Researching archaic royal English appointments: John Roane: Sergeant of the Scullery

Following on from yesterday’s post about Anthony Roane, the Under Auditor of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I…today we have Anthony Roane’s cousin, John Roane, Sergeant of the Scullery to King James I.

It’s worth reading the post about Anthony Roane to better understand the importance of royal appointments and how these appointments fit into the overall context of life as courtier at the English Court.

I wasn’t always a history buff. My interest in history, particularly European history, didn’t happen until I started my European literature degree at University. Historical events and memes influence literature of any given period. Understanding history allows a reader to better grasp the nuances of an author’s thoughts, beliefs, opinions and perspective. That’s where my interest in history began and it’s been that way ever since. So as soon as I saw the word ‘scullery’, I immediately knew this royal court posting had something to do with palace life below the stairs in the kitchens.

It’s worth briefly pointing out that kitchens for the rich – and what we’d think of as the upper middle classes – weren’t anything like what we think of today. Kitchens were dangerous places as they were prone to fires and explosions. As a result, kitchens were contained in a separate building or series of buildings physically set apart from the main domestic building.

Typically, a kitchen would would consist of a series of  separate rooms within a stand-alone building to house various foods (and even some of these would have been housed within separate rooms), cooking, baking (flour dust was a real fire and explosion risk), stores for all manner of plate, utensils, serving dishes, etc. Have a look at just how far away from the main living quarters the kitchen block was at Hampton Court Palace:

An overview of Hampton Court Palace in the Tudor period
An overview of Hampton Court Palace in the Tudor period – click for larger image

It makes sense. You’re a monarch and you have all manner of riches, art treasures and the like. You really don’t want it all going up in smoke. So you put the biggest fire risk as far away from your possessions as humanly possible. In a royal household, what we think of as a kitchen would have been a complex of various rooms and annexes. The number of people working within them would have seemed like a small village.

It’s also worth remembering that a 17th Century monarch was still believed to be directly appointed by god. And as such, one had to put on a show to impress, well, everybody – from courtiers to diplomats to important royal visitors. Food, and everything surrounding food, had to be impressive. Bling, even when it came to food preparation, was everything in the 17th Century. Your tableware couldn’t just be tableware…it had to be a ‘statement’.

The image below shows just how many separate rooms formed what we think of as a kitchen:

Hampton Court Palace layout
Hampton Court Palace layout – click for larger image

Casting an eye over these images made me realise the scale of what John Roane would have been responsible for managing. When I initially saw the word ‘scullery’ I have to admit I did slightly dismiss it.  I didn’t think it would be as impressive as Anthony Roane’s appointment in the Exchequer. The image above made me realise just how wrong I was. While their duties may have been vastly different and required different skills, John Roane’s duties would have been every bit as demanding as his cousin’s from the previous generation. The kitchens John would have overseen were on an enormous scale. I’d love to see how Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver would have coped 😉

As with anything English, royal and 17th Century, there was a distinct hierarchy and pecking order even within the scullery. Thankfully, there are contemporary writings which provide a glimpse into the nature of John’s appointment.

So what was going on in the scullery?

In 1660 the establishment of the palace scullery consisted of a clerk and a sergeant appointed by royal warrant and yeomen, grooms, pages and children appointed by lord steward’s warrant. The fixed remuneration of the clerk, was set at wages of £6 13s 4d and board wages of £54 15s in 1662, rising 1674–80 to £80. In addition, he was allowed poundage on the plate passing into the office.

Between 1685 and 1689 the office was combined with that of clerk of the bakehouse, pastry, poultry and woodyard with a salary of £91 13s 4d. In 1689 the remuneration was fixed at wages of £6 13s 3d and board wages of £73 6s 8d. The office was combined with that of clerk of the pastry and woodyard between 1702 and 1761 and was abolished in the latter year [from] I have no idea how this equates to modern money, but I’m willing to bet these posts were well paid.

The remuneration of the sergeant was fixed at wages of £11 8s 1½d and board wages of £54 15s in 1662. The board wages fell to £38 11s 10½d in 1680. The office was reduced to supernumerary status in 1685.

In John’s time, there were three yeomen, six grooms, two pages, three children, who would have reported to him. While it’s difficult to put a definite number to the more menial workers, budget records indicate there were a significant number of more menial workers in the scullery: polishers, washers, preparers, etc. Putting this picture into a modern perspective, a picture of senior middle management begins to emerge. John would have reported directly to the Lord Steward.

Overall, some of his duties included managing: [the summaries below are taken from:]


The presentation of meals on rows and rows of gleaming trays and serving platters made quite a show, but the business of keeping them clean and polished fell to the Scullery. The Scullery “washed up the various trays, platters and other utensils,” and tended the fires in the kitchen departments. They purchased and were responsible for large amounts of coal probably to heat the water they used to clean the dishes. The Scullery also bought “Brass potts, pannes, broches, iron, rocks, standerdes, gardevianch, and other necessaries” and would have stored all of these utensils, in addition to cleaning and acquiring them.

The sergeant of the Scullery and his staff had to “see his vessells, as well silver as pewter, to be well and truly kept, and saved from losses and stealing.” Because the officers of the Scullery received all the damaged pots, except the silver ones, as part of their fee, keeping them safe must have been very difficult. The Scullery and Woodyard shared one Sergeant between them, which indicates that they may have been separate entities only on paper. This is reasonable, since the two departments were so closely connected in function.


The Woodyard bought the wood and rushes needed to heat and light a household, as well as wood needed for other uses. It was responsible for “plancks, boards, quarters, tressets, forms, and carpenters, hired in time of progresses”, and it collected and issued wood and coal to the kitchen departments. It employed two woodbearers, six porters and “scourers”, in addition to the eight yeomen and grooms. This large staff can only be explained when one considers the huge number of rooms in the majority of Elizabeth’s palaces, each with its own fireplace, and the fact that England in the sixteenth century was not a warm place, a warm day being fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit.


The Spicery was another major department, it bought wax and fruit in addition to the obvious rare and expensive spices. The clerk of the Spicery was responsible for “the Spicery, Chaundry, Confectionery, the Ewery, Wafry, and Laundry.” They used the wax to seal bottles of spices to keep them from going stale.  The Spicery also transfered goods into the Chaundry. The Chaundry was responsible for the candles and tapers used within the court. They dealt in wax and tallow, making their own candles and tallow candles, even to the point of having a “purveyor of the waxe”, and three clerks to keep accounts of the raw materials that they needed. ”

As a sub-department of the Spicery, the Chaundry did not account directly to the counting house,” rather it reported to the Clerk of the Spicery who then included its totals in his report to the Board of Greencloth. The Confectionery made sweetmeats out of the “fruit, sugar and spices” available to it from the Spicery. Elizabeth’s funeral procession lists Grooms and Yeomen, as is appropriate for a small department. The sweetmeats were a luxury item, and the assignment of an entire department to their production could only emphasize the brilliance of Elizabeth’s household.

All in all, John Roane was responsible for overseeing a vast enterprise.  When I think about how busy a restaurant or hotel kitchen can be, I can’t even begin to imagine the day-to-day experience John was probably faced with.  When it came to the extravagant court dining festivities James I was famed for, I can barely comprehend it. He must have been one very level-headed, talented and very cool customer to have held this appointment for as long as he did.

I know I for one will never complain about cleaning my kitchen again. 😉

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