Imagining Byron in the Palazzo Mocenigo, "working" on his poetry, got me thinking about money. Like other Englishmen, he found most of continental Europe easier on his pocketbook. (It's believed that one of the reasons for his crazy behavior, which led to the dissolution of his marriage, was money, a prime cause of marital turmoil today.)
Let us contemplate the wealth of the Regency era upper classes. Browsing in The Complete Servant, by Samuel & Sarah Adams, Butler & Housekeeper, first published in 1825, we find that a "Gentleman and Lady with Children" in possession of an annual income of £3000-4000 could afford "Nine Female and eleven Male Servants; viz.--A Housekeeper, Cook, Lady's-Maid, Nurse, two House-Maids, a Laundry-Maid, Kitchen-Maid, and a Nursery-Maid; with a Butler, Coachman, two Grooms, Valet, two Footmen, two Gardeners, and a Labourer.”
What's £3000 worth today? Depending on the measure you use, the amount varies from around $225,000-550,000. If you want to know why it varies, here's the place to investigate. One less finicky way is to simply multiply by 60 and then convert pounds to dollars. It takes you to the same general vicinity.
The housekeeper would be paid about 24 guineas. A year.
A guinea was twenty-one shillings (old style shillings, before the switch in 1971 to a decimal system), or one pound plus one shilling. Do not ask me to explain British money. At least not in this post. I only wanted to give a little basis of comparison, between our gentleman's annual income and the incomes of his various servants.
The butler would be paid about 50 guineas a year. A nursery maid would be paid 7 guineas per year.
Hardly princely sums. But let's bear in mind that the household servants were fed, housed, and clothed at the employer's expense. He paid their medical bills and, usually, an annuity when they retired. As jobs went in those days, service wasn't a bad job.
But of course, it was better to be the master or mistress, and when I think of time-traveling, I do not picture myself as the scullery maid.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.