It’s a known fact that certain members of the royal family have held common roles – but what about those working for the monarchy? With roughly 500 staff working in the royal household there are bound to be a few roles that are unexpected. From a swan keeper to a personal piper, there are a few postings that may have some raising an eyebrow. In fact, quirky roles dating back to the 1200’s prove that some careers really do stand the test of time.
The Queen’s Bargemaster
One of the oldest jobs in the royal household, the Queen’s Bargemaster dates back to 1215. While it has become more of a ceremonial role in recent years, this position really peaked in the 18th century due to the sovereign regularly traveling the River Thames by barge. This position is also the lead of 24 Royal Watermen whose work is primarily ceremonial. Once responsible for rowing the barge, today the Royal Watermen escort the royal family on board the Royal Nore.
Master of the Horse
First created in 1360, the Master of the Horse attends engagements where the Queen will be riding on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage. Held by Samuel Vestey, 3rd Baron Vestey, this role is the official inspector of the stables, as well, ensuring standards are upheld in the Royal Mews. This position is primarily ceremonial, making an appearance for state occasions.
Master of the Queen’s Music
This position is held for ten years – and is most often awarded to a prominent musician. Established in 1625, the role was dissolved in 1649 when the monarchy was overthrown, making it’s return as an official role in 1660. In 2014 the first female Master of the Queen’s Music was announced, appointing Composer Judith Weir to the role. While there are no determined responsibilities, this position often composes for royal and state engagements.
Another position from the 1600’s, the Astronomer Royal is a senior honorary title that is primarily needed for consultation on scientific inquiries. Currently held by Martin Rees, the Baron of Ludlow, he has been in the role since 1995.
Her Majesty’s Botanist
Appointed in 2010, Professor Stephen Blackmore filled the role of Her Majesty’s Botanist – a posting held in the royal household from 1699. In 1956 the job was made an honorary title held to be filled by a passionate gardener.
Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland
Artist Alexander Stoddart is the Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland since 2008. Recognised for his contribution to culture, Stoddart is known for his public monuments of historic figures. Which is suiting considering the original Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland in 1838 was famous for his sculpture of The Duke of Wellington on Princes Street. The position was made permanent in 1921.
Piper to the Sovereign
Is your piping fit for a queen? If you fill the Piper to the Sovereign role, we sure hope so. Every weekday at 9 a.m. sharp, this piper must play for roughly 15 minutes under Her Royal Majesty’s window when she is at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle or Palace Holyroodhouse. In this prestigious position there have only been 15 pipers to fill the role since 1843.
Keeper of the Queen’s Stamps
While she isn’t a collector herself, Queen Elizabeth II has an appointed role to preserve her father’s, King George V, stamp collection. Stamp Collector Michael Sefi has filled the role since 2003, maintaining the collection and traveling the world to contribute to the growing compilation. A member of the Council of Royal Philatelic Society since 1990, Sefi is a specialist in the early stamps of King George V.
Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures
This coveted role was introduced in 1972 when there was a need for someone to maintain the paintings. Currently held by Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures is responsible for ensuring paintings hanging in the palaces are maintained to the highest standard.
Warden of the Swans and Marker of the Swans
Originally called the Keeper of the Swans, it was determined in 1993 that the duties were so great, the role needed to be divided into two positions. The Warden of the Swans and the Marker of the Swans are currently held by Professor Christopher Perrins and David Barber. Conducting an annual consensus of the swans on the Thames, the 2018 ‘swan upping’ ended earlier this month with Perrins and Barber counting and ensuring the health of the swans.
The Queen’s Flag Sergeant
Well-known to tourists and locals alike, if the Union flag is raised at a palace this means Her Royal Majesty is not in residence. Since 1997, this raising and lowering of the flag has been conducted by the Queen’s Flag Sergeant. The role was altered later in the same year when the public was outraged that the palace didn’t fly their flags at half-mast to honour the death of Princess Diana. Currently held by Lance Sergeant Nathan Bowen, the Union Jack flies when the Queen is not home, and is at half-mast when a member of the royal family dies or there is national mourning.
Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales
Discontinued in 1871, the role was re-introduced in 2000. An important part of Welsh heritage, Prince Charles brought the role back to leverage the prominence of the harp in musical arrangements. In 2015, Anne Denholm filled the position.
The Royal Shoe-wearer
One of the newest roles to be introduced to the royal household, the Royal Shoe-Wearer is often filled by one of the Queen’s wardrobe staffers. As we all know, the monarch is no stranger to mid-engagement shoe swaps and this position helps with breaking in her growing shoe collection. At 92 years old, this is a necessary role for Her Royal Highness.
The Grand Carver
The royal household still retains the position of the Grand Carver. While it’s undetermined how long the position has been held, a hereditary role, currently Earl of Denbigh and Desmond is in the position. Carving up the roast meat on special occasions, the role is believe to have existed for as long as the royal family has held dinners. Unfortunately, due to the hereditary nature of the position, this role isn’t open to the public.
The Royal Horological Conservator
With a rumoured 1,000 clocks and instruments across the royal residences, this position is a busy one – and it doesn’t just cover clocks. The Royal Horological Conservator is in charge of maintaining the barometers and thermometers, as well. Requiring the work of a highly-skilled horologist, this position is responsible for winding and repairing the various pieces that have been gifted and in the royal family for hundreds of years.
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