Lord Chamberlain

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Lord Chamberlain of the Household
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom
The Lord Parker of Minsmere
since 1 April 2021
Lord Chamberlain's Office
Royal Households of the United Kingdom
Member ofRoyal Household of the United Kingdom
AppointerHis Majesty The King
Term lengthAt His Majesty's Pleasure
Inaugural holderSir Thomas Erpingham
Formationc. 1399
WebsiteOfficial Website

The Lord Chamberlain of the Household is the most senior officer of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom, supervising the departments which support and provide advice to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom while also acting as the main channel of communication between the Sovereign and the House of Lords. The office organises all ceremonial activity such as garden parties, state visits, royal weddings, and the State Opening of Parliament. They also oversee the Royal Mews and Royal Travel, as well as the ceremony around the awarding of honours.

From 1737 to 1968, the Lord Chamberlain had the power to decide which plays would be granted a licence for performance; this meant that he had the capacity to censor theatre at his pleasure.[1]

The Lord Chamberlain is always sworn of the Privy Council, is usually a peer and before 1782 the post was of Cabinet rank. The position was a political one until 1924. The office dates from the Middle Ages when the King's Chamberlain often acted as the King's spokesman in Council and Parliament.[2]

The current Lord Chamberlain is The Lord Parker of Minsmere, who has been in office since 1 April 2021.

Historic role


During the early modern period, the Lord Chamberlain was one of the three principal officers of the Royal Household, the others being the Lord Steward and the Master of the Horse. The Lord Chamberlain was responsible for the "chamber" or the household "above stairs": that is, the series of rooms used by the Sovereign to receive increasingly select visitors, terminating in the royal bedchamber (although the bedchamber itself came to operate semi-autonomously under the Groom of the Stool/Stole). His department not only furnished the servants and other personnel (such as physicians and bodyguards, the Yeomen of the Guard and Gentlemen Pensioners) in intimate attendance on the Sovereign but arranged and staffed ceremonies and entertainments for the court. He had (secular) authority over the Chapel Royal, and through the reabsorption of the Wardrobe into the Chamber, was also responsible for the Office of Works, the Jewel House, and other functions more removed from the Sovereign's person, many of which were reorganized and removed from the Chamberlain's purview in 1782.[3]

As other responsibilities of government were devolved to ministers, the ordering of the Royal Household was largely left to the personal taste of the Sovereign. To ensure that the chamber reflected the royal tastes, the Lord Chamberlain received commands directly from the sovereign to be transmitted to the heads of subordinate departments.[3]

In 1594, the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, founded the Lord Chamberlain's Men, for which William Shakespeare was a part (and later a shareholder in the company) and for whom he wrote most of his plays during his career. Carey served under Elizabeth I of England at the time and was in charge of all court entertainment, a duty traditionally given to the Master of the Revels, a deputy of the Lord Chamberlain. Later, in 1603, James I of England, elevated the Chamberlain's Men to royal patronage and changed the name to the King's Men.[4]

Theatre censorship

Sir Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister who gave the Lord Chamberlain official censorship duties. Painting by Arthur Pond.

The Licensing Act 1737


In 1737, Sir Robert Walpole officially introduced statutory censorship with the Licensing Act of 1737 by appointing the Lord Chamberlain to act as the theatrical censor. The Licensing Act 1737 gave the Lord Chamberlain the statutory authority to veto the performance of any new plays: he could prevent any new play, or any modification to an existing play, from being performed for any reason, and theatre owners could be prosecuted for staging a play (or part of a play) that had not received prior approval.

Historically though, the Lord Chamberlain had been exercising a commanding authority on London's theatre companies under the Royal Prerogative for many decades already. But by the 1730s the theatre was not controlled by royal patronage anymore. Instead it had become more of a commercial business. Therefore, the fact the Lord Chamberlain still retained censorship authority for the next 200 years gave him uniquely repressive authority during a period where Britain was experiencing "growing political enfranchisement and liberalization".[5]

Even further confusion rested in the fact that Members of Parliament could not present changes to the censorship laws because although the Lord Chamberlain exercised his authority under statute law, he was still an official whose authority was derived from the Royal Prerogative.[5]

Theatres Act 1843


By the 1830s, it started to become clear that the theatre licensing system in England needed an upgrade. Playwrights, instead of representatives of minor theatres, actually initiated the final push for reform as they felt that their livelihoods were being negatively affected by the monopoly the larger theatres had on the industry, backed by the laws in the 1737 Act.[5]

A Select Committee was formed in 1832 with the purpose of examining the laws that affected dramatic literature. Their main complaints were the lack of copyright protection for their work and more importantly that only two patent theatres in London could legitimately perform new plays. After more pressure from playwrights and theatre managers, the findings of the committee were finally presented to Parliament.[5]

It was the proposals of this committee that Parliament implemented in the Theatres Act of 1843. The Act still confirmed the absolute powers of censorship enjoyed by the Lord Chamberlain but still slightly restricted his powers so that he could only prohibit the performance of plays where he was of the opinion that "it is fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace so to do". The Act, however, did abolish the monopoly that the patent houses had in London, providing a minor win for playwrights and theatre managers wishing to produce new work.[5][1]

Theatres Act 1968


In 1909, a Joint Select Committee on Stage Plays (Censorship) was established and recommended that the Lord Chamberlain should continue to act as censor but that it could be lawful to perform plays without a licence from the Lord Chamberlain.[1] However, King Edward VII refused to accept these recommendations. The outbreak of both World Wars put an end to any parliamentary initiatives to change the laws regarding theatre censorship for many years. In 1948, the first British Theatre Conference recommended the termination of theatre censorship with the plan to pursue parliamentary action to ratify this.[1][5]

In the 1960s the debate to abolish theatre censorship rose again as a new generation of young playwrights came on the scene. They gained popularity with their new plays in local establishments, but since many were refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, they could not transfer to the West End. In the case of John Osborne's play A Patriot for Me, the Lord Chamberlain at the time, Lord Cobbold, was irritated that the play was so widely publicized even though he had banned it and therefore pursued legal action. In the end, the play was allowed to continue as it was. At this point, several widely regarded authors had all been censored by the Lord Chamberlain at one time or another, including playwrights Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. Sometimes censorship was self-serving. A comedy written for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the early 1960s had, as its plot, a jocular scheme to steal the Crown jewels. The Lord Chamberlain issued a one-line letter requiring the excision of that plot element. As Michael Palin, one of its authors and performers notes, that meant banning the entire production.[6] Another Joint Select Committee was founded to further debate on the issue and present a solution. This time the argument largely centered around this issue on the portrayal of living and recently dead individuals, particularly in reference to the monarchy as well as politicians.[1][5]

After much debate, the Theatres Act 1968 was finally passed; it officially abolished the censorship of the stage and repealed the Lord Chamberlain's power to refuse a licence to a play of any kind.[1] The first London performance of the musical Hair was actually delayed until the Act was passed after a licence had been refused.[7]



The battle regarding the abolition of censorship was largely a political one, fought on principle. Those who opposed the termination of this particular duty of the Lord Chamberlain were mostly concerned about how to protect the reputation of the royal family and the government instead of controlling obscenity and blasphemy on stage. However, this concern has largely been unfounded. Since the termination of censorship, British drama has flourished and produced several prominent playwrights and new works since. The abolition of censorship opened a floodgate of theatrical creativity.[5]

The Lord Chamberlain’s plays


The long standing role of the Lord Chamberlain as theatrical censor resulted in an extensive archive of both licensed and unlicensed play scripts being preserved.[8] The collection held at the British Library also includes correspondence and administrative documents related to the censorship process.[9]

Duties of the office

The Earl of Kent in 1705, carrying the wand of office and wearing the insignia of a gold key, as Lord Chamberlain.

The Lord Chamberlain is the most senior official of the Royal Household and oversees its business, including liaising with the other senior officers of the Household, chairing Heads of Department meetings, and advising in the appointment of senior Household officials.[2][10] The Lord Chamberlain also undertakes ceremonial duties and serves as the channel of communication between the Sovereign and the House of Lords.[2]

Under Lord Airlie, the Lord Chamberlain’s ceremonial and non-executive role was altered to that of chief executive.[11] Airlie initiated changes in the early 1990s under the auspices of "The Way Ahead Group".[12] Under these plans the Queen agreed to pay tax, greater transparency for the public subsidy of the monarchy began and a greater emphasis on public relations started.[13] In 1986, he produced a 1,393-page report recommending 188 changes for smoother operations of the Royal Household.[14]

The Lord Chamberlain's Office is a department of the Royal Household and its day-to-day work is headed by the Comptroller. It is responsible for organizing ceremonial activities including state visits, investitures, garden parties, the State Opening of Parliament, weddings and funerals.[2]

On State and ceremonial occasions, the Lord Chamberlain carries specific symbols that represent his office: a white staff and a key (which is worn at the hip pocket). These insignia are returned to the monarch when the Lord Chamberlain retires from office;[15] but if the monarch dies, the white staff is symbolically broken by the Lord Chamberlain and placed on the coffin of the deceased Sovereign at the end of the State Funeral service. This was last done by the Lord Parker of Minsmere, who broke his staff over the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022.[2][10]

The Lord Chamberlain is ex-officio the Chancellor of the Royal Victorian Order, having possession of a Badge corresponding to that office.[16] As such, they are often appointed to the said Order either upon appointment as Lord Chamberlain, or later in their career. The Lord Chamberlain also regulates the design and the wearing of court uniform and dress and how insignia are worn.

List of Lords Chamberlain of the Household from 1399

Name Began Ended Notes Ref.
Sir Thomas Erpingham 1399 1404 [17]
The Lord Grey of Codnor 1404 1413 [17]
The Lord FitzHugh 1413 1425 [17]
The Lord Cromwell c. 1425 1432 First period in office [17]
The Lord Bardolf 1432 1441 [17]
Sir Ralph Boteler,
from 1441 The Lord Sudeley
1441 1447 [17]
The Lord Saye and Sele 1447 1450 [17]
The Lord Cromwell 1450 1455 Second period in office [17]
Thomas Stanley,
from 1456 The Lord Stanley
1455 1459 [17]
The Earl of Salisbury 1460 1460 [17]
The Lord Hastings 1461 1470 First period in office [17]
Unknown 1470 1471 Second reign of Henry VI
The Lord Hastings 1471 1483 Second period in office [17]
The Viscount Lovell 1483 1485 [17]
Sir William Stanley 1485 1494 [17]
Lord Daubeney 1494 1508 [17]
The Lord Herbert,
from 1514 The Earl of Worcester
1509 1526 [17]
The Earl of Arundel 1526 1530
The Lord Sandys 1530 1540 [17]
Vacant 1540 1543 [17]
The Lord St John 1543 1545 Created The Earl of Wiltshire in 1550 and The Marquess of Winchester in 1551 [17]
Unknown 1545 1546
The Earl of Arundel 1546 1550 [17]
The Lord Wentworth 1550 1551 [17]
The Lord Darcy of Chiche 1551 1553 [17]
Sir John Gage 1553 1556 [17]
Unknown 1556 1557
Sir Edward Hastings
from 1558 The Lord Hastings of Loughborough
1557 1558 [17]
The Lord Howard of Effingham 1558 1572 [17]
The Earl of Sussex 1572 1585 [17]
The Lord Hunsdon 1585 1596 Founded the famous Lord Chamberlain's Men for whom Shakespeare wrote for most of his career. [17][4]
The Lord Cobham 1596 1597 [17]
The Lord Hunsdon 1597 1603 [17]
Lord Thomas Howard,
from 1603 The Earl of Suffolk
1603 1614 [17]
The Earl of Somerset 1614 1615 [17]
The Earl of Pembroke 1615 1626 [17]
The Earl of Montgomery,
from 1630 The Earl of Pembroke
1626 1641 [17]
The Earl of Essex 1641 1642 [17]
Unknown 1642 1644
The Earl of Dorset 1644 1649 [17]
Vacant 1649 1655 Position became vacant at the start of the Interregnum and the Commonwealth
Sir Gilbert Pickering, Bt 1655 1659 Lord Chamberlain during The Protectorate [17]
The Earl of Manchester 1660 1671 [17]
The Earl of St Albans 1672 1674 [17]
The Earl of Arlington 1674 1685 [17]
The Earl of Elgin and Earl of Ailesbury 1685 1685 [17]
The Earl of Mulgrave 1685 1688 Created The Marquess of Normanby in 1694 and The Duke of Buckingham and Normanby in 1703 [17]
The Earl of Dorset 1689 1697 [17]
The Earl of Sunderland 1697 1697 [17]
Vacant 1697 1699 The King did not accept the resignation of the Earl of Sunderland
The Duke of Shrewsbury 1699 1700 [17]
The Earl of Jersey 1700 1704 [17]
The Earl of Kent
from 1706 The Marquess of Kent
1704 1710 Created The Duke of Kent in 1710 and The Marquess Grey in 1740 [17]
The Duke of Shrewsbury 1710 1715 [17]
The Duke of Bolton 1715 1717 [17]
The Duke of Newcastle 1717 1724 [17]
The Duke of Grafton 1724 1757 [17]
The Duke of Devonshire 1757 1762 [17]
The Duke of Marlborough 1762 1763 [17]
The Earl Gower 1763 1765 Created The Marquess of Stafford in 1786 [17]
The Duke of Portland 1765 1766 [17]
The Earl of Hertford 1766 1782 First period in office; created The Marquess of Hertford in 1793 [17]
The Duke of Manchester 1782 1783 [17]
The Earl of Hertford 1783 1783 Second period in office; created The Marquess of Hertford in 1793 [17][18]
The Earl of Salisbury,
from 1789 The Marquess of Salisbury
1783 1804
The Earl of Dartmouth 1804 1810 [17]
Vacant 1810 1812
The Marquess of Hertford 1812 1821 [17][19]
The Duke of Montrose 1821 1827 First period in office [17][20]
The Duke of Devonshire 1827 1828 First period in office [17]
The Duke of Montrose 1828 1830 Second period in office [17]
The Earl of Jersey 1830 1830 First period in office [17]
The Duke of Devonshire 1830 1834 Second period in office [17]
The Earl of Jersey 1834 1835 Second period in office [17][21]
The Marquess Wellesley 1835 1835 [17]
The Marquess Conyngham 1835 1839
Earl of Uxbridge 1839 1841 Succeeded as The Marquess of Anglesey in 1854
The Earl De La Warr 1841 1846 First period in office [17]
The Earl Spencer 1846 1848 [17][22]
The Marquess of Breadalbane 1848 1852 First period in office [17][23]
The Marquess of Exeter 1852 1852 [24]
The Marquess of Breadalbane 1853 1858 Second period in office [17][25]
The Earl De La Warr 1858 1859 Second period in office [17][26]
The Viscount Sydney 1859 1866 First period in office [27]
The Earl of Bradford 1866 1868 [28]
The Viscount Sydney 1868 1874 Second period in office; created The Earl Sydney in 1874 [29]
The Marquess of Hertford 1874 1879 [30]
The Earl of Mount Edgcumbe 1879 1880 [31]
The Earl of Kenmare 1880 1885 First period in office [32]
The Earl of Lathom 1885 1886 First period in office [33]
The Earl of Kenmare 1886 1886 Second period in office [34]
The Earl of Lathom 1886 1892 Second period in office [35]
The Lord Carrington 1892 1895 Created The Earl Carrington in 1895 and The Marquess of Lincolnshire in 1912 [17]
The Earl of Lathom 1895 1898 Third period in office [36]
The Earl of Hopetoun 1898 1900 Created The Marquess of Linlithgow in 1902 [17]
The Earl of Clarendon 1900 1905 [37]
The Viscount Althorp
from 1910 The Earl Spencer
1905 1912 [38]
The Lord Sandhurst
from 1917 The Viscount Sandhurst
1912 1921 [39]
The Duke of Atholl 1921 1922 [17][40]
The Earl of Cromer 1922 1938 [17]
The Earl of Clarendon 1938 1952 [17]
The Earl of Scarbrough 1952 1963 [17]
The Lord Cobbold 29 January 1963 30 November 1971 [17][41]
The Lord Maclean 1 December 1971 30 November 1984 [17][42]
The Earl of Airlie 1 December 1984 31 December 1997 [43]
The Lord Camoys 1 January 1998 31 May 2000
The Lord Luce 1 October 2000 15 October 2006
The Earl Peel 16 October 2006 31 March 2021 [44]
The Lord Parker of Minsmere 1 April 2021 present [45]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f Handley, Miriam (2004). The Lord Chamberlain Regrets...: A History of British Theatre Censorship. London, England: British Library. pp. 3–17, 86–87, 140, 149, 162, 169. ISBN 0712348654.
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Lord Chamberlain". Monarchy of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 2 June 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  3. ^ a b Bucholz, Robert O., ed. (2006). "Introduction: Administrative structure and work". Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660-1837. London: University of London.
  4. ^ a b Zarrilli, Phillip B. (2006). Theatre Histories, An Introduction. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 157–158, 188. ISBN 0-415-22727-5.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas, David (2007). Theatre Censorship: From Walpole to Wilson. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. iix–xiii, 2, 4, 36, 53–57, 182–188, 205, 216–225. ISBN 978-0-19-926028-7.
  6. ^ The Fringe, Fame and Me (Television production). BBC Scotland. 2022.
  7. ^ Lewis, Anthony (29 September 1968). "Londoners Cool To Hair's Nudity Four Letter Words Shock Few at Musical's Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  8. ^ Dossett, Kate (17 January 2023). "How British theatre censorship laws have inadvertently created a rich archive of Black history". The Conversation. Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  9. ^ "British Library". APAC. Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  10. ^ a b "Great Officers of the Household". Debrett's. Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  11. ^ "The Earl of Airlie, dashing courtier who led Schroders through the Big Bang and reviewed the royal finances – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 28 June 2023. Retrieved 29 June 2023.
  12. ^ Corby, Tom (3 July 2023). "The Earl of Airlie obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 July 2023.
  13. ^ "Can Meghan Markle modernise the monarchy?". The Economist. 23 May 2018.
  14. ^ "The Earl of Airlie obituary". The Times. 30 June 2023. Retrieved 1 July 2023.
  15. ^ "Windsor Castle". The Royal Family. Court Circular. 13 April 2021. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  16. ^ "Royal Victorian Order". The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca "Lord chamberlains of the royal household in the Oxford DNB". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 February 2011. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  18. ^ "No. 12430". The London Gazette. 8 April 1783. p. 1.
  19. ^ "No. 16581". The London Gazette. 7 March 1812. p. 450.
  20. ^ "No. 17772". The London Gazette. 11 December 1821. p. 2405.
  21. ^ "No. 19221". The London Gazette. 16 December 1834. p. 2266.
  22. ^ "No. 20621". The London Gazette. 10 July 1846. p. 2533.
  23. ^ "No. 20894". The London Gazette. 5 September 1848. p. 3275.
  24. ^ "No. 21297". The London Gazette. 2 March 1852. p. 670.
  25. ^ "No. 21403". The London Gazette. 18 January 1853. p. 137.
  26. ^ "No. 22106". The London Gazette. 2 March 1858. p. 1207.
  27. ^ "No. 22279". The London Gazette. 24 June 1859. p. 2471.
  28. ^ "No. 23137". The London Gazette. 13 July 1866. p. 3984.
  29. ^ "No. 23450". The London Gazette. 15 December 1868. p. 6654.
  30. ^ "No. 24071". The London Gazette. 3 March 1874. p. 1452.
  31. ^ "No. 24721". The London Gazette. 13 May 1879. p. 3311.
  32. ^ "No. 24841". The London Gazette. 4 May 1880. p. 2836.
  33. ^ "No. 25485". The London Gazette. 30 June 1885. p. 3000.
  34. ^ "No. 25558". The London Gazette. 12 February 1886. p. 677.
  35. ^ "No. 25615". The London Gazette. 10 August 1886. p. 3853.
  36. ^ "No. 26644". The London Gazette. 16 July 1895. p. 4022.
  37. ^ "No. 27232". The London Gazette. 25 September 1900. p. 5891.
  38. ^ "No. 27866". The London Gazette. 22 December 1905. p. 9171.
  39. ^ "No. 28581". The London Gazette. 16 February 1912. p. 1169.
  40. ^ "No. 32525". The London Gazette. 22 November 1921. p. 9245.
  41. ^ "No. 42909". The London Gazette. 1 February 1963. p. 979.
  42. ^ "No. 45536". The London Gazette. 3 December 1971. p. 13243.
  43. ^ "No. 49948". The London Gazette. 4 December 1984. p. 16413.
  44. ^ Appointment of Lord Chamberlain at the Royal Household official website, 2006 Archived 19 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  45. ^ Kirsty.Oram (5 February 2021). "Lord Parker of Minsmere KCB appointed as Lord Chamberlain". The Royal Family. Retrieved 6 February 2021.

Further reading