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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How may I be of service?

The staple character of many historical romances is the humble, unobtrusive servants of our heroes and heroines. These underpaid, overworked creatures of fiction, based on real life roles, have taught me much about a different time when life was ruled strictly by our positions.

Let us take, for instance, the indispensable valet. This man, this aide to our historical hero served his time with little public recognition for his exhausting efforts. He was expected to have a competent knowledge of the habits of polite life and be thoroughly acquainted with etiquette and fashion. I got my first glimpse of the duties of a valet from reading romantic fiction, but what was he really expected to do?

Valet - early 1800’s

* 21 to 31 pounds per annum with livery
* 31 to 47 pounds per annum without livery
* master’s cast off clothes


1. Attend to the personal accommodation of his master both at home and when traveling. Suggested routine:

Early morning
* clean boots and shoes, brush clothes and complete all other work prior so as to reach the dressing room prior to the master awakening
* see that the housemaid has lit the fire and cleaned out and dusted the room
* lay out the washstand: fill the ewer with clean water, provide towels, brushes, toothbrushes and powers, razor and strop
* air dressing gown and slippers by the fire
* lay out suitable attire for the morning, assist with dressing and combing of hair
After the master departs
* return chamber to neat and tidy state in preparation for his return
* valet remains on call at all times to assist his master

When traveling:
* ensure sufficient linen for the length of journey is packed, as well as personal grooming implements
* unpack master’s dressing-room needs and if no footman in attendance, attend the masters accommodation below stairs also

2. Take care of his entire wardrobe:
* remove grease spots from clothing
* revive faded black cloth
* clean leather, gloves, gold lace and embroidery, polish buckles, and chains
* apply blacking to boots and shoes
* apply varnish to straw or chip hats

3. Attend to the general business of the dressing room:
* wait on the master while dressing and undressing
* manage razors and shaving (not all gentlemen shaved themselves)
* manufacture personal soap suited to the master’s taste
* maintain scalps (hairpiece)

* always be in attendance
* keep his master’s confidences
* self-possessions and ease of manners
* assist in waiting at table at all meal-times
* devotion to mental improvement during leisure time will recommend him to his master

Honestly, after reading about the poor put upon valet I’m fairly exhausted. They really had a tough life being at the beck and call of their masters. I might like to read about regency life but I'm getting the idea I wouldn't like to live it.

Lady Wicked w/a Heather Boyd

The Servant’s Guide and Family Manual, … 1831
The Complete Servant, by Samuel and Sarah Adams, MDCCCXXV (1825)
Domestic Duties; or Instructions to Young Married Ladie …, by Mrs. William Parkes 1825


  1. Ack! And we think we have it rough, what with loading the dishwasher and turning a knob for water ;) I sometimes marvel at how little effort it takes for us to live these days. Seriously, flip a switch to turn on the fireplace, go to the grocery store or limitless food, get in the car to drive somewhere, pick up the phone to talk to someone - we have the life!
    Super post, Heather - lots of interesting info :)

  2. Fascinating information, as always, Heather. Keep this up and you're going to convince me to write a regency. :)

  3. Very interesting, Heather. Sounds like the duties of a mother, only less grueling. ;)

  4. Love this post, Heather...I think the servants don't get enough attention or notice in novels, and clearly, there's a lot to tell about them. Thanks for sharing this info!

  5. Awesome post, Heather! Those poor put-upon valets. ;)

  6. LOL, Samantha. Too true!

    Thanks for the enlightening post, Heather :)