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Grooms are generic household serving men: grooms of the chamber, stable, etc. Females of the same order are called maids or serving maids: of the kitchen, chamber, still room, etc.

Most of the servants in any household are men, including the cooks. 

Personal attendant is a descriptive term, not a job title. In general, it separates everyone else's personal servants (of all ranks) from household grooms and maids.  
The term valet is in use in English as early as 1567. According to the OED, a valet is "a man-servant performing duties chiefly relating to the person of his master; a gentleman's personal attendant." 

From 'varlet': the British pronunciation is (and almost certainly was) "val'-ett". Valet (val-ay) is a little too French, don't y'think? 
The most common term for the job is gentleman, manservant, or just man. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Benvolio refers to Romeo's ever present servant as "his man", as in "Romeo came not home tonight. I spoke with his man." 

Female equivalents are waiting gentlewoman or maid, depending on the rank of the relevant parties. A lady might refer to her gentlewoman or her maid. Only the Queen has Ladies in Waiting.

As a verb, say that you serve, or wait upon, or attend (but not "work for") someone. Or that you are waited on or attended by someone.

Credit, or reputation, has to do with one's personal dignity or honor. "My credit is more to me than my life." as an example.

A servant and master strive to do each other credit. As a lady of quality, it is unbecoming to your dignity to carry your own shopping basket. As that lady's servant, it is unbecoming to your dignity to let her. 

As a gentleman of quality, it befits your dignity to dress yourself and your servants well. As a servant, you do your master credit by looking and behaving well. "A gentleman should go like a gentleman." People do not dress their servants in rags. They wear Livery.

A nobleman provides livery for his servants in both summer and winter weights and sometimes variant colors. Some put their household in blue for summer and a marbled grey for winter.

Livery can mean uniform clothing, or a badge of the lord's family on the sleeve, or a cloak in the lord's colors with the livery badge on the shoulder. An Earl might give his followers each a gold chain as their livery token.

If you take a nobleman's livery (sometimes called taking his cloth) you become his follower (that is, his servant) and you owe him loyalty and other services as required. 

You also share his exemption from certain laws. Peers cannot be arrested except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace, and neither can anyone in their livery. They cannot be put to torture without being attainted first. 

A statute in every Tudor reign for example forbade the wearing of livery by any but household servants, to discourage factional fighting and the build up of private armies. 

Servants are not democrats. In general, they approve of the social order, just like their masters. And they intend to take advantage of it. 

A servant in a fine house expects (if he is clever) to rise in the world, improve his fortunes, and create an even better place for his children. A stable groom might aspire to become butler or steward in the same or a greater house. The pot boy might hope one day to be chief cook. Servants take money from anyone. They will accept a vail (tip) for any service rendered. ("Here's a penny to drink my health.") Or a douceur (sweetener) for favors requested. They expect to be vailed for delivering a gift or message. Their masters are aware of this, and do it themselves to other people's servants. 

It is not considered dishonest unless loyalties become confused and compromised. It all evens out.

The good servant, like a good waiter, is attentive. The best servant is a little bit psychic. He is there when you need him but never hovers. He finds some virtuous occupation when you disappear. He is neither lewd nor vain, but maintains a respectable countenance, to the credit of his master. He is modest but never craven, humble but never base, candid but not insolent. 

The good master is proud but never despotic. He is patient, governing his household with fatherly care. He does not twist your sincere desire to serve into a sincere desire to punch him out. He lets you do your job. He maintains his superior station, as God has given it him, by honourable behavior, not by argument.

Patronage: Retinue and Companions


Young men go to Court to find a patron. Any of the great nobles draws such gentlemen to him in an essentially feudal relationship, based on personal loyalty, service, gifts, and favors. 

These can include knights and younger sons, often with substantial incomes of their own. They might instead be scholars, musicians, and intellectuals, depending on the lord's inclinations. 

Some of the gentry put their sons into great homes for their education and advancement. 

Retainers, companions, or personal attendants are not necessarily poor relations. The earl of Essex has a knight in his train worth £1,000 per year! 

Some of these companions are the armed (and often dangerous) men who go everywhere with their patron, to back him in a quarrel or simply to be there for the party. 

The lord maintains them, pays them a fee (wages or favors), puts them in his livery, and gives them nominal positions in the household such as gentleman or yeoman usher. 

Their main function is to increase the prestige of the patron while putting themselves in the way of advancement. 


A noble lady draws her waiting women from her relatives (and/or her husband's) and the daughters of the local gentry. 

She helps her unmarried girls of good family to find suitable marriages and introduces them at Court. If they marry any of the Earl's followers, they may stay in attendance upon the Countess. 

A great lady's gentlewomen join her in sewing, minding the older children, dispensing charity in the neighborhood, nursing the household. They also take charge of her clothing, jewelry, etc. 

The Queen's Maids of Honor are (or should be) in this same client relationship to the Queen. They are her servants; she looks after their future. She is supposed to be finding them good husbands. 

The Nobel Style

The prime proof of rank and nobility is liberality. People want to be known for their hospitality. The ideal is a substantial house, plenty of servants, a lavish table where anyone is welcome. 

As further evidence of liberality, the broken meats (table leavings) are customarily given to the poor at the kitchen door. (Incidentally, this also counts as "good works".)

As a great compliment, it might be said that "His house in plenty was ever maintained."

This has to be tempered by the need to live within one's income and avoid oppressing the tenantry to raise the cash. One Earl and Countess of Rutland got so carried away they had to be put on a budget of £200 a year!

Income is usually discussed as rentals, and does not take into account profits from offices, industry, land farmed by the lord himself, profits of court, bribes, douceurs, and sale of offices.

Very few noblemen have an accurate notion of their full income, gross or net. That's what you have servants for.

Staffing a Household

A Nobleman's household should contain most of the following as deemed 'necessary' *This would apply to his Family Seat (Country Estate.) His Steward is expected to keep his Master informed on any issues while he is at Court. The Nobleman can then appoint a man to take care of his business in his place.

1. Steward of the Household 21. Clerk of the Officer's Chambers
2. Comptroller  22. Yeoman of the Horse
3. High steward of the Courts  23. Yeoman of the Cellar
4. Auditor  24. Yeoman of the Ewery
5. General Receiver 25. Yeoman of the Pantry
6. Solicitor  26. Yeoman of the Buttery
7. Other principal officers  27. Yeoman of the Wardrobe
8. Secretary  28. Yeoman waiters
9. Gentlemen Ushers  29. Second cook, and the rest
10. Carver  30. Porter
11. Sewer (server)  31. Granator
12. Gentlemen of the Chamber  32. Bailiff
13. Gentlemen of Horse  33. Baker
14. Gentlemen waiters  34. Brewer
15. Marshall of the Hall  35. Grooms of the Great Chamber
16. Clerk of the Kitchen  36. Almoner
17. Yeomen of the Great Chamber  37. Scullery man
18. Usher of the Hall 
19. Chief cook 
20. Yeomen of the chamber

Household Management

Bills are due and servants are paid on the traditional quarter days (So called because they divide the year into quarters.

Feast Day/Date What it's about
Lady Day March 25  Feast of the Annunciation. When the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would be the mother of Christ. Also the first day of the New Year in the old calendar, and an ancient date for Easter.
St. John's Day June 24  St. John the Baptist. Also called Midsummer Day (because it falls in the middle of the whole warm season, even though it is actually the beginning of "official" summer.)
Michaelmas September 29  St. Michael the Archangel. Celebrations in the North often include horses: racing, selling, stealing, etc. And something to do with carrots.
Christmas Day December 25  The Birth of Christ. A solemn holy day, slightly less important than Easter.

In The Country  ...

You many pay for some services in kind instead of money: such as an amount of firewood, use the land, or a number of fish from your stream by the quarter or by the year.

Some of your tenants may pay part of their rents in kind: calves, honey, milk, wool, etc.

The Lady of the house, even a noble lady, may do or at least oversee many homely things herself, such as the brewing of ale or mead. Even noble ladies take a responsibility for making shirts for the gentlemen of the house.

If you live mostly in the country, you are likely to be very proud of your ale, or how pure your milk is, or what excellent honey your bees produce.

Bees love gossip. It is considered lucky for your estate and family to tell the bees every bit of news. If you don't, they may leave and take their good luck with them!

Good English Ale

Hops and heresy, bays and beer
All came to England in one year.

                 — old rhyme

Ale is made from barley, but it can be flavored with just about anything, including pepper, ivy, rosemary, bilberries, and lupines, among many other things. When it's flavored with hops, it becomes beer.

Andrew Boorde (c. 1452) tells us that "Ale is made of malt and water, and they the which do put any other thing to ale … except yeast, barm, and God's good doth sophisticate their ale…" He does not mean "sophisticate" as a good thing.

Hops were added to ale in England for the first time in the early 16th century, to keep it from going off. 

Caxton tells us that "beer was made in England by beer brewers who were Flemings and Dutchmen." By now, we've pretty much stopped whinging that it "tastes foreign" and that it isn't "good English ale".

Neither drink is any more than slightly carbonated so no frothy head to blow off, no bubbles to speak of.

Ale is the sweeter drink, but when it goes off it becomes syrupy and nasty. Hops make it bitter but also make it last longer in the barrel.

At market fairs, the ale-conner is an officer appointed by the steward of the Fair (and in larger towns by the leet court), to review the wholesomeness of bread, ale, and beer offered for sale, and ensure that it is sold at a fair price.

Beer's natural effects often lead to colorful names. The last two of these surely refer to the aftermath of too much time at the ale house.

  • Huffcap
  • The mad dog
  • Merry-go-down
  • Angel's food
  • Dragon's milk
  • Go-by-the-wall
  • Stride wide

Beer drunk too soon is sour. Sour beer that has also suffered from the vagaries of weather, heat, and time is just vile. On Progress one year, the local brew was so awful that the King refused to drink it, and sent back to London for his own brewmaster. 

In gentlemen's homes, brewing is usually done in March; thus references to March beer. The best beer is about a year old, and has had time to mellow.

Most other people are content to make beer once a month on brewing day. This small beer has less alcohol, but the hoppy bitterness is reduced enough to be a pleasant drink. 

Now bring us in good ale, good ale, and bring us in good ale. 
For our blessed Lady's sake, bring us in good ale.

                   — 15th century carol

Brewing is traditionally women's work. In a great house, the stillroom maid and sometimes the lady of the house take responsibility for providing beer for the household.

A housewife brews once a month for her own household's use. Her costs come to about 20 shillings for 3 hogsheads yield. If she does this for a living, as many widows do, she is an alewife.

The fermenting liquor is stirred with a besom (bundled broom). When it is hung out to dry over a door or window, it shows the neighborhood that the new batch is ready. The "bush" in pub names like "The Bull and Bush" refers to this broom.

Other uses: Hops give a good yellow dye, and the young tops can be cooked with butter and eaten.


















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