In Frank Victor Dawes’s book Not in Front of the Servants, Dawes writes about a strange party I’ve vaguely heard of before, but never quite knew what it was: The Queen’s Tea.
“In London Queen Alexandra instituted what she called Queen’s Teas, to which ten thousand maids-of-all-work were invited, to be waited upon by ladies. The Countess of Aberdeen held drawing room tea parties for those who normally never emerged from below stairs.
“Sir James Barrie [the author of Peter Pan, among other things] poked gentle fun at the idea in his comedy The Admirable Crichton, in which Lord Loam holds similar tea parties and orders his family to fraternize once a month with the servants’ hall over tea in the drawing room. The daughters are reminded there must be no condescension [….] but as one of them complains: ‘Even to think of entertaining the servants is so exhausting‘” (33-34).
My question, in particular regarding the Queen’s Teas, is why? I know it was standard practice in some houses to have a servants’ ball (I think they depict this at one point in Downton Abbey) in order to let the servants have a little fun and show that they were appreciated. Waiters were hired in to serve the event, since obviously the servants wouldn’t be working their own party. Servants even got to dance with their employers, based on rank. So the master of the house would dance with the housekeeper, while the lady of the house would dance with the butler, etc. etc.
My question, when it comes to the Queen’s Teas, is why do this at a national scale? Did Alexandra also do it privately with just those servants in her personal employ?
Was there any particular benefit, pragmatically, for the queen to do this, or was it just a nice gesture?
How do you begin choosing which 10,000 maids (out of the million women in service at the time) could attend?
Was it only for parlormaids and ladies’ maids, or could the lowliest scullery maid attend?
Was there precedence over which royal or noble lady got to serve which working-class woman?
It’s actually very difficult to find much information about this, and the book changes subject very soon thereafter. Please let me know if anyone knows any more about this!