From potty boy to bed maker

VANESA REGALADO DEL VALLEY Predoctoral researcher in Art History. Uses of the image. Symbology of power of the Catholic Monarchs., UNED - National University of Distance Education

The House of the Catholic Monarchs, in turn made up of different "houses", was a complex service and attention machine for the people of the monarchs and their children. In it, each figure played a role, functionalities that were essential for the correct development of the House's day-to-day, something complicated for a still itinerant court.

Before continuing, it is good to clarify the difference between the two concepts, because "house" and "court" are closely related to each other. However, the primary sources give preference to the use of "house" for domestic trades, reserving that of "court" for public trades.

Many of the domestic jobs were carried out by characters who enjoyed the royal trust, coming from families of lineage and with demonstrated loyalty to the cause of the kings of the moment.

various jobs

Some occupations were regulated over the centuries in different legal systems: Partidas of Alfonso X el Sabio and Cortes de Toro of 1371 in the kingdoms of Castile and León, and, in the case of the Crown of Aragon, Las Ordinacions de Pedro IV of Aragon, to cite a few examples.

Another of the fundamental sources that we preserve is the description made by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo about the trades of the House of Prince Juan, from which he was a servant.

Book of the Royal Chamber of Prince Don Juan and offices of his house and ordinary service, by Fernández de Oviedo. BNE, CC BY

This compilation is entitled Instucion de la Casa Real del Serenissimo Principe Don Juan de glorious memoria, eldest heir of the very high and catholic Kings Don Fernando and Doña Ysabel (1546-47). His comment regarding the instruction is really descriptive: «to speak at the offices of the door to the inside of the palace».

It is essential to clarify that not only the king and queen had their own independent house. In the case of the Catholic Monarchs, the infante don Juan, heir to the Crown, also had it, with his own officers and service. The infantas were under the protection of the Queen's House, although there is documentary evidence that Princess Juana came to have her own house before her marriage.

Fernández de Córdova, in his study on the House and Court of Isabel I, speaks of up to 500 members of the Queen's House, who also cared for the infantas and received remuneration for their work, as can be seen in the different items of expenses conserved in the General Archive of Simancas.

In the room…

We begin our tour starting with the fundamental figure within the domestic sphere, the Mayordomo Mayor, who depended on the kitchen, the dining room and the acemilerías or stables.

The Senior Waiter, of noble lineage, was in charge, together with other ordinary waiters, of the most intimate area, corresponding to the royal private rooms: chamber, dressing room, toilet, etc. Regarding the term toilet, it must be clarified that at that time this concept referred to a room to which the members of the royal family retired. It had multiple uses, and could be decorated with cloths, tapestries or used to store books or jewelry.

In the bedroom there are also the jobs of chamberlains, bed bakers (servants who were dedicated to fluffing up the mattresses), clerk, continos (continuously available), wax bakers. There were also trades related to the custody and security of the chambers: chamber porters (who guarded the bedroom doors), the Monteros de Espinosa (who exercised internal surveillance), the chain porters (in charge of the first door of the palace or royal residence), as well as other functions related to security (squires, men-at-arms, guards, etc.).

There was the office of the bacín waiter, that is to say, the urinal, who was in charge of making sure that the object was always available to cover the needs of the real person. Tailors, seamstresses, shoemakers and barbers ensured proper hygiene and a decent image of the family. To these hygienic trades was added the curious performance of the tooth cleaner, which helped kings and princes to ensure complete oral cleanliness. As we can see, for the Catholic Monarchs, hygiene was a fundamental aspect.

At lunchtime…

Approaching the table service, and under a really measured protocol, we find the carvers, the chief butler, the chief cooks, other cooks and assistants and the silver confectioners. All of them worked under the watchful eye of doormen who guarded the kitchen in order to prevent anyone who did not have the senior cook's permission from accessing the room and handling the food that was prepared there.

The food arrived at the royal table preceded by a crossbowman with a mace accompanying the maestresala from the kitchen.

The pantry that fed the kitchen was in charge of the major pantry and the overseer, responsible for minor pantry and buyers, as well as controlling prices and expenses.

Other activities

Another fundamental area was that corresponding to prayer, that is, the chapel, which included chapel boys, ladies' chaplain, almoner, sacristan, chapel clerk, book scribe, singers, chapel pastry chefs, illuminators, etc. All of them were at the service of prayer and confession, vital in a Catholic society in which religion was an intrinsic part of life.

Within the domestic trades we can also include those related to the stables, of which the master stableman was in charge. He was assisted by a lieutenant and, in a lower rank than them, spur lads, saddlers, saddlers, saddlers, etc. were employed. There was also a medical care service for horses, carried out by an albéitar.

Hunting was one of the best pastimes of the monarchs and their children. For these activities, security officers of the House were deployed, but also trades typical of the activity, such as the major hunter, the major huntsman, the major falconer and subordinate workers.

From the bedpan waiter to the bed maker: these were the trades at the service of the Catholic Monarchs. /

Prado Museum / Wikimedia Commons

Not only sensory pleasure (music or dance were famous at Court) forged character and skills. Education was a serious matter to which the king and queen paid great attention, both to their own and to that of their children. Guardians and teachers were in charge of the education of the infants, beginning it with the prince don Juan at the age of seven and the princesses doña Juana and doña María with six.

Physical health was also covered and the medical service available was varied, and included physicians, surgeons, apothecaries (who made up all kinds of medicinal formulas) and bleeders.

public spending

All these trades had a ration, economic remuneration, in charge of the accounts of the Crown of Castile. In 1504, according to Tarsicio de Azcona in his study on the life and reign of Isabella the Catholic, the House of the queen and the king spent 10 million maravedís, only in concepts of "Pantry and Offices" in the Crown of Castile. in the case of the king and more than 25 million maravedís in the case of the queen.

A whole waste of attention and care at the service of its real people.

This article has been published in 'The Conversation'.

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