Sexing the Servants, Part 2

I found these stories in E.S. Turner’s What the Butler Saw.

We’ve talked before about the moral quagmire that was employers having sex with their servants, usually with far greater consequences for the servants. This post has nothing new to add, except to provide more evidence by way of some examples:

“In the eighteenth century, as in any other century, even the highest families occasionally married into the servants’ hall. Usually, such unions put a severe strain on social life, but the price might be worth paying. [James] Boswell mentions an attorney in the Exchequer who married his cookmaid because she ‘dressed a lovely bit of collop [a small slice of meat, usually bacon].’ This gentleman may well have considered that a lovely bit of collop was worth more than a string of fashionable carriages at his door, and who shall blame him?

“Boswell was against the match for a different reason. ‘There is something, I think, particularly indelicate and disgusting in the idea of a cookmaid. Imagination can easily cherish a fondness for a pretty chambermaid or a dairymaid, but one is revolted by the greasiness and scorching connected with the wench who toils in the kitchen.’ Many parsons overcame any such repugnance and married their cooks, which helped to reduce their household expenditure.” (63).

First of all, if you guys don’t know James Boswell, he is maybe my least favorite figure of the eighteenth century. He is famous for being OBSESSED with Samuel Johnson, following him around to write his biography. I also had the serious misfortune of being forced to read his London Journal in my undergraduate course. In his journals (which weren’t intended for publication, but were found in the 1920s and published in the 1950s), he discusses his time as a playboy in London, and seems to think all of the wonderful scrapes he gets into and STDS he contracts (seriously) are hilarious anecdotes. In reality, he is a slut-shamer and admits to at least one rape. Oh, and he was anti-abolition and composed works about how slaves actually loved being slaves.

So, what I guess I”m trying to say is that Boswell can fuck off with his snobbery about cooks.


“In 1785 the fifth Earl of Berkeley tricked an eighteen-year-old lady’s maid, Mary Cole, into what she believed to be a form of marriage and did not make an honest Countess of her until she had borne him seven children – and even then he did so only duress. As ‘Miss Tudor,’ ostracised by society, she ran his household with extreme competence. Regrettably, her eldest son, deprived of the title, lived such a dissolute life – he was said to have thirty-three bastards within ten miles of Berkeley Castle – that no mothers would let their daughters enter his service” (63).

Just for the sake of clarity, the Earl of Berkeley never married anyone else, so there wasn’t a competing second family around. He left his castle to his dissolute first son in his will, but since that son was considered a bastard (since his parents didn’t marry until years after his birth), he did not inherit the title. The dissolute son, unsurprisingly, never married. The title went to the Earl’s fifth son with Mary (who was born after they were married), but apparently that son had no interest in using the title or joining the House of Lords, etc. Another of the illegitimate sons, Maurice, became a baron in his own right, through his successful naval career.

“Occasionally, high-born ladies married their menservants, to the great delight of the gossips. In 1764 Horace Walpole helped to disseminate the news that Lord Rockingham’s sister, Lady Henrietta Wentworth, had ‘stooped even lower than a theatric swain’ and married her footman, John William Sturgeon. She proposed to live with his family in Ireland, as plan Mrs Sturgeon, and had given away all her fine clothes, saying that linen gowns were best suited to a footman’s wife. It was the terms of her settlement on her husband that chiefly excited Walpole. The lady had ‘mixed a wonderful degree of prudence with her potion,’ declining to sweeten the draught too much for her love. She settled £100 a year on him for life, entailing her whole fortune on her children, if any” (63-64).

That was one sharp lady. I’m sure the footman knew about this in advance. I mean, if you’re going to throw your whole social future away by marrying someone ‘unsuitable’, you want to make damn sure he’s not in it for the money.

Obviously, her brother, The Marquis of Rockingham was NOT HAPPY about his noble sister becoming Mrs. Sturgeon. A major faux pas was noted at the extremely elite gentlemen’s club, White’s, in which another member, during a meal, encouraged the Marquis of Rockingham ‘to help himself to sturgeon‘” (64). I’m sure there was a suitable gasp around the table, while the other guy was like, “What? What did I say?”.

A footman could, indeed, turn a household or marriage on end. One footman named Beau Macdonald wrote down many of his experiences in service in an autobiography. Apparently he was fancied by the lady of the house, Lady Anne Hamilton. Perhaps they had an affair. He isn’t clear on the subject. When a chambermaid reported to Lady Anne that Beau was in a relationship with the housekeeper, the housekeeper was instantly fired and replaced with an elderly woman. The excuse was that Lady Anne didn’t want Macdonald to ‘ruin his soul’ with the young temptress housekeeper.

Ah, yes. That whole ’employers protecting the virtue of the servants’ shtick.

“Then rumours were spread about Macdonald and the chambermaid, ‘so the housekeeper always locked the rooms as she thought thereby to keep us from meeting.’ Next, Lady Anne sent packing one of her guests, a widow of good family, on hearing that the good-looking footman had been in her room three times in a week to shave her head (she wore a wig). When the widow expressed surprise to the chambermaid at the summary manner of her dismissal, the servant said that Lady Anne had already turned off a housekeeper, a chambermaid and her own god-daughter on ‘Jack’s’ account, ‘and you know, Madam, the Earl and Countess of Crauford have been parted almost a twelvemonth, and I dare say you know for what.’ The widow then left, consoled by the knowledge that she was not alone in being expelled for her indiscretion.

“Meanwhile John Hamilton, Lady Anne’s husband, was growing irritated by Macdonald, who was so plainly getting above himself, and one night, in drink, he set about the footman with a golf club” (64-65). Macdonald left her employ not long after.

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One Response to Sexing the Servants, Part 2

  1. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 3 Years | BizarreVictoria

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