Tag Archives: Domestic

A Night at Chambord & Chenonceau

While visiting these châteaux you just have to wonder–what’s it like at night when you are NOT ALLOWED to visit?  What does it feel like to, say, slink around in the shadows, watching the royals sleep?

Okay, that’s creepy.  But you kind of want to know, don’t you?  When nobody else is around but ghosts, when all is dark and silent, what mood stirs beneath the moonlight?  An imaginary nocturnal visit to Chambord and Chenonceau, if you will . . .


Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom

(I didn’t scale down the resolution – click away for the full experience)

The dude who (occasionally) slept here

Louis XIV – Charles le Brun (1661)

The Queen’s Bedroom

Marie Thérèse of Austria, wife of Louis XIV – attributed to Charles Beaubrun (1666)


Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom

The Lady in White (aka Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, one time Queen of France) designed this room for her retirement from Court.  In grief after the assassination of her husband Henri III, she bedded down here for the remainder of her years.  The matte black walls and white motifs are symbols of mourning.  Take a closer look at the chandelier-esque stencil on the lower lefthand wall.  It’s actually a cornucopia of eternal tears.  Images of death abound: crosses surrounded by spades and picks, widow’s cordons, crowns of thorns, and the Greek letter lambda to represent Louise’s and Henri’s initials intertwined.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I thought this room was amazing when I visited Chenonceau. I’m sure the pious Louise wouldn’t approve, but it looks positively witchy to me.

Regarding photography in this post:

Creative Commons License

A Day in the Life: A Lady’s Maid

The Chamber Maid Brings Tea, Pehr Hillestrom, 1775

A lady’s maid’s day, unlike that of her peers, starts as soon as her mistress wakes.  The hour is variable, depending on the individual mistress and whether the household resides in the city or the country, but generally, a lady’s maid begins her official work later than the rest of the servants.

Attending to her mistress’s person comprises the first task of the morning.  After ablutions are taken care of and her mistress’s hair and body are dressed, a lady’s maid is responsible for tidying her mistress’s rooms.  This may not be the case with experienced ladies’ maids, but in households where there are few servants or a lady’s maid is relatively new, learning the finer details of upkeep are an important part of her position.  Even after a lady’s maid has graduated from general housemaid duty, washing hair combs, removing stains from soiled garments, and starching muslins number among the many exigencies of personal attendance that must be addressed on a regular basis.

Lady Fastening Her Garter (otherwise known as La Toilette), François Boucher, 1742

In households where maids are numerous, it may seem weird for a lady’s maid to act the part of a housemaid.  It’s really not.  The primary reason is to ensure her mistress’s privacy in both everyday situations and in rarer occasions when the mistress falls ill.  Although chambermaids and maids of all work will by necessity enter the mistress’s rooms, it is best to keep these visits limited.  All work in the rooms must be done out of the mistress’s sight.  Timing, therefore, is absolutely essential.

As soon as the mistress departs her rooms in the morning, a lady’s maid tidies and refreshes all belongings and articles under her care.  In a time before central air, a shut-up room would go stale throughout the night.  A good airing, therefore, is the first order of duty.  Windows are thrown open, bed curtains drawn apart.  Any clothes that remain out of closet are put away in the dressing room.  The accessories associated with ablutions must also be put to rights.

As neatness is a lady’s maid’s prerogative, dust and grime are directly under her purview.  Not even a loose thread on the carpet is tolerated by a meticulous lady’s maid.  The general notion here is to return the room to its original state—as if nobody had touched anything.  Wash basins, glasses, and water jugs must be cleaned of soap scum and fingerprints.  To keep up with the steady decline of cleanliness in the room, a strict schedule of supplying fresh water and changing towels is encouraged.


By James Gillray, 1810

After the mistress’s rooms are picked up and dusted, the thread and needle work begins.  Plain work (darning stockings, mending linens) occupies a large deal of this time.  Exactly how much is determined by the amount and state of garments in the laundry.

Before the laundry goes out to the washerwoman, it’s the lady’s maid’s job to sort through the dirty pile to determine what needs mending or what items are beyond repair.  As a sartorial accountant of sorts, it’s important for a lady’s maid to maintain an inventory of her mistress’s wardrobe from the start of her employment.  Any time a garment leaves the room for the purposes of laundering, she is expected to write up a bill of any costs associated with the garment’s upkeep.

Considering the number of times a mistress changes her outfit in a single day, preventing theft and accounting for misplaced or missing items in the wardrobe is necessary if a lady’s maid is inclined to keep her post.  Since she stands to benefit from her mistress’s cast-offs (as she will likely receive them), a wise lady’s maid serves as steward of her mistress’s belongings and keeps a hawk’s eye on anything that leaves the room.

The Jealous Maids

This does not mean a lady’s maid is encouraged to wear anything spangled or luxurious that is handed down to her.  To put on the airs of a mistress by wearing her tarnished finery, even under the mistress’s allowance, is a common offense.  According to anonymous Lady, “A neat and modest girl will wear nothing dirty and nothing fine.”

With these parameters set, a lady’s maid has the discretion to do with her mistress’s unwanted garments as she sees fit.  Charity is always encouraged.  In those days, linen was the only suitable fabric for dressing wounds.  As such, old scraps were in high demand in hospitals.  The poor were also endlessly in need of clothing and a lady’s maid could do much good by donating items to the impoverished.

I touched on this in the last post, but it’s worth noting that a lady’s maid enjoys more freedom than the average domestic.  Once her day’s work is complete, she has leave to improve her mind by reading.  Along with other activities such as sewing, her evening hours are largely devoted to leisure.  This is both a blessing and a curse.   Because ladies’ maids experience privileges denied other domestics and they appear to have the ear of their mistress, they were often subject to jealousy from their peers.

Another downside of the position is that ladies’ maids seem to have more down time than the rest of the household.  In reality, they are at the beck and call of mistresses who keep late hours.  Suffice it to say, a lady’s maid does not sleep until her mistress does.  The life of a lady’s maid, then, revolves around the schedule, temperament, and demands of her mistress.  Her happiness, too, but judging by the quantity of complaints surrounding the position, that would require an altogether separate post by yours truly.

The Last Shift, Carrington Bowles

Additional posts about a lady’s maid and domestic servants:

Wanted for Hire: Lady’s Maid

La Distraite, 1778, Gallerie des Mode

A while back I wrote a series of blog posts about the lives of female and male  domestic servants.  I think being American, and, well, not being an aristocrat in a former century, makes them a point of fascination for me.  They’re highly hierarchical, for one.  As we’ve seen with Daisy, the scullery maid in Downton Abbey, the lowest servant is ordered around by everybody else–seemingly all at once.  Also, this may seem obvious, but servants are  an entire class of people whose primary purpose is to nod and comply.  They live and breath usefulness, and although they are hardly born of a higher class, they are to comport in a manner befitting the dignity of their “family.”

We know this was not always the case—it never is where discretion is required—but given the high turnover rate of domestics, we can imagine that staying mum was not always top priority.  The memoir The Lady’s Maid: My Life in Service by Rosina Harrison, Lady Astor’s lady’s maid, is not a tell-all, but neither is it a wholly flattering account of the position.  The memoir tells it like it is: being a servant is a whole lot more complex than one might presume.

Lady Preparing for Masquerade, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

As the most senior female domestic, a lady’s maid is below only that of nursemaids, and this, I gather, is debatable.  Compared with the household maids who serve the family at large, she is paid well, performs the lightest work, and is usually allowed access to the library.   In addition, she is the primary witness to her lady’s daily well-being, maintaining a uniquely confidential position similar to a gentleman’s valet.

I pored over The Lady’s Maid; Her Duties, and How to Perform Them by Lady to get the definitive low down on the requirements of the position.  Distilled in a short recap, I imagine an advertisement for a lady’s maid might look something like this:

A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen, Henry Robert Morland (between 1765 and 1782)

Although the position was coveted among the servant classes, a competent lady’s maid was hard to find.  They had the same reputations as governesses.  That is to say, terrible.  According to the anonymous Lady,

Sounds like a catch 22, doesn’t it?  As they say, however, silence is golden.  The best lady’s maid stuck to this maxim, avoided idle gossip, and used her relatively high positions in the household to reign over the lower servants with kindess and grace.  To what exten this paragon actually existed, only history can tell.

Coming up: A Day in the Life: A Lady’s Maid

Other posts about a lady’s maid:

Divorce and The French Revolution

Le Divorce by Le Sueur

 On September 20, 1792, the Legislative Assembly of the French Republic legalized divorce.  This was a first in the country’s history.  Under the Ancien Regime, the unshackling of partners was unthinkable–a move that would potentially crumble the foundation on which the First and Second Estates derived their power.

 In his Traité du contract de mariage of 1771, the French jurist Robert-Joseph Pothier wrote :

Gross adultery on the wife’s behalf and instances of extreme spousal abuse counted as rare exceptions for separation when annulment no longer remained a possibility.  In essence, marriages were immediately consummated for a reason and unless the petitioner produced testimony that might invalidate the original grounds for marriage, the couple was married until death do they part.

In cases where the law permited separation of any sort, two basic resolutions were recognized: séparation de corps et d’habitation, essentially of person/body and domicile, and less seldom, séparation de biens, or of financial accounts.  Consequently, an attitude of keeping families in their conjoined states prevailed.  As an additional argument against divorce, all children birthed during the marriage were rendered illegitimate upon the conclusion of formal legal proceedings.  Given the need for heirs, one can easily see how this could prove problematic.

Although the Enlightenment initially sparked the divorce debate, it was the French Revolution that succeeeded in secularizing family life.  Public institutions sought to invade the very private sentiments of individuals and turn them outward in service of the state.  In the first gasping breaths of the nineteenth century, a backlash developed against this transparency of state and individual, but for 24 years, marriage was viewed as a covenant which could be broken as all secular affairs could be torn down and if desired, rebuilt.  This resulted in 30,000 divorces between 1792 and 1803, the years when the divorce laws remained the most liberal.

The Morning after Marriage by James Gillray

In the centuries following the years wherein the divorce law of 1792 was active, married women and men were refused comparable rights to divorce until as late as 1975.  1884 saw the return of divorce in France, however limited.

Given its time, the law of 1792 was shockingly encompassing.  It allowed seven instances where legal proceedings were warranted:

  • “Insanity;
  • Conviction for crimes entailing corporal punishment or loss of civils rights;
  • Crimes, brutality, or grave injury inflicted by one partner on the other;
  • Notorious dissoluteness of morals;
  • Abandonment for at least two years;
  • Absence without news for at least five years; and,
  • Emigration (when taken as a sign of counterrevolutionary intentions.” 1

Note the oldest reason for marital dissolution–adultery–is nowhere to be found.

Increasingly, as the idealism of the French Revolution waned, restrictions were placed on the grounds warranting a divorce.  The Napoleonic Civil Code modified accessibilty to divorce, making it more difficult for a wife to leave her husband, as during the 1792 law, men and women enjoyed equal freedom to seek their happiness outside of marriage.  Instead of relying on grievances, Napoleon’s code initially proposed mutual incompatibility (later discarded) and/or mutual consent.  Smacks of his experience with Josephine, doesn’t it?  The formal reasons for divorce  written in the final code were: “adultery, infamous punishment of spouse, outrageous conduct, ill-usage, or grievous injury.”

If the history of divorce law during the French Revolution and/or the social circumstances warranting divorce interest you, there is a good wealth of literature out there, particularly in regard to a wife’s grievances.  Do see:

Works Cited for the Seven Grounds for Divorce

1  Aries, Philippe, and Georges Duby. “The Unstable Boundaries of the French Revolution.” A History of Private Life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1990. Print.

Origin of Abigail, A Lady’s Maid: It’s Downright Biblical!

Ever wondered how the waiting woman got her moniker?  Look no further than the trusty old book called The Bible.

Resource: Chambers’s Encyclopedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge, Volume 1

Handmaid Passage From 1 Samuel 25

18 Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.

19 And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.

20 And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert on the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them.

21 Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him: and he hath requited me evil for good.

22 So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.

23 And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground,

24 And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid.

The common use of Abigail as a lady’s maid also appears in  The Scornful Lady, a play from the 1616 by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. 

The male version of Abigail?  Andrew.

Lighting the Tinder Box

A tinder box looks very much to me like an object to inspire cursing.  It is comprised of a piece of steel with a handle, rough splinters cut to points and smeared with brimstone, a piece of flint, and bits of torn linen, blackened to encourage easier lighting.  The tinder box itself bears a dampener or lid to snuff out the tinder once its lit.

An account from Ballou’s Monthy Magazine from the late 19th century describes the bygone morning and evening  lighting ritual:

In the 1830s, the tinder box was replaced by the vesta or matchsafe, the safe referring to the solidity of the box as early matches were given to self-ignite–not quite to the thing to have tumbling about naked in one’s pocket.  In most cases, the vesta was not actually a box but more like a case with a flat hinged lid and a striker at the bottom.  Plain, undecorated vestas were the most common, but the aristocracy and the well-to-do carried cases in gold and silver with intricate plate designs.  Examples of figural vestas are rare, like this elephant from Antiques Atlas, which hails from the 20th century:

Matches weren’t even invented until a curious chemist named John Walker created a “friction light” by swiftly withdrawing a tinder coated in antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, gum, and starch from within a piece of folded sandpaper or other abrasive material.  He put them to market in 1827, calling them congreves, but Samuel Jones, a more enterprising fellow, improved the matches by adding to the tip a glass bead of sulphiric acid and flammable paper.  Crush and blaze!  He patented his tweaking and sold them under the catchy name “lucifers”.

Charles Sauria, a Frenchman, created the phosphorous match in 1832, a advancement that caused many accidental fires as it ignited upon frictional contact with almost anything.  It also had the unfortunate ingredient of white phosphorous that, while masking the odor emitted with Walker’s matches, contained enough of the chemical in a single package to inflict phossy jaw on the user.  As phossy jaw is a condition involving necrosis, one can imagine this wee little side effect did not go over well.  Abscesses, swelling gums, and tooth aches begone.  1898 arrives and a safety match tipped with phosphorus sesquisulfide and potassium chlorate is patented.  Modern fire with the flick of the hand is born.

Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress, Plate 1

Wherein Moll Hackabout, a country miss, arrives in London and pauses at the Bell Inn off Cheapside, a thoroughfare just east of St. Paul’s Church, which westward past Drury Lane and southward to St. James’s connects the primary area’s of the London sex trade.

As with all five plates, Hogarth uses plenty of rich imagery, leaving much to be dissected.  Moll and Mother Needham stand at center stage but beyond them, the dense figures and bustling scenery dim, giving us the impression of the workings that will bring Moll to her downfall.  What we are seeing here is Moll’s first foray into debauchery except she doesn’t quite know it yet.  Mother Needham is gesturing to her with a kindly posture, presumably offering assistance to the confused girl.  Moll’s trunk, bearing her initials MH, sits to the right in the street beside a dead goose with a tag strung around its neck saying: “my lofing cosen in Tems stret in London”.  Thames street, which runs parallel to the river, is home to Moll’s relations, where she is likely headed for a visit, but instead she has been waylaid by the bawd, promised God-knows-what, with the rakish Colonel Charteris looking appraisingly on.

(click for larger view)

Mother Needham and Colonel Charteris

Both historical figures, Mother Needham was the procuress of the most exclusive bawdy house in 18th century London.  Her clientele numerated among the aristocracy as well as the merchant rich, and she would go to any length to acquire new girls.  Trickery was a means of daily profit.  As in Moll’s case, she preyed on girls fresh from the country who had likely come to London to gain domestic employ.  The wagon to the left of Moll, where two girls nervously sit, brought goods and on occasion passengers into town.  All Mother Needham need do is convince them of their good luck in acquiring a post, thereby negating their journey to the intelligence office.  Similar to the vague explanations given to Fanny in Fanny Hill, these girls would have thought themselves ahead of the game as country misses looking to work in the city were a dime a dozen.  Once the seemingly proper Mother Needham conveyed them back to her establishment–Park Place, St. James–she would have arranged a quick debauchery and indebted the girl to her sordid service by means of outfitting the girl in new gowns paid by the Mother herself.

Colonel Charteris,  known at the “rape-master general”, had a reputation for hiring young female dometics for the sole purpose of luring them into his bed.  Even before his trial for the rape of Anne Bond, he solicited girls to work in his household using an alias for fear that if they recognized the infamous Charteris name, they would avoid him at all costs.  His trial in 1730 resulted in a capital felony and a death sentence.  The then 70 year old rake was carted off to Newgate prison, but two months later, he was pardoned by King George II at the insistence of, among others, his victim, Anne Bond.  Charteris, however, was a very rich man and was known to throw his money at important political figures when his foulness ran him aground.  Anne Bond, disgraced by the trial wherein the defense accused her of immorality and thievery, was rumored to have received an annuity from Charteris which would have secured her a steady income where otherwise she would’ve greatly suffered from lack of tolerable employment.

The Background

A few additional details in plate one are worth noticing.  Clockwise from the left of Moll are two toppling baskets, suggestive of Moll’s imperiled virtue.  Above the baskets are the two country girl’s, witness to what may very well await them at the next wagon stop.   On a horse that’s blithely eating hay we have a clergyman who, instead of rescuing Moll from Mother Needham, is cocking his head in persual of a letter or perhaps a list.  To the right of the clergyman’s hat a woman hangs a pair of stocking–undergarments–out to dry.  Eight pairs of hands are shown throughout the plate, each relaying an emotion.  Charteris is fishing around in his overcoat pocket, his fingers alarmingly near the fall of his breeches, whereas the pimp, John Gourlay, is crossing his hands in a speculative manner.

Back at the plate’s foreground with Moll and Mother Needham, Moll is arresting her wrist, the palm of one hand gesturing toward the bawd and, further on, the men.  Mother Needham lays a gentle hand on Moll’s chin, a slight smile on her patched face as she tilts Moll’s face to full inspection.  To the inexperienced, Mother Needham would have appeared respectable.  She is wearing fine fashionable clothing, the expense apparent in the manner her silken gown falls and catches the light.   The numerous patches on her face, although suggestive of degeneracy in our eyes, were a common indication of pock marks.  When used to a lesser degree (although some ladies did wear seven or eight), they announced a deliberate flirtation or lack thereof (see To Patch or Not to Patch).  Mother Needham’s additional accessories–gloves, a fan, and a pocket watch–were also ordinary.  The taking off of one glove for skin to skin contact, the pointing of a closed fan, and the visible watch to suggest a careful keeping of hours, however, were anything but.

Giving Thanks for Modernity

It’s lovely to imagine oneself living in the 18th century. It would not be lovely to actually live in it.  Number one reason?  Sanitation comes to mind, but what about the convenience of daily living?  The rights of man?  The freedom for females to move without fainting?  Hell, what about fresh, exotic fruit?  Fish that doesn’t knock you out with one whiff?

On that note, I am thankful for all the beautiful technologies we modern gals have yet to romanticize. Here’s my top 5.

1.  The water closet–what we now know as the flush toilet–was first used in 26th century b.c. in the Indus Valley Civilization.  For 18th century purposes though, we’ll credit J.F. Brondel, whose ingenious 1738 valve-type flush invention would eventually catapult the western world past the chamber pot (used in most households until the 19th century.  yikes!).

Illustration by David G. Eveleigh; Bogs, Baths and Basins: The Story of Domestic Sanitation.

2.  A life without fitness would be a life without living.  I cannot imagine being unable to sprint, fully bend, let alone breathe in like a yogi.  What the corset did to the female anatomy was frightening, sort of like being pregnant where the baby drives the mother’s organs upward.  Yet, in 18th century ladies, the corset drove the organs inward.  Ouch!

Source: Costumer’s Manifesto

3.  Ever been to India?  I have.  I’m sure it’s like any other 3rd world country in terms of filth, but regarding the delicate western stomach, it’s a sty.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love India.  It’s beautiful–culturally, architecturally, botanically, spiritually–but if you want to walk through streets dirtier than the worst carnie fest, go there.  Or the 18th century.

Hogarth’s Harlot

4.  Laundry!  I can barely manage tossing my whites in the machine and pulling them out before they get smelly or wrinkled.  If I had to work them down a washing board, use lard, and rub, forget clean clothes.  And forget whites.  Prisitine whites were for the privileged and even then, the lawnshirts and chemises had to be newish.

The Last Shift, Carrington Bowles, London

5.  Birth Control!

Empress Maria Theresa and family, Meytens, 1751

I hope everyone can find something to be happy for today!

Happy Thanksgiving!

18th Century Book – The Experienced English Housekeeper

Wonder how to make a portable soup for travellers?  Set an 18th century table?  Make soup a la reine

The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald is an essential book to discover not only what people ate in the 18th century, but also how their meals were cooked.  There’s a wonderful section on preserves and confections, extensive chapters on meats (ox cheek anyone?).  And, of course, you’ll want to learn how to make an edible “amulet.” Many of the recipes are easy to whip up today, provided you translate the odd spelling.  It’d be rather funny if you didn’t. 

“Eels or Lamprey with pudding in the belly” aside, here are a few I’m planning on for a future 18th century test kitchen:

Note:  If you decide to delve into the book, remember it was published in 1782.  The spelling is surprisingly uniform but what looks like “f” is typically “s” in older english books. 


Domestic Servants – Part 2 – Men

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.

Lower Manservants

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.