The Male Domestic

The Male Domestic in the Regency Era

The landed aristocrat during the Regency maintained a lifestyle that he could often not well afford. The multiple country estates were a combination of luxury hotel, museum, art gallery, and corporate headquarters. In addition, Society expected him to own a large townhouse in Mayfair. Apart from any questions of status, the aristocrat maintained a large staff to support the upkeep of each of his properties and to see to the real and sometimes unreal needs of his family and guests.

The number of employed servants can be seen as extravagant in retrospect. The Duke of Westminster, as well as the sixth Duke of Portland, was said to have employed 300 servants, the same number as Queen Victoria. The Duke of Richmond and Gordon had a modest staff of 38 men and women in his employ. The normal range was 40-50 in service in the typical household. The number of male servants defined the finer homes for a tax on male servants was introduced by Lord North in 1777 to help pay for the cost of fighting the Americans. During the Napoleonic Wars, the tax reached a figure of £7 per year for each male servant beyond eleven in a household.

From 1786 to 1869, the cost of keeping powdered footmen was also increased by a duty on hair powder. Some employers forced their footmen to economize by using flour instead of hair powder. Unfortunately for the aristocrat, some footmen collected their £1 or £2 allowance for hair powder while actually using flour.

The daily powdering of the hair was an undignified and unpleasant process. A stiff lather was achieved by combining soap and water, which was then carefully combed through the hair so that the tooth marks showed in even rows before the powder was applied. Before he could find his nightly sleep, the footman had to wash his hair and apply an oil to protect it from falling out.

The specially tailored livery that footmen wore also was an expensive outlay for aristocratic households. In most households, footmen received two suits per year. By the mid 1800s, a footman’s suit cost 3 guineas at Doudneys of Old Bond Street and the Burlington Arcade.

Some male servants went the way of their powdered wigs: for example, the running footman, who kept a steady pace of 7 mph, as he ran in front of his master’s coach, disappeared from the British way of life. In execution of his duties, the running footman paused periodically for a sip of white wine mixed with egg, which he kept in a silver, ball-shaped container at the end of his staff. Male cooks also became a rarity. Only the wealthiest among the aristocracy could afford to employ a full range of house steward, groom of the chambers, valet, cook, butler, under butler, footman, usher, page, tiger, coachman, grooms, and gardeners.

Footmen were matched for height, coloring, and looks. Most were over six foot in height, and it was a common practice for the taller men to receive a few extra pounds each year as a sort of “bonus.” They were trained to walk and act in unison. The best households had three footmen. No matter his Christian name, the first footman was known as “James.” He would act as the lady’s footman: preparing her breakfast tray, walking her dog, brushing the mud from her hems, cleaning her shoes, and accompanying her upon her days out. The second footman would lay the luncheon table, act as valet to the eldest son, and clean all the mirrors in the house. The third footman did a variety of jobs, as he often acted as an apprentice to the first two. The first and second footman also waited upon table. All three cleaned the valuable gold and silver plate.

Often a footman aspired to become a valet. However, to be a valet, the footman must have been, at least, 30 years of age. Many times, the footman did not possess the education in order to assume the position. One must remember that a valet achieved a certain superficial gentility through his master’s status in Society. Livery was not required, and the valet would dress as a well-to-do man-about-town. His main duty was to see that his master appeared to best advantage in the world. Often times, his employer depended on him to be aware of Social connections and the latest gossip and to serve as his advisor. The valet was expected to have a basic command of several foreign languages and know something about sporting equipment. Because of these requirements, it was difficult for a footman to become an upper servant.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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