1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lord Chamberlain
LORD CHAMBERLAIN, in England, an important officer of the king’s household, to be distinguished from the lord great chamberlain (q.v.). He is the second dignitary of the court, and is always a member of the government of the day (before 1782 the office carried cabinet rank), a peer and a privy councillor. He carries a white staff, and wears a golden or jewelled key, typical of the key of the palace, which is supposed to be in his charge, as the ensigns of his office. He is responsible for the necessary arrangements connected with state ceremonies, such as coronations and royal marriages, christenings and funerals; he examines the claims of those who desire to be presented at court; all invitations are sent out in his name by command of the sovereign, and at drawing-rooms arid levees he stands next to the sovereign and announces the persons who are approaching the throne. It is also part of his duty to conduct the sovereign to and from his carriage. The bedchamber, privy chamber and presence chamber, the wardrobe, the housekeeper’s room, the guardroom and the chapels royal are in the lord chamberlain’s department. He is regarded as chief officer of the royal household, and he has charge of a large number of appointments, such as those of the royal physicians, tradesmen and private attendants of the sovereign. All theatres in the cities of London and Westminster (except patent theatres), in certain of the London boroughs and in the towns of Windsor and Brighton, are licensed by him and he is also licenser of plays (see Theatre: Law; and Revels, Master of the). His salary is £2000 a year.
The vice-chamberlain of the household is the lord chamberlain’s assistant and deputy. He also is one of the ministry, a white-staff officer and the bearer of a key; and he is generally a peer or the son of a peer as well as a privy councillor. He receives £700 a year. Next to the vice-chamberlain comes the groom of the stole, an office only in use during the reign of a king. He has the charge of the vestment called the stole worn by the sovereign on state occasions. In the lord chamberlain’s department also are the master, assistant master, marshal of the ceremonies and deputy-marshal of the ceremonies, officers whose special function it is to enforce the observance of the etiquette of the court. The reception of foreign potentates and ambassadors is under their particular care, and they assist in the ordering of all entertainments and festivities at the palace. The gentleman usher of the black rod—the black rod which he carries being the ensign of his office—is the principal usher of the court and kingdom. He is one of the original functionaries of the order of the Garter, and is in constant attendance on the House of Lords, from whom, either personally or by his deputy, the yeoman usher of the black rod, it is part of his duty to carry messages and summonses to the House of Commons. There are six lords and six grooms “in waiting” who attend on the sovereign throughout the year and whose terms of attendance are of a fortnight’s or three weeks’ duration at a time. Usually “extra” lords and grooms in waiting are nominated by the sovereign, who, however, are unpaid and have no regular duties. Among the serjeants-at-arms there are two to whom special duties are assigned: the one attending the speaker in the House of Commons, and the other attending the lord chancellor in the House of Lords, carrying their maces and executing their orders. The comptroller and examiner of accounts, the paymaster of the household, the licenser of plays, the dean and subdean of the chapels royal, the clerk and deputy clerks of the closet, the groom of the robes, the pages of the backstairs, of the chamber and of the presence, the poet laureate, the royal physicians and surgeons, chaplains, painters and sculptors, librarians and musicians, &c., are all under the superintendence of the lord chamberlain of the household.
The queen consort’s household is also in the department of the lord chamberlain of the household. It comprises a lord chamberlain, a vice-chamberlain and treasurer, equerry and the various ladies of the royal household, a groom and a clerk of the robes. The ladies of the household are the mistress of the robes, the ladies of the bedchamber, the bedchamber women and the maids of honour. The mistress of the robes in some measure occupies the position of the groom of the stole. She is the only lady of the court who comes into office and goes out with the administration. She is always a duchess, and attends the queen consort at all state ceremonies and entertainments, but is never in permanent residence at the palace. The ladies of the bedchamber share the personal attendance on the queen consort throughout the year. Of these there are eight, always peeresses, and each is in waiting for a fortnight or three weeks at a time. But the women of the bedchamber, of whom there are also eight, appear only at court ceremonies and entertainments according to a roster annually issued under the authority of the lord chamberlain of the queen consort. They are usually the daughters of peers or the wives of the sons of peers, and formerly, like the mistress of the robes and the ladies of the bedchamber, habitually assisted the queen at her daily toilette. But this has long ceased to be done by any of them. The eight maids of honour have the same terms of waiting as the ladies of the bedchamber. They are commonly if not always the daughters or granddaughters of peers, and when they have no superior title and precedence by birth are called “honourable” and placed next after the daughters of barons.
- The lord Chamberlain of the household at one time discharged some important political functions, which are described by Sir Harris Nicolas (Proceedings of the Privy Council, vol. vi., Preface, p. xxiii).
- The office of master of the ceremonies was created by James I. The master of the ceremonies wears a medal attached to a gold chain round his neck, on one side being an emblem of peace with the motto “Beati pacifici,” and on the other an emblem of war with the motto “Dieu et mon droit” (see Finetti Philoxensis, by Sir John Finett, master of the ceremonies to James I. and Charles I., 1656; and D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature, 10th ed., p. 242 seq.).
- See May, Parliamentary Practice, pp. 236, 244.
- The offices of master of the great wardrobe and master of the jewel house in the lord chamberlain’s department were abolished in 1782.
- In the reign of Queen Anne, Sarah duchess of Marlborough from 1704, and Elizabeth duchess of Somerset from 1710, held the combined offices of mistress of the robes and groom of the stole.
- Since the great “bedchamber question” of 1839 the settled practice has been for all the ladies of the court except the mistress of the robes to receive and continue in their appointments independently of the political connexions of their husbands, fathers and brothers (see Gladstone’s Gleanings of Past Years, i. 40; and Torrens’s Memoirs of Lord Melbourne, ii. 304).