Duties of a lady in waiting

Written by amy guettler
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Duties of a lady in waiting
The queen required ladies in waiting to assist with certain duties. (queen image by Vasiliy Koval from Fotolia.com)

Throughout monarchist Europe, Russia and Japan, but particularly in England and France, a nation's queen surrounded herself with a group of young women and girls carefully chosen from wealthy families of the nobility---women who served as ladies in waiting. Important members of this elite class, ladies in waiting did not perform any chores or real labour, as these menial tasks were relegated to the royal servants. Instead, ladies in waiting generally provided companionship, advice and entertainment to their queen. Indeed, some ladies in waiting amassed sizeable influence, wealth and power, which they employed to meet and marry nobles or make lavish purchases, while others became mistresses of the king.

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History

Since the Dark Ages and well into Elizabethan and Victorian times, a queen's ladies in waiting played a variety of important roles in the royal court. Since most newly crowned queens hand-selected her own retinue of attendants---including family members like sisters and cousins, daughters of influential nobles, close friends or young ladies from foreign courts---a lady in waiting's specific duties and responsibilities tended to vary among different courts and countries. Her duties were often determined by her relationship with the queen, talents and personal qualities.

Duties of a lady in waiting
The tradition of ladies in waiting originated in England. (Britain map image by NataV from Fotolia.com)

Companionship and Advice

With her husband frequently absent to perform his kingly duties and her own family often quite distant, a queen might find herself extremely lonely and bored in an empty and chilly castle. But making friends that she could trust was no small feat, so she turned to her hand-picked ladies in waiting for company, chit-chat and noble gossip. The queen usually had a favourite and trusted lady in waiting, who would advise her in matters of romance, court and state.

Duties of a lady in waiting
Life behind castle walls was not all fun and games. (Belvoir Castle Leicestershire England image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com)

Entertainment

When a daughter was born to an influential noble family, her father often sought to advance the family's station by training his female children in the courtly arts with the hope that she secured a position as a lady in waiting. To achieve this goal, young noblewomen were taught to dance, play a musical instrument or sing, participate in conversations, and attend balls and masques. It was not uncommon for the queen and her ladies to gather near the hearth to perform needlepoint, read aloud, play cards or find other diversions from what was usually a rather tedious castle lifestyle. To get a break from the monotony of castle living, the queen and her ladies might attend a tournament or jousting match. The queen might also turn to her most trusted lady in waiting to help greet and entertain important guests at banquets or other political events.

Duties of a lady in waiting
Ladies in waiting would entertain the queen with card games. (queen on playing cards image by Nikolai Sorokin from Fotolia.com)

Intimate and Everyday Assistance

In addition to providing mealtime companionship away from prying eyes, the queen relied upon a few select ladies in waiting to help out in the bed chamber. These duties varied, from preparing a comfortable bed, drawing and overseeing the queen's baths or helping with dressing and disrobing, given the elaborate nature of her wardrobe. These same women would manage the queen's overall appearance and hygiene, as well as tend to her most intimate feminine needs.

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