Ancient Through Medieval Eras
From ancient through medieval times, alcoholic beverages were chiefly stored first in earthenware vessels, then later in wooden barrels, rather than in glass bottles; these containers would have been an important part of a household’s possessions. The care of these assets was therefore generally reserved for trusted slaves, although the job could also go to free persons because of heredity-based class lines or the inheritance of trades (Wikipedia, 2021).
The biblical book of Genesis contains a reference to a role precursive to modern butlers. The early Hebrew Joseph interpreted a dream of Pharaoh’s shaqah (literally “to give to drink”), which is most often translated into English as “chief butler” or “chief cup-bearer” (Wikipedia, 2021).
In ancient Greece and Rome, it was nearly always slaves who were charged with the care and service of wine, while during the Medieval Era the pincerna filled the role within the noble court. The English word “butler” itself comes from the Middle English word bo(u)teler (and several other forms), from Anglo-Norman buteler, itself from Old Norman butelier, corresponding to Old French botellier (“bottle bearer”), Modern French bouteiller, and before that from Medieval Latin butticula. The modern English “butler” thus relates both to bottles and casks (Wikipedia, 2021).
Eventually the European butler emerged as a middle-ranking member of the servants of a great house, in charge of the buttery (originally a storeroom for “butts” of liquor, although the term later came to mean a general storeroom or pantry). While this is so for household butlers, those with the same title but in service to the Crown enjoyed a position of administrative power and were only minimally involved with various stores (Wikipedia, 2021).
Elizabethan through Victorian eras
The Steward of the Elizabethan era was more akin to the butler that later emerged. Gradually, throughout the 19th century and particularly the Victorian era, as the number of butlers and other domestic servants greatly increased in various countries, the butler became a senior male servant of a household’s staff. By this time he was in charge of the more modern wine cellar, the “buttery” or pantry (from French pain from Latin panis, bread) as it came to be called, which supplied bread, butter, cheese, and other basic provisions, and the ewery, which contained napkins and basins for washing and shaving. In the very grandest households there was sometimes an Estate Steward or other senior steward who oversaw the butler and his duties (Wikipedia, 2021).
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a manual published in Britain in 1861, reported: “The number of the male domestics in a family varies according to the wealth and position of the master, from the owner of the ducal mansion, with a retinue of attendants, at the head of which is the chamberlain and house-steward, to the occupier of the humbler house, where a single footman, or even the odd man-of-all-work, is the only male retainer. The majority of gentlemen’s establishments probably comprise a servant out of livery, or butler, a footman, and coachman, or coachman and groom, where the horses exceed two or three.”
Butler Service is a true art form one to adapt to! We want you to “feel it in your bones”, and have service become an integral part of your life and part of your being. Service means; to answer the needs of, and to provide assistance that benefits or helps others.
The Butler is the Chief Servant/Attendant of the household. He or she – yes, there are female Butlers – supervises all other employees, receives guests and directs the serving of all meals.
Today’s Butlers tend to act as Personal Assistants, Lifestyle Managers and often travel with the employers around the world, take care of the agenda, do bookkeeping and much more.
Butlers were head of a strict service hierarchy and therein held a position of power and respect. They were more managerial than “hands on” more so than serving, they officiated in service. For example, although the butler was at the door to greet and announce the arrival of a formal guest, the door was actually opened by a footman, who would receive the guest’s hat and coat. Even though the butler helped his employer into his coat, this had been handed to him by a footman. However, even the highest-ranking butler would “pitch in” when necessary, such as during a staff shortage, to ensure that the household ran smoothly, although some evidence suggests this was so even during normal times (Wikipedia, 2021).
The household itself was generally divided into areas of responsibility. The butler was in charge of the dining room, the wine cellar, pantry, and sometimes the entire main floor. Directly under the butler was the first footman (or head footman), although there could also be a deputy butler or under-butler who would fill in as butler during the butler’s illness or absence. The footman—there were frequently numerous young men in the role within a household—performed a range of duties including serving meals, attending doors, carrying or moving heavy items, and they often doubled as valets. Valets themselves performed a variety of personal duties for their employer. Butlers engaged and directed all these junior staff and each reported directly to him. The housekeeper was in charge of the house as a whole and its appearance (Wikipedia, 2021).
In a household without an official head housekeeper, female servants and kitchen staff were also directly under the butler’s management, while in smaller households, the butler usually doubled as valet. Employers and their children and guests addressed the butler (and under- butler, if there was one) by last name alone; fellow servants, retainers, and tradespersons as “Mr. [Surname]” (Wikipedia, 2021).
The history of the Butler is more fascinating than I ever thought.
The word “butler” comes from Anglo-Norman buteler, which is a variant form of Old Norman butelier, derived of boteille “bottle”. The premise of the Butler is the role associated with the chief member of staff in the household. The staff member entrusted with the care and serving of the wine. Although certain wines are still highly valuable. In the old days, the wine cellar of the wealthy would have held considerable value. And thus, would have only been entrusted to the most senior of staff in the household.
Interestingly, in Britain where the Butler seems to have become the most common-place for this type of staff member to exist. They were initially a middle-ranking member of staff of a wealthy household. By the 17th and 18th centuries, the role of the Butler developed into a more senior position. Normally held by a man. And they were seen as the highest position of staff within the grand household.
Households would require the Butler to wear a special uniform to separate him from the junior servants. Which is seen as the morning suit. Today, however, a modern Butler is most likely to be dressed in a business suit or dress according to the principal’s request. Be it informal or a formally run household.
According to Emily’s Post Etiquette (2007) a butler is a person who works in a house serving and is a domestic worker in a large household. In great houses, the household is sometimes divided into departments with the butler in charge of thedining room,wine cellar, and pantry. Some also have charge of the entire parlour floor, and housekeepers caring for the entire house and its appearance. A butler is usually male, and in charge of male servants, while a housekeeper is usually a woman, and in charge of female servants. Traditionally, male servants (such as footmen) were better paid and of higher status than female servants. The butler, as the senior male servant, has the highest servant status. He can also sometimes function as a chauffeur (Wikipedia, 2021).
In older houses where the butler is the most senior worker, titles such as majordomo, butler- administrator, house-manager, manservant, staff manager, chief of staff, staff captain, estate manager, and head of household staff are sometimes given. The precise duties of the employee will vary to some extent in line with the title given, but perhaps, more importantly in line with the requirements of the individual employer. In the grandest homes or when the employer owns more than one residence, there is sometimes an estate manager of higher rank than the butler. The butler can also be assisted by a head footman or footboy called the under-butler (Wikipedia, 2021).
n Britain, the butler was originally a middle-ranking member of the staff of a grand household. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the butler gradually became the senior, usually male, member of a household’s staff in the very grandest households. However, there was sometimes a steward who ran the outside estate and financial affairs, rather than just the household, and who was senior to the butler in social status into the 19th century. Butlers used always to be attired in a special uniform, distinct from the livery of junior servants, but today a butler is more likely to wear a business suit or business casual clothing and appear in uniform only on special occasions (Wikipedia, 2021).
A British Butler was authoritative, witty, snobbish, discreet and intelligent. He was respected and feared, even by his employer. He knew everything there was to know about etiquette, food, drink, sterling silver and glassware, as well as things like literature, opera and history, and if he didn’t, he cunningly pretended he did (SABA Butler Academy , 2021).
A Silverman or silver butler has expertise and professional knowledge of the management, secure storage, use and cleaning of all silverware, associated tableware and other paraphernalia for use at military and other special functions (Wikipedia, 2021).
According to Britannica (2021), a Butler is chief male servant of a household who supervises other employees, receives guests, directs the serving of meals, and performs various personal services. The title originally applied to the person who had charge of the wine cellar and dispensed liquors, the name being derived from Middle English boteler (and various other forms), from Old French bouteillier, “bottle bearer.” In the European Middle Ages it meant precisely this, but in time it came to mean an official of the crown, who nominally had charge of the wine but who in fact was a person of high rank, having different duties in different countries at different times (Britannica, 2021).
Ive and Otrebska (2013), state that acccording to a dictionary entry; although the word butler comes from the French term for bottler ’bouteiller’ ,the term butler is apparently mentioned in the Bible. However, a brief ‘glance’ through Genesis has as yet not shown the reference to Pharaohs cup being handed by his butler. But probably the more famous references have to go to Jeeves, Hudson and Stevens. All these butlers have, in the true sense of the words, become household names. Their dedication to the cause of effective but unobtrusive service is commendable.
Originally in a large country house the position of a butler’s pantry was important to the smooth running of the household, as it was through the butler that all orders passed. Since the butler was on his feet all day, he had a comfortable chair beside a roaring log fire. The centre of the room housed a large table that served as the venue for silver cleaning, round table conferences with staff, interviewing staff, and books kept. Meals were never taken here, but tradesman and friends were often invited to share a bottle of port and a plate of macaroons when the butler had an idle hour (Ive & Otrebska, 2013).
Although butlers had traditionally been involved primarily with the care and dispensing of drink, the introduction of the telephone changed his life drastically. As custodian of the silver, the butler had to be of spotless character. In return for his essential honesty, his employer might turn a blind eye to the occasional disappearance of a bottle of wine. The butler’s other ‘perks’ came from the local tradesman from whom he ordered supplies of coal, candles and oil (Ive & Otrebska, 2013).
The usual duties of the butler did not involve much physical labour, oddly enough, most of the onerous fetching and carrying, would have been performed by a footman. Everything he carried to his employers or their guests was on that famous of famous ‘props’ the silver salver, whether it was a mislaid cufflink, a bottle of pills or a telegram it had to be on the salver (Ive & Otrebska, 2013).
Few butlers ever complained about their long days or their miles of walking: their chief concern was to preserve the traditional dignity of their position. The butler’s dignity owed much to his uniform, and oddly enough, mistaken identity between butler and guest, never occurred, even when he donned his tails for the evening, but for the fact that he wore a black tie instead of a white one at dinner (Ive & Otrebska, 2013).
Throughout the ages, the Butler has been present in history and literature and was often used as a gauge to assess the wealth of a family. Less wealthy families may have a maid or nanny, but the wealthiest families had at least one Butler. The largest properties would have a multitude of servants, from footmen, maids, scullery maids, nannies, lady’s maids, coachman, groom(s) and the head of the staff, the Butler (South African Butler Academy , 2021).
The staff in the house would follow a set hierarchy within the household and only the Butler (and the under-Butler if there was one) would be called by their first name. All other servants would be called ‘Mr [surname]’. By calling the Butler by his first name, it suggests that the role of the Butler transcends the typical ‘place’ of the servant and suggests that the Butler straddles both servant and member of the family. This informal approach is extremely revealing as to the wealthy families view of the Butler himself.
Regardless of this straddle between the two sides, the Butler was not afraid to get stuck in, and would at a moment’s notice assist other servants should he be required to. His main focus was to ensure that the household ran smoothly and the principals’ needs were taken care of. Although historically in Britain, you were typically born into becoming a servant, you still retained human rights and were paid for the work you did. Therefore, the role of the Butler was a coveted, as it gave not only responsibility and social standing both in and outside of the home, but it also provided the highest income within the servant hierarchy (Polo & Tweed, 2016).
Starting in the 1920s Britain saw a dramatic decline in domestic service and by the mid-1980s domestic service was at an all-time low. It is usual that as the social classes within a culture align themselves, the ‘upstairs/ downstairs’ mentality falls away and the concept of domestic service becomes an ungainly past-time. In the last decade, however, the role of the Butler has seen a dramatic increase, with both wealthy families wanting to hire a Butler and individuals wishing to be hired. It is no longer seen as a servitude, but a choice. As with fine dining, 5 star hotels and luxury lifestyle. The butler has become a symbol of wealth and success, and principals around the world have realised the importance of hiring a Butler in their homes (South African Butler Academy , 2021).
From the Pharaohs of Egypt to the Victorian age right up to today, the butler was and is a prominent position. They’re known to run a very strict hierarchy and hold a position of managing the home and staff. (Typsy, 2021)
Butler History in Short
Two thousand years ago, a steward cared for the masters’ animals. It took less than a thousand years for the master to realize that he could also use some attention himself. By the eleventh century, the steward had been promoted to supervising the domestic affairs of his master’s castle, such as service at the table, directing the staff and managing the finances. At that time, the butler, under the steward’s direction, was still only responsible for the wines (St Regis Bal Harbour, 2020).
By the seventeenth century, a shift had occurred in domestic work with the emergence of a middle class. These merchants, officials and professionals had enough wealth to employ domestics, but were obviously not appropriate employers for gentry on their way up in the world (St Regis Bal Harbour, 2020).
Although unusual, women were also employed as “butleresses.” The first female butler on record appears to have been named “Bunch,” and employed in the vicarage of Reverend Sydney Smith (St Regis Bal Harbour, 2020).
During the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, the middle class expanded further. By this time, the lower rung of the middle class had been redefined in London to include anyone who could afford only three servants. The butler had risen to prominence as the male servant, acting increasingly as the go-between for the employers and the rest of the staff. His phlegmatic approach to resolving the various crises generated by staff and employers alike earned him increasing value in the household (St Regis Bal Harbour, 2020).
On large estates, there existed an elaborate hierarchy amongst the servants and an opportunity to advance one up in the ranks. An errand boy, over time, could become a butler or house steward. Those at the bottom of the domestic servant hierarchy often served those at the top (St Regis Bal Harbour, 2020).
The butler was responsible for hiring, firing and the organization of the rest of the household staff. His duties included organizing special functions like dinner parties or receptions. He would manage the household accounts and deal with contractors or any outside personnel, supervising their work. He would, of course, also be responsible for buying wine and organizing the wine cellar. The butler would deal with all vendors of goods to be delivered to and used by the household. The butlers acquired their expertise by apprenticeship and learning on the job (St Regis Bal Harbour, 2020).
Within the last fifty years, the domestic scene has contracted further to the occasional housekeeping or cleaning lady, a driver or more often, gardener. Domestic staff still refers to those who perform the more menial tasks. By the 1870’s, domestic servants became wage earners in the United States and in more European countries. Domestic service had finally evolved from slavery into paid household staff (St Regis Bal Harbour, 2020).
A Butler should be:
- NON CONFRONTATIONAL
- MASTER OF PRESENTATIONS
- EYE FOR DETAIL
- TIME MANAGER