A lady in waiting is a female personal attendant of a royal woman or a high ranking noblewoman at royal or feudal court. In history, these women were appointed from families who were from “good society”. They were considered more as a companion of the royal mistress than a servant. This was the reason why these ladies in waiting sometimes did not even receive compensation for their work. This was the case for ladies in waiting in Europe.
However, outside Europe, normally lady in waiting was a slave or a servant and was in no way nearer to her counterpart in Europe. In the places where polygamy was practiced, these ladies used to serve the monarch and it was normally sexual services and most of them became wife or concubine.
Right from the time of monarchs and royal families, queens, princesses and royal women used to select men and women to provide them attendance and companionship. The development of the ladies in waiting and that of the royal court is directly proportional to each other. Initially, the attendants of the court used to take orders from the king and the queen as well. During the middle ages, the household of the queen was small and the actually employed ladies in waiting was very small.
During the age of the renaissance, the role of the ladies in waiting changed dramatically especially in Europe because women started playing a significant role in society and started representing in court as well. During the middle ages the French ladies in waiting were increased in number and in the early seventeenth century, they were also given the important and public role to play in the ceremonial court. The numbers and visibility of women started expanding in the early modern age. However, in late 19th and 20th centuries, the courts started reducing their staff because of new economic and political circumstances.
Duties of Ladies in Waiting
Even though the duties of ladies in waiting varied from court to court, the main functions discharged and expected were etiquette, languages, secretarial tasks, reading correspondence to their mistress and writing letters on her behalf, horse riding, embroidery, painting, participation in queenly pastimes, taking care of the wardrobe, keeping her mistress well-informed about the activities and personages at court, supervision of servants and relaying messages on command one by one.
The lady in waiting had to be proficient in performing dance forms which were performed usually by the upper class. Many ladies in waiting became some of the highest ranking nobles or mistresses of the king. In fact, the history of England was affected because of some of the famous ladies in waiting and this shows their importance in the royal court circles.
The role of the ladies in waiting used to change and progressed according to the desires of the queen and the monarch. Usually, the lady in waiting was selected by the queen from the noble families and from her close friends and confidants.