Researching archaic royal English appointments: Thomas Roane, Jr.: Sergeant of the Poultry to Charles II.

Thomas Roane - Sergeant of the Poultry
Thomas Roane – Sergeant of the Poultry – click for larger image

When I first saw this title, I thought the word ‘poultry’ pretty much nailed it. I thought “ah ha – a glorified chicken herder’.  Or at the very least, a protector of the royal chickens. Then I hit good old trusty Google to do some research and was in for a few surprises.

I kind of chuckled to myself over this job title because it seemed like there was a job title for every little thing in a royal household. I asked myself if it was really all that necessary.  I guess, for life in the 17th century, it was. The Poultry was actually an area of a palace, much like the kitchens. So that’s one thing I got for being glib and more than a little dismissive about it.

The Poultry was primarily concerned with the lamb, fowl, butter, and eggs for the monarch’s table. It also had a staff of purveyors, who supplied “fowl of every kind imaginable, not merely the barnyard varieties known to the modern palate, but peacocks, sparrows and larks as well. They also brought in butter, rabbits, and kid young goats to you and me).” The Scalding house, which dressed poultry and “prepared the meat before it was issued to the larder”, came under the Poultry’s jurisdiction. So there was more going on than merely chasing and managing chickens.

The poultry also provided fruit, greens, and other dairy products for the royal table.  In 1660 the establishment of the poultry consisted of a clerk and a sergeant, appointed by royal warrant, and yeomen and grooms, appointed by lord steward’s warrant. In 1662 the remuneration of the sergeant was fixed at wages of £11 8s 1½d and board wages of £44 15s. Between 1664 and 1668 the holder of the office was designated sergeant of the poultry and scalding house. The board wages were increased to £54 15s in the former year but reduced to £38 11s 10½d in 1680. In 1673 a supernumerary (a temporary or redundant position, depending on the source you read) sergeant was appointed who succeeded to the office shortly afterwards but was reduced to supernumerary status in 1686. The office was abolished in 1689.

During the early years of Charles II, the number of yeomen fluctuated between the two named in 1660 and the one finally established in 1668. After numerous variations the remuneration was settled at wages of £5 and board wages of £45 in 1689. Three grooms were appointed in 1660. After some fluctuations the number was fixed at two in 1680. Wages were set at £2, but board wages fluctuated between £27 6s 8d and £40 under Charles II. Supernumerary grooms were appointed in 1662, 1664 and 1685. [source 1=”<em>British” 2=”History” 3=”Online:</em>” 4=”<a” title=”British History Online: The household below stairs Poultry 1660-1761″ href=”; 5=”target="_blank"></a>&#8221; language=”:”][/source]

It was the duty of the Sergeant of the Poultry to assure that enough poultry was in stock. He (sorry ladies, such posts were handled by men in those days), had to restrain his staff from making off with birds that were of fit quality for the king or queen’s table. The theft of a hen, which cost 2d., would require the Kitchen to use mutton in its place, which cost 8 to 10d. He was also required to “see that the said Poultry shall be put into the Scalder’s (the person and kitchen area responsible for scalding the carcasses of animals) hands daily, at such hours, both morning and after dinner, that they may have convenient time to dress the same,” a duty that required constant attention, since the scalding house had to have enough time to prepare the birds for the kitchen before they were needed for the various meals.

At least this placed Thomas Roane, Jr in an overall “below the stairs” context. He continued a Roane presence in the larger kitchen area of the palace established by his father, Thomas Roane, Sr. and uncle, John Roane. Again, quite the family affair.

And then Google threw up some rather gruesome details, which also impacted on the duties of his father and his uncle.

The reigning monarch was god at court. They had the power of life or death and meted out punishments however they saw fit. Courtiers who drew blood at court were liable to face a monarch’s wrath. I thought this would be a mere ticking off, a slap on the wrist and told not to be a naughty boy in the future. Perhaps a fine levied for a more serious altercation. Wrong. The Tudors and the Stuarts had some rather macabre punishments which involved all manner of mutilations for those who engaged in fracases at Court. The Sergeant of the Scullery, his Yeoman and the Sergeant of the Poultry had roles to perform as part of the punishment process.

In Henry VIII’s reign:

Punishments meted out by Henry VIII at Court
Sergeant of the Poultry’s role in court punishments – click for larger image


Henry VIII pt2[Taken from: The Punishment and Prevention of Crime:]

So how did they ‘relieve the suffering’? If I’m reading the excerpts below correctly, by cauterising the wound with hot metal. And, more gruesomely, the application of dead poultry. I’m not sure what that was supposed to do – and I haven’t found any answers.

Sergeant of the Poultry's role in Court punishments
Sergeant of the Poultry’s role in Court punishments – click for larger image

[Taken from The statutes at large, of England and of Great Britain: from Magna Carta to the union of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3. Sir Thomas Edlyne Tomlins and John Raithby:]

An actual first-hand account is given here:

An actual Court punishment involving the Sergeant of the Poultry
An actual Court punishment involving the Sergeant of the Poultry – click for larger image

[Taken from Things not generally known: familiarly explained. Jon Timbs. ]

The job description for this royal Court post must have made for some interesting reading. And Thomas, Jr. must have been made of tough stuff. He was definitely more than just a chicken herder!

Thomas Roane, Jr served a succession of monarchs following Charles II. He survived one royal upheaval after another following the death of Charles II: the abdication of James II, the uncertainty that followed the deaths of William and Mary (who came to the throne after “The Glorious Revolution”) and the uncertainty which followed the death of Queen Anne, who left no surviving heirs to succeed her. I’m glossing over it, but these decades were anything but safe and secure for any courtier. Thomas witnessed it all, entering his retirement as the German House of Hanover came to the English throne. He is yet another Roane family survivor.

It’s been an interesting journey connecting with some of the ancestors through the duties they performed. The last in this series will be John Roane, Yeoman of His Majesty’s Harriers. His was an appointment I wouldn’t have minded for myself.

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