It’s not so much about the idealized “servant” above but really more about the stiff and serious, the proverbial butler. Which isn’t so bad, mind you, but who wants to see a butler, looking all proper and superior, when you could have a man, getting down and dirty in the house? Well, 18th century masters and mistresses for one. Men simply did not do “women’s work”. Unless their purview included luxuries, they did not clean, polish, mend, or launder anything. They were considered skilled workers; having been apprenticed, they could rise to a greater position in the house, and in this way, they were far above women in regard to employment (although women could ascend to higher offices also). Where a woman worked, a man managed and oversaw. But lest this become a feminist treaty on sexual politics in the workplace, I’ll quit with the comparisions. Just know that men, first and foremost, were skilled in their employ and within the domestic sphere, they ruled over household luxuries, or those of the most expense: land, horses, glass, china, and the like. Boys, fixed on the path of men (we hope!), were somewhat more engaged in women’s work, but only until they gained the aptitude to abandon their current position in favor of a better one.
The Hierarchy - Male Servants
Land Steward – Managed estate in all forms: collected tenant dues, leased farms, surveyed the property, settled disputes over land and farming, detailing records of such affairs. When master was not present or inclined, he supervised the cultivation of the land, lending his ear to tenant farmers and the sophistication of their agriculture practices.
If there is no land steward, the house steward is the highest position in the house. He would manage all domestic affairs, including servants below him, and is answerable only to the master.
Master of the Horse/Clerk of the Stables – oversees all equine and groom activities, including inspecting feed and overall care of the horses; arranges travel; is responsible for checking the condition of roads and inns; manages details of carriages; boss to coachman, grooms, postilion, and those connected to the stables or coaches. By around 1725, this position devolved to the clerk of the stables. More often than not, the clerk of the stables was lower born than his predecessor, the master of the horse.
Clerk of the Kitchen – responsibilities include the realm of the kitchen, including the work of the female cook and her subordinates. He ordered table provisions, negotiated with the green grocer, baker, and butcher; disbursed funds allocated by house steward for payment of provisions and to tradesmen for their services; guardian of the larder(pantry); ensured that meals were served on time and properly prepared this type of food preparation.
- Man Cook: may take the role of the clerk of kitchen if domestic is absent, or he may divide roles to assist the clerk of the kitchen. He would be familiar with French cuisine, as the English preferred.
- Confectioner – employed in larger households, usually trained outside the household in a shop.
- Baker – likewise as confectioner
Bailiff - Either a free agent or employed under the land steward. He manages the farm on the master’s country estate; buys cattle and horses for the plow; is responsible for husbandry, the breeding and raising of livestock; also performs administrative duties for the estate, assisting the land steward in tenant and leased land issues. He may be called upon, on occassion, to assist in the dining room.
Valet de Chambre – or as we know, simply the valet. For the first quarter of the century, this position was called the gentleman in waiting, but like the master of the horse, it dissovled into its present form. The valet is responsible for his master’s person: prepares the master’s toilette, including coiffure. Before bed and upon awaking, the valet is at the master’s disposal and must undress and dress him. This was such an important role that if the valet was indisposed, the master would not prepare for bed, or as in the case of morning, would not get out of bed until his valet appeared. As a master of fashion, the valet’s primary role is to care after the master’s appearance, inlcuding the care and selection of clothing, as the valet is responsible for his master’s modish presentation to the world.
Butler – in some cases, when a butler possessed supreme skill in domestics, he would take over the role of the house steward, and as such, presided over all servants in the house. This was more common in the 19th century and onward. Other household offices were often coupled with the butler’s so that in some instances he was house steward, valet and butler at the same time. He is on par with the housekeeper, an office held by a female, but being male, he was her superior. Common duties included supervising dining room affairs, managing the wine cellar and all spirits, decanting wine bottles and ales, and serving liqueur. He also looked after the silver, polishing it and keeping it in pristine condition. An underbutler assisted the butler but was considered a lower domestic.
Gardener – fairly self-explanatory but as grand country estates had impressive gardens and landscaping, the gardener required an extensive knowledge of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and matters of landscape design. Most often, he occupied a cottage on the estate, but could possess an office in the house. He was expected to serve as a guide, escorting visitors on the grounds.
One thing to be aware of: while uppermanservants wore their own clothes, subordinates dressed in livery, basically the formal uniform of the house.
Coachman: When a master of the horse or clerk of stabes was employed, he simply drove the coach. Otherwise, he managed those employed in the stables and ensured that the coach was in working order. An undercoachman assists the coachman.
Footman: Performed duties both inside and outside the house. When in house, he waited the table, laid out cloth and served tea, and cleaned knifes (may clean glass when no butler was employed). Out of doors, he performed as an escort or messenger. On occassion he may express his masters “how d’ye’s” paying respects to acquaintances and friends when the master was disobliged. He would also inquire after the health of those he visited and hand deliver messages. As an escort, he rode on the back of the coach, walked behind his master or mistress, opened doors and carried parcels.
On the same level with the footman and groom is the running footman. The fourth Duke of Queensbury, who died in 1810, was the last to employ one. The running footman would run ahead of the calvacade, prepare an inn for his master’s arrival, and for sport, engage in running contests to win wagers for his master, and while on city streets, prepare the path for the coach.
Groom: Under the master of the horse, he cares for the horses, feeding and watering them, brushing them down and administering medicine when they take ill.
Porter: A guardian of the gate, the porter screens those who seek admission to the estate. In London townhouses, he was positioned in the foyer and is responsible for opening the door, taking calling cards, and allowing entry into the house.
Park Keeper: Cares for deer on a master’s country estate.
Game Keeper: Monitors the estate, looking for poachers and trespassers; knows how to breed wild game and is familiar with game laws. Both the park keeper and game keeper live in cottages on the estate.
The Youths (lowest positions)
Postilion – mounted on one of the drawn horses, aka postboy
Yard boy – there is very little documented about the yard boy of this time, but I can (un)safely assume he fetched wood and probably aided the gardener in utilitarian affairs.
Provision boy – likely assisted the kitchens in fetching supplies
Foot boy – an attendant in livery
The yard boy, provision boy, and foot boy are largely interchangeable. They were most often lackeys assisting in various domestic affairs.
Page – apprentice footman, attends on a person of distinction
Hall boy – assistant to the lowest footman, he empties chamber pots and cleans boots. On par with the scullery maid.
And that’s it! Whew, am I glad that’s done. As much as I love research, I hate recording it in an organized, presentable manner. It’s only fun when the fiction writing begins and those scribbled notes actually start to pay off.
Much thanks to the .02% of readers who actually finished the post! When it comes to domestics, you are now more educated than those who groaned and thought their head might explode from digesting a little bit of period knowledge. The information about servants may seem extranneous in our modern day life, but if you read anything about the 18th century (or prior/proceeding centuries), understanding the role of domestics is a prerequisite for truly understanding a story and its social implications. The way a character interacts with a domestic reveals a lot about his/her quality, especially when considering the lower servants, but also vice versa. And there are a thousand other interactions between the higher and lower classes that are very telling when you recognize their weight.
So, between my Female Domestic Servant post and this one, I hope you’ve learned something useful for when you’re reading the likes of Georgette Heyer or maybe just a historical romance novel.