry. So when it took him an unusually long time to put a scone in the new queen’s oven, “it perhaps became necessary to make clear to him what he should be doing,” according to one historian.
That historian, Lauren Johnson, found documentation in 2019 that a “chamberlain” (basically a butler) frequently stayed in Henry’s bedroom on nights he booty-called the Queen, suggesting they were there “to make sure the marriage bed was being properly used.” There must be some unmentioned evidence that they weren’t just having regular three-ways, because that’s definitely what we would have assumed.
It’s not clear who this chamberlain was, but it was probably either the Duke of Suffolk, Henry’s most trusted advisor who was also known as the “chamberlain of England,” or just their household butler, who was almost certainly not getting paid enough for this. It also appears to have been an extremely temporary position, which doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get into William and Kate’s bedroom, but it’ll take a lot more finesse.
Keeper of the Swans
Fun fact: The reigning king or queen owns all the swans in England. This goes back to the days when swan was a delicacy that the monarchy believed they should get all to themselves. To this day, if you want some swans, you gotta go through them. If you come to an agreement, you get a special mark you can use to tag “your” swans, which is determined on a “you catch ‘em, you bought ‘em” basis. That’s where the Keeper of the Swans comes in.
Every year, the keeper of the swans — which is now two positions, the warden of the swans and the marker of the swans, for reasons that will become apparent — takes to the River Thames to catch as many swans as possible in the name of the King (and check on their health and stuff). Two other entities currently have potential rights to those swans, so while it may look like a pleasant day on the river, the competition is fierce.
If that doesn’t sound so bad, keep in mind that swans are fucking vicious. They’ve drowned grown men, so the Crown’s swan boys have to defend their lives from the very creatures they’re competing for. That’s why it’s really best to have two guys handling them. It’s like Supermarket Sweep if the groceries could also bite you. The current warden of the swans insists he’s never been injured outside of “the odd bruise,” but most people quit their jobs if their co-workers bruise them on purpose even once.
As arguably the most powerful person in the world, Queen Elizabeth II had everything a woman could ask for — wealth, comfort and a whole lot of shoes. In fact, she had so many shoes that she didn’t have time to wear them all. But they had to be ready on a moment’s notice, and someone would surely pay if Her Royal toesies incurred an ouchie, so she had an official shoe break-inner.
The person responsible for breaking in the Queen’s shoes was her personal stylist and dedicated dresser. She designed many clothes for the royal family, so this was really more of a side hustle, but they wore the same shoe size, so she decided it made “the most sense” for her to walk around in the Queen’s new shoes until they were fit for, well, you know. It might not sound like a bad gig, as they were presumably hella nice shoes, but she doesn’t mention the blisters, which must have been legion.
Groom of the Stool
“Stool” in this case refers to a portable toilet, but it’s still exactly what it sounds like: the royal ass-wiper. Okay, whether or not there was any actual ass-wiping is up for debate, but as the king’s personal bathroom attendant, the groom of the stool cared for his toilet, examined its contents to monitor his health and generally got wrist-deep in the royal leavings.
Believe it or not, this was a highly coveted position in the royal court. The groom of the stool necessarily developed an intimate relationship with the king, giving him great power and influence. He was in charge of all the other men who attended to the king in his most private moments, and he traveled everywhere with him. Under Henry VIII, who you can imagine had some intense toilet needs, the groom of the stool essentially became the king’s private secretary. It was a trade-off, to be sure, but oh, what a price.