Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Question from Julia - Servants in wealthy Tudor households

I am writing a children's book set in Tudor times and this blog has already been a great source of information, so thanks!

I have a couple of questions about servants in wealthy Tudor households:

Would there have been a head servant in charge of the others? Something like a butler? This is for a character in the book, so it would be really helpful if you could also describe the way they would dress.

Could you tell me where the servants would sleep. Would their rooms be at the top of the house as in Victorian times?

Also, I'd really like look at a floorplan of a large Tudor house, do you know of any sites on the internet where I could see one?

Your help will be very much appreciated.


  1. Julia, there is a little gem of a book called Life in a Tudor Palace by Christopher Gidlow you might be interested in reading. It concentrates on Tudor palaces in Henry VIII's day and details which servants were responsible for what jobs and gives some information on what their lives were like.

    I suspect life in a Tudor manor for servants would have been very similar to life in a palace, just scaled down proportionally.

    Among the information on servants that he lists is that servants (who were almost all male) had very well-defined jobs and would have slept in or next to or directly above the location of their workplaces on pallets. The pallets consisted of straw-stuffed mattresses that would be put down at night and removed during the day. They would have had very little contact with other servants of the household unless their jobs required it and would be confined to their work area. Only the most senior servants (roughly equivalent to "department heads" I gather) would have small rooms to themselves.

    There doesn't seem to have been an overall "head servant". The main hall of a manor/palace was the responsibility of the Steward, while the private chambers of the lord/lady of the manor would be the responsibility of the Chamberlain. Other senior servants were responsible for other aspects of a manor such as the kitchen or stables. Only the lady of the manor would have had primarily women servants who kept very close to the lady's room(s).

    I'll be glad to look up any specific jobs if you would like me to. But I think you would enjoy reading the Gidlow book yourself.

  2. Hi Kathy,
    Thanks so much for your response, that's very useful. I'll definitely be getting a copy of Life in a Tudor Palace. Yesterday I bought a book called Masters and Servants in Tudor England, by Alison Sim. I've only just started reading it, but I've already learned a lot. I think a few plot changes might be on the cards!

    If you or anyone else can help at all with my question about getting a look at some plans for a grand Tudor house that'd be great.


  3. Try this for Oxburgh Hall(moated, Sutton Place & Compton Wynyates:
    It actually comes in 4 parts, with some useful photos.

    Otherwise, it’s probably just a case of patiently Googling images of places like Hardwick Hall, Haddon Hall, Burghley House, Holdenby, Longleat, Baddesley Clinton, Coughton Court, Doddington Hall, Gainsborough Old Hall, Audley End, Hatfield House, Woollaton Hall, Montacute House, Gawsworth Hall etc., or contacting The National Trust and English Heritage.

    Double check the shape against photos of the houses though - the one coming up for Burghley House looks like Hardwick Hall to me!

  4. The Tudor Court by David Loades is excellent as well. x

  5. Thank you all. This was super helpful for me as well. I had more or less the same questions!


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