[DWJ] Sacking the maids...

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed May 16 09:30:30 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.

Nick Jackson wrote:

>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.

Do you know, I simply don't believe this story for one moment?  No sergeant
would allow it to happen.  Once the flower was gone, the guardsman would
find himself back doing whatever he'd been doing before he was interrupted.
It also implies a degree of careless imbecility in the princess that I
can't credit.  She would have noticed that there was a guard cluttering up
the lawn eventually, and told him not to.  As for it being hereditary,
phooey: what happens if the guy's son doesn't go into the army?

>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.

Ah.  Thank you, Nick.  I once spent a *lot* of time looking for the origin
of a phrase hurled at me by a Male Chauvinist Pig when I was in my teens:
what he threw was "A woman convinced against her will is of the same
opinion still".  I eventually ran "He that complies against his will is of
his own opinion still" to earth in Samuel Butler quite by accident, when it
was too late to point out to the MCP that he had got both the sex and the
significance in his misquotation ever-so-slightly -- well, wrong.

Catherine the Great wouldn't have wasted a perfectly good guardsman in such
a frivolous fashion.

>>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.

Oh, I know there are some fairly silly titular positions lying around with
a 25p annual stipend attached to them.  I was just worrying about someone's
family having been set on in perpetuity to watch paint having dried.  It
seems so intrinsically unlikely, even for a British tradition.  :-)

>Chrestomanci is not listed
>in either of the editions I've got a copy of, I'm sorry to say.

Surely that's not a position whose use is lost in the mists of antiquity?


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