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".
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.
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
- Jeeves, created in 1915 by P. G. Wodehouse, starred in a series of stories until Wodehouse's death in 1975; Reginald Jeeves is considered the "personification of the perfect valet" since 1930, inspired the name of Internet search engine Ask Jeeves (from 1996 to 2006, now Ask.com), and is now a generic term in dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary.
- Mervyn Bunter, created in 1923 by Dorothy L. Sayers in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, likewise a paragon of discreet competence, taking his duties beyond what was expected of a valet to help his master.
- Alfred Pennyworth, butler to Bruce Wayne aka Batman, created by Bob Kane. Played by Alan Napier in the 1966 Batman film starring Adam West, Michael Gough in Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, and most recently by Michael Caine in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
- Brothers Giles and Nigel French, played by Sebastian Cabot and John Williams, respectively, in the TV series Family Affair (later functioned as the family butler).
- Hobson (Sir John Gielgud), from the comedy film Arthur (1981).
- Kato, valet and sidekick to Britt Reid a.k.a. The Green Hornet.
- Kato, Inspector Clouseau's valet and martial arts partner in the Pink Panther movies.
- Rochester Van Jones, played on radio and television by Eddie Anderson on the Jack Benny Show.
- Passepartout, in the 1872 novel Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.
- Georges, created by Agatha Christie in the Hercule Poirot novels.
- Edward Henry Masterman, the victim's valet and a suspect in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.
- Figaro, the Count of Almaviva's valet from Beaumarchais' play The Marriage of Figaro, as well as the Mozart and Rossini operas based on it.
- Leporello, valet of Don Giovanni in the opera by Mozart.
- Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner), valet and bodyguard to Caledon Hockley in the film Titanic (1997).
- La Fleche, Cleante's valet in the Miser.
- Saturnin, valet in the novel and movie Saturnin written by Zdeněk Jirotka.
- Mr. Probert (Derek Jacobi), valet to Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), and Robert Parks (Clive Owen), valet to Lord Stockbridge (Charles Dance), in the 2001 film Gosford Park, directed by Robert Altman.
- Fonzworth Bentley, the alterego of Derek Watkins, a valet to Sean "Diddy" Combs.
- Mr. Belvedere, movie and television show starring Christopher Hewitt and Bob Ueker.
- Baptistin, in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
- Pork, Gerald O'Hara's valet in Gone With the Wind.
- The Valet, an unnamed Valet in the play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre.
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:
In playing cards
, "Valet" is another name for a Jack
Clothes valets are also referred to as a men's valet. A majority are free standing and made out of wood.
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
also could mean an unprincipled person; a rogue