Map your history, make new connections and gain insights for family, local or special interest projects

Unusual Occupations in The Royal Household

Black Rod

The Royal Household lists a number of ‘unusual’ occupations, so here is a quick look at what some of them are…. ‘Black Rod’– we are most familiar with Black Rod at the State Opening of parliament but what is his role in the household and the history behind it?

    • The current title dates from 1522 but it was a role created in 1350 during the reign of Edward III.
    • Black Rod has several official duties: he is the personal attendant of the Sovereign in the Lords, as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain.
    • He is responsible as the usher and doorkeeper at meetings of the Order of the Garter and as the Sergeant-at-Arms and Keeper of the Doors of the House and he is concerned in the admission of strangers to the House of Lords
    • Black Rod further has the task of arresting any Lord guilty of breach of privelege or other Parliamentary offence.
    • The black rod, an ebony staff, topped with a golden lion, is used to tap the governor’s shoulder as a blessing from the Queen.
    •  Either Black Rod or his deputy, the Yeoman Usher, is required to be present when the House of Lords, upper house of Parliament, is in session.

Black Rod is best known for his part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Throne Speech. He summons the Commons to attend the speech and leads them to the Lords. As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make his summons, they are slammed in his face. This is to symbolise the Commons’ independence of the Sovereign. Then in a very bold way Black Rod  strikes the door three times with his staff, and is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend. The door is heavily marked from the striking by the rod.   Completely different, ‘Flower Painter in Ordinary‘, exactly what it says, a person appointed to paint flowers for the Monarch!

Swan Upping

The Keeper of the Swans, this is an ancient office dating back to the C13th.

    • The keeper was supported by three swanherdsmen, and their principal duties related to the annual Swan Upping on the River Thames when the swans are herded and then marked as the Sovereigns swans. The history of Swan Upping is still carried out today.
    • The title was abolished in 1993, when it was replaced by two new offices, the Warden of the Swans  and the Marker of the Swans.

Hogarth Serjeant Painter

Lastly, for this post, the occupation of ‘Serjeant Painter’.

    • The Serjeant Painter was an honorable and lucrative position. It carried with it the prerogative of painting and gilding all of the King’s residences, coaches, banners, earning the occupier of the position a hefty annual salary.
    • The work itself involved painting the palaces, coaches, royal barges, and all sorts of decorations for festivities, which often had to be designed as well. The actual involvement of the Serjeant Painters in this gradually declined.

The post itself fell out of use in the 18th century, which is a shame because for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations the barge she will be sailing down the Thames in will be resplendently gilded and painted. Follow this link to find out more about the archives of the Royal Household