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Q: Domestic staff positions ( No Answer,   8 Comments )
Subject: Domestic staff positions
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: archae0pteryx-ga
List Price: $16.00
Posted: 05 Dec 2005 11:15 PST
Expires: 04 Jan 2006 11:15 PST
Question ID: 601749
Historically, what are the customary domestic staff positions in a
well-to-do urban European household?  I am looking for a maximum of about
sixteen positions, but five or six might be enough.  We are talking
about a household with a level of affluence roughly equivalent to that
of the Bellamys of "Upstairs, Downstairs," but in another time and

I am interested in seeing the same list twice, in different arrangements:

1.  By indispensability of function.  By this I mean what are the most
basic, "essential" positions (I use quotes because no one really
*needs* servants) and then the added luxuries; so that I could go down
the list to, say, number 4 and any household that had only four
servants on staff would most likely have those four; and if they could
have two more, then it would be the next two.  For instance, I would
guess that a cook would come high on the list, but a cook's assistant
would come somewhere further down--that is, there are several other
positions you would fill before you budgeted for a kitchen helper.  If
my assumption is wrong, please set me straight.

2.  By internal domestic hierarchy.  This means pecking order.  Who's
the overall top boss of the staff (after the lady of the house), and
how do they rank, going down?  Or who are equals?  This question is
not just about authority but about sociopolitical relationships among
staffers:  who has to be deferential to whom, who gives orders, who
can speak to whom as a peer.

In this second list, please also include a brief (one line will do)
description of the person's area of responsibility.  For example, what
does the coachman do, and what does the footman do?  Is a housemaid
the same as a chambermaid?

For bonus points, who would handle (or assist with) the business side
of things if the lady of the house were a widow?

My application is medieval northwestern France and the Lowlands, but I
am going to make the assumption that the basic roles and functions
haven't changed a lot in a few centuries.  Again, if you think I am
wildly wrong, please set me straight.

Thank you,
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: geof-ga on 06 Dec 2005 02:03 PST
I think you're making the mistake of thinking that all these functions
were  rigid and mutually exclusive. Yes, at the top of the tree, in
say a large country house owned by a wealthy aristocrat, there would
have been the full range of servants from butler (male) and
housekeeper (female) down to pantry boys and undermaids etc. But
surely in more modest households where the budget was limited, the
starting point would have been  to work out how many servants could be
afforded, and then try to get "utility" people who could cover as wide
a range of functions as necessary.
Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: myoarin-ga on 06 Dec 2005 03:16 PST
Hi Tryx,
What a delightful question!  I have found some sites about Victorian
England on the subject that seem to address your questions.  I also
agree with your notion that the situation earlier was probably quite
similar;  the same functions were needed, and the tradition of
servants was passed down in Great Houses that existed much earlier. 
(I deleted a site with a photo of a Blenheim Palace footman in livery
that had remained unchanged since the palace was built.)

I would argue with your apologetic ?no one really needs servants?. 
Today, we still have lots of ?servants?: our household cleaning
appliances, central heating, gas, electricity and water (both in and
out), dry cleaners, auto mechanics, stores that provide ready-made
clothes and much else, kindergartens, etc., etc.
We just pay for them differently  - and don?t call them servants.
Earlier, to maintain a better establishment, one needed staff to take
care of all this.  And the lady of the house had to know herself how
to do much of what her staff did so that she knew what standard she
could demand, be it cooking or cleaning or needlework  - and also
learn how to manage of servants and a household.  (I would love to go
on about that with a couple of anecdotes, but 19th and 20th century
don?t apply to your period.)

I hope this helps.  Geof's point is well taken, as you can learn from
the first site; specialization increases as the household grows  - and
there is enough work of different types to be a full-time job for the
Best regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: myoarin-ga on 06 Dec 2005 23:02 PST
HI again Tryx,

Check out ?staffing a great household? on this site for confirmation
that a large 16th century staff was every bit as stratified as that
300 years later.

These sites seemed too interesting to let pass:

Take care, regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: myoarin-ga on 17 Dec 2005 14:34 PST
Hi Tryx,
after your "question" directed at me, I rather expected that you had
been here and replied.  No problem.
Since it just happened to pop up in the meantime in a question about
children's correspondence, this USA letter with a line about learning
to deal with servants was in a link, just as an example that
overseeing servants is something to be learned:

"From a Young Lady to Her Mother, Absent from Home.

TOLEDO, May 16, 1881.

My Own Dear Mother:?We are looking forward most impatiently to your
return. Home will be sweet home once more when we have you among us
again, for we have all missed you sadly these long evenings. The
little ones are wild with delight. Their heads are full of projects
for little surprises to give dear mamma. The choicest flowers that
each can claim as her own are watched with anxious care, and are
destined to be sweet offerings of their love to you.

I hope, dear mother, you will be pleased with my household management
during your absence. Papa considers me quite clever, and a credit to
your able teaching; still I know I am but a beginner, and each day I
feel more and more the need of your teaching, particularly in
directing the servants, whom I cannot praise too much for their
attention and industry.

Hoping that nothing will delay your long wished for return, with best
love, in which all unite,

Believe me, your own

Fondly attached and loving child,


Best regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 30 Dec 2005 20:39 PST
Hi, all,

Thanks for your many wonderful comments.  I greatly appreciate your
efforts and your good contributions of information.

I have been back here again and again but haven't posted anything
because everytime I look, I feel stymied all over again.  Obviously I
have failed once more to make clear what I want to know.  I am not
assuming rigidity of position, and I understand about specialization,
but I am assuming some skills and preferences, such that, for
instance, a cook might (if pressed) help with the children, but a
nanny couldn't necessarily cook; and that if you could afford only,
say, a staff of four, you would not hire just any four people but
would look for certain abilities or the coverage of certain functions.
 And those were sort of what I was after here.

I was also thinking that if a household had, for instance, an under
house-parlormaid (thinking of Sarah), you would automatically know
that it was affluent and had a large staff, because no such position
would exist in a small household.  And what I was really, really
getting at was, if I want to depict a fairly well-to-do household in
medieval times and represent its domestic staff and cast its
characters, what positions would I need?  I expect I'd need a cook and
butler and valet and lady's maid and coachman and footman; but would
the valet double as footman?  Would the maid assist the cook?  Who
lords it over the others, and who cowers in submission?  Who is most
dispensable and least secure in his position?  I am not going to dwell
on it, fictionally, but I don't want supporting details to be wildly
wrong.  And I thought my question as worded would help me figure this
out, and now I don't know how else to ask it.

Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: myoarin-ga on 31 Dec 2005 06:00 PST
Hi Tryx,

I think you did state your question clearly, but for lack of feedback,
I didn't want to preempt a Researcher more than I already had.
I rather thought the first (?) link I posted suggested that you are
right in your thoughts, as it describes the increasing number of staff
in a household.  Things couldn't have been much different in "your"
period, just as they aren't today, though probably not live-in:  first
a cleaning woman/maid; then a cook; nanny if necessary (maybe even a
nursing one); male servant for the heavy and dirty work, also stables
and animals (poultry, rabbits, swine, goat for milk maybe); and as the
household grows larger, he gets relegated more to outside when a
butler comes on.  The cook will be senior till then, being able to
call on the assistance of the others (the man for firewood, the maid
to clean vegetables  - with the mistress's agreement); but the butler
will think he runs the staff, but may have to earn the respect of the
cook, who will still have a lot to say  - since she is now more
important - feeding everyone ("You don't fuss with the cook.").  By
now someone for washing and sewing is needed; and maybe an upstairs
maid; coachman; valet (who, I agree, could double as footman), if the
stable hand wasn't such a grobian that he couldn't observe the
niceties or looked unattractive (pockmarked, maybe).  A footman to
help the coachman might be added, and might be the most dispensible
person, at everyone's beck and call.  But maybe the valet is in the
weaker position, a matter of relative character.  Aren't varlet and
valet related?  If one of them had his eyes on the upstairs maid ...? 
Wasn't unusual, if one can believe "My Secret Life" or Frank Harris's
"My Life and Loves" from the 19th c.

Okay, that is mostly my interpretation, so ignore or add your own. 
The daughter(s) of the family would have been helping in order to

Here is a German site that is interesting and among much else says
that there is not much information about patrician household staff (so
maybe no one will argue with you :),  The lady of the house is in
charge (remember:  "Chatelaine")

It comes from this site with very many links, some in English:

If I can help with the German, let me know, but I hope it comes up on
your screen with Google's offer to translate.  And, of course, if you
still have questions, I will be pleased to try to help further.
Happy New Year and regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: myoarin-ga on 01 Jan 2006 05:17 PST
Happy New Year again!
SOmething is wrong with G-A, postings since 31. Dec. aren't showing up
on the list nor moving questions back to the top.

Re: translating.  This is a comment to another question that may be of use:
"If I'm not mistaken I think you have the option to translate pages if
you have the Google Toolbar installed and the site's language differs
from yours (maybe you had Google Toolbar installed once?):

Otherwise you can paste the url to the page you want transleted into
Google's language tool: ://  "

Cheers, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Domestic staff positions
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 01 Jan 2006 12:08 PST
Hi, Myoarin,

You have given me plenty to think about here.  Thank you.  I can work with this.

Alles Gute im Neuen Jahr!

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