Ellen Lloyd – Icestech.info – Would you like to have a personal assistant who helped you with daily routines? Most of us have to cope with everyday duties on our own. Not many can afford such luxury and frankly, some would even feel embarrassed if a stranger was there all the time and assisted us.
The duties of ladies in waiting varied from court to court. Credit: History Extra
This was, however a completely different story in England during the Tudor and Elizabethan Era (1485 – 1602). In those days, a lady in waiting was an important profession that could sometimes even be slightly dangerous. A lady in waiting could be found in most European royal courts, not only the English one.
Power Of Royal Women
Royal women “exercised significant influence and power in most early modern societies, whether as rulers in their own right in the wives or mothers of kings. They possessed their own residential quarters and households that provided them with a store of patronage; these physical environments largely dominated by women often developed into important social and political centers.
Anne Boleyn (c. 1501/07–1536) served as a lady in waiting before her marriage to King Henry VIII. Image credit: nerdalicious
There is accordingly every reason to think that a ‘politics of intimacy’ should have developed around queens as well as kings, in which female courtiers would have been actively involved. Even if they could not normally hold judicial and administrative offices in the administration of royal government or lead armies and embassies, some women were
Well-placed to gather and spread inside information, influence the distribution of certain forms of patronage, and facilitate contacts and agreement between powerful men and women.” 1
Daily Life And Duties Of A Lady In Waiting
Being a lady in waiting, (also called a waiting maid) may sound like a simple job, but it was a very respectable profession, and this woman had access to vital royal information.
Only a noble woman could become a lady in waiting. The woman was chosen from a high society by the queen herself.
There are several examples of renowned ladies in waiting who later became prominent historica figures. One famous lady in waiting was Jane Seymour (1508 –1537) who eventually became a queen herself. She was the third wife of King Henry VIII.
Sadly, Jane Seymour died during childbirth, but at least she had more luck than several other of Henry VIII’s other wives who were executed by the king. Seymour was the only one of Henry’s wives to receive a queen’s funeral, and his only consort to be buried beside him in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
A lady in waiting can be best described as a personal assistant whose job was to accompany a queen, a princess, or a noblewoman, as a trusted companion. She helped with dressing and made certain that the lady she served was always entertained. Popular entertainment in those days included riding, painting, and embroidery.
Marie Louise of Savoy-Carignan, Princesse de Lamballe was lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette of France. Credit: Public Domain
Belonging to the royal court, a lady in waiting was also expected to participate in balls and masques. On those occasions, she could establish contact with prominent people. Having powerful links gave a lady in waiting opportunity to make an impression on the English nobility.
Another important duty of a lady in waiting was to keep the queen updated with the latest gossips from the royal court. A lady in waiting always knew what was happening and she frequently heard conversations of monarchs, which was also a reason why she could easily be drawn into a scandal.
She also had to deal with all kind of correspondence.She read letters to the queen and she also wrote on her behalf. Being the queen’s most trusted friend, there wasn’t much a lady in waiting didn’t know about. This kind of intimacy could be beneficial to her future carrier, but sometimes also troublesome if there were problems at the court. This also explains why a lady in waiting could easily be drawn into a scandal.
Written by Ellen Lloyd – Icestech.info
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Expand for references
1. Smuts, R. Malcolm, Nadine Akkerman, and Birgit Houben. Early Modern Women 9, no. 2 (2015): 189-92.
Harris, Barbara J. “Women and Politics in Early Tudor England.” The Historical Journal 33, no. 2 (1990): 259-81.