The Necessary Woman – 6 July 2020

Here is a portrait of Bridget Holmes, a servant. Servants were essential for household well-being, especially a servant such as Bridget who was a necessary women, whose duties included scouring and cleaning chamber pots. Bridget is depicted here standing on a terrace, holding a long-handled whisk which would be used for cleaning draperies and dusting ceilings. Busy at her work, she has tucked up her white apron to keep it clean. A page boy is drawing back a curtain to reveal her, suggesting she is a person of great significance.

Bridget’s stance in the painting mimics fashionable Baroque portraits, where the subjects commonly hold instruments suggesting power and prestige. In the background is an urn, decorated with dancing nymphs. Below the vase is a heroic relief of Roman soldiers. The picture though is not cruel. Bridget’s essential service to the household is treated as essential and of great value. Every now and then, circumstances cause those who do not usually notice servants or those who do menial tasks to realise how essential their work is.

Bridget was a necessary woman in the royal households for Charles 1, Charles II, James II, and William III and Mary II. She was born in 1591 and died in 1691. Portraits of servants are very unusual, especially one such as this which is close to life size. It was painted by John Riley in 1686, and hangs today in the royal collection. Bridget died aged 100 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.


The greatest among you will be your servant.

Matthew 23:11

And whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 20:27-28


Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart; it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

Frances Ridley Havergal