Thursday, September 17, 2009

Question from Colleen - Elderly household servants

What would happen to household servants once they became too old to properly do their jobs? Was some sort of retirement an option, or did they work basically until they dropped dead? Thanks!

2 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Another really great question! And while I am definitely not an expert on the lower social orders, i.e., servants and other laborers, it is my understanding that they worked as long as they were physically able to do so. There was no such thing as "retirement" in the pre-modern era. And when one was physically unable to perform any kind of work, the worker's family was expected to care for the person. However, life expectancy was much, much shorter in the Tudor era, especially among the non-wealthy ... less than 50 years. So it would have been relatively rare, I would think, for anyone to become so old that they could not work. More likely, an end to productivity would have been caused by illness or injury rather than by age. But that is just my impression and not based on any solid research.

entspinster said...

A switch to lighter duties was one recognized path. Blanche Parry, who served Queen Elizabeth from the year of Elizabeth's birth,
gave up her office as Keeper of the Queen's Jewels to the younger
Mary Radcliffe when she lost her eyesight. Blanch was then in her seventies. She died at eight-one still officially the Keeper of the Queen's Books (her librarian, not her accountant), presumably with the help of a sighted assistant.

The ultimate "light duty" was as bedesman or bedeswoman-- provided with a (usually meagre) living in return for praying for the patron or patroness and his or her family. The "Poor Knights of Windsor" that the fried breads are named after were bedesmen.