Nurses, Valets, & Tigers: Georgette Heyer’s Most Unforgettable Servants

A Distraction from Chores by Auguste Serrure, 1903.

A Distraction from Chores by Auguste Serrure, 1903.

The townhouses and country estates that house the heroes and heroines of Georgette Heyer’s novels are not staffed by servants who fade discreetly into the background.  Instead, we encounter all manner of outrageous characters.  There are fighting valets, kleptomaniacal tigers, and nurses who preach fire and brimstone.  In real life, any one of these domestics would be let go without a reference.  In a Heyer novel, however, their hilarious hijinks are endlessly entertaining – and utterly unforgettable.

In Friday’s Child, we meet Lord Sheringham’s tiger, Jason.  Jason first comes to Sherry’s notice when he picks his pocket outside of a jeweler’s shop.  Though an inexpert thief, Jason quickly reveals himself as “an inspired handler of horses.”  From then on, he is in Sherry’s employ – continuing to steal when the mania hits him, but only too willing to return his ill-gotten gains as soon as his lordship demands it of him.

“Well, how was I to know you didn’t want him forked?” asked Jason.  “You never said nothing to me about it, guv’nor, nor I didn’t think he was a friend o’ yourn!”

In Venetia, Heyer introduces us to the character of Mrs. Priddy, otherwise known as “nurse.”  Nurse is an old retainer of the Lanyon family, forever giving “dark warnings” to her young mistress about the dangers of associating with the wicked Lord Damerel.  As Venetia informs Damerel:

“I never heard her say, even of the laundry maid, that she would be eaten by frogs!” 

He gave a shout of laughter.  “Good God, does that fate await me?”

Encouraged by the discovery that he shared her enjoyment of the absurd she laughed back at him, saying, “Yes, and also that your increase will be delivered to the caterpillar.”

The Cherry Girl by Joseph Caraud, 1875.

The Cherry Girl by Joseph Caraud, 1875.

In The Unknown Ajax, we meet the characters of Mr. Crimplesham and Mr. Polyphant, two rival valets that Hugo Darracott first encounters in his bedchamber “confronting one another in a manner strongly suggestive of tomcats about to join battle.”  However:

“Before he had advanced one step into the room, all trace of human passion had vanished, and he was confronted by two very correct gentlemen’s gentlemen who received him with calm and dignity.”

In The Foundling, we cross paths with Nettlebed, the elderly valet of Gilly, the Duke of Sale.  Nettlebed alternately nags, badgers, and mollycoddle’s Gilly and, when the young duke “slips his leash” at last, Nettlebed goes off in pursuit of him.  As Heyer explains:

“[He] considered himself privileged to speak his mind to his master whenever he was out of earshot of other, less important, members of the household, before whom he invariably maintained the Duke’s dignity in a manner that daunted the Duke far more than the affectionate bullying he employed in private.”

Finally, we have Henry, Lord Worth’s diminutive, cockney tiger in Regency Buck.  Henry is “a sharp-faced scrap of uncertain age” who, before coming to Lord Worth, had been a chimney-sweep’s boy.  Early in the novel when Peregrine Taverner and Lord Worth exchange words after a carriage accident, Henry leaps to his master’s defense, shouting:

“You shut your bone-box, imperence!  He’s the very best whip in the country, ah, and I ain’t forgetting Sir John Lade neither!  There ain’t none to beat him, and them’s blood-chestnuts we’ve got in hand, and if them wheelers ain’t sprained a tendon apiece it ain’t nowise your fault!”

The Ironing Maid by Thomas Harrington Wilson, 19th century.

The Ironing Maid
by Thomas Harrington Wilson, 19th century.

Cast your vote for Georgette Heyer’s Most Unforgettable Servant.  There are no limits on how many times you can vote and, as always, if you have a preference for another Georgette Heyer servant, I encourage you to write in your choice below.

The Poll is Now Closed.

The Results:

 1st Place: Nurse from Venetia with 31%.

2nd Place: Jason from Friday’s Child with 26%.

3rd Place: Crimplesham & Polyphant from The Unknown Ajax with 22%.

4th Place: Henry from Regency Buck with 9%.

5th Place: Nettlebed from The Foundling with 5%.

Honorable Mentions: Jem from Arabella; Sarah Nidd from Cousin Kate; and Marston from Venetia with 2 votes each by write-in. Keighly from Sylvester and Miss Muker from Sylvester with 1 vote each by write-in.

 Thank you for voting!

Only 1 Georgette Heyer Poll left!

The final poll will be posted on September 2.

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017).  She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. 

© 2015-2017 Mimi Matthews

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11 thoughts on “Nurses, Valets, & Tigers: Georgette Heyer’s Most Unforgettable Servants

  1. Jenny Haddon says:

    Terrible choice but at the recent Heyer Day we had a brilliant reading of that last scene in An Unknown ajax (by actor Ric Jerrom who reads Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey Maturin series on audio books). And it became abundantly clear that Polyphant was a star – brilliant at man- management, resourceful, practical and rising to the occasion like a true hero. So – adding that to the burning rivalry with Crimplesham which I wholly understand – those two get my vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi Matthews says:

      Wonderful choice, Jenny! The interaction between Polyphant and Crimplesham was hilarious. And you’re right, Polyphant’s behavior at the close of the novel certainly distinguished him as a star amongst servants. I love how even Heyer’s smaller, supporting characters are so well-rounded. Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Like

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