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By Madeline | February 13, 2008

The wealth of the upper class was often determined by the amount of property they had as well as the amount of servants they owned.  The average upper class family owned anywhere from 100-200 servants.  These servants performed specific tasks, such as the woman who cleaned the floors to the boys who hauled water to the woman who ran the garden, etc.  Literally every task had one person assigned to it. Some servants purpose was to serve a servant of higher status!  The reason so many servants was a grand display of wealth was directly linked to the cost of having a servant!  Not only did the servants have to be paid a salary, but they also had to be clothed in the family’s livery and fed.  Could you imagine supporting 200 mouths on a daily basis?  No wonder Hampton Court had 3 kitchens! 

The amount of servants was another reason why homes during the Tudor era were so extremely large.  There had to be room for all these servants to sleep, though they never had their own room.  If there was a room for servants, they all slept tight together and the less fortunate lowly servants often slept on the floor in the great hall.  The servants who attended the courtiers at court often times didn’t even get the opportunity to sleep in the great hall, but actually slept in the hallways near the doors of their masters and mistresses. 

Many belonging to the upper class owned more than one property.  When this was the case, many actually left their servants at each property to maintain it while they travelled around, traveling only with a ’skeleton crew’ of servants - the main ones who were closest to the family.  Even though the families were not living at the property, the tasks were still performed and the servants still had to be paid and fed.  I cannot even imagine the expense this must have incurred!  If I had another property today, I probably wouldn’t even pay to have the utilities left on!!! 

Servants did not wear the grand attire that the nobles did.  Women did not wear the farthingales and stiffened bodices of the wealthy.  Their style of dress was much more simpler, though not because they couldn’t afford such finery (although they most likely couldn’t!) but because they needed comfortable clothes to work in.  The layers of garments that the wealthy wore often times left them very stiff.  The more grand and jewel encrusted the garment, the more difficult movement was, let alone the free range of movement sweeping or cleaning dishes requires!

In the mid 15th century is when the popularity of owning African children came into fashion.  Speculation is often made that the children were more popular as they were easier to train.  Many of the African children were treated more like little lap dogs than anything else.  They were dressed in brilliant and bright colors or plain white to accentuate their deep skin tone and were often given easy tasks such as holding a ladies long hem up from puddles, etc. 

African children were not the only ones subjected to losing their families to the desires of the rich.  English children were oftentimes sold into servitude as well, especially in large families where they could not afford to feed all of their children.  Although, the life of a servant was a more desirable one than that of a vagrant who was seen as the lowest form in society. 

The king’s servants were unlike any others that the nobles owned - they were the nobles!  The people who waited on the king and queen were selected from their close group of peers and were usually awarded great titles with their new stations (that also included large salaries as well).  These servants performed many tasks for the royal family, including helping to dress and undress them, helping to bathe them, preparing their beds, etc.  Although the more rigorous tasks were performed by their servants who always accompanied the courtiers at court.  Because of the amount of servants each person ‘needs’, it was not uncommon for court to contain 2,000 people at any given time.  Incredible!

I have to say that one of the more interesting things I discovered in doing research for this piece is the number of servants that each person owned.  I can’t imagine the amount of money that must have gone into maintaining such a large household.  So, where exactly did the nobles get the money to support such an extravagant expense?  Maybe that will be my next article!  ;)

Topics: Tudor Era |

One Response to “Servants”

  1. Tom Humes Says:
    February 13th, 2008 at 10:14 am

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes


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