From Academic Kids

For other uses see Butler (disambiguation)

The butler is a senior servant in a large household. Usually the butler is the most senior staff member, although in the great houses of the past, the household was sometimes divided into departments with the butler in charge of the dining room (including the wine cellar) and pantry, and sometimes the entire parlour floor, and a housekeeper who was in charge of the whole house and its appearance. In this case the butler may have been either subordinate or equal to the housekeeper. In modern houses where the butler is the most senior worker titles such as Majordomo, Butler Administrator, Staff Manager, Estate Manager and Head of Household Staff are sometimes given.

The word "butler" derives from the old French "bouteillier", (meaning "cup bearer"), from "buteille", ("bottle"). The role of the butler, for centuries, has been that of the chief steward of a household, the attendant entrusted with the care and serving of wine and other bottled beverages (which in ancient times represented a considerable portion of the household's assets.)

The earliest literary mention of a butler is probably that of the man whose release from prison was predicted by Joseph in the biblical account of Joseph's interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh's servants.


Responsiblity and influence

Traditionally, the butler was hired by the master of the house but usually reported to the lady of the house. In the largest of households the butler was head of a strict service hierarchy and held a position of power and respect. Such butlers engaged and directed all junior staff. Butlers were addressed by last name by their employers, their children and guests, but as Mr. Surname by fellow servants and retainers and tradespersons. These butlers did very little in the way of physical labour; they officiated in service rather than actually serving, for example, 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 that guest's coat and hat. The butler "helped" his employer into his coat, which had been handed to the butler by a footman.

The butler engaged the footmen and assigned their duties. Footmen reported directly to the butler; the first footman (or head footman) was deputy butler and filled in as butler during the butler's illness or absence. In a smaller household female servants and kitchen staff were also directly under his management. Further, in a smaller household the butler may have acted as valet for his employer as well.

In times past, butlers earned their position by working their way up the service ladder. Today, however, there are butler schools; the top graduates may earn USD 50,000 to start.

For many years butlers were always male and this remains the usual case. There are, however, female butlers and they are sometimes preferred; an example would be in some Islamic cultures where it is unacceptable to have males working intimately with females in these circumstances. The Ivor Spencer school cautions that females are not easily placed.

The real-life butler is discreet and unobtrusive. The butler of fiction, by contrast, was is larger-than-life and has become a plot device in literature and a traditional role in the performing arts. Butlers provide comic relief, clues as to the perpetrators of various crimes and are represented as at least as intelligent, or even more so, than their “betters”.

The butler is integral to the plot of countless potboilers and melodramas, whether or not the character has been given a name. Butlers figure so prominently in period pieces and whodunits that they can be considered stock characters in film and theater where a catch phrase is ‘the butler did it!’

Famous fictional butlers

Famous fictional non-butlers

See valet for a list of characters who are often mistaken for butlers, but (strictly speaking) are valets, rather than butlers.

Notable non-fictional butlers

See Also



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