Many people read about ladies-in-waiting and often see them depicted in movies or on television, but few actually know what a lady-in-waiting does for the woman she serves. Ladies-in-waiting are usually portrayed in period piece dramas such as The Tudors or The Other Boleyn Girl, but in fact ladies-in-waiting were being used as far back as pre-medieval times and in more countries then most think.
The traditional lady-in-waiting most people think of is usually from around the medieval to renaissance periods. Back in these times the ladies had a range of duties to the mistress, including helping her to dress in the morning to reading and playing music for her and even helping her during childbirth.
Most ladies-in-waiting of these times would accompany their mistress to her new home whenever she was married off and would be some of the few companions she would have and see on a daily basis. Ladies were usually appointed by the mistresses husband or father and sometimes where even gifted to her.
The title lady-in-waiting was traditionally granted to an aristocratic woman of noble birth who was of a good family in society yet was of lower rank then her mistress, female relatives were often appointed to the position. Ladies would often tend to a Queen, Princess, or high ranking noble woman. The senior lady-in-waiting is given the title of mistress of the robes. Most of their daily tasks involved reading letters to their mistress, and writing letters on their behalf. Ladies of the time possessed many talents. These included, but were not limited to, embroidery, painting, horse riding, and music. They also showed proficiency in etiquette, language and popular dances of the time.
Ladies-in-waiting are still used today. Although their duties and qualifications are not as large as they once were, they are still a huge part of their “mistresses” team. Nowadays a lady-in-waiting is more of a companion to the woman she is serving. Their jobs mainly consist of helping their mistress to collect flowers at events, attending private and personal matters, running errands and handling general correspondence. Many nobles today have ladies-in-waiting including Queen Elizabeth II with nine ladies, Queen Silvia of Sweden with three ladies, Sarah, Duchess of York had six ladies and The Duchess of Cornwall has three ladies-in-waiting.
Unlike in past times, not all ladies-in-waiting are of noble birth. Many are siblings or close friends of the ladies they serve. The Duchess of Cornwall’s ladies include an old school friend and her sister Annabelle Elliot. The late Princess Diana had three ladies from the day she was married and later added five more. Princess Diana’s ladies included her sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who was considered her “Extra Lady-In-Waiting”.
Some ladies-in-waiting have also held other positions as well. Princess Diana’s longest serving lady-in-waiting, Anne Beckwith-Smith, also served as her assistant private secretary, and Duchess Camilla’s lady-in-waiting and sister was also appointed the interior designer of the Duchy of Cornwall.
Not all noble woman immediately choose to have a lady-in-waiting. Sophie of Wessex waited 10 years to appoint a lady in waiting, choosing an old school friend and flat mate and has at least one other lady. The Duchess of Cambridge has not yet appointed a formal lady-in-waiting but many speculate she would choose her younger sister Pippa Middleton, or possibly her assistant Rebecca Deacon who already does many of the same jobs a modern lady-in-waiting would do.