The Eltham Ordinances

Henry VIII’s court was attended by hundreds of people. As a result, his palaces were always dirty, the people out of control and wastes of money abounded. To solve these problems, Cardinal Wolsey devised a set of rules to regulate the functioning of the King’s privy chamber. Or so he claimed. In reality, with these measures Wolsey hoped to curtail the power of the gentleman of the Privy Charmber, who were gaining a big influence over the King, and increase his own. Named after the palace where Wolsey stayed while he drew them up, the Eltham Ordinances were implemented in January 1526.

The Encyclopedia of Tudor England thus sums them up:

The ordinances comprised 79 specific chapters designed to cut costs, improve decorum and restructure the privy chamber. The official size of the court and royal household was reduced, and the number of people who were accorded bouge of court (the right to food, drink, fuel and lodgings for themselves and a retinue) was similarly cut. The ordinances also tightened accounting and budgeting procedures, mandated staff inspections, and discharged anyone who was sickly or unneeded. Strict new rules likewise governed the conduct of those who attended upon the king, curbing boisterous or violent behaviour to protect both the royal person and the royal honour, banning dogs to improve cleanliness, and setting mealtimes to promote economies. In the privy chamber, Wolsey prescribed the type and number of servants who waited on the king – six gentlemen of the privy chamber, two gentlemen ushers, four grooms, a barber, and a page – a reduction of eight positions. Particular opponents of Wolsey, such as Sir William Compton, a long-serving groom, were pensioned off.

George Boleyn, Sir Francis Bryan and Sir Nicholas Carew were among the men who were dismissed too. The six remaining members of the privy chamber were to be at the said chamber at 7 o’clock in the morning, ready to dress the king “in reverent, discreet and sober manner”. The persons appointed to the privy chamber shall be

“loving together, and of good unity and accord keeping secret all such things as shall be done or said in the same, without disclosing any part thereof to any person not being for the time present in the same chamber, and that the King being absent, without they be commanded to go to his Grace, they shall not only give their continual and diligent attendance in the said chamber, but also leave asking where the King is or is going, be it early or late, without grudging, mumbling, or talking of the King’s pastime.”

The duties and role of Henry’s barber were also written down:

“The King’s barber shall be daily by the King’s uprising, ready and attendant in the privy chamber there having ready his water, cloths, knives, combs, scissors and such other stuff as he needs, for trimming and dressing the King’s head and beard. And that the said barber take special regard to the pure and clean keeping of his own person and apparel; using himself always honestly in his conversation, without resorting to the company of vile persons, or of misguided women, in avoiding such dangers and annoyance as by that means he might do unto the King’s most royal person; not failing this to do, upon pain of losing his room, and further punishment at the King’s pleasure.”

The pleasures of the noblemen were also curtailed:

“As hitherto, when the King has gone walking, hunting, or sporting, most of the nobles and gentlemen have gone with him, leaving the court deserted, and hindering the King in his sports, it is ordered that no one go with him at such times except those appointed by himself and warned by the gentlemen ushers.”

So were expenses:

“It is ordeyned that the King’s groom-porters and Queen’s shall fetch noe waxe, whire-lightes, wood, nor coales, more then reasonable ought to be spent, by the oversight of the gentlemen ushers; and that the said groome porters doe dayly bring ia the remaine of torches and other waxe remaining overnight, by nine of the clock in the morrow; and for lack of doeing thereof to loose for every tyme one weeke’s wages; the same to be overseen and executed by the clerk comptroller from time, to time.”

“It is ordeyned that the King’s gentlemen ushers and the Queen’s, being in dayly wages, doe make daily records at meale tymes of bread, ale, and wyne, as it is spent in the said chamber; and the said recordes dayly to bring into the compting-house, according to the old custome of the King’s house; and that they doe fetch livery for All-night for the King and the Queen, between eight of the clock and nine.”

The court had to be kept clean:

“And for the better avoyding of corruption and all uncleaness out of the King’s house, which doth ingender danger of infection, and is very noisome and displeasant unto all the noblemen and others repaireing unto the same; it is ordeyned, by the King’s Highness, that the three master cookes of the kitchen shall have everie of them by way of reward yearly twenty marks, to the intent they shall provide and sufficiently furnish the said kitchens of such scolyons as shall not goe naked or in garments of such vilenesse as they now doe, and have been accustomed to doe, nor lie in the nights and dayes in the kitchens or ground by the fire-side; but that they of the said money may be found with honest and whole course garments, without such uncleannesse as may be the annoyance of those by whom they shall passe, and so to be brought up in that business, as they being chosen for that purpose may learne hereafter to be cookes; of which said scolyons, a certaine number alternately to be deputed shall daily, once in the forenoone and once in the afternoone sweepe and make cleane the courts, outward galleryes, and other places of the court, soe as there remaine no filth or uncleannesse in the fame, but that it be shortly remedyed, avoyded, and carryed away; the same to be overseene to be done by the serjeant of the hall, or some officer of the same by him to be appointed.”

That meant that dogs had to be kept out too:

“The King’s Highnesse alsoe straightly forbiddeth and inhibiteth, that no person, whatsoever he be, presume to keepe any grey-hounds, mastives, hounds, or other dogges, in the court, other then some few small spaniells for ladyes or others, nor bring or leade any into the same, except it be by the King’s or Queen’s commandment; but the said grey-hounds and doggs to be kept in kennells, and other meete places, out of court, as is convenient, soe as, the premises dewlv observed, the house may be sweete, wholesome, cleane, and well furnished, as to a prince’s honour and estate doth apperteine.”

Leftovers should be distributed to the poor:

“And because heretofore the relicts and fragments of such meate and drinke, as dayly hath been spent in the King and Queen’s chamber and household, have not been duely distributed unto poore folkes, by way of almes, as was convenient; it is therefore the King’s pleasure, that from henceforth speciall regard be had, that all the said reliques and fragments be saved and gathered by the officers of the almonry, and from day to day to be given to poore people at the utter court gate, by oversight of the under almnor; without diminishing, embesselling, or purloyning any parte thereof; and that neither in the chamber, nor other place where allowance of meate is had, the meate be given away by any sitting or wayting there; but the relliques to be imployed to the almes as is aforesaid.”

However, not all these measures were successful. For instance, some of the courtiers who had been dismissed from the privy chamber were reinstated after a few months. I guess the King didn’t like to be without his friends. Wolsey instead would fall from favour and die only a couple of years later.

Further reading:
Encyclopedia of Tudor England by John A. Wagner,Susan Walters Schmid Ph.D.
Liber quotidianus contrarotulatoris garderobae: Anno regni Edwardi I vicesimo octavo, A. D. 1299 et 1300

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