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The Historical Significance and Actual Duties of a Lady-in-Waiting

Historical Significance and Duties of a Lady-in-Waiting
History is filled with famous ladies-in-waiting of which some are famous for their notoriety, some for their political influence, and some for their loyalty towards their mistresses. With Historyplex, find out who is a lady-in-waiting and what are the duties she undertakes.
Rucha Phatak
Last Updated: Sep 25, 2017
Notable Ladies-in-Waiting in History
Anne Boleyn
◆ Louise Marie of Savoy-Carignan
◆ Gabrielle de Polastron
◆ Anne Boleyn
◆ Jane Parker, Lady Rochford
◆ Jane Dormer
◆ Anna Vyrubova
You must have seen a photograph or a newsprint of the Queen of England. If you have paid vivid attention, there are well-dressed and smiling ladies standing close to the queen. And if you have seen the queen on television, you'll notice that how the ladies in the background walk one step behind the queen and carry her bouquets for her. These fine ladies are called Ladies-in-Waiting.

The word Lady-in-Waiting may sound archaic as its use dates back to time that can't be recalled. Every queen, princess, and a high-ranking noble woman had her own female personal assistants in earlier times. This practice still continues with the Queen Elizabeth II having six ladies-in-waiting to assist her. So, what does a lady-in-waiting do for the queen? These are more are addressed in the sections below.
Beautiful girls in medieval dresses
✦ According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a lady-in-waiting refers to "a woman whose job is provide help to a queen or princess" and "a lady of a queen's or a princess's household appointed to wait on her." They can be considered as personal assistant of a queen, a princess, or a noble woman.
A lady-in-waiting is a generic term. A senior female assistant to a queen is called the 'Mistress of the Robes.' Then comes the 'Lady of the Bedchamber' and 'Women of the Bedchamber.' Unmarried ladies are often called the 'Maids of Honor.' Collectively, they are called ladies-in-waiting.
✦ Ladies-in-waiting are the vital part of any royal household. Historically, they were chosen from noble families of ranks lower than their mistresses. However, nowadays, it is not necessary for a lady-in-waiting to come from a noble family. However, they are known to the queen. Many times, the ladies are relatives of their mistresses.

✦ Usually, a queen or a princess appoints her own ladies-in-waiting. In earlier times, even though a queen had the right of choice, it would be heavily influenced by her parents, her husband, and the sovereign. The number of the ladies vary depending upon each queen and her needs.

✦ The existing ladies-in-waiting approach suitable women to see if they can accept the post if the offer is made. Then the queen appoints those women for the posts.
What Does a Lady-in-Waiting Wear?
Beautiful medieval woman in red dress
✦ As these ladies belong to the royal household, they dress in finery. In earlier times, they used to wear ankle-length and long-sleeved dresses. They would often wear a headpiece on a neatly tied hair. A veil was also worn with the headpiece.

✦ Nowadays, ladies-in-waiting don age-appropriate dresses.
Duties and Responsibilities
✦ A lady-in-waiting is considered as a companion of a queen rather than a servant. Therefore, she does not engage herself in the household chores like cleaning, cooking, etc. The other paid members of the royal household carry out these jobs.

✦ She is looked upon as a confidant, personal assistant, and even as a friend. However, the duties varies from court to court. In general, ladies-in-waiting would follow the court's etiquette, handle the queen's correspondence, participate in her pastime like dancing, music, reading, embroidery, etc., take care of her wardrobe, guard the queen's jewels, take care of her other intimate needs, accompany her on tours when she travels without the king, keep a note of the queen's activities, offer useful advice, etc. This job has evolved over the years.

✦ Ladies-in waiting often stay with the queen wherever she lives. Earlier they used to stay is the same chamber as the queen, but usually their chambers are closer to the queen's.

✦ In earlier times, these fine ladies were not allowed to get married prior to the queen's permission.

✦ The current ladies-in-waiting of the Queen Elizabeth II work part-time for two weeks and take four weeks off. When on duty, they stay with the queen. They accompany her when the Duke of Edinburgh is not available. They carry bouquets that are given to the queen on her visits. They handle her correspondence. They keep track of her engagements and help her. The ladies-in-waiting attend public and personal matters of the queen.

✦ They are not paid, but given allowances. They do not receive a regular salary as they serve for honor.

✦ They serve for several years and do not retire. If a lady is unable to carry out her duties due to ill health, she is appointed as an extra, but keeps the title.
Historical Significance
✦ Though one thinks that a female personal attendant to a queen won't have much impact in history, there are quite a few who have contributed in changing the course of history.
Henry VIII
Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon
✦ Anne Boleyn might be the first name that comes to our mind when we think of an example. Before her marriage to King Henry VIII of England, she was known as a maid of honor to the Claude of France and later to King Henry's first wife Catherine of Aragon. She became the object of King Henry's desire, but rejected his offer to take her as his chief mistress. Henry's annulment from his wife, marriage to Anne, and later her execution (on charges of treason and adultery) made her a key figure in the English Reformation.
Portrait of Jane Seymour
Jane Seymour
✦ However, Anne Boleyn wasn't the only lady-in-waiting who caught King Henry's attention. Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr all once held the lady-in-waiting post to their previous queens till they ascended the throne.
Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr
Catherine Parr
✦ Anne Boleyn's sister-in-law Jane Parker, also known as Lady Rochford, was a lady-in-waiting to all of King Henry's wives excluding Catherine Parr. She played a key role in the execution her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, her husband, George Boleyn, and Henry's fifth wife Catherine Howard.
Queen Marie Antoinette
Queen Marie Antoinette
✦ Not all the ladies-in-waiting are famous for their scandals. Madame Campan who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette of France is famous for her memoirs that she left behind, which were penned in clear and natural style.
The appointment of ladies-in-waiting is in practice for centuries. Every queen or princess has changed the tradition a little to adapt to their needs. However, the tradition was broken by Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, by not specifically appointing anyone on the post. The Duchess was rumored to go on her first foreign tour without any lady-in-waiting at her heels. Even though she has her personal staff to help her with her duties, there is no known lady-in-waiting appointed by the Duchess.