[DWJ] Sacking the maids...

Nicholas Jackson nicholas at makyo.org.uk
Wed May 16 06:58:49 EDT 2007

scripsit Minnow ...
>Mark Allums wrote:
>>Is this like the guy at one of the palaces of the British monarchy whose
>>job for generations was to stand at the foot of the stairs?  Presumably,
>>the original office duty was to warn people that the stairs were freshly
>>painted, or some such task.  It was a hereditary post.  It was abolished
>>only a relatively short time ago.

There is an apocryphal story concerning a king who noticed one day that
a guard had been standing sentry duty in the middle of an otherwise
unremarkable palace courtyard for no apparent reason.  The king made
enquiries and it was discovered that a guard had been detailed to that
particular bit of that particular courtyard since before living memory.

It seems that some considerable number of years earlier, a princess had
seen the first flower of spring poking through the snow and had instructed
a guard to stand by it and make sure that nobody accidentally stepped
on it.  The flower (and, many years later, the princess) subsequently
died, but a member of the palace guard continued to stand watch at that
point for many years after, the original reason for the appointment
long forgotten.

The version I've heard asserts that the king was Nicholas II of Russia
in 1903 and the princess was Catherine the Great in 1776, although the
only sources I've been able to find online are transcripts of sermons
on varying parts of the New Testament, none of which give the origin of
the story.  J Michael Straczynski borrowed the story and used it in an
episode of his tv series Babylon 5.

>Fascinating.  Can you dig up a source for this?  I doubt very much indeed
>that even the British, who are known to be mentally defective to such a
>degree that it's surprising that they still know how to breathe, would set
>up an hereditary post to warn people that paint in a particular place was
>wet, so there must be some other explanation, and I'd love to know what it

There are a large number of ancient (and in some cases archaic) offices in
the UK, many of which are detailed in the book 'Keepers of the Kingdom'
by Alastair Bruce, Julian Calder and Mark Cator.  Almost all of the
ones still extant have at least some vaguely tangible function (albeit
in some cases only a very specific and rarely-required ceremonial one)
and relatively few of them are hereditary.  Chrestomanci is not listed
in either of the editions I've got a copy of, I'm sorry to say.


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