Well, ladies and gents!
I already know that most of you are already experts on the Regency Era and know so many things about this specific time period.
Regardless of that, since today’s topic is about the Era’s household staff, this article is mostly for those who would like to learn a bit more about the subject!
So, allow me to brainstorm a little…
First of all, even though nowadays having servants seems like an extravagant luxury, we must keep in mind that, actually, they were a vital part of the functioning of everyday life for the upper class during the Regency Era. The amount of manpower needed to maintain a modest home—keeping it lit, heated and clean—was a full-time job! Plus, don’t forget that, at the time, there was no electricity and indoor plumbing!
Well, as everything according this Era, there was a hierarchy of status and a matching delegation of tasks in the household as well.
Trust me, I know that, from our modern point of view, it all seems a bit overwhelming and confusing—who did what? What was the name of each of those roles?
Household Staff Hierarchy
Generally, there were two broad categories for servants: upper servants and lower servants. Upper servants had more responsibilities than lower servants and they worked closer to the master or mistress of the household.
Servants of equal job title were ranked by the standing—in the family line as well as in society—of whom they served. The strict adherence to their job title even dictated who ate first. Can you imagine that? The upper servants dined apart from and before the lower servants. This stratification of rank also extended to the servants of the visitors.
In this article we will mostly talk about the upper servants. Are you ready?
The Upper Regency Era Servants
This position was by far the highest in the ranking and the most important one for the running of an estate during the Regency era. The steward was educated, respected, well paid, and trusted. His duties included hiring and firing of workers, settling tenant disputes, overseeing the harvest and livestock, collecting rents, keeping the financial records, etc.
Beneath the steward—or at the top of the hierarchy in large households that did not employ a steward—came the butler and housekeeper.
The butler was the head of the male servants.
He was entirely responsible for the proper operation of the wine cellar and the household’s silver and china. In houses where no housekeeper was employed, the butler had also in his care the table linen, which would be stored in his room—the ‘butler’s pantry’, as it was called—for safekeeping.
Moreover, he was responsible for “the front door of the house”, took messages and calling cards. The butler also dealt with visitors and, for this reason, he had to be aware of social distinctions and proper etiquette. Unlike lower servants, the butler was always called by his surname.
The housekeeper—the senior female servant in the house—supervised the female staff. She kept the household accounts, managed the linens and carried a large keyring with all household keys on it. She also prepared coffee, tea, and preserves. Cleanliness, punctuality and method were essential personality traits for a good and efficient housekeeper. Even if she was unmarried, everyone called her “Mrs.”, as a sign of respect.
For a well-bred gentleman of the upper class, acquiring an excellent valet was essential. The valet was the gentleman’s personal servant, responsible for helping him dress, caring for his clothes, shaving him, polishing his boots and more. Typically, a gentleman employed one valet—his “man” or “gentleman’s gentleman”—who stayed within his employ for years.
His skills included secretarial duties such as writing letters for his master, keeping private accounts, and making travel arrangements, among other similar tasks. Furthermore, as an essential servant, the valet was almost always a traveling companion.
A very desirable position, the lady’s maid served the lady or ladies of the house directly and were not under the housekeeper’s control.
A lady’s maid styled her mistress’s hair, helped her dress and undress, and kept her wardrobe clean and neat. She might also read aloud to her mistress and massaged her temples when she had a headache. The lady’s maid also maintained the mistress’s private chambers: sweeping the carpets, changing bed linens, fresh daily flowers, dusting and polishing, emptying the water closet pot, providing fresh water, tending to and laying the fire of the fireplace, trimming candles and lamps, etc. She was the one who communicated with shop owners and tradesman in order for her to purchase supplies and to perform secretarial tasks, and was in charge of packing for trips. Through it all, a lady’s maid would be polite, impeccably groomed, and gracious.
Cooks and Chefs
Ladies of the Regency Era did not cook for their own families—they had a cook. The cook managed the scullery maids and kitchen boys, was responsible for ordering food supplies and for planning the household menus, all upon agreement with the mistress of the house and the housekeeper.
In a big house, there may even had been second cooks, who would answer to the senior cook. They often received a higher salary than the steward and, because of that, they were regarded as separate from the rest of the domestic staff.
Well, my dear, if I lived during my loving Regency Era I would definitely want to be a Duchess…who wouldn’t, right? But, if I had to pick a position amongst the household, I’d definitely be a lady’s maid!
How about you?
In my next article I will write about the lower servants during our favorite Regency period. Until then, please let me know your thoughts about this one!
If there is anything else you’ll be interested in reading about from Regency Era, feel free to tell me so and who knows? Maybe you will read about it soon…
Written by Olivia Bennet