There are a lot of jobs from history that would make even the most cynical person wince. They involved long hours, demeaning labor and often the rick of serious physical harm. However, even the worst sounding jobs came with perks that actually made them quite appealing to the right kind of person, such as…
10. Groom of the Stool
Groom of the Stool was the title given to the guy in charge of making sure that King Henry VIII’s rear end was squeaky clean every time he dropped a king-sized football in the Royal commode. Other duties involved emptying his toilet and using a sponge on a stick to clean his… personal space. This was a job where getting your hands dirty in the worst possible sense of the term was all but a guarantee.
Even though practically the only thing the job involved was touching the exit only portion of a man so obese his corpse exploded after he died, the position was highly sought after. According to a book on the subject, the only job deemed more important was that of vice frickin’ chamberlain because that was the only job which allowed you to spend more personal time with the king.
We have to admit that kind of makes sense. Cleaning a fat guy’s feces is a small trade off for having the most powerful man in the country literally by the balls three times a day.
9. Whipping Boy
The job of whipping boy is exactly what it sounds like. It was a position given to a small boy that made him a punishment surrogate for a much richer boy (often a prince). In other words, a whipping boy had his ass kicked every time some rich douche acted up.
As awful as that sounds, the position was one most boys would kill for because a whipping boy was often raised alongside the rich kid and received a lot of the same benefits and advantages. For example, a fellow named William Murray spent his childhood acting as a whipping boy for a young Charles the First. When the two grew up and Charles became King, he made his former whipping boy an Earl. We’d have our ass kicked right now if it meant we’d be given a sweet castle afterwards.
Jesters were the walking punchlines of medieval England — they were forced to wear a demeaning costume and dance for the amusement of others. It the lords and ladies present at dinner wanted to throw fruit at you, you had to take it with a smile and a wave. You were on-call 24 hours a day and were the person in charge of making sure the king or queen was always in a good mood. It was an utterly thankless job which involved enduring utter humiliation.
This harsh treatment came with serious perks, though. For a start, jesters had absolute freedom of speech, allowing them to say whatever they wanted without consequence. You could openly insult people you didn’t like and even undermine the king himself, all without having to worry about getting in trouble. Jesters were also trusted with delivering bad news, simply because they were able to do so without being killed.
Also, because of the large amount of time jesters spent with the king and his court they often managed to worm their way up the social ladder. Sometimes they even became so influential that they were consulted before battles, which is like President Obama consulting Melissa McCarthy before bombing ISIS.
The job of sandal-bearer seems tame, but it’s hard to overstate how incredibly dull it was. It was held by people who served the Pharaoh in ancient Egypt — their job was essentially to carry around the Pharaoh’s sandals all day in case they needed them. Sandal-bearers had to be available at all times and were forced to dutifully follow the Pharaoh around in the blazing Egyptian sun without faltering.
Despite the job sounding like something that could be done by a carefully trained monkey, the position was very highly prized by practically everyone. It’s the same logic behind why people wanted to be close to a King’s rear end — you got to spend a ton of time in proximity to the Pharaoh, which was something worth carrying a pair of wooden sandals around all day in the hot Egyptian sun for.
6. Town Crier
Town criers are the guys you see in old timey movies, that one Simpsons episode, and Assassin’s Creed 3 standing in the middle of a town center telling everyone that taxes are about to be raised. Even when they weren’t delivering bad news to an entire town criers still woke everyone up by ringing a giant bell, which we’re assuming led to at least one being smacked in the head by an annoyed local. They were subjected to incredibly early starts and had to be prepared to work every single day of the year.
But town criers were considered to be the voice of the king, meaning that attacking one was akin to attacking the king himself. This meant that town criers were pretty much untouchable. In other words, being a town crier gave you free reign to wear a fetching hat and yell at people without ever having to worry about someone punching you in the face.
The bestiarii were a group of Ancient Romans tasked with fighting wild animals to the death. If that sounds appealing to you, we know a good psychologist. It wasn’t uncommon for a bestiarius to meet his death at the claws of a wild beast, and to top it all off they were considered the lowest kind of entertainers.
So what kind of a madman would willingly sign up to put himself on the business end of a lion’s jaws? The short answer is a madman who wanted get paid with a capital P. As noted here, free men would voluntarily sell themselves into slavery just to get a shot at being a bestiarius. Fighting animals was considered to be a lot easier than fighting people because animals normally don’t carry giant swords, and being a bestiarius also guaranteed a person living quarters, food and fame. Think of it as the ancient Roman equivalent of signing up for Big Brother, only less embarrassing.
4. Rat Catcher
When it comes to jobs that expose you to a host of awful diseases, rat catcher is ever so slightly ahead of the person who serves as a bodyguard for *insert celebrity you hate here*. Rat catchers were not only looked down upon because of the unclean nature of the their profession, but they ran the risk of being bitten by disease infected rats. The job also inevitably involved walking around knee deep in sewage, because that’s usually where rats congregated.
So what hidden benefit did this job have that could possibly justify such disgusting risks? Well, smart rat catchers could potentially earn infinite money by breeding rats for bloodsports, like low-budget cockfights. Even smarter rat catchers would breed the most fabulous rats they caught and sell them as pets to rich folk. If you were a smart enough rat catcher, you could earn money without ever having to touch a filthy street rat.
If you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones you have a pretty good idea of what a squire does, which is basically whatever their knight tells them to. The duties of a squire involved taking care of all of a knight’s needs, including guarding him while he slept and making sure all his equipment was polished and in good working order. As a squire you were basically a combination of a butler and a bodyguard with the duties of both and the pay of neither. You were also required to learn the ways of chivalry, which meant that on top of everything you also had to study and take tests. Did we mention that squires started at 13 years old?
The reason squires subjected themselves to being at the beck and call of a knight was due to the fact that if they stuck with it long enough they’d become a knight too. Think of it as a job where you had to put up with a crappy boss for seven years, but at the end of it you got to become that guy and be just as big of a jerk to your own squire. It’s like a modern internship but several times as long.
2. Drummer Boys
Drummer boys were an important part of warfare up until the latter half of the 19th century. Their primary duties involved playing a drum in the middle of a battlefield while people tried to stab or shoot them. The purpose of the drum was to help other soldiers keep time and sometimes relay complex battlefield orders. The job is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous in history, as the children tasked with being drummer boys were often at serious risk of being maimed or killed. Because the drummer was key to helping soldiers coordinate, drummer boys became priority targets on the battlefield.
Be that as it may, when drummer boys weren’t on the battlefield their duties were practically non-existent, and they often scored special treatment and perks in recognition of the risk. This resulted in boys of all ages running away from loving homes and families just to get a chance at scoring the gig.
Imagine a job that involved having to deliver food to hundreds of people every single day. Now imagine you weren’t allowed to ever be late, make a mistake or miss a single day of work even if meant working through a monsoon. That pretty much sums up the role of the dabbawala, Indian deliverymen who are paid about three dollars a day to bring food to to office workers. The job is so difficult, the collective cast of Top Gear couldn’t deliver half a dozen meals on time.
In spite of the low pay and crushing working conditions, people line up for a chance to be a dabbawala because the service is universally renowned. Dabbawalas are so efficient they reportedly only make one mistake for every six million deliveries, which translates to a success rate of 99.9999999%. As a direct result of this astonishing work ethic, dabbawalas command a great deal of respect in the world of business. It’s not uncommon for dabbawalas to be asked to give lectures on business management.
In one particularly awesome case, Prince Charles asked to meet with a group of dabbawalas to congratulate them on their no-nonsense approach. They agreed on the condition he work around their schedule, and he readily consented. We think it’s worth being a dabbawala just to tell people that you once made a Prince stand around awkwardly at a train station waiting for you.