An Esquire of the Body was a personal attendant to the King of England. There were six such Esquires, with a barber and a page, who attended on the King in his bedchamber. According to the Liber Niger (the management manual of the English Royal Household from the reign of Edward IV through to the reign of Henry VIII), they would “array and unray him, and watch day and night” to be ready to help the King as the only men allowed to “set hands on” him. These were the men who dressed the King in his undergarments before sending him off to the privy chamber where he finished dressing with the help of the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. The Esquires were also the ones who served his food and drink and sat at his feet while he ate; they were also always on hand to help with menial tasks (like carrying his cloak…).
The position was absolutely a big deal – and because of the intimate nature of the access it gave to the King, the Esquires could amass great influence. Other one-time holders of the position included George Boleyn, John Dudley (who went on to become Duke of Northumberland), William FitzWilliam (who went on to become Earl of Southampton), William Sandys (who went on to become Baron Sandys)…you get the idea.
The annual salary for this position was 50 marks. Hard to tell what that really was so all we can do is compare. I found two interesting reference points, one religious and one medical. The vicar of Boston, Doctor John Mabledon, earned that same 50 marks in 1538. Henry’s Yeoman (assistant) Apothecary John Hemmingway (Emmyngwey) earned only 40 marks a year in 1542 – though that was the year that Catherine Howard was executed. After her death, Henry started to feel old and looked to his doctors more and more – and the fees went way up: Thomas Alsop, Henry’s main apothecary, submitted bills totaling L127 for the six-month period August 1546 to January 1547…
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For today, let’s toast a twenty-five (ish) year old Edward Seymour for whom the political future was opening up….
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