If you have any appreciation for the oddest bits of history or at least find fart jokes funny, I am SO happy you’re here because what I’m about to type is going to blow. Your. Mind.
You must be warned that there’s going to be some groundbreaking stuff here but it’s not exactly dinner table material and let’s just be adults about all of this.
We are gathered here today to talk about poo. Yes.
It’s a long story but I got lost on Wikipedia and came across the phrase “Groom of the Stole, Mistress of the Robes, and Keeper of the Privy Purse.” If you already know about all of these things just click out now but I know for a fact that you definitely don’t because if you did you would have already told me because this information is just too beyond good to keep to one’s self.
Now, I wasn’t especially intrigued by “Groom of the Stole” and I assumed “Mistress of the Robes” wasn’t going to be out of this world.
But that third one. Unable to keep my intrigued fingers at bay, I quickly tapped on “Keeper of the Privy Purse,” hoping with every fiber of my body that it had something to do with poo.
If I showed you a picture of this guy and said his title was “Keeper of the Privy Purse” and the year was 1817, what on God’s green Earth would you think his responsibilities were?
Collecting the King’s poo in the portable poo box he’s carrying, right? When I laid eyes upon this gentleman I thought for sure I was on the edge of my first great historical discovery of someone else’s great historical discovery. Of COURSE there had to be a royal poo box carrier before porcelain thrones came long! How could I not have pondered the existence of this before now?!
One Wikipedia lesson later and my hungry heart was left unfed. As it turns out the Keeper of the Privy Purse is just a fancy accountant. The job description is only “handle Great Britain’s money.” There’s even one still today, and he still has that ridiculous title, since Great Britain still has money to handle as well as a sense of humor. Sorry, humour. I’m only surprised they don’t call it Privy McPrivyface.
That not-a-poo-box our model is carrying is an ornamental display purse that is carried at things like coronations and bat mizfas and whatever else a Privy McPrivyface is privy to.
Disappointed, I headed back to our original trifecta of ridiculous names: “Groom of the Stole, Mistress of the Robes, and Not-a-Poo-Box-Guy.” I figured Mistress wouldn’t be about poo but could be something intriguing.
Quite unfortunately, the Mistress of the Robes has nothing to do with dress-making nor being a side squeeze, unless she has an affinity for either of these two tasks outside of her responsibilities as general handler of the Queen. The Mistress of the Robes was formerly in charge of things like clothes and jewelry, but is now in charge of ladies-in-waiting and other social tasks. Like McPrivy, there is still a Mistress today. Because Britain.
I had now clicked two of the links and was obviously incapable of leaving the third unbothered. “Groom of the Stole” sounded boring. A “stole” in my mom’s line of work is the fancy scarf that goes around a priest’s neck. I had little hope.
Oh, how misled I was. Here we go.
“Stole” was just the word the author of the original Wiki used in the link. The corrected title of the Wikipedia page was “Groom of the Stool.” But I was already let down by “Keeper of the Privy Purse” and had priests on the mind, so I was easy to surprise in that moment.
Here was my welcome mat:
Try and tell me that guy doesn’t look like he collects poo in that box.
I have a secret: that guy TOTALLY collects poo in that box.
Wikipedia pulled through for me today. It sensed that I was on the hunt for whoever was in charge of collecting royal poo, and it led me down a strange path to Hugh Denys, the first recorded Official Poo Collector, who served his post until 1509.
You need to click into the page and check out 100% of what’s there. As it turns out, the Poo Guy evolved to be an incredibly important position in the King’s inner circle. Doesn’t matter which King; just pick one. If toilets didn’t exist yet, the King needed a velvet box and a friend to help him do his duty. Due to the natural intimacy of this role, the Poo Guy became a confidante of the King, and he became promoted from Joe the Poo Plumber to MINISTER OF THE ROYAL TREASURY. Is it just me or did that escalate quickly?
Now, where does this circle us back to? YUP, THE KEEPER OF THE PRIVY PURSE. Privy Guy already is in charge of the money, isn’t he? And, wait a minute, isn’t “privy” another word for “loo” in Britain? Oh lawd somebody help me.
Here’s where I researched so much more and you should know I have literally never done this much in the name of a blog post so you better share this with everyone you’ve ever met.
The word “privy” comes from the Latin “privatus” which means something like “private.” Money matters are (usually) private. Pooing is (usually) private. It makes sense that, at one point in history, “privy” had something to do with money. Why the English continue to use it is beyond me. But they can’t figure out how to keep a Doctor for more than fifteen minutes so they can’t really be trusted anyway.
My sister-in-law, who at this point in our story had become my research assistant, asked a great question. If both the Privy-as-in-Money-Guy and the Privy-as-in-Potty-Guy were both in charge of money, why have both positions?
Turns out Man Purse is an official high office aka super duper accountant position. His job is 100% money-related and the only part of his job that has to do with the monarch’s butt is the word “Privy” in his title.
Groom of the Stool is much more interesting, and we really need to think carefully about the potential ramifications of what’s about to be spelled out.
Groom of the Stool is, at the core, a position designed to make sure the King has a Port-O-Potty with him at all times, and to otherwise assist in the acts of defecation. It is historically disputed as to whether literal butt-wiping ever took place, but it is not historically disputed that “butt-wiping” has ever once been used so academic-sounding in a sentence before now.
It didn’t take long for Kings to start revealing state secrets to their Grooms of the Stool, on account of them probably experiencing some brotherly bonding over such weird shit.
Grooms of the Stool eventually came to start governing the entire department of the King’s bedchamber, managing all servants of the chambers and overseeing everything that went on in private quarters. Err, privy quarters. Whatever.
Some history suggests that they literally kept close tabs on the quality of the King’s feces and reported back to physicians as a means of tracking health. Which, honestly, actually seems pretty important and quite nice of them.
As confidants, they eventually were given more and more authority and allowed in on decision-making processes, including matters of money. The Privy Guys were heads of the money departments, but the Poo Guys were just best friends who got to play along and help make important decisions because they had their faces so close to the monarch’s butt all the time. Not unlike Steve Bannon.
But this is where I think we should all stop and think. How many major decisions in history were made because the King was having a chat with his Groom of the Stool about something turbo important, and followed the advice of the Groom? Have wars waged as the result of the opinion of a Poo Guy?
Isn’t it astounding how overlooked this is? Did I miss this History Channel special feature? Where’s the SNL skit? Did everybody already know about kings being crazy close to their Poo Guys and using them to make important decisions about things like I dunno RULING THE WORLD?
Poo Guys were more than just butt buddies with royals. Because of their closeness to the Kings, they were honored and respected by members of the court. People actually sought them out as a means of getting messages through to the Kings, since they had the closest relationships.
But who got to serve in this awesome role? Not just anyone, of course. High-ranking noblemen who achieved affluence outside of the monarch’s toilet were the ones appointed to the position. Royals trusted earls and other sirs to the task.
What’s more, Poo Guys also got to sleep in royal chambers and wear the King’s hand-me-downs. They literally got to dress like Kings. It sounds like dressing like a King would make one’s task of cleaning up poo more difficult, but what do I know?
The title and responsibilities of the position continued to shift once Britain got themselves a few Queens. The woman in charge of assisting the Queen in similar matters was entitled “Lady of the Bedchambers,” which I think may just be the title of my next Halloween costume. How cool does that name sound?
Ready for full circle?
The Lady of the Bedchamber, like the Groom of the Stool, had similarly evolved responsibilities. Her tasks of poo-handling shifted to general bedchamber management, and her title changed to…wait for it…The Mistress of the Robes. As in, the lady featured in our original trio! This was omitted in the Mistress article. It was spelled out in the Lady of the Bedchamber one.
The Groom of the Stool position was phased out in 1901 when Edward VII didn’t want his butt tended to by another man anymore, but Mistress of the Robes still exists. I’m mostly positive the Queen can use the potty on her own and the Mistress of Robes is now just in charge of some social stuff.
There. Now you know something you didn’t know before. The British royal monarchs’ official poo-carriers maybe started wars. Tell your friends.