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Staffing the King’s Household, Part 2: the Chambre

Today we’re continuing to look at the organization of the King’s household during the Renaissance. If you’re looking for the strictly codified world of Versailles, you’re at least a century too early. The royal household of the Renaissance was scandalously known to be overly-familiar. In fact, many foreign diplomats wrote home, sneering at how accessible the King was to his own subjects.

The Chambre was one of the largest divisions of the King’s household, along with the Hotel and Chapelle. The Chambre handled the day to day activities of the King’s bedchamber, the place where he was most vulnerable. As a result, this was where male courtiers fought for a place in the King’s household so that they could be near him and ask for favors. The Grand Chambellan supervised the activities of the Chambre, which started ever morning with the King’s rising (lever), followed by a meeting of the privy council later in the morning. The King’s actual bedchamber was first gentleman of the bedchamber, Premiere gentilshommes de la chambre, who had the privilege of sleeping with the king in the room. In addition, the office entailed looking after the crown jewels, possession of the king’s privy purse, and signing contracts for work on the royal chateaux.

Special favors for special courtiers

After bringing in several artists and scholars to court, Francis I created the title of gentilshommes de la chambre (gentlemen of the chamber) which meant that the men enjoyed special access to the King but were not required to perform any domestic duties. This new inner circle remained constantly with the King, unless Francis sent them abroad to serve as ambassadors at foreign courts.

The new position paid very little, but the access to the King was the draw. Access to the King’s bedchamber, a place in front of him before he started his day weighed down with other issues, was invaluable. Francis conferred the highest honor to foreign diplomats when he allowed them to come to his bedchamber at the beginning of the day. Early in the morning, the King was fresh and unencumbered with the troubles that would inevitably come later in the day.

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