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Lady-in-waiting

The meaning of «lady-in-waiting»

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

In other parts of the world outside Europe, the lady-in-waiting, often referred to as palace woman, was often in practice a servant or a slave rather than a high-ranking woman, but still had about the same tasks, functioning as companion and secretary to her mistress. In courts where polygamy was practised, a court lady was formally available to the monarch for sexual services, and she could become his wife, consort, courtesan, or concubine.[citation needed]

Lady-in-waiting or court lady 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 are usually heavily influenced by the sovereign, her parents, her husband, or the sovereign's ministers (for example, in the Bedchamber Crisis).

The development of the office of lady-in-waiting in Europe is connected to that of the development of a royal court. During the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, Hincmar describes the royal household of Charles the Bald in the De Ordine Palatii from 882, in which he states that court officials took orders from the queen as well as the king. Already Merovingian queens are assumed to have had their personal servants, and in the 9th century it is confirmed that Carolingian queens had an entourage of guards from the nobility as a sign of their dignity, and some officials are stated to belong to the queen rather than the king.[1]

In the late 12th century, the queens of France are confirmed to have had their own household, and noblewomen are mentioned as ladies-in-waiting.[1] During the Middle Ages, however, the household of a European queen consort was normally small and the number of actually employed ladies-in-waiting, rather than wives of noblemen accompanying their husbands to court, was very small: in 1286, the queen of France had only five ladies-in-waiting in her employ, and it was not until 1316 that her household was separated from that of the royal children.[1]

The role of ladies-in-waiting in Europe changed dramatically during the age of the Renaissance, when a new ceremonial court life, where women played a significant part, developed as representation of power in the courts of Italy and spread to Burgundy, from Burgundy to France, and to the rest of the courts of Europe.[1] The court of the Duchy of Burgundy was the most elaborate in Europe in the 15th century and became an example to France when the French royal court expanded in the late 15th century and introduced new offices for both men and women to be able to answer to the new renaissance ideal.[1] From small circle of married femmes and unmarried filles, with a relatively humble place in the background during the Middle Ages, the number of French ladies-in-waiting were rapidly expanded, divided into an advanced hierarchy with several offices and given an important and public role to play in the new ceremonial court life in early 16th-century France.[1] This example was followed by other courts in Europe, where courts expanded and became more ceremonial during the 16th century, and the offices, numbers and visibility of women expanded in the early modern age.[1]

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