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The Countess of Airlie, the lady-in-waiting of Queen Mary

A lady-in-waiting is a female personal assistant at a court, royal or feudal, attending on a queen, a princess, or a high-ranking noblewoman. Historically, in Europe a lady-in-waiting was often a noblewoman from a family highly thought of in good society, but was of lower rank than the woman whom she attended. Although she may or may not have received compensation for the service she rendered, she was considered more of a companion than a servant to her mistress.

Lady-in-waiting is often a generic term for women whose relative rank, title and official functions varied, although such distinctions were also often honorary. A royal woman may or may not be free to select her ladies, and even when she has such freedom her choices have historically been constrained by the sovereign, her parents, her husband or the sovereign's ministers as, for example, in the so-called Bedchamber crisis.


The duties of ladies-in-waiting varied from court to court, but functions historically discharged by ladies-in-waiting included proficiency in the etiquette, languages, and dances prevalent at court; secretarial tasks; reading correspondence to her mistress and writing on her behalf; embroidery, painting, horse riding, music making and participation in other queenly pastimes; wardrobe care; supervision of servants; keeping her mistress abreast of activities and personages at court, and discreetly relaying messages upon command.


Historically, within certain traditional states of the Bini and Yoruba peoples in Nigeria, the queen mothers and high priestesses were considered "ritually male" due to their social eminence. Due to this fact, they were often attended on by women who belonged to their harems in much the same way as their actually male counterparts were served by women who belonged to theirs. Although these women effectively functioned as ladies-in-waiting, were often members of powerful families of the local nobility in their own right, and were not usually used for sexual purposes, they were none-the-less referred to as their principals' wives.

The same custom exists among a number of other tribes in the continent, such as the Lobedu people of Southern Africa.


In Belgium the ladies-in waiting have historically been chosen by the Queen herself from among the Catholic noble houses of Belgium. The chief functions at court were undertaken by members of the higher nobility, involving much contact with the royal ladies. Belgian princesses were assigned a lady upon their 18th birthday. Princess Clementine was given a Dame by her father, a symbolic act of adulthood. When the Queen entertains, the ladies welcome guests and assist the hostess in sustaining conversation.


Female relatives were often appointed on the presumption that they could be trusted as confidantes to the queen; Lady Margaret Lee was a Lady of the Privy Chamber to Queen Anne Boleyn, just as Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Cromwell was to Queen Jane Seymour. The duties of ladies-in-waiting at the Tudor court were to act as royal companions, and to accompany the Queen wherever she went. Tudor queens often had wide personal latitude in selection of their ladies-in-waiting. Usually ladies-in-waiting came from families that were highly thought of in good society; the nobility, court officials, knights and military officers, or trusted provincial supporters of the dynasty.

In the current Royal Household of the United Kingdom Lady-in-Waiting is a woman attending a female member of the Royal Family. A woman attending on a Queen Regnant or Queen Consort is often (informally) known by the same title, but is more formally styled either: Woman of the Bedchamber, Lady of the Bedchamber or Mistress of the Robes, depending on which of these offices she holds. The Women are in regular attendance, but the Mistress of the Robes and the Ladies of the Bedchamber are normally required only for ceremonial occasions. The phrase Lady-in-Waiting to The Queen has, however, been used in formal documents to denote which of the Women is actually 'on duty' at any one time.[1]

The Senior Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth II is Mistress of the Robes, Fortune FitzRoy, Duchess of Grafton. The other Ladies-in-Waiting are Virginia Ogilvy, Countess of Airlie; Diana, Lady Farnham; The Hon Mary Morrison; The Lady Susan Hussey; The Lady Elton; The Hon Mrs Whitehead; Mrs Michael Gordon Lennox and Mrs Robert de Pass.[2]

There were formerly other office-holders, including Maids of Honour, whose service entitled them to the style of The Honourable for life.[3] In recent times, Maids of Honour have only been appointed for coronations.


In Cambodia, the term "ladies-in-waiting" refers to high ranking female servants who served food and drink, fanned and massaged, and sometimes provided sexual services to the King. Conventionally, these women could work their way up from maids to ladies-in-waiting, concubines, or even queen consort. However, the six favorite court ladies of King Sisowath of Cambodia were probably initially drawn from the ranks of classical royal dancers of the lower class. He was noted for having the most classical dancers as concubines. The imperial celestial dancer, Apsara, was one of these. This practice of drawing from the ranks of royal dancers began in the Golden Age of the Khmer Kingdom. Srey Snom (Khmer: ស្រីស្នំ) is the Cambodian term for the Khmer "lady-in-waiting".


The Danish Queen employs four Hofdamer or "Court Ladies". Crown Princess Mary of Denmark has two hofdamer (Countess Victoria Bernstorff-Gyldensteen and Carolyn Heering) while other princesses of the Danish Royal Family each have one too. The chief lady-in-waiting is entitled hofmesterinde in Danish, corresponding to the English title Mistress of the Robes.


Aside from the queen and princesses du sang, the kings' maîtresses-en-titre also had official ladies-in-waiting. Several of Marie-Antoinette's favorite ladies — notably Yolande, Duchesse de Polignac — acquired political influence and wealth.

The Netherlands[edit]

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands had a total of seven Hofdames. They accompanied the Queen and the other female members of the Royal House during visits and receptions at the Royal Court. The monarch paid for their expenses, but they did not receive any salary. Not all of these ladies were members of the Dutch aristocracy, but each had a "notable" husband. Excellent social behavior and discretion was the most important recommendation for becoming a Hofdame. In 2012 the Hofdames were Ietje van Karnebeek-van Lede, Lieke Gaarlandt-van Voorst van Beest, Julie Jeekel-Thate, Miente Boellaard-Stheeman, Jonkvrouwe Reina de Blocq van Scheltinga, Elizabeth Baroness van Wassenaer-Mersmans and Bibi Baroness van Zuylen van Nijevelt-Jonkvrouwe den Beer Poortugael.

The Grootmeesteres (Grandmistress) was the highest-ranking lady at the Royal Court. Since 1984 the position has been held by Martine van Loon-Labouchere, descendant of the famous banker family, a former diplomat and the widow of Jonkheer Maurits van Loon of the famous Amsterdam canal estate.

After their voluntary retirement, Hofdames were appointed to the honorary Royal Household. The honorary Royal Household still distinguishes between Dames du Palais and Hofdames, but the category Dames du Palais is slated for discontinuation.


Historically, there has been various different hovdamer (Ladies-in-waiting). Originally, there were the position of hovfröken (maid of honor), with one or two kammarfröken (highest rank of a maid of honor): before 1719 called hovjungfru and kammarjungfru.[4] These were supervised by the hovmästarinna: she in turn was, from the reign of Queen Christina of Sweden and forward, supervised by the överhovmästarinna (Mistress of the Robes).[5] From the reign of Gustav III of Sweden, there were also the position of statsfru, which was the title for the married ladies-in-waiting in rank between the hovmästarinna and the kammarfröken. With the exception of the statsfru and överhovmästarinna, these titles are no longer in use.

Queen Silvia of Sweden has only three ladies-in-waiting.

Notable ladies-in-waiting[edit]

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex and Leicester

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Court Circular 1st June 1994: 'Lady Dugdale has succeeded the Hon Mary Morrison as Lady-in-Waiting to The Queen'.
  2. ^ The Official Website of the British Monarchy: 'Ladies-in-Waiting and Equerries'. "[1]"
  3. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Honourable". Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 (Eleventh ed.) Cambridge University Press. p.664
  4. ^ Fabian Persson (1999). Servants of Fortune. The Swedish court between 1598 and 1721. Lund: Wallin & Dalholm. ISBN 91-628-3340-5
  5. ^ Fabian Persson (1999). Servants of Fortune. The Swedish court between 1598 and 1721. Lund: Wallin & Dalholm. ISBN 91-628-3340-5

External links[edit]