Are you stuck thinking about how to deal with a valet? Come on in, and find out how to should deal with this home and living situation! A valet or “gentleman’s gentleman” is a gentleman’s male servant; the closest female equivalent is a lady’s maid. The valet performs personal services such as maintaining his employer’s clothes, running his bath and perhaps (especially in the past) shaving his employer.
In a great house, the master of the house had his own valet, and in the very grandest great houses, other adult members of the employing family (e.g. master’s sons) would also have their own valets.
At a court, even minor princes and high officials may be assigned one, but in a smaller household the butler – the majordomo in charge of the household staff – might have to double as his employer’s valet. In a bachelor’s household the valet might perform light housekeeping duties as well.
Valets learned the skills for their role in various ways. Some began as footmen, learning some relevant skills as part of that job, and picking up others when deputising for their master’s valet, or by performing valeting tasks for his sons before they had a valet of their own, or for male guests who did not travel with a valet. Others started out as soldier-servants to army officers (batmen) or stewards to naval officers.
Traditionally, a valet did much more than merely lay out clothes and take care of personal items. He was also responsible for making travel arrangements, dealing with any bills and handling all money matters concerning his master or his master’s household.
Alexandre Bontemps, the most senior of the thirty-six valets to Louis XIV of France, was a powerful figure, who ran the Chateau de Versailles. In courts, valet de chambre was a position of some status, often given to artists, musicians, poets and others, who generally spent most of their time on their specialized work. The role was also, at least during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a common first step or training period in a nobleman’s career at court.
Valets, like butlers and most specialized domestic staff, have become relatively rare. A more common, though still infrequent, arrangement is the general servant performing combined roles.