Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Country Aristocrat

This might constitute a typical day in the country, but every day would have its differences and its own varieties.
The household of the mythical Lord Dervish of Dervish Park, Dervishire.
5 am – the kitchen servants rise, ready to build up the fires and prepare for breakfast.
6 am – the indoor servants are all up and about their duties, cleaning, laying fires and preparing clothes etc.
8 am – the family begin to rise. Most people rise early in the country. The maids bring trays to the rooms, with tea, chocolate and bread and butter. Some family members and guests are up for an early morning ride. They may have sent instructions to the stables the night before to that effect. Occasionally, they might hunt, though for the most part hunting was a pastime of county families, not the aristocracy.
9 am – the family are mostly up, dressed in simpler clothes than they’d wear in town. Lady Dervish is in her office, which might be her private sitting room, a morning room or a study, reviewing the menus for the day and attending to the business of the house. The housekeeper and the head cook will usually attend. Lady Dervish reviews all the household accounts herself, initialling every page. Many servants, as well as taking full advantage of the ‘perks’ which are part of their office, may also try to take advantage of a lax mistress, and ‘cook’ the books.
9 am. Lord Dervish is in the estate office, attending to estate matters. Depending on his preference, he will either approve the action his steward has decided to take, or supervise it all himself. This will include everyday maintenance of the estate, the home farm, which provides some of the food for the house, and legal disputes. Most large landowners had something running in the courts.
10 am. Breakfast. This is held after the family has been up for a few hours, and not first thing. It’s typically a running buffet, served in one of the more informal dining rooms. The family and their guests attend. The post is brought in, and the papers which have been delivered by Mail Coach to the nearest town and picked up by a footman earlier in the morning.
11 am. If it’s a designated At Home day, the family are at home to visitors. Dressed in something a little more formal then their everyday country wear, Lord and Lady Dervish, and perhaps their older children, will receive visitors in one of the lesser drawing rooms. Refreshments, in the form of tea, or a light wine, with bread and butter will be served. The practice of offering little cakes tended to be later, though Lady Dervish is fond of a fruit scone, and usually has them served.
Noon. There might be a light meal served, especially for the guests or family who have been out and missed breakfast. However, it is equally likely that they will return and ring for something to be brought to them.
2 pm The family go about their usual daily business. This might be going out to visit, if it isn’t an At Home day, visits to the poor, or even a shopping trip to the nearest town. Country houses tend to have set times for certain events like meals, and then the family and visitors would go their own way and only meet up at dinner.
6 pm. Dinner. The family and guests will have gone to their rooms to change perhaps an hour before. This is the time when they will ‘dress.’ Although the Regency styles of dress were less elaborate than their forebears, this still involves hair-teasing, goffering, discreet cosmetics and careful selection of clothes. The men might have elaborate folds for their neck-cloths, which a gentleman (according to Brummel) always executed himself.
Dinner would be served in one of the grander dining rooms, but not necessarily in the state dining room. The table would be laid with the first course, which often meant cold food, and a footman stood behind each chair to serve the guests. By this period (the beginning of the nineteenth century), most guests were seated continental style, man-woman-man-woman. The most senior guest in rank usually led the way into the meal, and the guests would know automatically which order they came in. I suspect the servants may have made enquiries beforehand to prevent embarrassment, especially for the larger house parties!
Dinner goes on for quite some time, perhaps a couple of hours. It consists of three courses, each of several removes (the dishes placed in a pre-ordained pattern on the table). Afterwards, the hostess, seated at the foot of the table, would stand up and lead the ladies out, to one of the grander drawing rooms. There tea and light refreshments would be served. The gentlemen remained behind. The servants clear the table and serve port and other wines, while the gentlemen settle to after-dinner chat.
Lord Dervish eventually leads the way to the drawing room to join the ladies. Some gentlemen might decide to go to the billiard room, others, the ones too drunk to be presentable, might be escorted upstairs by the servants.
The evening consists of card-games, piano playing, and general chat, unless this is the night of a ball. Bedtime is much earlier than in town, except on special nights.
Lord and Lady Dervish know which of their guests are having affairs, and provide bedrooms conveniently close, so a game of musical bedrooms ensues, with guests moving about until they are all settled in their bed of choice! 


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Beautifully succinct and impeccably researched, Lynne!

Re dinner parties: male guests were always asked by the hostess to take a suitable lady into dinner. 'Mr X, would you take Miss Y into dinner, please?' It ensured that no social gaffes were made and, who knows, a bit of discreet match-making might be gently nudged in the right direction!

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Anonymous said...

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