Valet

Valet

[va-ley, val-it, val-ey]

Valet and Varlet are terms for male servants who serve as personal attendants to their employer. In the Middle Ages, the valet de chambre to a ruler was a prestigious appointment for young courtiers, though in England, unlike France, these court roles later came to be called "grooms".

Etymology

In English, valet "personal man-servant" is recorded since 1567, though use of the term in the French-speaking English medieval court is much older, and the variant form varlet is cited from 1456 (OED). Both are French importations of valet (the t being silent) or varlet, Old French variants of vaslet "man's servant," originally "squire, young man," assumed to be from Gallo-Romance *vassellittus "young nobleman, squire, page," diminutive of Medieval Latin vassallus, from vassus "servant", possibly cognate to an Old Celtic root wasso- "young man, squire" (source of Welsh gwas "youth, servant," Breton goaz "servant, vassal, man," Irish foss "servant"). See yeoman, possibly derived from yonge man.

The modern use is usually short for the valet de chambre (French for 'bedroom valet'), described in the following section. In social circles of the English-speaking world where valets are likely to be found, the word is pronounced to rhyme with pallet. An alternative pronunciation, rhyming with chalet, is not considered correct. The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary lists both pronunciations.

Domestic valet

A valet or gentleman's gentleman is a gentleman's male servant, the closest male equivalent to 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, like butlers and most specialized domestic staff, have become relatively rare, and a more common — though still infrequent — arrangement is the general servant performing combined roles.

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 an extremely 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.

Famous fictional valets

Other valets

Valet is also used for people performing specific services:

  • hotel valet — an employee who performs personal services for guests.
  • parking valet – a service employee who parks cars for guests, only from 1960.
  • car valet — an employee who is paid to clean people's cars professionally.
  • valet — a professional wrestling term for a person who accompanies a wrestler to the ring - originally a beefy man but now usually a busty woman.

Other forms of valet-like personnel include:

Objects

In playing cards, "Valet" is another name for a Jack.

Clothes valet

Clothes valets are also referred to as a men's valet. A majority are free standing and made out of wood.

Varlet

While in French this word remained restricted to the feudal use for a (knight's) squire, in modern English it came to be used for the various other male servants originally called va(r)let other than the gentleman's gentleman, when in livery usually called lackey, such as the valet de pied ('foot varlet', compare footman). In archaic English, varlet also could mean an unprincipled person; a rogue.

Sources

See also

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