In the 16th century, more than 2,000 servants and courtiers worked at the royal court – and many of these jobs only existed to take care of royals.
Many roles were less than desirable, but we all need to earn money and those who worked in the royal court were no exception.
Want to be a scapegoat? Or maybe you’ve excelled as a royal taster (just pray the chicken drumstick isn’t arsenic-enriched), or could you begin to climb the royal ladder as a windshield wiper?
Let’s take a look at some of the worst royal court jobs.
You can find out more about the worst jobs in the royal court by listening and subscribing to Beyond the Royal Throne by 9Podcasts. Listen below.
One of the lower-ranking jobs was whipping boy, who was usually an aristocratic friend of the prince. How did this role work?
The whip boy was whipped whenever the prince misbehaved. The idea was that he would be the scapegoat and would have to bear the physical pain instead of the royal.
He was mostly whipped on the buttocks, but we can only imagine how humiliating it would have been to be whipped in front of your royal best friend.
It was hoped that when the prince saw how much his friend suffered during the whipping, he would reduce his own behavior and become a good little royal again.
It is believed that Charles I had his friend William Murray as a scapegoat – he was greatly rewarded for his duties later in life.
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Another dreadful job was food taster. A group of servants had to risk their lives and taste the food before it was served to royalty. You could never be sure that a courtier was trying to kill the king or queen with poison.
What if the soup was mixed with arsenic? How easy it would have been to slip into the kitchen and spice up the king’s food with belladonna or hemlock.
That would be enough to deter you from eating any meal you didn’t cook yourself, and there would be no way of knowing the food was deadly until you ate it.
In 1594 there was even a plot to poison Queen Elizabeth – apparently by the King of Spain, as the Spaniards were England’s enemies at the time.
A group of Portuguese men had agreed to do the dirty work, including the queen’s doctor Rodrigo Lopez. Once the plot was uncovered, the men were executed.
The job of the taster was a totally different role from that of a cupbearer, who tasted any drink.
What’s odd is that while the food tester was a servant or sometimes even a slave, the cupbearer often ended up being one of the king’s most trusted advisers. They were often allowed to accompany the king to important meetings, at a time when such meetings almost always involved the pouring of wine.
And it’s not just former royals who have brought people to this task. President Putin has a food taster as part of his security team.
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Would you like to be the stool’s groom? This is the chic name of the Royal Bum Wiper. As you can guess from the title, this position came with a most human and unpleasant task.
The Positive Side ? The stool groom was usually well paid.
That’s right, the royal wiper was actually one of the most popular positions among courtiers. Often, the groom of the stool was privy to secret information, which would lead to them being highly respected in the royal courts.
During the reign of Henry VIII, the Groom of the Stool became a powerful civil servant involved in shaping national fiscal policy, under the “house system”.
It remains to be debated whether they were really required to wipe their bottoms – however, they were required to watch the king’s stool and be on standby with a bowl of water and a towel.
The Washerwoman belonged to a whole class of maids whose job it was to pull buckets of water from a ditch onto a bridge.
It wasn’t entirely safe, as there were stories of women falling off the bridge and drowning. Women were supposed to filter stagnant water through a filter system so that they could get sufficiently clean water.
Getting a little wet and soggy isn’t strictly the worst job, but being so close to the royal sheets meant they knew what was going on below and above them.
Has anyone lost their virginity? Did Anne Boleyn miss her period? Keep in mind this was a time of uneven hygiene, thin nightgowns and no tampons. Washers had plenty of spots to occupy them.
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If you love horses and don’t mind stress, then royal messenger could be a great career choice.
Royal messengers raced on horseback to carry vital information about royal family relationships across the kingdom.
They would be on call at all hours to send the message which, for reasons of secrecy, had to be perfectly memorized.
Sometimes it had to be done when the enemies of the royal family were in power, waiting for them to make a mistake and desperate to know what their enemies were planning.
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