A lady of a royal court appointed to serve or attend a Queen, Princess, or high ranking noblewoman. A Lady in Waiting was not quite a servant. Ladies in Waiting were considered 'noble companions' who, by their status and nobility, could better advise a woman of high station.
History of the Lady in Waiting
The role of a Lady in Waiting changed and evolved according to to wishes of the reigning monarch and Queen. The role of the English Lady in Waiting dated back to the Dark Ages and the Medieval period. Where there was a Queen there was always a requirement for high ranking ladies to attend her. They were not expected to perform trivial and menial tasks - these were performed by servants. The Lady in Waiting was an important member of the royal court and played an active role in participating with court entertainments, such as masques, dance and musical entertainment. The Ladies in Waiting were selected from high ranking and noble families. The Lady in Waiting played an important role in the history of England. Many Ladies in Waiting became the mistresses of the King or the highest ranking nobles of England. The most famous Ladies in Waiting in English history were:
The history of England was changed forever by these famous ladies in waiting and illustrates the importance of the Lady in Waiting in royal court circles.
- Katherine Swynford - Katherine de Roet married a Knight called Hugh Swynford and became Katherine Swynford. Her sister Phillipa was married to Geoffrey Chaucer and both served as ladies in waiting. Katherine Swynford became the mistress of John of Gaunt and they eventually married. Their Beaufort children were subsequently legitimised. John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford started the Tudor and Yorkist Royal Houses. Katherine Swynford was therefore a direct descendant of Queen Elizabeth I
- Mary Boleyn - Lady in Waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon and became the mistress of King Henry VIII . Her role as the King's mistress was then taken by another Lady in Waiting - her sister Anne Boleyn
- Anne Boleyn - Lady in Waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. Anne Boleyn replaced Katherine of Aragon and married King Henry VIII - this important lady in Waiting was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I
- Jane Seymour - Lady in Waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn. Jane Seymour replaced Anne Boleyn and married King Henry VIII - this important lady in Waiting was the mother of King Edward VI
- Catherine Howard - Lady in Waiting to Anne of Cleves. Catherine Howard married King Henry VIII - and was executed for treason and adultery
- Jane Rochford - Lady in Waiting to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. This vicious woman was instrumental in the bringing about the execution by beheading of these two young queens
Lady in Waiting during the Tudor and Elizabethan era
The role of a Lady in Waiting changed and evolved according to to wishes of the reigning monarch and Queen. The Presence Chamber was the general public room where Queen Elizabeth met her political guests. The Privy Chamber "marked the frontier between the public and private lives of the monarch; institutionally its staff alone served both of the monarch's two bodies: the actual 'body natural' and 'the majesty of the body politic". Queen Elizabeth I then separated the Privy Chamber from the Bedchamber in 1559. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I there were several levels of ladies in waiting:
- The highest level - the royal Lady in Waiting who were selected from the most noble women in England. These were unpaid ladies of the Privy Chamber. Unpaid ladies gained in status and political power instead of cash, had few duties, other than to keep the Queen company or to impress visiting dignitaries
- Ladies of the Privy chamber - The Privy Chamber were the private rooms in which Queen Elizabeth would often eat, accompanied by her ladies in waiting and away from the public gaze. The ordinary servants of the privy chamber were known as chamberers.
- Ladies of the Bed chamber - The most senior ladies in waiting in the Privy Chamber were the "four Gentlewomen of the Bedchamber" who saw to the Queen's most intimate requirements
- Maids of Honour - the term Maid of Honour was generally used to describe an unmarried Lady in Waiting
What were the duties and life of a Royal Lady in Waiting?
The life and duties of a royal lady in waiting were attending the Queen whilst she undertook the following pastimes or entertainments
- Music - the Elizabethan Lady in Waiting was expected to play Elizabethan musical instruments of the period
- Elizabethan Dance - the Elizabethan Lady in Waiting was expected to be proficient in a variety of dances performed by the Upper Classes
- Court Entertainments such as Masques - The first recorded appearance of Anne Boleyn as a Lady in Waiting at the Tudor Court was on March 1, 1522 at a masque
- Reading and embroidery
The Elizabethan Lady in Waiting was expected to accompany Queen Elizabeth I on her frequent processions throughout England, attend State functions and important occasions, attending to all of the requirements of the queen. The Clothing of the Elizabethan Lady in Waiting was governed by the strict Sumptuary Laws which dictated what materials their clothes should be made of and which furs they were allowed to wear. A Lady of Waiting was not allowed to marry without the prior consent of the Queen. Indeed Queen Elizabeth was expected to help to find suitable husbands for her Maids of Honour.
How was a Elizabethan Lady in Waiting selected?
Queen Elizabeth I played an important part in the selection of her ladies in waiting. Ladies in Waiting were selected from high ranking and noble families and the most intimate friends and confidantes of Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth was a very loyal person who never forgot the kindnesses shown to her, during the often perilous years before she became Queen of England, by friends and relatives. Her closest Ladies in waiting were therefore selected from these trusted women, regardless of their status.
Elizabethan Ladies in Waiting
The following list provides facts and information about some of Queen Elizabeth I Ladies in Waiting:
- Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury - (1521 - 1607) Started her life relatively poor. She married four times, became a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth and was the second most powerful Elizabethan woman, next to Queen Elizabeth
- Lettice Knollys 1540-1634 - Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth - married the Queen's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in secret
- Margaret Radcliffe ( 1577 - 1599 ) Lady in Waiting & Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth
- Margaret Russell ( 1560 - 1616 ) Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth
- Kat Ashley - Faithful servant of Queen Elizabeth from a small, neglected child to the most powerful woman in England. Kat Ashley was a Chief Lady of the Bedchamber
- Catherine Carey - Catherine Carey was the daughter of Anne Boleyn's sister Mary Boleyn and the cousin of Queen Elizabeth. She married Francis Knollys. Catherine Carey was a Chief Lady of the Bedchamber
- Blanche Parry - Blanche Parry had cared for Queen Elizabeth since her childhood and became Gentlewomen of the Bedchamber
- Anne Russell - Maid of Honour and Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Anne Russell married Ambrose Dudley the brother of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
- Elizabeth Throckmorton - Elizabeth Throckmorton was Lady in Waiting & Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth and the wife of Sir Walter Raleigh
- Lady Elizabeth Tyrrwhit - Lady Elizabeth Tyrrwhit was the chief Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth
- Anne Vavasour - Anne Vavasour was Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth and the mistress of the Earl of Oxford
- Frances Walsingham - Frances Walsingham was Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth and the wife of Sir Philip Sydney. Her second husband was the Earl of Essex
- Elizabeth Brydges - Elizabeth Brydges was the daughter of Giles Brydges, the 3rd baron Chandos, she was Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth and was at court in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth died and consequently was included in Queen Elizabeth's funeral procession