A butler is the chief servant in a household. The word comes to us from Anglo-Norman, the variety of French spoken in England following the Norman Conquest. The Anglo-Norman word was buteiller, a cup-bearer or servant who served wine. The word ultimately comes from the medieval Latin buticularius. It is cognate with the word bottle, which is from the Anglo-Norman botel and the medieval Latin buticula

The role of a butler has shifted over the centuries. Once simply a cupbearer, the butler would go on to acquire responsibility a household’s wine cellar, and eventually to become the chief servant.

Butler is recorded as early as c. 1300, when the poem Kyng Alisaunder in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 622 has:

Alisaundre [...] afenge faire þat present, And departed [...] Sum to kniȝttes [...] Sum mareschales and botlers, To ȝoman, page, and joglers.

(Alexander [...] received those present according to degree, and [they] departed [...] some to knights [...] some stewards and butlers, to yeoman, pages, and jugglers.)


Middle English Dictionary, University of Michigan, 2014, s. v. boteler.

Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989, s. v. butler, n.

Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, June 2016, s. v. bottle, n.3

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