In Dancing King, Michael Kent-Hughes has a recurring problem – finding the right people for his key palace staff positions.
A wide array of people is considered for the communications job; Michael doesn’t find the right person he’s looking for until a resume arrives unsolicited. A similar problem occurs with his chief of staff position – he finds capable people, but the chemistry doesn’t seem right. What’s happened there is that Michael has been consciously and unconsciously comparing them all to Josh Gittings, the prime minister’s chief aide sent to help Michael and his wife Sarah in San Francisco. That problem is solved when Gittings directly applies for the job.
A third key position is an operating job – Master of the Household at the palace, or as Michael shortens it, “Master of the House.” Today, the position is responsible for all of the operational positions for all of the Royal Households in the nation. In addition to Buckingham Palace, that includes Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, other palaces and residences, and the staffs charged with managing the activities of many of the members of the royal family.
The position has a long history – it first officially appeared in 1603, when James I ascended the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth. It was generally held by aristocrats and / or friends of the monarch until early in the reign of Queen Victoria, when it took a decided military turn. Since that time, the position has been usually held by a ranking military officer – lieutenant colonels, brigadiers, generals, air marshals, and lords of the Admiralty.
Michael and Josh Gittings are looking for someone to run the day-to-day operational activities of Buckingham Palace. These include the kitchens, the gardening staff, the housekeeping staff, and more – all of the people responsible for functioning the of palace. They do find one qualified applicant, but he decides not to take the job.
On a cold winter’s day, Michael and Gittings are driven to the Mayfair flat of Michael’s dead brother Henry, murdered during The Violence of the previous fall, the same upheaval that led to Michael being shot and almost dying in San Francisco. At Henry’s flat, they have two objectives: assess what needs to be done with the furnishings (and art collection) before it’s sold and consider the position of Henry’s butler or “man.” Michael feels an obligation to make sure the man who ran Henry’s household is taken care of in some way.
They find Brent Epworth, a former lieutenant in the British Army. And he has a story.
Epworth had planned a military career. An only child, married but with no children of his own yet, he had been stationed in Iraq, a member of the British and allied forces involved in an ongoing if somewhat stalemated war. A roadside mine kills almost all of the unit he leads; Epworth himself loses most of his left leg and is eventually honorably discharged. His wife, unable to deal with his injuries, divorces him, and his life slides into a downward spiral of alcohol and drugs.
Henry had found him recovering after detox in a military hospital in Chelsea and offered him a job of running his household affairs in London and the country estate in Kent if he could stay free of addictions. Epworth accepted the offer and his life turned around.
Impressed by the man’s obvious competence and his demeanor, Michael offers Epworth the Master of the House position on the spot. Within weeks, Epworth proves his value and the wisdom of Michael’s intuitive if impulsive offer.
In a sense, the military flavor of the Master of the Household position continues its long history.
Top photograph by Jeslyn Chanchaleune via Unsplash. Used with permission.