Lord Great Chamberlain
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Lord Great Chamberlain
Lord Great Chamberlain of the United Kingdom
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
The 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley wearing the court uniform of the Lord Great Chamberlain (1992)

Last updated 22 July 2018

The 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley exercises the office for ceremonial purposes and sits in the House of Lords.
Formationc. 1126
First holderRobert Malet

The Lord Great Chamberlain of the United Kingdom is the sixth of the Great Officers of State (not to be confused with the Great Offices of State), ranking beneath the Lord Privy Seal and above the Lord High Constable. The Lord Great Chamberlain has charge over the Palace of Westminster (though since the 1960s his personal authority has been limited to the royal apartments and Westminster Hall).

On formal state occasions, he wears a distinctive scarlet court uniform and bears a gold key and a white stave as the insignia of his office.

The position is a hereditary one, held since 1780 in gross. At any one time, a single person actually exercises the office of Lord Great Chamberlain. The various individuals who hold fractions of the Lord Great Chamberlainship are technically each Joint Hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain. The Joint Hereditary Lord Great Chamberlains are choosing one individual of the rank of a knight or higher to be the Deputy Lord Great Chamberlain.[1][2] Due to an agreement from 1912, the right to exercise the office for a given reign rotates proportionately between three families (of the then three joint office holders) to the fraction of the office held. For instance, the Marquesses of Cholmondeley hold one-half of the office, and may therefore exercise the office or appoint a deputy every alternate reign. Whenever one of the three shares of the 1912 agreement is split further, the joint heirs of this share have to agree among each other, who should be their deputy or any mechanism to determine who of them has the right to choose a deputy.

The office of Lord Great Chamberlain is distinct from the non-hereditary office of Lord Chamberlain of the Household, a position in the monarch's household. This office arose in the 14th century as a deputy of the Lord Great Chamberlain to fulfil the latter's duties in the Royal Household, but now they are quite distinct.

The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, but the Act provided that a hereditary peer exercising the office of Lord Great Chamberlain (as well as the Earl Marshal) be exempt from such a rule, in order to perform ceremonial functions.

History of the office

The Lord Great Chamberlain, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley (left), holding his white staff of office; the Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman; and the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow showing US President Barack Obama around Members' Lobby during a tour of the Palace in May 2011

The office was originally held by Robert Malet, a son of one of the leading companions of William the Conqueror. In 1133, however, King Henry I declared Malet's estates and titles forfeit, and awarded the office of Lord Great Chamberlain to Aubrey de Vere, whose son was created Earl of Oxford. Thereafter, the Earls of Oxford held the title almost continuously until 1526, with a few intermissions due to the forfeiture of some Earls for treason. In 1526, however, the fourteenth Earl of Oxford died, leaving his aunts as his heirs. The earldom was inherited by a more distant heir-male, his second cousin. The Sovereign then decreed that the office belonged to The Crown, and was not transmitted along with the earldom. The Sovereign appointed the fifteenth Earl to the office, but the appointment was deemed for life and was not hereditary. The family's association with the office was interrupted in 1540, when the fifteenth earl died and Thomas Cromwell, the King's chief adviser, was appointed Lord Great Chamberlain.[3] After Cromwell's attainder and execution later the same year, the office passed through a few more court figures, until 1553, when it was passed back to the De Vere family, the sixteenth Earl of Oxford, again as an uninheritable life appointment.[4] Later, Queen Mary I ruled that the Earls of Oxford were indeed entitled to the office of Lord Great Chamberlain on an hereditary basis.

Thus, the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth Earls of Oxford held the position on a hereditary basis until 1626, when the eighteenth Earl died, again leaving a distant relative as heir male, but a closer one as a female heir. The House of Lords eventually ruled that the office belonged to the heir general, Robert Bertie, 14th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, who later became Earl of Lindsey. The office remained vested in the Earls of Lindsey, who later became Dukes of Ancaster and Kesteven. In 1779, however, the fourth Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven died, leaving two sisters as female heirs, and an uncle as an heir male. The uncle became the fifth and last Duke, but the House of Lords ruled that the two sisters were jointly Lord Great Chamberlain and could appoint a Deputy to fulfil the functions of the office. The barony of Willoughby de Eresby went into abeyance between the two sisters, but the Sovereign terminated the abeyance and granted the title to the elder sister, Priscilla Bertie, 21st Baroness Willoughby de Eresby. The younger sister later married the first Marquess of Cholmondeley. The office of Lord Great Chamberlain, however, was divided between Priscilla and her younger sister Georgiana. Priscilla's share was eventually split between two of her granddaughters, and has been split several more times since then. By contrast, Georgiana's share has been inherited by a single male heir each time; that individual has in each case been the Marquess of Cholmondeley, a title created for Georgiana's husband.

In 1902 it was ruled by the house of Lords, that the joint office holders, the Earl of Ancaster, the Marquess of Cholmondeley and the Earl Carrington have to agree on a deputy to exercise the office, subject to the approval of the Sovereign. Otherwise the Sovereign should appoint a deputy until an agreement is reached.[5]

In 1912 an agreement was reached, that, alternating every reign, the right to appoint the person who exercises the office, rotates between the three joint office holders or respectively their heirs with the Marquess of Cholmondeley or his heirs, take turn every second reign.[6]

As the shares of the Marquess of Cholmondeley and the Earl of Ancaster are not further splitted, they decide in their turn who should or even act themselve as Lord Great Chamberlain. The share of the Earl of Carrington is widely spreaded and it is expected that on their turns his heirs will choose the current Lord Carrington, who is not even a shareholder of the office, to act as Lord Great Chamberlain.[7]

The Lord Great Chamberlain also has a major part to play in royal coronations, having the right to dress the monarch on coronation day and to serve the monarch water before and after the coronation banquet, and also being involved in investing the monarch with the insignia of rule.[]

Lord Great Chamberlains, 1130-1779

Years Lord Great Chamberlain
1130-1133 Robert Malet
1133-1141 Aubrey de Vere II
1141-1194 Aubrey de Vere, 1st Earl of Oxford
1194-1214 Aubrey de Vere, 2nd Earl of Oxford
1214-1221 Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford
1221-1263 Hugh de Vere, 4th Earl of Oxford
1263-1265 Robert de Vere, 5th Earl of Oxford
1265-1267 unclear, perhaps vacant.
1267-1296 unclear, perhaps again Robert de Vere, 5th Earl of Oxford
1296-1331 Robert de Vere, 6th Earl of Oxford
1331-1360 John de Vere, 7th Earl of Oxford
1360-1371 Thomas de Vere, 8th Earl of Oxford
1371-1388 Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford
1389-1399 John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter
1399-1400 Aubrey de Vere, 10th Earl of Oxford
1400-1417 Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford
1417-1462 John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford
1462-1475 John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford
1475-1485 unclear, perhaps Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, perhaps still the Earl of Oxford
1485-1513 John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford
1513-1526 John de Vere, 14th Earl of Oxford
1526-1540 John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford
1540-1540 Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex
1540-1542 Robert Radcliffe, 1st Earl of Sussex
1543-1549 Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford
1549-1550 John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick
1550-1553 William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton
1553-1562 John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford
1562-1604 Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
1604-1625 Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford
1626-1642 Robert Bertie, 1st Earl of Lindsey
1642-1666 Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey
1666-1701 Robert Bertie, 3rd Earl of Lindsey
1701-1723 Robert Bertie, 1st Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven
1723-1742 Peregrine Bertie, 2nd Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven
1742-1778 Peregrine Bertie, 3rd Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven
1778-1779 Robert Bertie, 4th Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven

Joint hereditary Lord Great Chamberlains, 1780-present

The fractions show the holder's share in the office, and the date they held it. The current (as of 2015) holders of the office are shown in bold face.

Peregrine Bertie, 3rd Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven
Priscilla Bertie, 21st Baroness Willoughby de Eresby
​ 1780-1828
Georgiana Cholmondeley, Marchioness of Cholmondeley
​ 1780-1838
Peter Drummond-Burrell, 22nd Baron Willoughby de Eresby
​ 1828-1865
George Cholmondeley, 2nd Marquess of Cholmondeley
​ 1838-1870
William Cholmondeley, 3rd Marquess of Cholmondeley
​ 1870-1884
Albyric Drummond-Willoughby, 23rd Baron Willoughby de Eresby
​ 1865-1870
Clementina Drummond-Willoughby, 24th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby
​ 1870-1888
Charlotte Augusta Carrington, Lady Carrington
​ 1870-1879
Charles George Cholmondeley, Viscount Malpas
Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 1st Earl of Ancaster
​ 1888-1910
Charles Wynn-Carington, 1st Marquess of Lincolnshire
​ 1879-1928
George Cholmondeley, 4th Marquess of Cholmondeley
​ 1884-1923
Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 2nd Earl of Ancaster
​ 1910-1951
Marjorie Wilson, Baroness Nunburnholme
​ 1928-1968
Lady Alexandra Llewellen Palmer
​ 1928-1955
Ruperta Legge, Countess of Dartmouth
​ 1928-1963
Judith Keppel, Countess of Albemarle
Lady Victoria Weld-Forester
​ 1928-1966
George Cholmondeley, 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley
​ 1923-1968
James Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 3rd Earl of Ancaster
​ 1951-1983
Charles Wilson, 3rd Baron Nunburnholme
​ 1968-1974
Brig. Anthony Llewellen Palmer
​ 1955-1990
Derek Keppel, Viscount Bury
​ 1928-1968
Sir Henry Legge-Bourke
​ 1966-1973
Hugh Cholmondeley, 6th Marquess of Cholmondeley
​ 1968-1990
Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 28th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby
​ 1983-
Ben Wilson, 4th Baron Nunburnholme
​ 1974-1998
Julian Llewellen Palmer
​ 1990-2002
Rufus Keppel, 10th Earl of Albemarle
​ 1968-
William Legge-Bourke
​ 1973-2009
David Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley
​ 1990-
Nicholas Llewellen Palmer
​ 2002-
Lady Mary Findlay
​ 1963-2003
Lady Elizabeth Basset
​ 1963-2000
Lady Diana Matthews
​ 1963-1970
Lady Barbara Kwiatkowska
​ 1963-2013
Josceline Chichester, Marchioness of Donegall
​ 1963-1995
Cdr Jonathan Findlay
​ 2003-2015
Christopher Findlay
​ 2015-
Bryan Basset
​ 2000-2010
Col James Gustavus Hamilton-Russell
​ 1970-
Jan Witold Kwiatkowski
​ 2013-
Patrick Chichester, 8th Marquess of Donegall
​ 1995-
The Hon. Lorraine Wilson
​ 1998-
The Hon. Tatiana Dent
​ 1998-
The Hon. Ines Garton
​ 1998-
The Hon. Ysabel Wilson
​ 1998-
David Basset
​ 2010
Michael James Basset
​ 2010-
Capt. Harry Russell Legge-Bourke
​ 2009-

Persons exercising the office of Lord Great Chamberlain, 1780-present


  1. ^ "House of Lords Journal Volume 36: May 1781 21-30". Journal of the House of Lords Volume 36, 1779-1783. London: British History Online. 1767-1830. pp. 296-309. Retrieved 2020.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  2. ^ "Office Of Lord Great Chamberlain". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Lords. May 6, 1902.
  3. ^ Thomas Mortimer (ed.). The British Plutarch. p. 115.
  4. ^ Loades, D. (2004) Intrigue and Treason: the Tudor Court, 1547-1558 Harlow: Pearson, p.309
  5. ^ "Office Of Lord Great Chamberlain". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Lords. May 6, 1902.
  6. ^ Great Officers of State: The Lord Great Chamberlain and The Earl Marshal Archived 6 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine. The Royal Family. debretts.com. Debrett's Limited. Accessed 17 September 2013.
  7. ^ (PDF) https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/543850/response/1308464/attach/3/FOI%203165%20Response.pdf. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ Later 6th Marquess of Chomondeley

External links

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lord Great Chamberlain". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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