Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 31. Servingmen

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XIV. Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period

§ 31. Servingmen

Wholly distinct from labouring men proper were the serving-men, whose large numbers in the Elizabethan age are the subject of frequent comment, and who were a legacy of medieval times and conditions. Harrison dwells on the “swarmes of idle serving-men, who are an evil to everyone,” and observes that, while many of them brought their young masters to grief by their wastefulness, not a few of them fell into bad ways themselves, and ended as highway robbers. It was easier to insist, in the interests of society in general, that the numbers of these hangers-on should be lessened, when not only was service continually passed on from generation to generation, but many sons of yeomen and husbandmen entered into the condition of serving-men, in order to escape the obligation of military service, and, generally, to secure easier and more comfortable conditions of life. On the part of the gentry, the custom of keeping up a large show of servants was by no means confined to the wealthy, and the author of that interesting tract The Serving-man’s Comfort draws a humorous picture of the needy Sir Daniel Debet, pacing the middle walk at St. Paul’s, with six or seven tall hungry fellows in attendance.