1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lord Great Chamberlain

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LORD GREAT CHAMBERLAIN, in England, a functionary who must be carefully distinguished from the lord chamberlain; he is one of the great officers of state, whose office dates from Norman times; and the only one who still holds it under a creation of that period. As his name implies, he was specially connected by his duties with the king’s chamber (camera curie); but this phrase was also used to denote the king’s privy purse, and the chamberlain may be considered as originally the financial officer of the household. But as he was always a great baron, deputies performed his financial work, and his functions became, as they are now, mainly ceremonial, though the emblem of his office is still a key. The office had been held by Robert Malet, son of a leading companion of the Conqueror, but he was forfeited by Henry I., who, in 1133, gave the great chamberlainship to Aubrey de Vere and his heirs. Aubrey’s son was created earl of Oxford, and the earls held the office, with some intermission, till 1526, when the then earl left female heirs. His heir-male succeeded to the earldom, but the crown, as is now established, denied his right to the office, which was thenceforth held under grants for life till Queen Mary and Elizabeth admitted in error the right of the earls on the strength of their own allegation. So matters continued till 1626, when an earl died and again left an heir-male and an heir-female. After an historic contest the office was adjudged to the former, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby. No further question arose till 1779, when his heirs were two sisters. In 1781 the House of Lords decided that it belonged to them jointly, and that they could appoint a deputy, which they did. Under a family arrangement the heirs of the two sisters respectively appointed deputies in alternate reigns till the death of Queen Victoria, when Lord Ancaster, the heir of the elder, who was then in possession, claimed that he, as such, had sole right to the office. Lord Cholmondeley and Lord Carrington as coheirs of the younger sister, opposed his claim, and the crown also claimed for itself on the ground of the action taken by the king in 1526. After a long and historic contest, the House of Lords (1902) declined to re-open the question, and merely re-affirmed the decision of 1781, and the office, therefore, is now vested jointly in the three peers named and their heirs.

The lord great chamberlain has charge of the palace of Westminster, especially of the House of Lords, in which he has an office; and when the sovereign opens parliament in person he is responsible for the arrangements. At the opening or closing of the session of parliament by the sovereign in person he disposes of the sword of state to be carried by any peer he may select, and walks himself in the procession on the right of the sword of state, a little before it and next to the sovereign. He issues the tickets of admission on the same occasions. He assists at the introduction of all peers into the House of Lords on their creation, and at the homage of all bishops after their consecration. At coronations he emerges into special importance; he still asserts before the court of claims his archaic right to bring the king his “shirt, stockings and drawers” and to dress him on coronation day and to receive his ancient fees, which include the king’s bed and “night robe.” He also claims in error to serve the king with water before and after the banquet, which was the function of the “ewry,” a distinct office held by the earls of Oxford. At the actual coronation ceremony he takes an active part in investing the king with the royal insignia.

See J. H. Round, “The Lord Great Chamberlain” (Monthly Review, June 1902) and “Notes on the Lord Great Chamberlain Case” (Ancestor, No. IV.).  (J. H. R.)