#ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmmm. Funny that it wasn’t until the middle of the 6th season that this question dawned on me. The soon-to-be-married Mrs Hughes was talking to Mrs Patmore about the turmoil she felt about losing her virginity so late in life, and Mrs Patmore said something to the effect that she will probably never know the thrill of “the maritals” herself…. and a little lightbulb went off in my head. Why are they both referred to as “Mrs” if they’re both (pardon the expression) old maids? Was it a servant thing? An early 20th/late 19th century thing? Turns out, it’s kind of both. From the Downton Abbey Wiki:
It is ultimately unclear whether there ever was a Mr Patmore, as “Mrs” is used as a courtesy for housekeepers and cooks regardless of whether they were or currently are married. However, in Episode 6.01, we witness a strained conversation between Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes — presumably another holder of the courtesy title — about Mr Carson’s likely expectations of her as his future bride. In that exchange, Mrs Patmore clearly insinuates that she has had no first-hand experience of married life. In Mistresses and marriage: or, a short history of the Mrs (PDF) (or ), Amy Louise Erickson states that “In the middle of the eighteenth century, ‘Mrs’ did not describe a married woman: it described a woman who governed subjects (i.e., employees or servants or apprentices) or a woman who was skilled or who taught”.
So cooks, housekeepers, governesses, and such were referred to as “Mrs” to give them an air of authority and respect. Interesting.
I guess it’s similar to French, where a girl goes from “Mademoiselle” to “Madame” when she marries, but also just as an honorific when she gets older. Is that right?