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?

Keep reading…

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

Steward

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.


Butler

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.


Housekeeper

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.


Valets

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.


Lady’s Maids

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

56 COMMENTS

  1. Some of this I already knew, but there were things I didn’t know. I enjoyed this article very much. Thank you for it.

  2. I’d like to know more about what happened to household servants if they became disabled or too old to perform their duties. Where is there a general practice among the upper classes for how to treat a servant in this situation?

  3. Fun and interesting facts! I agree on being a Duchess but I really don’t want any of the house staff’s jobs! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  4. Totally cool. I have been familiar with most of these titles and positions from reading for so many years but it was still a great article.

  5. The tv show Downtown Abbey is a great example of what you are referring to. I love Victorian Georgian. and Regency Eras. I watch or read everything I
    can find. So I loved to read this article it was spot-on. Mrs. D. Moroschan

  6. Very educational, especially as many servants were obviously educated and were streetwise and practical.Was surprised about the steward

  7. I think I would want to be a cook or chef with helper under-cooks and scullery maids. A ladies maid had to empty & clean the chamber pot. YUCK!!

    • To be honest I have not thought of that, Judith! Thank you for your input. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  8. Don Jacobson, author of Pride and Prejudice variations wrote a novel entitled, “Uppers and Lowers” and it is excellent to read. It is about servants in a household that are the lowers and the uppers are the owners of estates, or so called the upper class. Everyone should read it and it is wonderful!

  9. Enjoyed your specifying the duties and titles of the household staff.
    I was pretty sure about this but you helped. I really enjoy your books and look forward to the new ones. Thanks so much.

  10. Interesting, not sure I’d want to do any of them. But lady’s maid seems the better option, you at least get to go with your Lady, shopping etc.

    • Thank you for your comment, Antonia!

      A lady’s maid is often referred to in fiction as an ‘abigail,’ which was indeed a term used during the Regency period. The term abigail is in reference to II Samuel, versus 24-28 when Abigail refers to herself as David’s handmaid on four occasions. It is unclear why one lady might prefer to use one term over another, though ‘abigail’ in research is referred to as slang.

  11. That was a very detailed description of the servants and their duties. Thanks for explaining them. I look forward to you next explanation of the lower servants.

  12. Well, a lady’s maid?? Hmm? I think I would like to be the housekeeper as I do like to keep things organised & I am inclined to be a little bit bossy but nice with it!! So, housekeeper it is.
    However, my preference would be to be the Duchess, in charge of it all, with a very willing, handsome & biddable Duke!!!

  13. I am interested in anything you have to say about anything! Your other articles have been outstanding, very fascinating to me to read. You have answered some questions I have had over the years, as I’ve been reading Regency books since I started reading Georgette Heyer, the Goddess of the Regency!

  14. Very interesting Olivia, I think I agree with you, a duchess preferably or a ladies maid. I know when I’ve been reading books set in this era I have been astounded as to what duties each servant needed to perform each day, I don’t think I would be able to, we are spoilt with all our so called luxuries

  15. Hi Olivia,
    Thank you for this article. Could I ask what size household you are writing about? I’ve read of some large households where the staff have had their own staff.
    Does the second chef receive more money than the steward? Apologies if I appear pedantic. I’m a black hat thinker from way back when.
    In the typical regency novel, the role of the ladies maid is rarely expanded upon with such detail. Often written as a wardrobe, bathing and dressing assistant, plus often a trusted friend more than a detail orientated servant.
    Thank you
    Lynne

  16. Love your books, I become totally lost in them and this article I found extremely informative especially about the steward’s position and wage scale for cooks. I look forward to your next article.

  17. I loved all the explanations for the household staff and upper Regency era servants. I was not aware of exactly the description of their duties but am more knowledgeable now. Thank you!

  18. I would like to be a Countess. But, since I’ve spent my working life being a servant of the lowest order (and being a woman besides), there is no hope for me but to slip into old age and just do my own drudge work now.

  19. I think if i was going to be a servant I would be the housekeeper, found the article very interesting

  20. What a splendid job you have done with this 2 part article! It was an enjoyable refresher course for me.
    I agree with another of the responders, the illustrations added greatly to the article. Your descriptions
    are clear and straightforward. You are indeed a talented writer who obviously cares that her writing is
    accurate in regard to the period she portrays. My concentration is interrupted when jarring errors appear
    with character descriptions, duties and such as well as activities not possible within a time period–one
    example that I’ve encountered over and over is in the stable when a character sits on or handles a bale
    of hay or hides behind “a stack of bales” when indeed there was no such thing as a bale of hay in those
    days. There might have been stacks, shocks, or bundles, but not bales.

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