Old Retainer

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    I always thought you were like a... well, slave's the wrong word, but... really? Mother pays you?

    Sterling Archer to Woodhouse, Archer

    Many servants are deeply attached to the person (or family) they work for. The old retainer is indeed often elderly, and his service has often been long, but the essential trait is his loyalty and propriety. He identifies his interests with those of his employer, regards himself as slighted by any injuries to him, and strives mightily to keep things going properly.

    Sometimes an Old Retainer will have served several generations of an old and respected family (or his own family may have done so for even longer), perhaps one of noble or even Royal Blood. An Impoverished Patrician frequently has one working for him even after the rest of the staff have been let go.

    Children who live in a family with an Old Retainer usually regard him as a member of the family, even if his manner is rather rough. Indeed, if the parents are absent, the Lonely Rich Kid may be more attached to the servant than to their father or mother. If the parent has vanished, this is the natural person to be asked to Tell Me About My Father.

    If the employer does not live up to the standards he expects (particularly in keeping up traditions), this isn't a person afraid to Speak Truth to Power—expect chilly criticism, uttered With Due Respect. Unlikely for him to leave, though. His authority in this matter may be assisted by his having worked for the family while the employer was a child. And he may do what he deems proper behind the employer's back. Females examples who does this are likely to be Silk Hiding Steel.

    Deep personal affection is likely, but the Old Retainer will not infringe on propriety to display it, though gestures such as Your Favorite are likely. Not, however, First-Name Basis. Even the children are likely to be addressed as "Master Jack" and "Miss Jill," since one must keep up the proprieties; however, once the child has grown, the servant may continue with "Master Jack" and "Miss Jill" in an interesting mix of They Call Me Mister Tibbs and First-Name Basis. An heir who tries to insist on Don't Call Me "Sir"! will find the atmosphere arctic.

    Common in such feudal societies as Feudal Future, where, indeed, his family may have worked for the employer's for generations.

    Sister Trope of The Jeeves, Battle Butler, Crusty Caretaker, Creepy Housekeeper, Matron Chaperone.

    Not to be confused with abandoned orthodontia.

    Examples of Old Retainer include:

    Anime and Manga

    • Baaya, the Fujiwara family's maid in Ojamajo Doremi. Having watched Hazuki's mom grow up, she's been able to help mother and daughter work things out.
    • The Itoshiki family butler in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. Has shown to have taken the place of parents to force the protagonist get married, via a bizarre tradition where anyone who makes eye-contact in the premesis of the family mansion during a specific night is instantly married with who they made eyecontact with.
    • The Bakers have served the Burtons for centuries!
    • Mori, to Honey, in Ouran High School Host Club. Other characters comment that the Morinozuka family has served the Haninozuka family for generations, and even invoke the trope directly by envisioning the pair in a classic "young master and devoted retainer" scene.
    • The old man Coco, a Beastman created to serve Nia in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
    • Walter Dornez, the Hellsing family retainer in Hellsing is one of these to the point in which he introduces himself as the family's retainer.
    • Raymond Bishop from G Gundam, who pretty much raised George de Sand (he mentions having taken care of him as a toddler).
    • Genji Ronoue from Umineko no Naku Koro ni is so loyal to Kinzo that he has no problem dying for the sake of reviving Kinzo's dead mistress.
    • Ohatsu and Katou from Sakura Gari are pretty tragic versions of the trope, as they're first-rate witnesses of all the tragedies surrounding the Saiki clan. Sakurako's tragic suicide throws Katou over the edge, as he was her caretaker and servant much more than the family butler... so he stabs Souma few afterwards. And Ohatsu doesn't have it much easier, as she did know about Sakurako's mom abusing Souma but couldn't denounce her because of what it'd do to the family, and that left her an emotional wreck.
      • And in regards to Katou, he actually was Sakurako's father, since he was involved with Sakurako's mom when young. No wonder he's pissed when the kid commits suicide.
    • Tanaka in Black Butler.


    Comic Books

    • Pneumann (from Alan Moore's Tom Strong comic) was built by Tom's father, and helped raise Tom from infancy. Now he helps the Strong family fight crime and perform acts of derring-do.
      • Particularly impressive in the Robots of Doom where Pneuman essentially shrugs off a 70-year old robotic lobotimization because his "first loyalty will always be to you."
    • Alfred Pennyworth of the Batman mythos was the friend of Thomas and Martha Wayne before they got murdered in their Death by Origin Story.
      • He continues to refer to Bruce and Dick as "Master Bruce" and "Master Dick" mostly as a term of affection; he still sees them as his boys, rather than grown men.
    • Superman's Kryptonian robot servant Kelex, inherited from Jor-El by way of the Phantom Zone, tends the Fortress of Solitude and worries in a detached way about the master. Until Steel's niece reprograms him with a hip-hop attitude...
    • Skink from Scion, though he's not old, fits this trope as he has served the Heron royal family for many years, especially Ethan, whom he has always been closest to. Skink also has elements of The Igor (looks-wise, anyway) and Battle Butler.
    • Tony Stark's butler Jarvis, especially when he is put in charge of maintaining Avengers Mansion. He opts to remain in Tony's service, even after being severely injured in a vicious attack by the Masters of Evil.
    • Doctor Strange: Wong has remained his manservant from the beginning. He also instructed Strange in the martial arts; as Strange declared at one point(referring to his learning martial arts from Wong), "In some ways, Wong is my servant. In others, he is my master."

    Fairy Tales

    • In The Brothers Grimm's Faithful John, the dying king orders Faithful John to prevent his son from going into a certain room. When this fails and the new king falls in love with a portrait he sees there, Faithful John accompanies him, and when he learns of perils, protects the king and his bride at the price of looking like a madman. Finally, to avoid execution, he explains, and is turned to stone.
    • In Joseph Jacobs's Tattercoats, Tattercoats is ignored by her grandfather and abused by all the servants, except for one faithful nurse, who looks after her all the time she is growing up.
    • In The Black Thief and the Knight of the Glen, it is an old servant woman who tells the knight that the thief's last tale is true, and furthermore that the knight is the baby he saved during it.

    Fan Works


    • Hobson in Arthur. In fact, when Hobson dies, Arthur says his father died.
    • The Disney movie Candleshoe features a butler that has served an old woman for years. When she starts to fall on hard times, he fires her gardener—then dresses up as him and takes care of the garden as well, in his stead. When most of her old friends die or move away, he creates another fictional character to dress up as and be her friend. Later on in the movie, it's revealed she's known all along it was him, but allowed him to continue pretending for her so they would both be happy.
    • Fearless: The personal servant Huo Yuanjia had as a child is still there to tend for the abandoned family estate when Huo comes back after years of self-imposed exile.
    • Clifton, faithful valet to down-on-his-luck movie star George Valentin in The Artist. He remains steadfast to Valentin even after being hired by Peppy Miller.


    • Older Than Feudalism: Odysseus's old nurse in The Odyssey.
      • This is probably the Trope originator for the Old Nurse subtrope of this trope.
      • Phoenix to Achilles in The Iliad is the male version.
    • Nan Ho in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series. He was the Master of the Inner Chambers to the T'ang of City Europe, and continues to be so to his son Li Yuan. He is even tasked with choosing three wives for Li Yuan, who accepts his choices without question.
    • Coram to Alanna in the Song of the Lioness series. Leads to some very sweet moments when he finally gets a romance of his own.
    • Susan in L. M. Montgomery's Anne's House of Dreams, Anne Of Ingleside, Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside
    • Judy in L. M. Montgomery's Pat of Silver Bush, who is basically Susan with an Irish accent.
    • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, in the flashbacks, Gaunt is close to his father's cook, Oric, who would watch the arriving spaceships with him, humoring his statements that his father was coming on one, and point out the constellations. (A mustered-out Jantine veteran, ironically enough in view of his later conflicts with the Jantine Patricians.)
    • The House Elves of Harry Potter
    • Mervyn Bunter is this to Lord Peter Wimsey. The two made a pact during WWI, and Bunter has been Wimsey's valet since that war ended in 1918. Wimsey tries to encourage a more egalitarian relationship with Bunter, especially during and after WWII; this leads to a Don't Call Me "Sir"! moment in The Attenbury Emeralds after Wimsey inherits the Dukedom of Denver which is only resolved by Bunter returning to using the title he's used for years instead of Wimsey's new one. Bunter also discourages his son Peter (PB) from believing himself equal to his schoolmate Bredon Wimsey, despite Wimsey's and Harriet's efforts to the contrary.
    • Despite already being a man of advancing age - and a battle-scarred veteran with hundreds of battles behind him - by the start of David Eddings' The Elenium, Sparhawk still keeps his old Squire/Manservant, Kurik, around. When one of his companions suggests it might be time to retire the old fellow so he can spend some more time with his family, Sparhawk admits that he can't even imagine it - they've been together so long, he feels as much a part of him as his sword and armor. He also states that he would've had Kurik knighted ages ago (He regularly tosses the rest of the knights around on the practice-field), but Kurik is oldfashioned and maintains that a commoner can't become a knight.
      • Kurik also has quite a few prejudices against knights, most prominently that they always place Honor Before Reason, have no common sense, and in general couldn't find their own arses with both hands and a map if he wasn't there to tell them where to start looking.
        • Also, at the peak of her time as Duchess of Erat, Polgara had a family of servants for several generations.
    • For Oldest Old Retainer ever, I nominate Jenkins, the robotic butler in Clifford D. Simak's novel, City. He serves the Webster family and their descendants faithfully for... oh, at least 10,000 years. Probably more like half a million.
    • NDR-113, better known as Andrew, serves several generations of the Martin family before gaining emancipation in Isaac Asimov's story, "The Bicentennial Man" (expanded to novel-length as The Positronic Man by Asimov and Robert Silverberg, and adapted to film as Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams).
    • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
      • Willikins, the Ramkin/Vimes family butler. Although in later appearances he seems to have been retconned to about the same age as Vimes, making him more believable as a Battle Butler.
      • Igor in Carpe Jugulum. He doesn't mind working for vampires, but is so offended by innovations that he revives the old master to deal with the next generations.
        • Actually, Igor was willing to tolerate it up to a point, but when Count Magpyr started his Villainous Breakdown Igor decided it was time to bring back the old count.
    • Butler of Artemis Fowl. The Butlers have worked for the Fowls for generations, and Butler also has a strong personal loyalty to Artemis.
      • Although Butler DOES refer to Artemis by his first name, for the most part. He uses the more formal "sir" or "master" one or two times per book.
    • Lini in The Wheel of Time has been a nursemaid for the royal family of Andor for at least two generations and soon to be a third. Even though her charges are all grown up, she still plays a parent/advisor role to them. They, for the most part, respect her opinions and it's not uncommon for one of them to think or say out loud "Lini always said..." .
    • In The Secret Garden, Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener. His mistress Lillias had asked him to take care of her roses; after her Death by Childbirth, his master had locked up the garden, but he climbed the wall to do it.
    • Probably the one of the more famous example of this trope is Hoke from the play Driving Miss Daisy, who becomes one to the titled Miss Daisy. Also, Aedelia from the same play.
    • Paul Atreides in Dune has not one, but three Old Retainers—Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho, and (although not as long as the other two) Thufir Hawat. Then again, this is for good reason, since his ascent to the head of House Atreides happens rather early.
      • Miles Teg and Patrin. It's implied that their relationship isn't platonic, though.
    • In Mary Stewart's Arthurian series, a character called Ulfin is rescued from effective slavery as a boy by King Uther. He repays this with absolute loyalty and rises to be Uther's most trusted servant, going on to a similar position with King Arthur after Uther dies. He's also the only person who actually seems to mourn Uther's death.
    • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel The Flight of the Eisenstein, Garro has a housecarl, Kaleb, as his equerry, claiming him according to an old tradition allowed after he failed to qualify as a Space Marine himself.. Some fellow Death Guard Space Marines sneer at that as a tradition that makes no sense, smacking of sentiment. When the sneering marines are going to firebomb the betrayed loyalist marines on the planet, Garro's efforts to stop them do not end in his own death only because of Kaleb's Heroic Sacrifice and death.
    • In Patricia A. McKillip's The Bell At Sealy Head, Lady Eglatyne's cook is distraught as the lady is dying. She can find another place, but she had served Lady Eglatyne since she was a little girl.
    • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novels, Fenn, having failed to qualify as a Space Marine, has worked for Caceus so long and so well that he has received longevity treatments.
    • Good old Gabriel Betteredge from Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone.
    • Sergeant Hoong is a faithful Old Retainer of Judge Dee 's family. Though he watched the Judge grow up he gave up trying to understand how his mind worked long, long ago.
    • Kostas Matsugae from the Empire of Man series. It's Backstoried that Kostas has been assigned to generally look after Prince Roger for most of Roger's life, and it's implied - and then later outright stated - that Kostas is a father-figure to Roger (who never knew his father, growing up, and is not terribly impressed when he finally does meet the man). Kostas actually does mention how proud he is of Roger, once the prince starts pulling his head out of his arse and taking on the responsibilities he needs to. So when Kostas is killed by a damncroc, Roger's Heroic BSOD is only natural - as is the depression he sinks into, for some time afterwards.
    • Variation in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Santa Sofi­a de La Piedad is actually the mother of three of the Buendias (Remedios The Beauty and thwe twins Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo), but she's always treated and seen as a maid. Even more, Santa Sofia not only doesn't mind it, but she likes such a treatment since it lets her help the family from the shadows, which is her speciality.
    • John and Elisa Barrymore from Hound of the Baskervilles. John's family, on his account, have served the Baskervilles for generations. OTOH, they've got a secret of their own: Elisa's younger brother is a Serial Killer that's on the loose, so they're morally obligated to cover up for him (he doesn't really want to, but she's very adamant into doing it, and cries bitterly when Selden bites it.)
    • Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain has Jurgen. Not only is he unfailingly loyal, he has very strict notion on what is improper for a commissar to do because it is his aide's job, and even Cain can not sway him from them.
      • When Jurgen is apparently killed in the first novel, Cain goes into shock.
    • Arguably, Mac from the Honor Harrington series. He is one of the few people in the galaxy who can make her give in to something, although unlike many other examples he didn't come into her service until she was an adult.
      • This attitude seems to be standard for stewards in the RMN.
    • Anne McCaffrey likes for her Spoiled Brats to have Old Retainers. Kylara of Pern is doted on by old Rannelly, and earless Tapha in Acorna is looked after by Aminah.
    • Mammy, the house slave from Gone with the Wind, loyally stays with the main character even after emancipation.
    • Subverted in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (and the film adaptation by James Ivory): Mr. Stevens very much sees himself as the Old Retainer of Darlington House, but his dedication comes at the price of painful self-denial, and his blind obedience results in accommodating his master's prejudices. The story is ultimately An Aesop on the dangers of loyalty taken too far.
    • Mr. Amos (among others) in Conrad's Fate. Subverted at the end, when it turns out that he is actually the Count himself gone undercover to maintain the family fortunes
    • Grigory Vasilievich in The Brothers Karamazov initially was a serf on the Karamazov estate who acted as his house servant, but even after the serfs were emancipated and his wife suggested the possibility of using their savings to start a shop in the city, he proudly declared that it was his duty to serve the Karamazov estate, even if his wife could not comprehend the duty. If he had a master other than Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov this might be understandable.
    • In James Stoddard's The High House, Carter's best friends growing up are three old retainers, Brittle, Enoch, and Chant.
    • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Be Born" Salome tells Tamarais that Krallides, her faithful councillor, had been caught, and killed. Cold-Blooded Torture had ceased to affect her, but this brings her to tears again.
    • Aerin's nurse Teka in The Hero and the Crown, a prequel to The Blue Sword.
    • Hannah in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
    • Hogg to Daniel Leary of Bantry, in David Drake's RCN Series novels, as a gamekeeper/groundsman (in theory, anyway - Hogg is far from above poaching) when Daniel was a boy, and as a very informal valet/batman to him as an adult.
    • Coram in the Song of the Lioness quartet was this to the Trebond family. He served as Alanna's man-at-arms while she was a page and for the first couple of years of her knighthood, and acted as steward when Alanna's father died. In the last book, Lioness Rampant, Buri reveals that her family has served Thayet's mother's family for generations.
    • In Jane Austen's Persuasion, after Louisa's injuries in Lyme, the old family nursemaid goes to nurse Louisa.
    • In P. G. Wodehouse's Jill the Reckless, Wally Mason comments on his lack of one.

    Live-Action TV


    Blackadder: You're fired.
    Baldrick: But I've been in your family since 1532!
    Blackadder: So has syphilis, now get out.

      • Nursie from Blackadder II, who was Queen Elizabeth's nurse as a child. Now quite addlepated (and was probably addlepated back then too), she's still got a chair next to the Queen in Her royal chambers.
    • Uncle Pete from Damages. Tom introduces him as "the one who really runs things around here" which is the kind of patronage you'd expect from a law firm partner towards someone from the domestic staff. But as it turns out, it may actually be true. Not only is he in on every plot and scheme that goes down, but he talks to Patty in a way that suggests that he actually has some dominance over her.
    • Mrs. Hall the loyal housekeeper from All Creatures Great and Small
    • Teula Tuileta or "Kumu" in the reboot of Magnum P.I. She is cultural curator of the estate and comes from a family that traces it's roots to the Hawaiian monarchy. If there is anything worth knowing about Hawaii (including say, where the otherwise unknown plants on the victim's body actually grow) she pretty well knows it.
    • Upstairs, Downstairs is practically made of this trope. But especially notable are Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges.
    • Jiiya, from Kamen Rider Kabuto, fits this role.
    • As the twenty-first-century Spiritual Successor to Upstairs, Downstairs, Downton Abbey also gets a lot of mileage from this trope. Mr. Carson, the butler, and Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, have both given their whole lives to working for the aristocratic Crawley family. Mrs. Hughes gave up her chance to marry, and Mr. Carson says outright of the Crawleys, "They're the only family I've got."
    • The Palace had Jeremy, a footman with a particular devotion toward Queen Charlotte.
    • Niles from The Nanny. His father was the butler for the previous generation of the Sheffield family. Niles grew up alongside Max, and even followed him to America.

    Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy

    • On Vivian Stanshall's comedy LP, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, the butler to the Rawlinson family is "Old Scrotum, the wrinkled retainer".

    Tabletop Games


    • Anfisa, in Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters is too old and feeble to be much good as a servant anymore, but is kept on out of loyalty, until the brother's new wife starts running the house.
    • Same goes to Firs in The Cherry Orchard. He's left behind after Madame Ranevskaya and Co. have to go, and actually dies onstage as the orchard trees are cut down.
    • Adam in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Tradition holds that Shakespeare himself played this role.
    • Old Adam Goodheart in Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore.
    • Zazu in The Lion King, even more so than in the original animation. At one point he consoled Mufasa regarding Simba's rebellious streak; "I seem to recall a young lion cub, more willful than wise. And he achieved some prominence."
    • A standard trope in Greek tragedy (appears in e.g. Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers and Euripides's Medea. A direct line exists from these to characters such as Juliet's Nurse.

    Video Games

    • Cyan of Final Fantasy VI has served a royal family for at least two generations. He's a playable character and his royal family is distinctly not.
      • Mostly because they distinctly die five minutes after you first hear of them.
    • Nanjou's butler Yamaoka in Persona. Nanjou is, indeed, more attached to him than to his parents and takes it very badly when he dies.
    • Fire Emblem has a few of these, such as Oswin for Ostia in the seventh installment and Marcus in the sixth and seventh installments.
      • Mind you, Oswin is only in his 30s and really dislikes being called old, so he comments he'd rather be called a gentleman than an old man in a support with Hector. Compared to bona fide geezer Marcus, who in that game is at least in his 40's...
      • In fact, most Crutch Characters in the Fire Emblem series tend to be such.
        • Unless they're of the "Oifaye" archetype like Seth from Sacred Stones, Titania from Path of Radiance / Radiant Dawn and Oifaye himself from Holy War. They're all in their 30's too.
    • Mr. Nakamura, butler of the Daidouji family for at least two generations in Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army.
    • In Animamundi: Dark Alchemist, Sebastain is set up to look like a reliable Old Retainer - having helped Georik raise Lillith, and the two referring to him as Uncle... and then immediately subverts the trope by having him immediately sell out Lillith to Witch Hunters and revealed that he's a spiteful little coward.
    • Impa appears to be this to Zelda (and, presumably, King Harkinian) in The Legend of Zelda CDI Games.

    Web Comics