Monday, February 26, 2018

A Duke's Household

Monday, February 26, 2018
Morris, Woburn Abbey 1866
Loretta reports:

In A Duke in Shining Armor, my heroine says, “It’s good to be a duke.”

Though dukes, by and large, are nothing like as numerous or as attractive as we paint them in romance novels (as I describe at RT Book Reviews), and any number have fallen on hard times in the past and present, things were not so bad for the 11th Duke of Bedford.

Reading Lucy Lethbridge’s Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, I came upon this:

“At Woburn Abbey, the eleventh Duke of Bedford maintained until his death in 1940 not only a household of at least sixty indoor servants to attend solely to his wife and himself, but two separate, fully staffed residences in Belgrave Square, including four cars and eight chauffeurs; the Woburn parlourmaids were all Amazonian at over five foot ten, as had always been the Bedfords’ stipulation.”

According to the 13th Duke, (who sounds like a pip, and whose books I intend to read):
“‘Guests never travelled with your suitcase, that was not considered the thing to do. It had to come in another car, so you had a chauffeur and a footman with yourself, and a chauffeur and a footman with the suitcase, with another four to meet you. Eight people involved in moving one person from London to Woburn.’”
11th Duke of Bedford in Coronation Robes
While other noble families changed or economized as the times demanded, the Bedfords continued in the lavish late Victorian/Edwardian style until 1940. “The [11th] Duke always started meals with his own cup of beef consommé and a plate of raw vegetables served to him on a three-tiered dumb-waiter. The Duchess’s secretary-companion had her own quarters that included a cook and a maid.” The duke’s mistress had her own rooms with her own staff—on the premises, I assume?

Apparently, the 11th Duke of Bedford is also responsible for the grey squirrel invasion of England.

Images: Woburn Abbey, from Francis Orpen Morris, The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland 1866; 11th Duke of  Beford in Coronation Robes, Photo credit: Middlesex Guildhall Art Collection.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Lucy said...

I couldn't help thinking back to Georgette Heyer's The Foundling as I read this, and the linked article.

It seems to me like a sad, isolated and not very comfortable lifestyle, in spite of having everything money can buy. Really, in some ways, almost a caricature of wealth and power, when you are too important to share a car with your suitcase, even if it should be placed in the trunk--though one suspects that a duke's suitcase was too important for the trunk, and rode upon the seat! But there is the impression (in the case of the 11th Duke) of a grand charade, of one person constantly nursing his ego at the expense of being human. Not very glamorous, that.

Joanna Maitland said...

What an image -- Amazonian parlour maids. Where did they find them, I wonder, in an era when working class people were not all that well fed? In the First World War, lots of conscripted men proved to be too malnourished to serve.

Not sure I totally agree with Lucy re the grand charade. It seems so to me, too, but I wasn't brought up in an aristocratic household. What's more, most aristocrats never mixed with ordinary people, not at school, nor at leisure either. Their "set" all thought the same and behaved the same, so why would anyone question their ways? That degree of separateness can lead to a sense of entitlement which the Duke probably had, but never thought about.

Lucy said...

There is a story of a duke--several centuries earlier--who in his progress through Sussex, sent his servants out to clear the roads so that the populace would not stare at him. He met his match, however, in a Sussex farmer, who retorted that he would look over his own hedge if he liked. And to assert his defiance, he also held up his pig to gaze on the duke's carriage as it passed. No one can say if this occurrence bears any relation to the unofficial mascot and motto of Sussex (which may be more an invention of later times)--that is, a pig, and the saying, "We wunt be druv."

Anonymous said...

When you read things like this, it's a wonder that the English never had a Revolution like the French. The degree of privilege and self-centered self-indulgence shown by these families is truly appalling, especially set against the backdrop of a worldwide economic depression.

Thea said...

Talk about full employment.

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