The word "butler" comes from the Old French bouteleur (cup bearer), from bouteille (bottle), and ultimately from Latin. The role of the butler, for centuries, has been that of the chief steward of a household, the attendant entrusted with the care and serving of wine and other bottled beverages which in ancient times might have represented a considerable portion of the household's assets. In Britain, the butler was originally a middle-ranking member of the staff of a grand household. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the butler gradually became the senior, usually male, member of a household's staff in the very grandest households. However, there was sometimes a steward who ran the outside estate and financial affairs, rather than just the household, and who was senior to the butler in social status into the 19th century. Butlers used to always be attired in a special uniform, distinct from the livery of junior servants, but today a butler is more likely to wear a business suit or business casual clothing and appear in uniform only on special occasions. A Silverman or Silver Butler has expertise and professional knowledge of the management, secure storage, use and cleaning of all silverware, associated tableware and other paraphernalia for use at military and other special functions. See also Silver (household). -------------------------------------------------
A slave in charge of wine in ancient Rome. The garb indicates he was probably of Phrygian origin. The modern role of the butler has evolved from earlier roles that were generally concerned with the care and serving of alcoholic beverages.
Ancient through medieval eras
From ancient through medieval times, alcoholic beverages were chiefly stored first in earthenware vessels, then later in wooden barrels, rather than in glass bottles; these containers would have been an important part of a household's possessions. The care of these assets was therefore generally reserved for trusted slaves, although the job could also go to free persons because of heredity-based class lines or the inheritance of trades. The biblical book of Genesis contains a reference to a role precursive to modern butlers. The early Hebrew Joseph interpreted a dream of Pharaoh's שקה (shaqah) (literally "to give to drink"), which is most often translated into English as "chief butler" or "chief cup-bearer". In ancient Greece and Rome, it was nearly always slaves who were charged with the care and service of wine, while during the Medieval Era the pincerna, usually a serf, filled the role within the noble court. The English word "butler" itself derives from the Middle English word boteler (and several other forms), from Old French bouteillier ("bottle bearer"), and before that from Medieval Latin butticula. "Butticula", in turn, came down to English as "butt" from the Latin buttis, meaning a large cask. The modern English"butler" thus relates both to bottles and casks. A pincernadepicted in service to a noble court during the Medieval Era. Eventually the European butler emerged as a middle-ranking member of the servants of a great house, in charge of the buttery (originally a storeroom for "butts" of liquor, although the term later came to mean a general storeroom or pantry). While this is so for household butlers, those with the same title but in service to the Crown enjoyed a position of administrative power and were only minimally involved with various stores. In a large house, the butler (centre-left) is traditionally head over a full array of household servants. This is the servant staff at the Stonehouse Hill of Massachusetts, the estate of F. Lothrop Ames, 1914. The modern butler
Beginning around the early 1920s (following World War I), employment in domestic service occupations began a sharp overall decline in western European countries, and even more markedly in the United States. Even so, there were...
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