Lord Great Chamberlain

The position is an hereditary one, and 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 female heirs. The earldom was inherited by a more distant heir-male, his second cousin. The Sovereign then declared that the office belonged to the Crown, and was not transmitted along with the earldom. The Sovereign appointed the fifteenth and sixteenth Earls to the office, but the appointments were deemed for life and were uninheritable. Then, 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 a male heir, but a closer one as a female heir. The House of Lords eventually ruled that the office belonged to the male heir, Robert Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby De Eresby, who later became Earl of Lindsey. The office remained vested in the Earls of Lindsey, who later became Duke 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 a male heir.

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, and the right to exercise the office for a given reign rotates proportionately 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.(A Deputy Lord Great Chamberlain is a person exercising the office who is not personally a co-heir to the office; historically these have been sons or husbands of co-heirs as the office has never been exercised by a female, females having been forbidden to sit in the Lords until the present reign).

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 fact, as a deputy of the Lord Great Chamberlain, to fulfill the latter's duties in the royal household, but now they are quite distinct. The Lord Great Chamberlain has charge over the Palace of Westminster, and especially of the House of Lords, and bears the Sword of State at state openings and closings of Parliament. 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.

Office Holder

Year
of
appointment

John De Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford 1485-1513
John De Vere, 14th Earl of Oxford 1513-1526
John De Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford 1526-1540
John De Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford 1540-1562
Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford 1562-1604
Henry De Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford 1604-1625
Robert Bertie, 1st Earl of Lindsey 1626-1642
Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey 1642-1666
Robert Bertie, 3rd Earl of Lindsey 1666-1701
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