Elizabeth Stainforth, Royal Housekeeper at Buckingham House during the reign of George III

"To staff the new palace of Buckingham House at the end of the Mall the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Gower, engaged a new housekeeper, in the person of Mrs. Elizabeth Stainforth..."

Early in the second year of the reign of King George III, the royal family found St. James's Palace too small and too inconvenient for their everyday use, so purchased for 21,000 Buckingham House from the Duke's natural son, Charles Herbert Sheffield after the death of the Duke's proud widow, Catherine Darnley, the natural daughter of James II by Catherine, Countess of Dorchester. Shortly after the purchase of the large red-brick Palace, known then as the Queen's House, on the corner of St. James's Park and the Mall, the royal family moved in, and only used the old St. James's Palace on Court days and other ceremonial occasions. To staff the new palace, the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Gower, engaged a new housekeeper, in the person of Mrs. Elizabeth Stainforth, William's sister, a single lady then aged 42.

In the Wardrobe Bill Book of the Lord Chamberlain's Department is found the following entry:-


'Whereas his Majesty hath been pleased to direct that the sum of Four Hundred and Twenty Five Pounds a year should be paid to Mrs. Elizabeth Stainforth for her salary as Housekeeper at his Majesty's Palace in St. James's Park called the Queen's House and for the wages and Board Wages of Five Maid Servants at Twenty five Pounds a year each. These are therefore to pray and require you to pay or cause you to be paid to the said Mrs. Stainforth the said sum of Four Hundred and Twenty Five Pounds for her salary etc., as above for one year from the 1st Day of May 1762 to the 1st Day of May 1763. And etc. Given etc. this 31st Day of May 1763, In the third year of His Majesty's Reign. To the Rt. Hon. Gilbert Elliott Etc. (Signed) Gower'


... Entries follow annually, Elizabeth's salary being increased in increments every other year until her death on the 22nd May 1785, four days short of her 65th birthday. Musgrave's Obituary implies that she died in her rooms at the Palace, being described as 'Housekeeper at the Queen's House'. Her Will which was proved in London on the 31st May the following year leaves all her monies and effects to her great friend, her sister-in-law Elizabeth Stainforth, her brother William having died at Charing Cross the previous year on the 12th March 1784.

How William and his sister, Elizabeth, obtained these prestigious royal appointments is a matter of conjecture, but again we can detect the hand of Jane Stainforth and her sister-in-law Tabitha Terrick. Jane was, of course, very well connected, and both she and Tabitha were very expert at dropping a word in the ear of the right person at the appropriate time.

William and his wife Elizabeth's social diary must have been very full, because Mrs. Stainforth figures in a numerous exchange of letters between Grantham; his brother Frederick Robinson; his sister Anne, who went to look after Therese Parker's children after their mother died in 1775; Dr. Porteus who comments on the King's health and that of Elizabeth in the same letter; and to Elizabeth herself concerning financial arrangements for her orphaned nephews, James and Richard Worsley, following her brother's unexpected death.

... Between 1769 and 1781, 'people of quality' repeatedly call on her at her London home. She and William visit Bristol and the Parkers at Saltram. She goes to the theatre, attends levees, takes part in a huge Grantham 30th Anniversary gathering in June 1784 with her sister-in-law Elizabeth, the Royal Housekeeper, and dines out, although her sister, Lady Grantham, remarks cattily that 'she doesn't follow dress fashion'. And so on, month by month, year by year, Elizabeth Stainforth busies herself with philanthropic works and the social round, until long after her husband died in 1784, aged seventy-three. A final letter from Grantham on the 12th January 1803 sadly 'regrets to learn of Mrs. Stainforth's death.'

Not Found Wanting, pp. 203-4

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