Friday Lore Post: The Life of a Castle Servant

Servants of all kinds have busy lives, but those who live in castles are perhaps the most busy, if only due to the sheer scope of the work they must do. They also tend to be the most fully developed communities, because unlike a house that might have ten or fewer servants working full time, a castle will generally employ dozens and usually hundreds of staff to keep it running. The royal palaces in Three Hills and Hawk’s Roost, as the two largest examples in Menechit, employ over three hundred people each to cook, clean and otherwise maintain the homes of monarchs.

Naturally, the duties of servants working in the castle are going to vary. In most cases, a servant will be assigned to a particular type of work and work only there. A kitchen servant will rarely be seen working in the stables, and vice versa, and not just for hygienic reasons. Though nobles may sometimes think that servants are all adept at service, it is of course the case that specializations exist and, because there is no such thing as unskilled labour, servants develop a set of skills for working in a certain area. They may be assigned to a kitchen, the stables, cleaning duty, groundskeeping, laundry duty, food service, scribal work, masonry, plumbing, carpentry or any number of other necessities, including formal trades. Carpenters or blacksmiths or other trades of course exist outside of castles, but they are needed in castles as well, and for these, castles tend to hire already trained people to work if they don’t already have someone, adding them to the pre-existing staff. For anything that can be trained on-site, however, anyone could potentially be assigned.

It is not unusual in the case of formal trades for a tradesperon to end up training an apprentice or several from among the castle’s pre-existing staff as well, and after a few generations, there will just be a tradition of plumbers or masons working on the staff. In some very rare cases this might lead to the development of different “classes” of servants, with those skilled in very particular and uncommon trades being treated differently than others, but it would be unusual for a good master of servants to allow such a division to happen, as it would likely be bad for everyone’s morale and work ethic.

Most servant communities, but especially those in castles, tend to be fairly hierarchical, with a head servant or steward overseeing all the other staff. In a large setting like a castle where there are hundreds of staff, each grouping of staff will have their own overseer; a head cook is very common generally, as is a stablemaster, but a castle is also likely to have a head launderer, head dishwasher, head maid, head gardener, and so on, each responsible for their individual staff, and reporting to the master of servants or steward. Servants with no particular duties may be passed between different portions of the staff while their particular skillsets are discovered, generally at the master of servants’ discretion in consultation with the other higher-level staff. The master of servants is often the only person who will ever directly report to nobility or royalty about the household.

Informal hierarchies will also often arise naturally among servants of the lower levels, generally organized around age and seniority. If five servants all have the same rank on paper but one is far younger than the others or far less experienced, that servant will generally be expected to defer to the others, which of course often leads to them being expected to do the least pleasant parts of their job.

One currency that younger and less experienced servants have at their disposal is their sexuality—in all permanent service settings, there is an established sexual economy whereby younger servants might perform sexual favours for older servants in exchange for more favourable tasks or time off. This is generally not considered a problem unless someone is perceived as being taken advantage of or harmed, in which case the master of servants might step in and either put a stop to the behaviour, reassign or punish an offender or even terminate their employment. Disciplinary action for these or other misbehaviours can vary from scolding to spanking to flogging to reassignment to less pleasant tasks, and are always carried out in quiet, away from the eyes of the masters of the house or castle.

It is of course not at all uncommon for servants and their employers to have sex, fully consensual or not. There is naturally little the master of servants can do about this if it becomes a problem, except for possibly assigning someone who is having trouble not to be in proximity to a noble or royal who is known to be causing the trouble. Nearly all nobles will have had at least one passing sexual experience with a servant in their lives, especially in Dolovai where the companion system doesn’t exist. It is also not unheard of for castle guards and servants to interact sexually—generally there is a distinction between these two occupations that includes different living arrangements and pay, as well as different respects afforded the position, and because guard work tends to attract a certain type of personality, many servants in general will report having been pressured or coerced or at least bullied by a guard at some point in their careers. This is one of the reasons it is very important for the master of servants to have a strong personality and a lot of respect from the lords of the house. In situations of bullying or harassment, the master of servants may, if he has the pull, be able to have something done about the offender. Otherwise, there is little that can be done except expecting the target to put up with it.

Because servants tend to feel like one large family, however, anyone being bothered will often be defended by all the other servants, and someone who takes it upon themselves to be a bully might find that suddenly nobody wants to change their sheets or cook their dinner. Of course this luxury doesn’t exist if the abuser is a noble, but it does tend to keep guards and other bullies in line. Castle servants are a large family, mostly not related to one another by blood, but that rarely matters. Some servants do live outside the castle and have blood families of their own, of course, but the majority of them live in the castle itself. Blood families exist within all serving cultures but especially in castles, and it’s not at all uncommon for servants to be married to each other and to have children. All large castles will generally have at least a few children in their employ, and these are almost always children of other servants who’ve been brought up in that environment. Children of castle servants in both Hawk’s Roost and Three Hills are informally guaranteed a job as they grow up, and will find it very easy to gain apprenticeships for various trades if they so desire.

Castle servants do live in their workplaces most of the time. All castles have a servants’ quarters, servants’ kitchens, servants’ baths and laundry, all purely for use of the staff and rarely if ever entered by anyone from the higher classes. These are the servants’ homes and are respected as such, though they do tend to be fairly austere. Servants sleep together in large barracks-style rooms, often several to a bed, bathe together and eat together, pass down clothes to each other when they outgrow them, and teach each other whatever they need to learn. Privacy is a luxury rarely afforded to servants, but so many of them grow up not expecting it that it is hardly an issue.

Servants have space to relax and take time off when it’s given to them, generally a small basket or chest to keep their possessions in (younger servants may have to share a chest with one or two others), and papers indicating their position in the castle and their pay, just in case a change in leadership happens and someone forgets. Servants are entitled to a small amount of time off a year and are provided with medical care if they needed it, in addition to being fed and housed, of course. Should a servant wish to leave their service and find new employment, they are permitted to do that but asked to take one month to train a replacement. If they opt not to take this month, there is no punishment but their parting stipend will be smaller.

Though servants tend to be tight-knit groups that consider themselves family, they are generally very welcoming of new members as well. New staff being brought on means new members of the family, and it is the duty of the more experienced staff to make them feel comfortable and train them. A castle only runs as smoothly as its staff let it, and a staff that doesn’t get along with each other doesn’t run a smooth castle. Though there may be personal disagreements or dislikes among the staff, the master of servants will generally try to make sure these are kept to a minimum and that everyone works together as best as possible to keep everything running in good order.

Excerpts from “The Social Institutions of Our Time, Modern Edition,” by Moira Marksadder, published at the Academy for Magecraft in Three Hills, DN 1954.

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