Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Professional Household Staff, a Cut Above the Servants

by Maria Grace
Not everyone who worked in a household was considered a servant. During the Regency Era, the wealthiest of households might employ a number of individuals who were considered, not servants, but professionals, firmly part of the middle class. Not surprisingly, these positions were held by men, although some might argue, the governess approached this stratum as well. 

These professional positions included the chamberlain, land steward, and house steward. All required education; reading, writing and managing accounts were necessary skills for these positions.  Specialized knowledge in legal contracts, farming and animal husbandry might also be required. Many men who held these positions were often trained in the law as well. They might have been law clerks or solicitors prior to their employment with the household. Only the largest estates required, or could afford, these services.


Chamberlains were only found in noble households. This official maintained the living quarters of a sovereign or nobleman. They might also collect rents and manage revenues from the nobleman’s properties as well. 

Land Steward

Large estates might employ a Land Steward to assist the Master in the management of the estate. While he might, at times, serve as the Master’s secretary, the position required greater responsibilities, garnering an average salary of £100-£300 and a private home on the estate. With responsibilities for agricultural and rental properties, the Land Steward would often have an education in the law. His status was on par with the family’s solicitor.

The estate Master might manage some of the estate business or delegate part, or even all of it, to the Land Steward. These duties included collecting rents, leasing farms and other properties, managing tenant contracts and disputes, and all the record keeping related to those activities.

Successful Land Stewards also required expertise in agriculture and husbandry. They supervised the cultivation of the land and assisted tenant farmers in learning methods to improve their yields. They might purchase farm horses, cattle and breeding stock, and manage the breeding and raising of livestock.

On very large estates, Land Stewards might have one or more bailiffs working beneath him.  

House Steward

Very large households, too large for a housekeeper alone to manage, might also employ a House Steward.  Like the Land Steward, he was considered a professional, commanding a salary of £50-£100 per year. Unlike the Land Steward, he would be given quarters in the house itself, including both a bedroom and sitting room to be used as an office for many of his duties.

The House Steward conducted all the domestic business of the household, reporting directly to the Master of the estate. Although in practice much of the House Steward’s business fell under the jurisdiction of the Mistress, and he might consult with her, women rarely supervised men, even male servants.

The House Steward managed all the hiring, firing and payment of the household staff. He did not, though, engage ladies’ maids, companions, valets, nurses or governess. He might be involved in the delegation of work to the household servants, although that often fell to the housekeeper.

The household finances were also the House Steward’s domain. He would place orders for needed goods, pay the household bills and manage the household books. 

The Master might or might not regularly review the house steward’s accounts. In practice, such supervision was advisable, as House Stewards were often known to pad the prices of goods and services to include a healthy portion that went directly into their pockets. 

The Special Case of the Governess

The governess was the only female member of the household staff whose position resembled that of the professional staff. Even so, her position was one of an odd social limbo, neither middle class, nor servant.

Only educated women, usually of genteel birth, could be governesses. Usually they were the unmarried daughters of gentlemen whose circumstances forced them into service to support themselves. Thus, with respect to their education, they resembled professional men. 

Governesses cared for and taught a family’s teenaged girls. The boys would be sent off to boarding school rather than be taught at home. A typical governess would earn just £25 a year, half of what a House Steward might earn, and would have quarters of some kind in the house.

Since she was gently born, a governess often was not accepted by the servants as part of their ranks. But, because she was paid, she was not included in the social life of the family either. 

Many families would expect her to be constantly busy, as the female servants were, to the point of always having sewing in her hands if she was not immediately engaged with the children. Although one might hope her gentle breeding would protect her, in fact, governesses were often imposed upon by their male employers, males in the family or even male servants. Little legal protection existed to protect young women serving in houses not their own.  

These professional (or quasi-professional, in the case of the governess) positions functioned largely outside the servants’ hierarchy. Immediately below them were the upper staff, butler, housekeeper, valet and lady’s maid, the subject of this series’ next installment. 

For more information about servants and household staff, please see previous articles in this series:


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournRemember the Past, and Mistaking Her CharacterClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.


  1. Very interesting. The governess seemed to be caught in the middle, very challenging for her I am sure.

  2. Wow, I didn't realize just how varied and stratified it was. Great post, especially since so often the average "commoner" lifestyles often seem to get overlooked:)

  3. Thanks so much for an enlightening article. It confirms a few things I had heard and will help my writing.

  4. Very informative post. Thanks for sharing this with us :-)


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