The Main Departments and Officers within Edward II’s Household

I thought, after last week’s post on Hugh Despenser becoming Chamberlain, I’d try and compile an ‘Idiot’s Guide to Edward II’s Household’ after the reforms at the York Parliament in 1318. But it turned out rather longer and more complicated than I’d ever imagined, so I’ve had to split it into two. Below is a brief (!) idea of who the main court officials were and what they did (although this is only a simple version – there are whole books on this sort of stuff!). Where possible, I’ve also included the names of the person in office circa late November 1318.

King’s Chamberlain (Hugh Despenser the younger)
In charge of the king’s chamber and the business within the chamber. In other words, the Chamberlain was at the heart of the kingdom’s politics and closest to the king. He not only had charge of the physical comforts within the chamber but also controlled access to the King, was the King’s mouthpiece in parliament and had control of the finances of the chamber (separate to the Wardrobe, below). He helped the king with important decisions, witnessed charters and authorised payments where necessary out of the royal funds. The chamber itself had its own staff, who answered only to the chamberlain and the king (and were therefore not under the steward’s jurisdiction). These staff included:

Valets of the Chamber (8)
Sergeants at arms (30 – of which 4 always slept outside the king’s door)
Ushers (A knight and 2 squires)
Grooms and Pages
A clerk
A controller
Knights and Esquires of the body
Bodyguard of 24 archers
2 cooks and grooms of the kitchen (to fetch food for the king’s meal and to serve at his table)
Trumpeters (2) and Minstrels (2)

Steward (Bartholomew Badlesmere)
In charge of the organisation of the household. Not the same position as Steward of England, which was a hereditary office, held by the earls of Lancaster. Responsible to the king and the king alone. Often generous grants were made to the steward: Badlesmere was given 500 marks in token of his good service (including that which he had yet to give) until lands of the same value could be found for him. The steward was not only in control of the management of the household, he also organised and supervised public ceremonies.

The household was such a vast operation; it was divided into many sub-departments, each with their head and responsible to the steward for their conduct and budgets (see this post for details). These departments were:
Scalding House
Pitcher House

In addition to having overall control of those (phew!), the Steward also somehow found time to act as a messenger between the king and the chancellor, witness charters and hear petitions.

Office of the Keeper of the Privy Seal (Thomas Charlton)
The post of Keeper of the Privy seal was created in 1313 – before then, it had come under the jurisdiction of the Controller of the King’s Wardrobe. By 1313, it had come into its own – being used to seal less formal documents than those marked with the great seal. The keeper was often still the controller of the Wardrobe as well.

Marshalsea (Thomas of Brotherton)
This was the court of the Earl Marshal – and high-ranking official who not only was responsible for the king’s horses (see below), but was also charged with keeping discipline among the servants of the king’s household.

This department was also responsible for all the travel needs of the household. In other words, it had the care of all of the horses, carts, wagons and carriages as well as their fittings (tack, livery etc). As the royal household travelled around quite a bit, this was a large and important division with many staff. In contrast with other royal servants, however, those employed by the Marshalsea did not receive food from the king’s household or eat in the Great Hall. This is because the stabling arrangements were often spread over a larger area than just where the king and his household were lodging (due to the very large number of horses). That is the official explanation anyway – maybe it was also because they smelled of horse dung!

Chancery (Bishop of Ely – John Hothum)
This was the court of the Lord Chancellor. He was always a cleric, and also served as the royal chaplain. In addition he was the king’s secretary and keeper of the Great Seal – the seal used for important, formal documents. Chancery itself was responsible for the writing of any charters or writs issued by the king. It also kept a record of such documents on a series of rolls – such as the Close, Fine and Charter rolls. Along with other departments, such as the Exchequer, it had its own courts of justice which mostly heard cases concerning equity.

Treasury (Bishop of Winchester – John Sandale)
The treasury itself was where the royal treasure (non-personal items) was kept – in the Tower of London and obviously under lock and key. The Lord High Treasurer had offices within the Exchequer and was always in close contact with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who handled the administrative side. The Treasurer was also charged with the superintendence of every sub-department within the Exchequer, whereas the Chancellor of the Exchequer (below) served to act as a counter-check on his accounts.

Exchequer (Chancellor of the Exchequer – Hervey de Stanton)
The department responsible for the non-personal finances of the king. In other words it administered and received the finances of the kingdom, including taxes. One of its greatest burdens was the amount it had to constantly pay to the Wardrobe. Also responsible for hearing cases of common law. It held a twice yearly accounting at Easter and Michaelmas when audits would be carried out on the accounts of all of the high sheriffs of England

The Wardrobe
No, not an item of furniture from Ikea! The department of the Wardrobe was divided into two: the Great Wardrobe (responsible for personal items of gowns, furs, spices, candles etc) and the Household Wardrobe (all the other expenses listed below), Both rendered separate accounts to the Exchequer (although they were not controlled by it). The Wardrobe also contained other items of an important nature such as documents and deeds relating to that lands of the king and also letters of a secret nature.

The Wardrobe got most of its money from the Exchequer although it also received a certain amount of independent money from such sources as the use of the Great Seal, the sale of jewels and cloth, markets and foreign sources. Its finances were used to pay for:

Expenses of the royal household
Payment of household officials
Gifts by the king
The king’s personal expenses
The provision of ships
Expenses of war (including the payment of troops and the replenishing of warhorses)
Ambassadorial expenses

The Wardrobe recognised no authority but the king.

Many thanks also to Kathryn Warner for her help on this.

The Great Household in Medieval England, Chris Woolgar
The Baronial Opposition to Edward II, J.C. Davies
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases, Christopher Corèdon with Ann Williams
‘History of the Treasury’:


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4 Responses to The Main Departments and Officers within Edward II’s Household

  1. Lots of nifty information here!

  2. Alianore says:

    Really informative and helpful post, Lady D. Thanks!

  3. Carla says:

    I suppose the chamberlain had some of the same power as a modern lobbyist, controlling access to the people (usually politicians) who make the decisions. Arguably even more, since nowadays there are lots of politicians whereas then there was only one king.

  4. Gabriele C. says:

    Lol, that was not a king’s household, that was a company. King Inc and Sons. 🙂

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