I am almost finished with the staff and servants who worked primarily inside the stout walls of a manor house during the broad Georgian and narrow Regency Eras. I say “primarily inside” because they did wander outside from time to time, of course. However, all the people covered in these essays thus far were considered “domestic” servants due to their location, so it is sensible to follow the same protocol.
If the previous five essays were missed, the links are below. Additional blogs on topics related to the servants have published over the past weeks, so be sure to check the main blog page for anything of interest.
For today’s final blog post on domestic staff, I am ending as the series began: That is, detailing the duties of those workers who, like the steward, are not “servants” in the strict definition of the word. They too fell into the gray area between a servant and a professional employee. Read on to learn what I mean, but first, please note that as I did with the kitchen-related topics, I will post a companion essay later this week on the theories of childcare in the Regency Era. Check back for that one!
Nurse, or Nanny
Both nurse and nanny were terms familiar during the Regency, although nanny was not as commonly used as the older dated nurse. By either name, this woman was the primary caretaker of the family’s children from birth to roughly five years, possibly more. Often times, especially if more than one child needed caring for, she was assisted by one or several nursemaids. An excellent nanny (and nursemaids) frequently served a family for years, and often for successive generations. The nature of the job tended to create women quite indulgent and highly attached to the family.
Save the child–give it a truer mother, the domestic nurse, who possesses the equanimity of humble station, whose self-interest is more vigilant and attentive, and (such is the providence of nature) whose attachment often grows more maternal than that of the mother herself. ~ The Belfast Monthly Magazine, July 1811
Along with the obvious chores of feeding and bathing, the nursery staff was expected to instruct the youngsters in proper manners, teach them to walk, potty train, discipline, begin the basics of education, break of any bad habits, take all meals with them, play with them, and above all bestow copious amounts of love and affection. Knowledge of medicine, at least as regarded common childhood ailments and treatments, was also essential.
Additionally, the nurse and nursemaids were responsible for the upkeep of the nursery and schoolroom chambers, and the sewing and mending of clothing. Most helpful was an awareness of children’s literature, games and toys, and the specialized furniture and furnishings that did exist for children.
A child that is much danced about, and much talked to, by a very lively nurse, has many more ideas than one that is kept by a silent and indolent person. A nurse should be able to talk nonsense in abundance, but then she should know when to stop. ~ On the Progressive Development of the Faculties of Children by Elizabeth Hamilton as printed in The Lady’s Magazine, 1802
A governess was another “servant” not actually a servant per se. She was always an unmarried, educated woman from an upper- to middle-class family who, for various reasons, needed to earn a living.
At about age five, a female governess was acquired for both male and female children to begin their formal education. Primary care would continue with the nursery staff while education was administered by the governess — depending upon the family preference — for another three to four years. It was often the case to employ a “nursery governess” for the primary teaching of both children in reading, writing, basic arithmetic, geography, history, and so on during these intermediary years.
While not considered quite yet an adult, a child of eight was deemed mature and responsible enough not to need constant supervision by a nanny, thus moving out of the nursery rooms and into a separate bedchamber on the family wing. A boy’s education was then assumed by a tutor.
Depending upon the breadth of her education, the original governess might suffice for the daughter’s continued instruction. If not, a higher educated, “preparatory” governess would assume the teaching of the maturing girl. Now came the time to focus on advanced concepts in literature, history, languages (mainly French), and other academic studies judged proper for the female intellect, but largely the emphasis would be on etiquette, music, singing, painting, dance, needlework, and other fine arts.
Those parents who embraced the philosophy of higher education for their daughters, instruction in advanced academics may be administered by a tutor rather than the governess. Remember, females at this time period did not attend University and rarely enrolled in the few private schools for girls that existed, so their global education was limited. In this, tutors had an advantage.
A governess was usually treated with respect within the household, although not always. She perched precariously on the wire between hired servant and employed staff member, the circumstances of her personal situation and background, and the station of the family hiring her, too often dictating how she was viewed within the servant hierarchy. For example, she may dine with the family if her social station allowed and the family requested, but she would never dine with the servants. Being a governess was, in many instances, a literal life-saving occupation for the woman of breeding but minimal funds, but it was a lonely place to dwell.
“…the real definition of a governess in the English sense is a being who is our equal in birth manners and education but our inferior in worldly wealth. Take a lady in every meaning of the word born and bred and let her father pass through the gazette and she wants nothing more to suit our highest beau ideal of a guide and instructress to our children… There is no other class which so cruelly requires its members to be in birth mind and manners above their station in order to fit them for their station. From this peculiarity in their very qualifications for office result all the peculiar and most painful anomalies of their professional existence. The line which severs the governess from her employers is not one which will take care of itself, as in the case of a servant.” ~ Littell’s Living Age, 1849
As a final point, a governess’ employment was limited in terms of being directly dependent upon the age and number of the children. Once they were eighteen and had made their debut in Society, she was out of a job! If she had performed well, excellent references and recommendations amongst the family’s peers would be given, or perhaps one of her charges would enlist her as an adult companion.
Always male, this man was of the gentleman’s class. As such, his position within the household was on par with the estate steward. University educated, preferably experienced as a teacher from one of the private boarding schools, his job was to educate and prepare the boys during their important formative years. These were, after all, the future leaders of the country! And, their prospects for a superb marriage were dependent upon their personal fortunes, success, genteel manners, and appearance.
Boys as young as eight (or younger in some noteworthy rare exceptions) left the care of their nanny and governess behind for the exclusive world of men. Whether in a boarding school or educated at home, the tutor(s) taught an extensive range of subjects: the sciences, literature, business, history, languages (French, Greek, Latin), philosophy, and religion. So-called extracurricular education was important to males — art, dancing, social graces, music, etc. — although the larger emphasis would have been on sports.
A tutor was paid much more than a governess, but like her, his job was time limited. Unlike the governess, a tutor had greater options for employment and his age wouldn’t become a factor as soon as it would for her.
Tutors never stayed on as a companion, males having no need of such a person, but they were often employed to accompany their young man on his Grand Tour. A man learned and experienced in traveling abroad was a vital adjunct for a successful Grand Tour — which was ostensibly all about the educational aspects — and if the tutor had established a comfortable relationship with his student, the journey promised to be a good one.
This ends Part Six. Return next Monday when I begin the outside staff!
Comments and questions are VERY welcome!