No, this isn’t the start of a strange children’s story, but some of the more unusual and exotic roles carried out by those who served Britain’s kings and Queens, from the reign of Charles II up to George V.
Historians have sifted through the lives of our monarchs with a fine-tooth comb over the years, but little was known about those who served them. Now, as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, family history website findmypast.co.uk has teamed up with the Royal Archives to create the Royal Household Staff Lists, featuring 50,000 staff records between 1660 and 1924.
In the past, these records, which cover royal residences including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and St. James’ Palace, were only accessible by appointment at Windsor Castle and now they are being made available online for the first time. As well as confirming details about a person’s name, occupation and length of service, they also give us a flavour of what it was like to run a Royal household. Many staff members came Yorkshire, including two footman who worked at Buckingham Palace in 1911. John Thomas Nicholson, entered the Royal service on 19 December 1910 aged 21. He was born in Knaresborough in April 1889 and records show that his salary ranged from £50 up to £75 a year, and that he was still serving the Royal household in 1920. William Fenwick, was also a footman who worked at Buckingham Palace. He was born in Yorkshire in December 1881 and entered the Royal service in October 1907, at the age of 26.
Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk, says such snippets give us an insight into the lives of those who worked for the Royal family. “To be able to view these records online for the first time is incredibly exciting – not only for people worldwide with an interest in the British Monarchy, but also for anyone wanting to confirm family rumours about connections to those who worked for the Royal household. With such a broad range of trades and occupations spanning four centuries of Royal Household history, almost anyone could find they’re connected to those who served the Crown,” she says.
A reigning monarch typically had 1,000 staff with around 700 of these working in the Lord Chamberlain’s department which was responsible for the ceremonial and social life of the court. Traditionally, these employees included servants “above stairs” such as pages, craftsmen, chaplains and physicians.
Some of the job titles such as “Keeper of the Lions in the Tower” and “Groom of the Removing Wardrobe”, make the mind boggle. But the records are more than just lists, revealing quirky details about past royal tastes. Records from 1702, suggest that Queen Anne had such a penchant for barley cream and posset she employed two women to make them, along with other “spoon meats”.
It’s also interesting to compare how the Royal household prepared for previous Jubilee celebrations, including that of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee 115 years ago. We’re told that Gabriel Tschumi was head chef to three monarchs: Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V, having joined the Royal household as a cook’s apprentice at the age of 16. For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee banquet in 1897, 24 additional chefs were brought over from Paris to help with the cooking and some of the young kitchen apprentices tried to grow moustaches to resemble those of their French counterparts.
Robert Bucholz, professor of history at Loyola University of Chicago, says the records are a fascinating historical archive.
“The court at Whitehall, St James’s and Buckingham Palace was not just the seat of the most powerful government in the world; it was the political, social and cultural centre of the nation. Thus the records of Royal household staff, preserved in the Royal Archives at Windsor and now available online, are the record of their service to the British crown.”
It means people, wherever they live, can find out if they had a relative who worked for the Royal family. “Historians have long had access to these records, but now ordinary citizens from around the world have the opportunity to track down ancestors here,” says Bucholz.
“Even I – an American of German and Mexican descent – found a namesake: one George Buckholtz, livery pony boy, undoubtedly part of the German contingent serving at the later Hanoverian court.”