WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Knight of the Rainbow

The Flower must not blame the Bee —
That seeketh his felicity
Too often at her door —

But teach the Footman from Vevay —
Mistress is “not at home” — to say —
To people — any more!
~Emily Dickinson, 206

They were to be tall, handsome, young, strong, and silent. They were to be seen and admired, but not heard. They were there for the heavy lifting (of tea trays, trunks, and whatnot).

They were there to pester the maids.

The Jealous Maids by John Collett, published by Robert Sayer and engraved by Robert Lowery L.aurie on 2 March 1772, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Observe the elaborate livery worn by the male servant, a froth of lace at his throat, his waistcoat  and facings festooned with gold. Even his buttons are gold!

Knight of the Rainbow

A footman: from the variety of colours in the liveries and trimming of gentlemen of that cloth.

Many others have gone into great detail on the lives, both personal and professional, of male domestic servants. I won’t rehash the particulars, but will include links below for those of a researching mind. Instead, I propose to show some prime examples of those noble Knights of the Rainbow.

Unlike female domestics, males were arrayed in a variety of fabrics and colors, with no shortage of embellishments and gee-gaws to ornament their costumes. The more public the servant, the more ostentatious and ornate his livery. Colors and style were as distinctive to families as was the crest on their carriage.

Footman Livery, made for the attendants of the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham of Ashburnham Place, Sussex, in 1829 for his installation as Knight of the Garter, at Manchester Art Gallery.

From the Manchester Art Gallery label:

Coat: Light blue-green cloth trimmed with red cloth and wool braid with uncut pile woven with coat of arms and coronet in red, yellow and black on white; lined with red glazed twilled wool; high standing collar; fronts each in one section, fastening at chest with 2 hooks and eyes, 17 metal buttons on right edge from neck to hem, cord imitating buttonholes on left, pocket at waist each side with shaped flap over three buttons; back in two shaped sections with centre back vent; long sleeves in two sections lined with white cotton, collar and turned-back cuffs of red cloth, strip of red cloth each side of front and centre back opening; braid on all edges and seams, outlining pockets and in chevrons down outside of sleeves; two loops white, red and yellow silk cord with metal points attached to right shoulder under crest embroidered in coloured silks on red cloth;
Breeches: Red cloth; shaped waistband lacing over gusset at centre back, fastening at centre front with 3 plain buttons under flap fastening with two buttons on waistband and one of centre front buttons; pocket each side with small button at corner on hip; narrow pocket in waistband on right of centre front; horn buttons for braces each side front and back; legs fastening at outer knee with four buttons and coloured silk braid kneeband with slot for buckle.
Waistcoat: red cloth lined with white cotton; front and skirt faced with red glazed wool; fronts each in one section fastening to waist with small metal buttons, buttons continue above and below fastening, high standing collar, fronts cut away at angle below waist, pocket each side of waist with shaped flap over three buttons; back in two sections, centre back vent; two pairs of linen tape ties at waist; collar, fronts and pockets edged with same braid as coat.

Footman’s Livery Uniform circa 1840-1860, via Manchester Art Gallery.

From the Manchester Art Gallery label:

Coat; Made from a dark blue cloth. Front edge curved out over chest fastening with hook and eye, slit pocket inside left front. Six brass buttons with crest of rampant lion on right edge, braid imitating buttonholes on left. Low standing collar of yellow cloth. Centre sections extending to form centre back skirt, open at centre below waist. Side sections padded and lined black cotton satin. Long sleeves with turned-back cuffs of yellow cloth. Edges outlined wool braid with uncut pile with geometric pattern in blue and yellow. Collar and cuffs trimmed smaller button.
Breeches: Made from yellow wool plush, partly lined twilled cotton. Straight waistband lacing at CB over gusset. Fastening at CF with three plain buttons under flap the whole width of front fastening with four buttons on waistband. Slit pocket each side of fastening under flap. Long narrow pocket in right front waistband. Buttons for braces at side front and CB. Legs fastening at outer knee with three brass buttons and kneeband with small brass buckle.
Waistcoat: Made from yellow cloth, unbleached linen back, lined with cream twilled cotton. High neck with low standing collar. Fastening with five brass buttons. Pocket shaped flap each side of waist.

Livery Coat circa 1875-1890, via Manchester Art Gallery.

From the Manchester Art Gallery label:

Coat: Blue wool, embroidered with braid and frogging. Purple blue cloth, braid-embroidered, lined dark blue twilled wool; fronts each in one section to waist extending to side back, fastening edge to edge at centre front with 6 hooks and eyes to v-neck with high standing collar; converging row of 6 silk-covered buttons each side of front; skirt fronts in one flared section extending to side back, side back edge stitched down onto back section under stitched-down pleat headed with button; false pocket each side of waist with shaped flap over three buttons; back in two shaped sections extending below waist to form centre back skirt, open below waist at centre; long sleeves in two sections, separate cuff sections, lined glazed linen; all edges, collar, cuffs, and side back seams outlined with wool braid in two shades of blue with diamond pattern in uncut pile; narrow blue silk braid in elaborate scrolling designs forming borders round the wider braid and frogging round buttons from neck to waist; lining padded and quilted on shoulders and under arms; pockets in lining each side of skirt and left breast.

Random specimens of livery

There is often a glut of information (and mis-information) on the internet, and the following costumes came without descriptors. But they were too pretty to pass.

Livery, early 19th Century, Italian, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Livery, early 19th Century, Italian, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sleeved livery waistcoat, early 19th century.

Ceremonial livery, Court Footman, late 19th Century, Hermitage Museum.

Ceremonial uniform of the Chief Chamberlain, late 19th Century, Hermitage Museum.

Not everyone was impressed by the finery and frippery, however.

Country Characters. No. 4: Footman by Thomas Rowlandson 30 August 1799, Royal Collection Trust.

Thomas Rowlandson and his well-honed satire: A conceited and “dandy-fied” Town footman stands admiring himself in a mirror, much to the disapproval of the country housemaid and butler. He is sure his charms and posy of flowers will win him the admiration of the country chits at the local pub; the monkey on a chain, imitating the footman, is certainly awed.



One thought on “WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Knight of the Rainbow

  1. The Met has a large collection of liveries, eh?

    Georgette Heyer is a master at producing the male servant who has more dignity than his master. There was a certain manner one must treat one’s servants, and “if he imagined he could address a respectable butler in that fashion he was very much mistaken.”


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