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A page or page boy is traditionally a young male servant, but may also have been used for a messenger at the service of a nobleman or an apprentice knight. The origin of the term is uncertain, but may come either from the Latin pagius (servant), possibly linked to peasant or an earlier Greek word παῖς (pais = child)
The medieval page
In medieval times, a page was an attendant to a knight, i.e., an apprentice squire. Until the age of about seven, sons of noble families would receive training in manners and basic literacy from their mothers or other female relatives. Upon reaching seven years old, a boy would be sent to the castle, great house or other estate of another noble family. This would match the age at which apprenticeships or servants' employment would be entered into by young males from lower social classes.
A young boy served as a page for about seven years, running messages, serving, cleaning clothing and weapons, and learning the basics of combat. He might be required to arm or dress the lord to whom he had been sent by his own family. Personal service of this nature was not considered as demeaning, in the context of shared noble status by page and lord. It was seen rather as a form of education in return for labour. While a page did not receive reimbursement other than clothing, accommodation and food, he could be rewarded for an exceptional act of service. In return for his work, the page would receive training in horse-riding, hunting, hawking and combat - the essential skills required of adult members of his rank in medieval society. Less physical training included schooling in the playing of musical instruments, the composition and singing of songs, and the learning of board games such as chess. The initial education received as a child in reading and writing, would be continued to a level of modest competence under the tuition of a chaplain or other cleric.
At age fourteen, the young noble could graduate to become a squire, and by age 21, perhaps a knight himself. These boys were often the scions of other great families who were sent to learn the ways of the manorial system by observation. Their residence in the house served as a goodwill gesture between the two families involved and helped them gain social and political contacts for their adult lives. A reference to this kind of page is found in the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslaus: "Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling..."
This type of page is almost unheard of today outside of royal residences, although the functions and status of legislative pages (see below) are a clear continuation of the earlier role.
The household page
Until the early 20th century boys of humble background might also gain a similar place in a great house. According to the International Butler Academy, these pages were apprentice footmen. Unlike the hall boys, who did heavy work, these pages performed light odd jobs and were liveried when the aristocrat was entertaining.
The decorative page
During and following the Renaissance it became fashionable for black boys and young men to be decorative pages, placed into fancy costumes and attending fashionable ladies and lords. This custom lasted for several centuries and the "African page" became a staple accoutrement of baroque and rococo style.
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Many legislative bodies employ student pages as assistants to members of the legislature during session. Legislative pages are secondary school or university students who are unpaid or receive modest stipends. They serve for periods of time ranging from one week to one year, depending on the program. They typically perform small tasks such as running errands, delivering coffee, answering telephones, or assisting a speaker with visual aids. Students typically participate primarily for the educational benefit.
The following examples illustrate the range of legislative page programs:
- The Canadian House of Commons Page Program employs part-time first-year university students who work roughly 15 hours a week and are paid approximately $12,000 (CDN) for a one-year term. They perform both ceremonial and administrative duties and participate in enrichment activities such as meetings with MPs and government leaders. They also meet with student groups to explain the workings of the House of Commons and their duties as Pages. The Canadian Senate Page Program is similar.
- The Legislative Assembly of Ontario employs 7th and 8th grade students for periods of two to six weeks during the legislative session. Participants must be high-achieving students who take leaves of absence from their schools while they serve as pages. Duties of pages include acting as messengers in the legislative chamber, taking water to MPP's, and picking up key documents (bills, petitions, motions, reports by committee). They also have opportunities to learn about provincial government and the lawmaking process.
- United States
- Both houses of the United States Congress have formal page programs. In both the House and Senate programs, pages are high school juniors from throughout the country. The application process is very competitive. Pages serve for periods of several weeks during the summer or for a full school semester during term. They live in dormitories near the Capitol and attend special schools for pages, but are always present on the Senate and House floor during session to assist the proceedings as needed.
- In the Virginia General Assembly the pages range from young males and females 13-15. They assist Senators and Delegates with deliveries and errands.
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- Tuchman, Barbara W. A Distant Mirror - the Calamitous 14th Century. p. 52 & 62. ISBN 0-14-005407-3.
- The Slave in European Art: From Renaissance Trophy to Abolitionist Emblem, ed Elizabeth McGrath and Jean Michel Massing, London (The Warburg Institute) and Turin 2012.
- Legislative Page Program, Legislative Assembly of Ontario website, accessed November 1, 2010