Thursday, April 10, 2008

Question from Sarah - Maid of Honor v. Lady in Waiting

What is the difference between a maid-of-honor and a lady-in-waiting?


Anonymous PhD Historian said...

I am not exactly an expert in this area, but from what I have been able to determine through my research on aristocratic women in England in the mid-Tudor period, the difference was two-fold. Firstly, a "maid-of-honor" was exactly that: a maiden, meaning an unmarried female, usually of fairly young age. Jane Grey, for example, served as a maid or "maid-of-honor" to Queen Katherine Parr in ca. 1546-48 when she (Jane) was only about 10-12 years old. A "Lady-in-waiting," on the other hand, was a "Lady" in the sense that she was an adult and married. Elizabeth Hardwick, known today as Bess of Hardwick, served as a lady-in-waiting to Frances Brandon Grey, then Marchioness of Dorset, in 1547. Elizabeth was already a widow by 1547, and in that same year she was married for the second time ... in the Grey family chapel at Bradgate. The second difference between the two titles is one of status. A maid-of-honor was essentially an apprentice, receiving hands-on training in correct social behavior by observing her social superiors. She was also usually entirely financially dependent upon her patroness. A lady-in-waiting held higher status by virtue of both experience and whatever financial independence might be associated with being married or a widow (i.e., ladies-in-waiting were not usually totally dependent financially upon their patroness).

April 10, 2008 9:00 PM  
Blogger kb said...

Frequently, the term Lady-in-waiting is used as a generic term covering maids of honour, maids of the court, ladies of the presence chamber, ladies of the privy chamber and ladies of the bed chamber.

There is a difference between maids of the court and maids of honour. These two terms are often confused. Maids of honour were almost always in their 16th year or older (15 or 16). Anne Bassett was turned down for the post of maid of honour to Anne Boleyn as she was not yet old enough. She eventually won a place under Jane Seymour. [Lisle Letters]. Under Mary and Elizabeth maids of honour were at court as a finishing school and to make a good marriage. Maids of the court could be younger. Elizabeth Knollys was a maid at the age of 9 under Elizabeth and appears in the payment records for 1559.

The payment records unfortunately tend to confuse things further. Some maids and women were paid and others were not. Elizabeth Spencer Carey, distant ancestor of Princess Diana, does not appear in the payment records but was addressed as 'one of the honorable ladies of her majestie's privy chamber'. Ladies of the presence chamber seem never to have been paid. These were titled women who were on call for special occasions such as entertaining foreign dignitaries.

Under Elizabeth it does not seem to matter if the ladies were married or not. Even if they were not paid, they received room and board at court for them and their servants (if they were ladies) plus additional gifts at the queen's pleasure.

Sorry if I've gone on a bit here but this is an area I have researched.

April 11, 2008 6:22 AM  
Anonymous PhD Historian said...

You did not "go on a bit" ... not at all. One of the things I really like about this site is the sharing of knowledge, and clearly you have considerable knowledge of the intricacies of positions for women at court. Well done! And thank you for sharing and expanding my own knowledge.

April 11, 2008 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent book on this subject was written by Anne Somerset- "Ladies in Waiting". It explains the role of the woman at a man's court, and how the titles for serving in a queen's bedchamber came about.

It does focus on those ladies who became especially affectionate with the king, such as Anne Boleyn, but there is enough general information on those who just did their duty...and what those duties were.

It is also an easy read, which is so important when a person is just learning about a topic. There are plenty of details, but the reader doesn't get bogged down in little things.

April 12, 2008 6:33 AM  
Blogger Foose said...

kb, your post was very informative, particularly about the age break (was there an age cutoff at the upper end as well as the lower? Because both Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn might have been rather older maids of honor, in their twenties. Could one be a maid of honor as an unmarried woman in her 30s or 40s?). In your research, have you come across or been able to compile any lists of the maids of honor and ladies of waiting to Henry's various queens? I have looked and all I have been able to find are piecemeal references, usually in regard to the king taking an interest in a lady or factional intrigues.

I am thinking of a recent question in this forum, regarding the "very handsome young lady" of 1534, who attracted the king. If Henry was following his usual M.O., it was likely to have been a maid of honor to Anne Boleyn. If there was some sort of list extant, it might be possible to narrow down the possibilities by following up on the subsequent careers of these maids.

April 13, 2008 7:40 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

Coincidentally I just picked up "Ladies in Waiting" at Half Price Books for $6 last week. I had checked it out from the library but never got around to reading it, so I took it back. Now I have a copy of my own! :)

April 14, 2008 6:40 PM  
Blogger kb said...

For Foose,

I know of no absolute age break at the upper end. However, it would have been VERY unusual for an elite woman to have never been married by their thirties or forties. If a woman had lost a husband, she could return to court as a widow, essentially re-entering the court's marriage market perhaps as a lady of the privy chamber. Women could stay at court as long as the monarch wished - sometimes much to the chagrin of their husbands who were at home alone. My research at the moment is strictly limited to Elizabeth's court so I have no lists of women during Henry's reign other than the stray references - as you say. I know that Katherine Carey, Mary Boleyn's daughter, was a maid of honour to Anne of Cleves and may have been part of Katherine Parr's household, but this is because I am specifically interested in the Carey family. I hope at some point to be able to widen my research. The documentation on women at court is difficult to assemble. Payment records are not necessarily complete and frequently vague. There were several attempts at streamlining and keeping better records of royal household employees but extant documents do not resemble the sort of record-keeping we know and love or loathe today. Payment records for the Exchequer and the Lord Chamberlain's accounts are mostly at the National Archives in Kew Gardens. For Elizabeth's court some of Cecil's payment records are in the British Library. There is much work still to be done on the women of the Tudor court and those of us working on it are very grateful to Charlotte Merton who established the identities of most of the women in Mary's and Elizabeth's court in her (unpublished, Cambridge) doctoral thesis. Hopefully, she will publish one day. In the meantime, I echo what others have said in that the Somerset book is pretty good. Just don't forget that for half the Tudor century the court wasn't male, it was female.

April 15, 2008 8:02 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

Thanks, kb! I appreciate your response. I have Anne Somerset's book, but it's a couple of decades old and I'm hoping that more research will continue to be done in this area.

April 15, 2008 9:25 PM  
Blogger kb said...

For foose -

I'm working on it. ;)

April 16, 2008 8:25 AM  

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