The Valet



The job of the valet, or ‘gentleman’s gentleman’, was to attend to the person of his master, waiting on him while dressing and undressing, and attending to his wardrobe and dressing needs. The model valet was invaluable, coping with the trivialities of the day so that the master didn’t have to. He did everything from shaving and dressing his lordship to ironing his bootlaces and newspaper. Boots were polished, ties neatly arranged, cuff-links counted and clothes carefully brushed and laid out for wear.


The valet was expected to have an excellent knowledge of fashion and hairstyles, to ensure his master was always beautifully turned out. When his employer travelled, it was the valet who packed and unpacked his portmanteau. He was also in charge of his lordship’s hunting gear and had to act as loader during shoots, tramping after his master, carrying the heavy cartridge bag.


The valet was often foreign and acquired a superficial gentility through his close association with his master, whom he accompanied on trips to London and abroad. He did not wear livery and was often given his master’s cast-offs, yet while he could dress like a man-about-town he was always careful not to outshine his employer.



Valets at Emo Court

The valet was something of a status symbol and many households adopted the cheaper alternative of allowing the footman to act as a valet as well. This was the case at Dawson’s Court, the house which preceded Emo Court. In a letter to her sister dated 1781, the Countess of Portarlington states:

          Lord Carlow doesn’t mean to have any valet-de-chambre but a footman, which I am very glad of, as if he dresses hair well enough, he will be of much more use than an upper servant.”

                                                (Gleanings from an Old Portfolio, I.157)


Subsequent Earls of Portarlington do seem to have employed a full-time valet, and the intimate nature of their work meant that many valets developed a close relationship with their employer. This seems to have been the case for Godfrey Müller, valet to the 3rd Earl of Portarlington. In the latter’s will, Godfrey was left all his master’s wardrobe (except sables, furs and official robes), along with a sum of ₤200 and a generous annuity of ₤50 a year, which he received for the rest of his life (indeed, tax returns for the estate show that he received the annuity for another 29 years!) Equally, the valet of the 5th Earl, William Penny, was bequeathed a sum of ₤50 by his late employer.


Although they performed similar services, valets typically earned twice as much as lady’s maids, approximately ₤40-70. As a member of the upper staff, the valet joined the housekeeper and butler in the ‘Pug’s parlour’ at mealtimes and had relatively comfortable accommodation. At Emo Court, he slept in a room in the Bachelor’s Quarters (where the tea-rooms are now located).