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A Scullery Maid Preparing A Chicken by Williem Joseph Laquy.
And then she went on and on till she came to a great house.
"Do you want a maid?" says she.
"No, we don’t," said they.
"I haven't nowhere to go," says she; "and I ask no wages, and do any sort of work," says she.
"Well," said they, "if you like to wash the pots and scrape the saucepans you may stay," said they.
So she stayed there and washed the pots and scraped the saucepans and did all the dirty work.
Your less-developed fantasy worlds will contain no castle underlings save guards and kitchen staff. The guards lead a sad existence as Red Shirts
, but the latter option presents a marvelous opportunity for anyone willing to submit to a little drudgery
, if she
can only get herself placed as a Scullery Maid.
If she's in for infiltration, scullery maids
(or any other menial help staff) are practically invisible
. They don't get very much access to sensitive areas of the castle, it is true, but chances are someone will notice our heroine's talents and give her a promotion, or else that she'll have a knack for attracting Exact Eavesdropping
. If the infiltration has some sort of assassination in mind, kitchen staff have a perfect opportunity to poison people. If there's a ball
, promotions can go quite high
. It is, indeed the go-to job
for runaway Fairy Tale Princesses
If she's simply hiding out, believe me, no one suspects that The Chosen One is sweating over boiling potatoes
Even if she's basically been enslaved
into such a position, the Scullery Maid will find some way to prevail. Contrast with Meido
, French Maid
, and Ninja Maid
for less realistic interpretations of the role.
For reference, the scullery is a small, hot, sweaty room behind the kitchen, where heavy, dirty, menial work, such as cleaning pots and pans, is carried out. As the most junior-ranking servant in the household, the pay of a scullery maid was below abysmal and she would often be pressed into service doing any unpleasant tasks around the house (like emptying chamber pots) and serving upon the rest of the servants. Most real life (not enslaved) scullery maids only stayed in the position for a year or two, just long enough to get the character reference required to move on to a better job.
The Spear Counterpart
is also found, particularly in works more carefully based on the High Middle Ages
or earlier. Medieval households generally employed men (scullions) to work in the scullery, as women were considered too weak to do the heavy work. It was only during the Victorian Era that the job were mostly given to maids, as female servants were more plentiful and cheaper to hire. Compare Farm Boy
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- The two major examples that come to mind are Cinderella and Snow White, naturally.
- Cap o' Rushes, having been thrown out by her father for saying she loved him like she loved salt, went for such a job.
- Joseph Jacobs's "Catskin" as a Runaway Fiancée
I’m sorry I have no better place, but if you like you may be our scullion.
- "Katie Woodencloak":
Yes, the cook said she might have a place — she might have leave to be there in the scullery, and wash up, for the lassie who did that work before had just gone away.
- "Rashin Coatie" after running away from home.
All-Kinds-of-Fur, thou wilt be useful in the kitchen, come with us, and thou canst sweep up the ashes.
- "The King Who Wished Marry To His Daughter"
"If I could get," said she, "leave to go to service to this great house yonder." "They want none," said the herd, "unless they want one under the hand of the cook." The herd went to speak for her, and she went as a servant maid under the hand of the cook.
- In "Catherine and Her Fate", Catherine, having chosen to be miserable in youth and happy in old age rather than the other way round, ends up as a Scullery Maid — except that her Fate, being an Anthropomorphic Personification, is always showing up and wrecking her position for seven years.
- In A City in Winter, the long-lost child queen takes a tip from La Résistance and takes a rather exhausting job sorting yams. Her subsequent rocketing through the ranks is heavily implied to be, quite literally, divine intervention.
- The heroine of The Catswold Portal seems aware of this trope, but unfortunately for her, the evil queen interrogates every last member of the staff personally. (She dodges it well enough to complete her mission in the castle, but the added difficulties end up making the story halfway a romance.)
- A Song of Ice and Fire actually plays this more or less straight with Arya.
- Shae, on the other hand, rejects the archetype, as she actually became a whore in the first place in order to stop working in a kitchen.
- Lessa in Dragonriders of Pern starts out as a drudge with a very overdeveloped sense of vengeance. It takes years for her to finally get a chance at her foe, though she does enact loads of scorched-earth policies in the interim.
- This was popular with Kunoichi. See That Other Wiki.
- In Monstrous Regiment, this is how the heroes get inside the castle (including the male lieutenant, who is the most enthusiastic of them all). (They're actually laundry maids, but it's the same difference- and because the castle is occupied by an army, there's practically endless vacancies for those)
- In The Chinese Maze Murders, Dee plants a spy in one household by sending her to get a job as a temporary maid.
- Nanny Ogg uses this as a highly successful infiltration technique. She's at home around people; knows their names, their family trees and everyone's maladies after about half an hour, and knows that nobody ever questions a little old lady being helpful, because it's a job you don't have to do and nobody cares if she doesn't get paid.
- Esk uses the classic Scullery Maid approach to infiltrate Unseen University, although her actual job is sweeping floors, not preparing food.
- Lalasa in the Protector Of The Small series (by Tamora Pierce) started as a Scullery Maid before becoming Kel's personal maid.
- Ella Enchanted has the title character assume this position in her own home after her obedience curse is discovered by her stepsisters. The job is given by none other than Ella's own fairy godmother, who works as a cook for the family and pretends indifference towards her godchild in order to protect her from being forced into a much lower position.
- In A Little Princess, Sara Crewe takes this role to pay her headmistress. Before that, she befriends Becky, the actual scullery maid at the school.
- In David Eddings' Belgariad, powerful sorceress Polgara hides herself and the Chosen One as a cook for a rural farm and her nephew/scullery boy. This works ..sort of. Asharak apparently knew where Garion was the whole time, and they leave because Brill's found out where they are.
- Egwene in Wheel of Time is held prisoner in this position to keep her out of the way and break her back into being a novice. It gave her even more power than when she was forced to redo classes.
- In Patricia A. McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Saro, after the magic had rendered her mute and dazed.
- In The Secret Garden, Mary's first relationship in her new home is with the young scullery maid who comes to clean the fireplace in her room. Mary can't do anything for herself (having always been waited on hand and foot) and the girl takes pity on her and helps her learn to be self sufficient.
- In The Ordinary Princess, Princess Amy runs away to the neighbouring kingdom to live in the forest. After wearing out her clothes, she decides to get a job as a scullery maid in the castle, and there meets the king.
- In the Chivalric Romance Havelock The Dane, Havelock is working as a kitchen boy when the regent decides to nullify Princess Goldborough by marrying her off to this splendid but lowly man. (Turns out he's the rightful king of Denmark and can reclaim her throne after his.)
- In Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles story "Utensile Strength", Cimorene wants to interview people for the kitchen staff herself, to prevent a princess from being taken on. She fails.
- In Julie Kagawa's The Iron King, Titania forces Meghan into this role.
Myths And Legends
- In King Arthur legends, Sir Gareth of Orkney starts by getting a job as a kitchen boy.
- Dick Whittington started out in London as a scullery boy. He is seriously tempted to ditch it because it's unpleasant and he gets only room and board.
Live Action TV
- There is a class of fairy tales — see the fairy tale section. The episode "Sapsorrow" of The Storyteller is adapted from one of these.
- Daisy from Downton Abbey is actually a scullery maid to start with (as in, that's her job title), but she's not spying on anyone and it's 20th-century Britain so the most nefarious things going on involve servants' jostling for better jobs. (She later gets promoted to Assistant Cook).
- In King's Quest V, Big Bad Mordack forces Princess Cassima to work as a scullery maid until she agrees to marry him. So naturally, she's more than willing to help King Graham defeat Mordack.
- Malborn from Skyrim does this in an attempt to avenge his murdered family. It doesn't work out in that regard, but it definitely helps with the dragonpocalypse, anyway.
- Stewie From Family Guy makes a comment that his new neighbor Eliza talks "like a scullery maid".
- Henchman 21 from The Venture Bros. reveals in a counceling session that he was part of the "scullion class" of The Monarch's army.