Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Review #3

Title: Costume of Household Servants: From the Middle Ages to 1900
Year: 1974
Author(s): Cunningham, Phillis
Publisher: Barnes & Noble (U.K.)
Genre: Non-fiction, educational

Recommended: No, unless one wants a multi-century, quoting original sources, read - once.


“Jervase Markham in 1598 wrote: ‘The good days of domestic service for men of breeding have passed. The large households have been cut down for economy’s sake; the quality of the staff has sadly fallen off. A master is now content to employ the untrained sons of husbandmen rather than the men of gentle birth and social standing. He implies that this is partly due to the fact that the family has begun to spend part of the year in town and partly because of the pressure of yokels wanting the jobs as servants in order to avoid conscription. Also there was much less ‘liberality’ – glorified perquisites that made the job fit for gentlemen.” p. 6

“But by the middle of the [seventeenth] century, as a result of aristocratic extravagance, the rise in prices and finally the civil war, many readjustments had to be made. The castle soon gave way to the gentleman’s country seat and gradually gentlemen ceased to be employed as servants,a nd by the middle of this century livery was worn only by the lower ranks. The Steward was still an important servant but less likely to be of gentle birth. The gentleman usher’s duties were sometimes carried out by the butler or the footman… In middle class and professional households the number of men servants might be about eight… In small households, where only one male servant was kept, quick changes in dress might have to be made according to the task to be performed. This state of affairs was fairly common.” p. 8 & 9

“ The livery in Tudor times was a red tunic with purple facings and stripes and gold lace ornaments, red-knee breeches, red stockings, a flat black hat with a red, white and blue band, and black shoes with red, white and blue rosettes. The Stuarts replaced the ruff and round hats with with lace and plumed hats. [the Georges reintroduced the ruff which remains today] From 1485 until 1603 [death of Elizabeth, their symbol was] the Tudor crown with the Lancastrian rose and the initials of the reigning sovereign. The Stuarts substituted the St. Edward’s crown for the Tudor, and added under it ‘Dieu et mon Droit’. Queen Anne restored the Tudor crown and added the thistle to the rose on the official union with Scotland in 1709… When the Yeomen became the sovereiegn’s household guard they each carried a steel gilt halberd with a tassel of red and gold.” P. 30 & 31

“A curious attitude towards dress developed in the 17th and far more in the 18th century when young men decided periodically to dress like servants, although servants attached to the upper class households were always aping the manners of their masters and mistresses. “ p. 53

“The apprentice from Elizabethan days to the eighteenth century was a household servant of lower rank, working for his master while learning a trade. He was therefore a servant whose stay was limited… In Elizabethan days the apprentice was often a gentleman, but his clothing, although conforming to a style of the day, was severely restricted on economical grounds. A gentleman’s doublet was padded in front, his was not. His breeches were ‘small plain slops’. Slops were wide baggy breeches closed at the knee and were unfashionable country wear. He was not supposed to wear silk stockings, ruffs or hand ruffs and his head wear was a woolen cap. The materials for his clothes were canvas, leather, sackclothor fustian and the colours had to be sober, such as russet or sometiems blue.” p. 92

“The Scullion: This man doing the dirty work of the kitchen from the Middle Ages well into the seventeenth century, seems to have been clothed in dirt himself. There appears to be evidence that henry VIII’s kitchen scullion lay about filthy and tattered or even naked. This became so scandalous that the King issued orders that ‘the three master cookes shall have… yearly twenty marks to the intent they shall provide and sufficiently furnish the said kitchens of such scolyons as shall not goe naked or in garments of such vilenesse as they now doe.” p. 100

“The ‘running footman’ featured chiefly in the eighteenth century. Some of them retained a court fashion of the later seventeenth century, for their leg wear, and this was petticoat breeches. These resembled a divided skirt, being immensely wide in the leg, gathered into a waistband and falling to the knees or just above. They must have been very convenient for running in when knee breeches tended to be close-fitting. These petticoat breeches were sometimes weighted by a deep gold fringe, when worn without drawers, supposedly for decency’s sake, but not always. We are told that:

‘Village maids delight to see
Running footmen fly bare-ars’d
O’er the dusty road’ (1725)

Drawers were more usual, worn under the petticoat-breeches. The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1726 sums up his costume thus:

‘Drawers, stockings, pumps, cap, sash and petticoat-breeches.’

The Weekly journal of 1730 gives more details.

‘Fine Holland drawers and waistcoat, thread stockings, a blue silk sash fringed with silver, a velvet cap with a great tassel; and carry a porter’s staff with a large silver handle.’

These running footmen always carried long staves, with a ball on the head, possibly for use as a container.

‘The running footmen drank white wine and eggs. One told me, fifty years ago that they carried some white wine in the large silver ball of the tall cane, or pole which unscrews.’ (1780) p. 102

“ Milton writes in paradise Lost (1667)…

The tedious pomp that waits
On princes, when their rich retinue long
Of horses led, and grooms besmeared with gold
Dazzles the crowd.” p. 110


What I read: Only those sections dealing with men, and 16th to 18th centuries.
What I learned:

1) HATS: If image shown on page 95 is accurate, in 1665 Englishmen wore their hats at the table. 18th century beaver hats could be made from black Caroline beaver, for servants, or brown ‘French beaver’ (from Canada), which was the superior quality, for gentry.
2) KINDS OF SERVANTS: In sixteenth century household servants [presumably of the very rich] could consist of the following.. i) Steward (head servant); ii) Marshall (regulates processions and ceremonies]; iii) Chamberlain (in charge of apartments and might be a valet also); iv) Gentleman usher (doorman and introducer of guests); v) Page (‘a boy of gentle birth who gives his services ine xchange fro an aristocratic upbringing’); vi) Herald (deliver of messages, master of ceremonies); vii) Panter (in charge of pantry, in later centuries would be called butler); viii) Gentleman-in-Waiting (later called ‘valet’, he and other upper class servants were ‘persons of gentle blood and slender fortune’, and they dressed in the fashion of their day’), ix) Others (Clerk of the Kitchen who sent meals from the kitchen and kept accounts of groceries; squire (in charge of the horses, and under him the avener, in charge of the stables). Royal households had considerably moreand types of servants.
3) NUMBERS OF SERVANTS: In the early seventeenth century the wealthy still had many servants. The Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1634 had 116 in livery (uniform). But this changed mid century [see quote] .
4) LIVERY: [I am confused about this info rich section.] Livery is the uniform [or uniformed?] retainers, especially [of?] lower level servants wearing crest, symbol or initials of master. Tawny orange remained a popular colour for livery throughout the sixteenth century, however other colours were used, including particloured. Blue was the most popular colour, so much so that ‘blue aproned man’ or ‘blue coat’ meant a servant or apprentice from the end of the sixteenth to the eighteenth. In the 17th century military and civilian uniforms diverged, the latter kept the name ‘livery’. Charles II abolished the use of livery except by low level household servants. From the 17th century the badge signifying one’s household could be engraved or embossed on a metal plate affixed to the left sleeve. From 1560 to 1630’s when sham hanging sleeves were in fashion, the badge was blazoned [embroidered?] on these. Livery badges gradually went out of use in the seventeenth century. In the 18th century a new kind of badge was adopted, the shoulder knot – ribbon, cord, or braid loops, sometimes finsihed with decorative aiglets (metal tags), and from 1660 to 1700 worn from the right shoulder. In 1729 there was a move to hallmark female servants this way. The bill did not pass. Until 17th century, when wearing headwear indoors was customary, men were expected to not wear hats in the precence of their masters. Outdoor livery hats were often plumed in Tudor times. The flat wool cap introduced by Henry VIII was ordered by 1570 to be worn by servants and apprentices and [thus?] discarded by the aristocracy. By 1650 this ‘City flat cap’ was worn only by livery. Yeomen of the Guard, the personal bodyguard of Queen Elizabeth, were originally military corps from Henry VII in 1485, and from Tudor times they made the monarch’s bed.
5) GETTING CLOTHES: Sometimes servants’ clothes were provided by employer, other times they were charged to the servant. Difficult situations where servants were supposed to provide their own clothes but due to poverty could not afford them for special ocassions, meant that the master bought provided for them despite his reluctance to do so, e.g. family funeral of the employer. Employers would sometiems will clothing to their servants, and upper level servants to lower. Cast-offs were handed down too. Theft of clothingw as anotehr way servants might gain clothes.
6) WIGS: Even when wigs were almost required by fashion, older male servants in modest households often did not wear them
7) SUMPTUARY LAWS: Since Edward IV laws passed to limit what class could wear luxurious materials and garments. In 1701 swords were forbidden to be worn by servants. Previous it was often part of a servant’s uniform. In 1622 the rules of one hospital specified that inferiors were forbidden to wear long hair, spurs, coloured boots, feathers in their hats or any ‘Russian-like or unseemly apparel’.
8) UPPER SERVANTS: high ranking servants dresed like their masters.
9) TABLE SERVERS: Since medieval times men serving at tables must carry a napkin over the arm. And they must not wear hats, cloaks or swords.
10) FOOLS: although low level he was a favoured servant, ‘ pampered and generally presented with elegant clothing’.
11) COOKS: Aside from traditional and quite necessary apron, cooks of the 17th to 18th centuries might wear oversleeves to prevent from being splashed. From the 17th male cooks wore ‘a round skull cap of velvet or white linen’ (called a ‘night cap).
12) RUNNING FOOTMAN: Common for the wealthy in the 17th and 18th centuries. in the Runs in front of master’s coach, so needed clothing light in weight and colour. He needed to be seen after dark, so white was the normal colour. The nickname for these men in 1608 was ‘linnen socks and three score miles a day’.

Stengths: Bibliography. Maybe this was a show piece for another book written by the same author. She sure did a lot of research, or so it appears.

Weakness(es): Of 145 images, only 11 are of males between mid-16th century and early 18th centuries; Not well organized as a reference material, more useful as a one time read; 17th century seems to be the author’s weak century; I find the author hard to follow, especially as she jumps all over two century periods while discussing particular clothing points; I am not impressed by original sources being quoted – I just want to know the facts.

Strength(s): Bibliography: Yes – my selections…
Aitken, J. (ed.) English diaries of XVI, XVII and XVIII Centuries, 1941
Ashton, John, Social Life in theReign of Queen Anne, 1882
“ (ed.) Chap-books of the Eighteenth century, 1882
“, Humour, Wit and Satire of the Seventeenth Century, 1883
Blundell’s Diary and Letter Book, 1702-28, ed. Margaret Blundell, 1952
Byrne, M. St, Claire, Elizabethan Life in Town and Country, 1961
“ The Elizabethan Home, 1949
Congreve, W., The Way of the World, 1700
Cunningham, Phillis & Lucas, Catherine, Occupational Costume in England Eleventh Century to 1914, 1967
Dekker, Thomas, The Shoemaker’s Holiday, 1600
Emmison, F.G., Tudor Food & Pastimes, 1964
Evelyn, Mary, Mundus Muliebris, 1690
Farquar, G., TheBeaux’s Strategem, 1707
Foxe, John, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, edn. 1563
Harrison, M. & Royston, O., How They Lived [Vol. II] 1685-1700, Oxford 1963
HechtJ. Jean, The Domestic Servabt Class in Eighteenth Century England, 1956
Heywood, John, The Spider and the Flie, 1st edn. 1556
Hole, Christina, English Home-Life 1500-1800, 1947
Lennard, Accounts of the Families of Lennard and Barrett 1585-1694 (Privately printed), 1908, Holly Trees Museum, Colchester.
I.M. [attrib Gervase Markham], A Health to the Gentlemanly Profession of Serving-Men [1598], ed. A. V. Judges, 1931
Marshall,Dorothy, The English Domestic Servant in History, 1949
Massinger, Philip, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1630), edn. 1897
Paston, George, Social Caricatures in the Eighteenth Century, 1905
Tubervile, G. (trans), Noble Arte of Venerie of Hunting [1575-6]
Wilson, E., History of the Glove Trade, 1834
Yorkshire, Rural economy in Yorkshire in 1641, ed. C.B. Robinson, 1857
PERIODICALS – Spectator, No. 299, 1712; Tatler, No. 132, 1709

Glossary: No

Charts: No

Favorite image(s): p. 35 [not relevant to this blog] “Black slave’s child, ‘On one occasion Miss Opehlia found Topsy with her very best scarlet Indian Coniton crepe shawl wound round her neck for a turban, 1852.” Humourous image of a girl, engrossed in her own fantasy, dancing in front of the mirror, and a lady (household staff ?) discovering her.

Most interesting quote(s): “EPILOGUE IN APRONS: As the only distinctive garment worn by both sexes throught the whole of our period, the apron has special significance. First and foremost the working class apron was a symbol of menial rank. It suggests undignified activity… Separated by a great gulf, were all those men and women servants who, except in the pantry or my lady’s bedroom, would never be seen in an apron at all. The apron was indeed an inverted status symbol. While servants might be all below the stairs, they were certainly not all below the apron.” p. 148

Questionable info:

Scan %: Just a few of following images, maybe - 1670 - Watermen wearing badges of their master (p.22); 1575 – Two groomsmen (p.24); 1665 – William and Mary’s Yeomen of the Guard (p. 31); 1665 – waiter of forester (p.47); 1575 – butler of Queen Elizabeth (p. 67); 1665 – butler (p. 70); 1688 - Mayor’s page (p.76); 1665 – server (p.95); 1563 – groom (p.111); 1598 – valet (plate 8); 1603 - Closeup of Elizabeth’s servants (plate 30); 1686 – page boy (plate 44);

Source: New Westminster Public Library August 2007

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