Letters to the Editor Newsletter

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, March 2020, Letters to the Editor


“I can relate to your wise message and I am grateful for the insight. Thank you. This definitely should be the tone for 2020. I believe it is only fair that people be given a chance: When I started as a Guest Relations Officer here, the news was not well received by some. But I proved myself to be more-than-capable in the following months. When I was then given the opportunity to become the first butler, the idea was sadly almost dismissed. Now, after throwing myself into self-development, I can say with pride that I have progressed much further.” MY

Ed: You are most welcome. Congratulations on your persistence and for pushing through despite the naysayers to show that anything is possible for anyone who sets their mind to it! May you continue to grow!

Continuing the correspondence with Alex Parker for his article on Batman’s Batman:

“Another random question: Do you know why butlers are so associated with England? Maybe it’s just because of the U.S./U.K. connection, but it’s not like there aren’t servants in other cultures.”

Ed: Another good question and one that requires more than a couple of sentences to explore. 

Modern butling traces its history back to the English peasants who were brought into the castles to provide personal service to their Lords and Ladies 1,100 years ago. The line of service has continued and developed unbroken since. 

The French might have been contenders, but the French Revolution put paid to the idea of servants. The Germans were not a nation, and so their household managers/butlers did not develop into a recognized body of professionals. The Russians and Chinese of old have had estates managers, but they also had communist revolutions that cut across that sort of position and relationship. 

The Americans have only just started as a culture (relatively speaking), and household service after the revolution I believe was mostly by indentured service or slaves—hardly something to aspire to for an individual. 

The Ancient Greeks and Romans did not have butlers per se, but slaves with limited functions that did not relate to managing properties, only to the alcoholic-serving aspect of the butler job description. Any real household managers probably disappeared with the Roman Empire.

The Indians did have butlers (a very large mausoleum was built outside New Delhi by a prince for his butler, in the 1500s I believe) but they, again, were not considered a professional body, just lowly servants, and they subsequently fell under the shadow of the British butler during the British Empire days in India. 

So why British butlers? In part, because the British ruled America, and even though the British were eventually persuaded to leave, they were still considered by the wealthy in the US to be the points of reference for all things wealthy. British butlers were highly sought after as a necessary part of demonstrating one’s wealth by the NY elite 150 years ago. Part of this would be down to the existence of the British Royal family and nobility—again, perhaps the only unbroken line in the world with considerable and continued influence around the world.

I am sure an Italian maggiordomo or Spanish majordomo might consider themselves to be contenders for the original butlers, especially those who served the Venetian bankers, etc., but the fact is that their numbers and reputation have never been as great as that of the British butler. And while their royal lineages may or may not be broken, their countries have long since lost their global influence.

If you look at literature, it is usually English literature that has spoken of butlers, whether such as ES Turner or PJ Wodehouse, or Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day), or court cases that occasionally include butlers (the ones that come to mind are a murdering 19th Century butler, and one from the 18th Century, I believe, where the outcome of a divorce case involving nobility depended on what the butler had seen through the keyhole). And of course, there is Downton Abbey and every movie and TV series ever made in the USA, that always harkens back to the butler as an English artifact!

All roads point to Great Britain when it comes to butlers, it seems.

One last point: You speak of servants: The British butler was considered merely a servant until modern times, but the culture he built was based upon dignity and self-worth, maybe the result of the Magna Carter, signed in the early days of the butler’s existence (1215). Employers did not want to lose a good butler, so as the centuries advanced and the butlers became increasingly indispensable, employers treated their butlers well — generally, thereby reinforcing the dignity, position, and reputation of the butler. 

Other cultures have perhaps not been so appreciative or respectful of those who managed their homes, and so contributed to those professions not being desirable ones, according them little value. Painting with a broad brush, but we are looking at thousands of years of cultures on planet Earth, so there will be exceptions, but I believe my ideas may have some merit overall.

Of course, being a great fan of the Merchant and Ivory movie, Remains of the Day, I paraphrase Mr. Stevens, the butler, who says that he does not believe the “Continentals” have the necessary reserve to be great butlers. “Continentals” being those excitable Europeans. He is obviously painting with a very broad brush, and it is not true that culture straightjackets a man (or these days, woman), but this does give an idea of the British butler considering himself to be at the top of the pecking order when it comes to the butler world. When you run an Empire the size of the British Empire—the largest the world has ever known—you can afford to be “sneery” and look down your nose at other butlers and even cultures; but these days, of course, good butlers exist in all nationalities, cultures, and in both genders (I believe it is politically correct but scientifically dubious to say “all genders”). Good butlers are considered so based on merit, their understanding of the mindset and goals of the butler, and their ability and drive to live up to the standards of a butler.

However, as we continue to make known the history of the profession, it was the British Butler who developed and promulgated by an unbroken apprenticeship line, the better values and attitudes of the butler. It is these we take, at the Institute, and meld with the requirements of the modern butler around the world. The goal being not just to serve the wealthy, but to imbue all service industries with the same solicitousness: The IRS, for instance, the police, immigration officials, etc. No reason they should not provide caring service, too. But however widespread the butler service style may become, across industries and countries, the genus will always be the British Butler.

And so, in the end, it will not be the mighty British Navy but the lowly British Butler that continues that great slogan, “Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves!” (Joke)

This is my off-at-hand answer to your question.

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.