Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. An attendant or servant.
  • n. A knight's page.
  • n. A rascal; a knave.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A servant or attendant.
  • n. Specifically, a youth acting as a knight's attendant at the beginning of his training for knighthood.
  • n. A rogue or scoundrel.
  • n. The jack.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A servant, especially to a knight; an attendant; a valet; a footman.
  • n. Hence, a low fellow; a scoundrel; a rascal.
  • n. In a pack of playing cards, the court card now called the knave, or jack.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Originally, a very young man of noble or knightly birth, serving an apprenticeship in knightly exercises and accomplishments while awaiting elevation to the rank of knight; hence (because such youths served as pages or personal servants to the knights who had charge of them), a body-servant or attendant. (See valet.) The name was also given to the city bailiffs or Serjeants.
  • n. Hence, one in a subordinate or menial position; a low fellow; a scoundrel; a rascal; a rogue: a term of contempt or reproach.
  • n. The coat-card now called the knave or jack (in French, valet).

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel
  • n. in medieval times a youth acting as a knight's attendant as the first stage in training for knighthood

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old French, variant of vaslet; see valet.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old French varlet. Compare valet. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • She called the varlet within the chapel, and showed him this wonder.

    French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France

  • A varlet is a valet who has come down, and down, and down, and down again in the world, till, from once having been the servant and the trusty friend of the very best of masters, he has come to be the ally and accomplice of the very worst of masters.

    Bunyan Characters (3rd Series)

  • "And 'varlet' is the wrong gender, anyway," observed Bess.

    Nan Sherwood at Rose Ranch

  • Philippa recognised him at once as the personal "varlet" attendant on the Countess.

    The Well in the Desert An Old Legend of the House of Arundel

  • "varlet," named Bogis, who was lifted on the shoulders of his comrades, till he could climb in at an undefended window, where he drew up sixty more with ropes.

    Cameos from English History, from Rollo to Edward II

  • I don't know about you, but I think Pile's Friar Tuck would be offended at such a blunt address, and would probably say something like, How now, thou naughty varlet?

    Archive 2009-05-01

  • He got up and swung his sword at the varlet seated on the ground, and the man parried with the haft of his ax, and there was a dull thunk when steel met ironwood.

    Wildfire

  • The Wolf—who was not a warrior of the Blood, but a mere varlet—had a hole in his chest.

    Wildfire

  • He wore an undyed tunic that fell short of his knobby knees, and his sword proved to be the sort of everyday long knife any varlet might have.

    Wildfire

  • I ought not to have touched the varlet, I knew that, but I acted in desperation.

    Wildfire

Comments

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  • Saint Edward cried, “It is monstrous sin
    A beggar to lie in rags so thin!
    An old gray-beard and the frost so keen:
    I shall give him my fur-lined gaberdine.�?

    He stripped off his gaberdine of scarlet
    And wrapped it round the aged varlet,
    Who clutched at the folds with a muttered curse,
    Quaking and chattering seven times worse.

    - Robert Graves, 'The Shivering Beggar'.

    December 31, 2008