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text 2014-07-16 17:07
Reading in Progress: The Courtiers by Lucy Worsley, and a Quote I Could Not Resist
The Courtiers - Lucy Worsley

As soon as I read this bit I immediately thought "oh I have to share this!"


Background: The king in this quote is George I. This particular bit is discussing how the king would avoid the more crowded areas of the court at Kensington Palace to make private visits to his family and mistress.


(24% in) "On other occasions he would cut conveniently through the behind-the-scenes areas and labyrinthine passages that were used by the palace's scurrying servants. The narrow 'backstairs' to his private apartments were useful for making a discreet exit. The royal chamber pot descended down this secret staircase, and the king's most intimate visitors were brought up it when they came to visit him. Using the backstairs circumvented the pomp, publicity and many watchful eyes ever present on the King's Grand Staircase. The enduring phrase 'back-stairs gossip,' signifying insider information, was born in this part of the palace.


As time went by, more and more of the courtiers considered themselves to be entitled to the privilege of using the back-stairs. The result was that the little staircase became positively crowded, with constant 'contriving, undermining and caballing at the backstairs....


Anyone trying to get up to the king's private chambers via the back-stairs would find one of the pages keeping guard.  ...Charles II had in the previous century delegated much control to one particular page. William Chiffinch, this favoured servant, became 'a man of so absolute authority' that even government ministers obeyed his commands. Some people, knowing that his duties included bringing in women for the king, called him the 'Pimpmaster General.'"


Was not expecting the title Pimpmaster General. Immediate giggling resulted.


Worsley is really wonderful about footnoting - for those curious, the Pimpmaster General reference comes from R. O. Bucholz's ‘Going to Court in 1700: a visitor’s guide’, The Court Historian, Vol. 4. (December 2000), pp. 181–215. Which isn't online, but then I also hadn't known that a journal called The Court Historian existed, much less the Society for Court Studies.


Of course I looked up William Chaffinch, and the man does not have a wikipedia page (Really?! Even with that nickname?!). However, he does have a website called Ask Chiffinch, which is the advice column it sounds like (with photos of actors in period dress), and does have a Who Was Chiffinch page. Sample questions/captions from the main page:


"I'm the King's favourite, but is this as good as it gets?"

"I confused a maiden's blushes and a harlot's blusher"

"My husband cheats relentlessly - now I'm pursued by the most handsome man at Court"

"The Young Bucks get all the girls - does experience count for nothing?"


Each question has its own page, Chiffinch's answer, and a "what really happened" explanation. The Ask Chiffinch website is/was  part of a 2013 exhibit Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber - and a really clever idea. (You can really tell that it was fun to put together. Also, some men do look rather fetching in those ridiculous period wigs. Not something I thought I'd say, as I've seen way too many ridiculous wigs of that era. The wig craze was possibly due to syphilis - another link.) More on that exhibit here at the Historic Royal Palaces website.


And for some more fun:


Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber (youtube, 2:15 min)

Historic Royal Palaces video, for a look at the chambers under discussion.



Dr. Lucy Worsley: Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber (youtube 3min)

On my end the audio on this was insanely low, but on the up side there are captions. And of course this contains the kind of historic detail that Worsley is so good about digging up. (Randomly, note the mantlepiece behind Worsley where there's a gnome and dinosaur.)




Oh and Chiffinch did have an official title: Keeper of the King's Closet. Not as catchy.


Thanks to the way my brain works, and the title Pimpmaster General, I now have now a mental mashup of:


-the video here (embedded on that page) for the Georgeous Georges exhibit at Royal Historic Palaces (which you should see just to watch long dead kings appear to be having a press conference/photo op - am SO in love with the production values of this, they're shooting in the actual palaces)


-the images from Ask Chiffinch


-Falco's Rock Me Amadeus (youtube 3:45)


This is what happens when you grow up watching a lot of MTV. When it used to play videos.


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