“A Maidservant’s Lot in Early Modern England” — Parallelisms

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

A few days ago, news linking Dominique Strauss-Kahn to a high-profile probe of an alleged prostitution ring at a luxury hotel in Lille broke, causing the story of how a New York hotel  maid had accused him earlier this year of rape to resurface.

Charges have since been dropped, even as DSK was forced to quit as head of the IMF and to shelve his aspirations to become the next French president. But the story of DSK’s accuser — called just that until the moment she came out, or alternately, “the DSK maid” — reminds us of how Filipina maids are at all times vulnerable to all forms of abuse — emotional, physical and sexual.

I thought I’d republish excerpts of this history article here as a way to contribute to the better understanding of the lot of thousands of Filipina maids in foreign lands.

By doing so, I hope to shed light on the power relations between females in subservient levels of society and their “masters” — something that many of my British friends seem to forget, as they are now accustomed to thinking of maids as Filipinas. Watch this episode of BBC’s Harry and Paul:

For me, it’s clearly an issue of power: Not much has changed between then and now; only the nationalities of the maids and their masters involved have changed.


Author: R.C. Richardson

Title: “A Maidservant’s Lot in Early Modern England”

Publisher: History Today

Date: Volume: 60, Issue: 2

Pages: 25-31

“The life of a maidservant in early modern England was one fraught with perils with young girls often prey to the advances of their masters. In 1693 the London newspaper The Athenian Mercury carried the story of a manservant who, with his employer’s active encouragement, married a maidservant in the same household, only to discover that she was already pregnant with the master’s child. The employer said he was grateful to have ‘such cracked ware [taken] off his hands’ and gave financial compensation to the couple. Most maids made pregnant by their employers were not so fortunate.

“Servant-keeping was a ubiquitous and defining feature of society in the 16th to 18th centuries — around 60 to 70 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds, the majority of them female, were employed in domestic service even in poor households as pauper servants. Most of them lived, worked and slept in close proximity to their employers, sometimes in the same room. Privacy even in great houses with features such as corridors and backstairs was often impossible to achieve. Poverty was an endemic aspect of life in service. There were many like the ‘poor maid’ in a 1567 Canterbury court case who possessed ‘nothing but her personal apparel and 16 shillings a year wages and no other goods.’

“Maidservants therefore were often precariously positioned both physically and economically. This made them sexually vulnerable to the whims of their masters and other men of the house as well as to lodgers, guests, manservants, and apprentices. Some would-be maidservants newly arrived in London were procured by pimps or by patrons of disreputable labor exchanges almost as soon as they set foot in the capital.

“There were maidservants too who exploited their sexuality to gain advantage. An early 17th-century Somerset maid giving evidence in a court case unwittingly revealed she was flattered when she attracted the advances of her employer and ‘did not tell her dame because her master promised her new clothes.’ Much later in the following century Jonathan Swift in his satirical Advice to Servants (Dublin 1745) advised housemaids on how to strike the best bargain when their sexual favors were solicited by their masters. At all costs, Swift urged the eldest son of the house should be avoided ‘since you will get nothing from him but a big belly or a clap and probably both together.’ In 1763, Mary Brown a maidservant in Glamorganshire, was still blackmailing Dr Morgan, her former employer, who had fathered her illegitimate child six or seven years previously.

“Church court records are filled with cases involving illicit sexual relations between master and servant. At the beginning of the 17th century, Edward Glascocke from Enfield, Middlesex found himself in court since he had been discovered in bed with his maidservant as well as his wife. In the same period church wardens in Stoke St. Mary, Somerset were scandalized by disclosures of an employer’s open preference for his maidservant over his wife. When they went to work in the fields the maid rode on horseback, while the humbled wife was made to walk. The master and maidservant slept in the same bedroom while the mistress of the house was consigned to another.

In Glamorganshire in 1763, the death of a master produced revelations about his ‘vile life’ in keeping a maidservant as his concubine ‘to the great disturbance of his house and to the great grief and vexation of his loving wife.’ A London moralist J. Moir warned parents in 1787: ‘You had better turn your daughter into the street at once than place her out to service. For ten to one her master shall seduce her or she shall be made the confidante of her mistress’s intrigues.’

“Masters would often consider it their right to molest their maids. It was made clear to a London maidservant in 1605 that providing sexual favors to the master on demand was simply part of her job. She was told: ‘Thou art my servant and I may do with thee as I please.’ ”


And check out this blog on how Lebanese employers perceive the sexuality of Filipina maids, which reads:

Filipina women, compared to their Ethiopian and Sri Lankan counterparts, are seen as fairer, sexually more attractive, and promiscuous. These images of Filipina women legitimate employers’ tight control of their bodies and persons…Just in case you’ve been wondering why some families lock the doors on their maids when they leave home.


Or, alternately, you can google the words Filipina, maid, rape. I got more than 2 million results.

Do Filipina maids form the base of the new slave trade?