In English royalty, the Groom of the Stool was originally a servant who assisted the king with bodily functions and washing. The stool in question was a ‘close stool’ – a fixed or portable commode – and help was needed with the putting on and taking off of elaborate and expensive clothing.

Under the Tudors, Grooms of the Stool were important functionaries because of this intimate access. All of Henry VIII’s grooms were knights. Sir Henry Norris, for instance, was closely aligned to Anne Boleyn’s faction and was executed at the time of her downfall; Sir Anthony Denny controlled Henry’s signature stamp and helped draw up the latter’s will.

Queens had their own intimate ladies, and the office lapsed under Mary and Elizabeth I. So the last Groom of the Stool in the strict sense was possibly Sir Michael Stanhope, who served Edward VI. He was hanged for ‘felony’ before Edward’s death, but it’s not clear if his role was then taken by anyone else.

Under the Stuarts, the office morphed into ‘Groom of the Stole’, with its implications of dressing the monarch rather than helping him visit the privy. Depending on the individual monarch, the role would also have devolved onto offices like Groom or Lord of the Bedchamber. The last person to hold the title of Groom of the Stole was James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn (1838–1913) who served the Prince of Wales, but the job did not continue when the latter became King Edward VII.

Answered by: Eugene Byrne, author and journalist