“Chatelaines” … what a delicate, intriguing word.  If you don’t know what they are, let your mind wander a bit and come up with your own definition.  Could they be a buttery, flaky French pastry you’ve never heard of?  Or perhaps, a little embroidered purse into which you’d put your loose change?  Maybe, they refer to a member of a European family, perhaps third or fourth cousin, who ran off with the chambermaid.  If you do know what a “Chatelaine” is, you are better informed than I.  I had no idea.  But these practical items were quite popular for centuries, and are still around today.

A Chatelaine is nothing more than a “key chain” … a key chain most often worn by women heads of households, but also some men, from early Roman times through to the 19th century.  During this period, women’s clothing did not have pockets, and women did not carry handbags.  Unthinkable, I know.  So where did women (and some men) keep the keys to the larder or the tea chest?  What about those small embroidery scissors or their watch?  Not to mention their snuff box or perfume vial.  This very practical accessory, the Chatelaine, would hold all of these and other essential items, which a head of house, a nanny, or nurse might need at a moment’s notice.

Derived from the French word for “Keeper of the Castle” or “Mistress of the Chateau”, the Chatelaine would be affixed by a hook to a leather belt, cord or chain worn around the waist.  This hook would then have a series of smaller hooks or chains hanging from it, each holding one of these essential tools.  Not only were these essentials vital to the daily household chores, it was a status symbol letting others know this was a woman “in charge” and took her domestic responsibilities seriously.

Mrs. Hughes, wearing a Chatelaine, had a very prestigious and respected position as head housekeeper at Downton Abbey.

One of the most important uses of a Chatelaine was to hold a watch.  With no pockets and wristwatches were not as yet invented, the need to have a watch handy was vitally important, especially if you were overseeing the running of a manor house.

Victorian Antique Chatelaine

As with most items, Chatelaines eventually became a symbol of a person’s wealth.  A wealthy person might wear a very decorative and ornate Chatelaine made from precious metals and adorned with precious and semi-precious stones.  As handbags became the fashion, the Chatelaine shrank in appearance and functionality, but was still a popular ornamental piece.  Men began wearing them from their waistcoat to carry their watch.  Women began wearing them more as a decorative accessory around their neck and even around their wrist.  Perhaps this was the origin of what we now know as a “charm bracelet”.

Punch, a very influential 19th century British weekly magazine, notorious for their  sophisticated humor and satire (and is known for creating the “cartoon”), came up with an interesting use of the Chatelaine to aid mothers of young children

As I mentioned above, Chatelaines are actually still very popular. Today’s Chatelaine may look a little different and some may be purely decorative, but not all.  How many of us wear a Lanyard to hold our eyeglasses or company badge?  This very practical accessory, the Lanyard, is also a modern day form of a Chatelaine.

You can find modern day replicas of the classic Chatelaine on Etsy or EBay, as well as department stores.   But they are not only found on the runway and in fashion magazines, they are also quite popular as a ‘punk rock’ accessory in the form of a chain belt worn by both men and women, to hold wallets.  Worn primarily with jeans, but they can be worn with just about any outfit.  So, the name may have changed, but I believe the practicality of being able to have handy what you need, at a moment’s notice, will never loose its appeal, and if it can be decorative too, why not?

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References: Millys Marvels, Mental Floss, Louis Dell’ Olio, Wikipedia,

Bye, Bye, Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Robert and CoraI’m not the only one saddened to see this award-winning British TV series end.  It’s been six years of pure joy and escapism.  For the past six glorious years, we’ve been transported to the opulent ancestral home of aristocrats Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham and their daughters, Mary, Sybil and Edith.

Downton Abbey sisters
Mary, the eldest daughter, elegant and graceful but headstrong, opinionated and daring to strike out on her own.  Darling Sybil, the middle daughter who defies the family by falling madly for the politically-active chauffeur. Edith, the youngest daughter for whom love and affection are always an arms-length away.

We’ve experienced the joys and heartbreak of life during this time as we’ve watched the Grantham family and the household staff experience love,  marriage, childbirth and death. We’ve stood hand-and-hand as they lost family members in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 . . . faced the direct, hard-hitting impact of the war years on their home, their lives and their future . . . coped with the changing morals, dress and labor landscape of the Roaring 20’s . . . and struggled with the decline of finances, lifestyles and ever-changing political climate.

We’ve become part of the inservice family below the stairs as well, watching as the fiercBTCyys-d4Rxlely loyal Mr. Carson, butler to the Earl of Grantham, manages the house and staff with discipline, integrity, and on occasion, patience. His stern demeanor masks the soft, squishy teddy-bear interior that we all know exists.  Firmly planted in the traditions of the past, Mr. Carson painfully and slowly must adapt to a new age.

His female foil and ultimate soul-mate is the pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.  Respected, admired and feared by the female servants, Mrs. Hughes runs the household staff efficiently and compassionately.  Just a jiggle of those intimidating house keys hanging around her waist and everyone pops to.

Mrs. Patmore is my absolute favorite character.  She is the plump, protective, persnickety head cook who doesn’t let anyone get the last word. High-strung and quick tempered, her sharp wit, below the stairs, is as enjoyable as the Dowager Countess’s are above season2_world_onset_04the stairs.  And, of course, the Dowager Countess, matriarch of the family, mother of Robert and grandmother of Mary, Sybil and Edith, who is an absolute joy to watch. Proud, loyal and schooled in the old traditions, she never lets impropriety get in the way of her sharp tongue.

The cast has come and gone over the six years, but not to be forgotten are my favorites:  Mrs. Crawley, Matthew’s mother, firmly planted in her middle-class mores and feminist attitudes. John Bates, the wounded soldier who fought side-by-side with Robert, Earl of Grantham, in the Boer Wars and who now works as his faithful and trusted valet.  Anna Smith, the head housemaid and chambermaid to Mary who falls madly for Mr. Bates (who wouldn’t) and somehow survives so much pain and hardship.  We’ve watched the scheming, manipulative Thomas Barrow advance from footman to butler, leaving no one in his wake.  And, Daisy, such a sweet, naive soul who wants nothing more than to be heard and to be loved.

We’ve witnessed the installation of electricity, the telephone and the radio in the grand house. Below the stairs, we’ve seen the world of those “in service” shaken with the introduction of the typewriter, the sewing machine and the electric “whisk” or hand-mixer.  We’ve seen the uneducated become learners and teachers . . . the acceptance of what was once unacceptable . . . and the role of women grow, mature and become equal.
We’ve had ‘tea’ everyday at 4:00 pm in the book-laden library
and dined in opulent, chandeliered dining rooms, served from the left by tuxedoed footmen.  We’ve been driven in chauffeured touring cars and ridden side saddle on fox hunts over the northern dales.  We’ve seen hemlines creep up and hair be cut off.  We’ve donned our gloves for dinner and put on our “wellies” to slop the pigs.


For me, I’ve never been so captured and captivated by a TV program.  Yes, of course, its a soap opera, but it’s been a glorious soap opera taking us into a lifestyle of opulence and luxury, rich in traditions and landscapes that doesn’t exist today.  A life that some of us may have fantasized about, but knew we would never experience.

Thank you Downton Abbey for six “masterful” years!

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Downloadable Downton Abbey list of characters, PBS, Masterpiece