Regency and Victorian Servants

Last time, I looked at the history of servants, which is tied closely to slavery. Not just in the southern states of the USA, but all over the world. Today, I want to look specifically at the Regency and Victorian servants. Very little changed for the serving class between those eras.

030917 wayward governess

Decades ago, the BBC produced a very popular television show called Upstairs, Downstairs. I haven’t had a chance to watch Downton Abbey, but there seem to be some similarities between the shows. I loved the first one and probably got my love of Victorian garb and décor at that time.


030917 updpwn
The Downstairs Staff


Two Nerdy History Girls have 18 posts at their blog about servants, providing great detail about the particulars of dressing a servant and which chores they could do. As well, it is noted that masters and mistresses could be fair and just, or evil and selfish. And there were actual laws enacted to protect the working force.

Housekeepers, cooks, butlers, and groundskeepers had the better lives as they controlled the routine of the house, always within the requirements of the upper class. Valets and Ladies’ Maids worked up to that level from footman or upstairs maid. In many Romance novels, these venerable folks become like family to the nobles and stay in service even when there is no money left for wages.


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A maid’s room.


In reality, this could be very close to the mark. Servants were not paid a king’s ransom for their hard work. The position came with free housing, free meals, free clothing, and the occasional medical needs. After years of loyalty, one servant might be given a pension in their old age.

There was a separate class of servants, not really below stairs inhabitants, who on occasion ate with the family and were invited to special occasions. Governesses, tutors, dancing masters and music teachers were required in households with growing children. And because the care of a future heir or financially beneficial marriage pawn needed to be top notch, the upper servants were given a little more respect.

Governesses play an important role in not only my own Regency plots and those of other modern Regency writers, but in classics such as Jane Austen’s Emma, and of course, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. And while it would be a fun experiment to write something similar but with a male servant, perhaps a tutor or dancing master, too many coincidences would need to be used to make the match acceptable. A young woman from a titled and wealthy family could rarely be indulged to marry for love. But after all, isn’t that what Romances do? Create a different outcome than expected.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

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