Latin, pincerna.

Despite the menial nature of the office itself, the butler was an honourable officer in the royal household, later in the households of the higher nobility, normally a high-ranking noble in his own right.

Like most household offices, that of butler ultimately derives from the Carolingian court. Their recorded history in England goes back to the ninth century. The father of Alfred the Great's mother had held the office, and a butler of King Alfred himself is recorded. All the butlers recorded in Domesday Book, however, were Normans, the wealthiest of them, Alfred the butler, being a tenant of the Conqueror's half-brother and one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom.

For further information, see L.M. Larson, The king's Household in England before the Norman Conquest (1904); Simon Keynes, The diplomas of King Aethelred 'the Unready', 978-1016 (1980); John F.A. Mason, 'Barons and their officials in the later eleventh century', Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 13 (1991), pages 243-62; and David Crouch, The image of aristocracy in Britain, 1000-1300 (1992).