As everyone knows, during the Regency servants were a mainstay of life for anyone who could afford them. Long time servants and personal servants were treated much like family.
Yet, how much do we actually know about them? The biggest surprise for most modern readers is that being “in service” was actually considered an extremely good position. Unless something went really wrong, it was a job for life, and the social status was equal to that of the lower middle class such as a storekeeper.
Male servants were more valuable than female servants. The government actually taxed people for footmen.
It’s important to know who was a servant and “in service” and who was not. Governesses tutors, secretaries, also common, and companions were gently-born. In other words, they were members of the gentry and of the ton. They were not “in service.” They were employees. Depending on the employer, they were treated as part of the family. If they did not dine with their employers, they dined alone. The thing to remember is that they did not dine or socialize with the servants, and the servants treated them with the respect their social status demanded.
Servants were the backbone of a house. The senior staff included the butler, housekeeper, valets, lady’s maids, and cook. These servants were roughly equal in status, with the butler having a bit more status. The housekeeper and cook answered to the lady of the house, if there was one, and the butler answered to the master, if there was one.
The housekeeper was in charge of all the maids with the exception of the scullery maids, the dishes, linens, and cleaning. During the Regency, there were no uniforms for female servants. That did not become common until the Victorian era.
The butler was in charge of all the male household servants, the silver, to include making sure the silver was polished, and ensuring the servants were paid. Under the butler’s supervision, footmen were responsible for serving meals and tea. If the master or mistress required something, generally the butler answered Footmen were often selected for their height and good-looks. A butler wore a dark suit, and footmen wore livery.
Valets and lady’s maids, who were also called dressers, were personal servants and answerable only to his or her master or mistress. These servants did much more than simply dress their mistress or master. Although, that was an extremely important job. During the period fabric was extremely expensive, therefore, it was important that the servant knew how to clean the delicate silks, muslins, and other materials, as well as polishing and cleaning shoes and boots. Only linen bedding and clothing were sent to the laundress. In The Toll Gate, a book by Georgette Heyer, the originator of the Regency genre, her hero leaves his valet and groom behind and must clean his own boots and buckskin breeches. At one point he comments that now having done the work himself, he never realized how many hours it took. As an aside, a gentleman tied his own cravat, not the valet.
I always include servants in my books. Here is an excerpt from Miss Featherton’s Christmas Prince that includes Miss Featherton’s maid. This book doesn’t release until November, but I’ll give away a reader’s choice of my other books to one commenter to tells me you want it.
Miss Margaret Elizabeth Lucinda Featherton, second daughter of Viscount Featherton, glanced down at the missive in her lap. The letters were rounded, much like a child’s would be, but the spelling and grammar were correct.
Dear Miss Featherton,
I pray this letter arrives in time to save you from making a horrible mistake. Lord Tarlington is not what you think him. I do not expect you to take my word for it. However, if you go to number Twenty-Three Basil Street in the neighborhood of Hans Crescent around seven in the morning, you will find the evidence for yourself.
The first time she had received such a letter, the warning had concerned her last suitor, the Earl of Swindon. She shuddered at how close she had come to marrying such a monstrous man. A heaviness lodged in her chest, making it hard to breathe. What would she discover about Tarlington?
The following morning at half past six, Meg and her maid, Hendricks, sallied forth as if taking their usual early stroll in Hyde Park. However, instead of walking down Charles Street toward the Park they headed in the opposite direction to Hay Hill, then on to Bond Street and hailed a hackney.
The day was cool but sunny. A clean, crisp scent, which reminded her of newly-harvested apples, unusual for London, filled the air. Trees were showing off their brilliant autumn colors. It was altogether too pretty a day for their mission. Meg was tempted to go back and hide in her chamber as if she had never received the missive. Yet if she did, she could end up wed to a man as bad as or worse than Swindon.
Twenty minutes later, she and her maid were situated two houses down from Twenty-Three Basil Street. The town house consisted of three stories and a cellar area. Flowers in pots stood on either side of the well-maintained front door. The brass knocker gleamed as if polished regularly.
Hendricks drew back the leather shade in the hackney, keeping watch on the house as Meg pressed back against the thin, poorly cushioned squabs. She resisted the urge to pleat her skirts, which would surely draw a rebuke from her maid, and waited.
Wondering if, yet again, she had fallen in love with a fiend.
After several minutes, she shifted on the hard bench. Two women carrying baskets hurried past the coach, staring at the vehicle as they went. If Meg and Hendricks remained here much longer, they would begin attracting attention.
Frustrated with waiting, Meg blew out a puff of air. “Do you see anything yet?”
“No.” Her maid started to shake her head, then stopped. “Oh, wait. The door is opening.”
Finally. She slid to the other side of the hackney and glanced out the window. A handsome gentleman with curling dark blond hair stepped out of the town house holding an infant. Lord Tarlington smiled down at the woman standing next to him, who clutched the hand of a small child still in skirts. For a moment the smile appeared to be the same as the ones he had given Meg on numerous occasions. Then his smiled deepened and his face lit with love as he embraced the woman before kissing her and handing her the baby. As the woman’s hand rose, a glint of gold on the third finger of her left hand appeared.
Married! The cur was already wed!
Fury swept through her. The pain in her breast deepened as her heart broke into sharp shards. How could she have been so gullible to fall in love with a man who so obviously did not return her affections and was not even free to give them?
Unable to watch any longer, she slid back to the other side of the coach. Lord Tarlington might not be the ogre Swindon was, but he had lied to her and had deceived her, and, worst of all, he had pretended to love her. For that she would never forgive him.
“That snake!” Hendricks’s outraged gasp broke the silence. “And he just spoke to your father yesterday.”
“It would appear”—Meg’s throat closed painfully, but she refused to give in to the tears threatening to fall—“that he has a previous commitment. One he has kept well hidden.” Reaching up, she knocked on the roof of the carriage. “Take us to Gunter’s.”
The famous ice cream shop was located at the other end of Berkeley Square from her house. They would leave the hackney there, thus disguising the direction they’d come from anyone at her house.
A deep line formed between her maid’s brows. “What will you do now, miss?”
Take the only action she could under the circumstances. “I shall write to him, refusing his offer, and instruct Benson that I am not at home to his lordship.”
“Mark my words, miss. He’ll try to see you.”
I really love the idea of a household full of servants, and I’m happy to answer any questions you have. Do you think you’d like to have servants?