Roger Richardson's Household Servants in Early Modern England follows hard on the heels of Carolyn Steedman's Labours Lost. Domestic Service and the Making of Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and both authors argue that their subject has been sadly neglected by historians to date. Richardson's book covers the mid-sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries, although there are frequent forays into the next century, while Steedman focuses upon the years 1760–1830. Over and above their chronology, however, these are very different books indeed, for while Steedman seeks to rescue servants from submersion within the family and to reinstate them as true workers, for Richardson the family is where they belong, constituting a microcosm of a well-ordered society. Notwithstanding his recognition that the employer–servant relationship was often contested, both informally and legally, he concludes that ‘household servants were integral to families in this period’ (p. 223) and that, far from deserving pride of place amongst an emerging proletariat, they felt no stigma attached to their position, and played the system rather than opposed it. Hence whilst the emergence of ‘servant “power” ’ during the eighteenth century, at least in London, is one of the book's ‘main findings’ (p. 226), there is no suggestion that this had any wider significance in terms of the evolution of the English social structure.
|Published - 2011