From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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.
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.
There were formerly other office-holders, including Maids of Honour, whose service entitled them to the style of The Honourable for life. 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". The Crown Princess of Denmark has two hofdamer 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 
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has a total of seven Hofdames. They accompany the Queen and the other female members of the Royal House during visits and receptions at the Royal Court. The monarch pays for their expenses, but they do not receive any salary. Not all of these ladies are members of the Dutch aristocracy, but each has a "notable" husband. Excellent social behavior and discretion is 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) is 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 are 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.
Notable ladies-in-waiting 
- Louise Marie of Savoy-Carignan, princesse de Lamballe
- Gabrielle de Polastron, comtesse de Polignac
- Lady Mary Boleyn
- Four of Henry VIII's later wives:
- Jane Parker, Lady Rochford
- Kat, Lady Ashley
- Jane Dormer, later Duchess of Feria
- Mary Fleming, one of the Scots Four Marys
- Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex and Leicester
- Elisabet Ribbing, and later her morganatic daughter, Elisabet Carlsdotter Gyllenhielm (1622–1682)
- Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
- Ulrika Strömfelt
- Augusta von Fersen
- Louise-Elisabeth, Marquise de Tourzel
- Countess Julie Hauke, later Princess of Battenberg
- Magdalena Rudenschöld
- Countess Sophie Chotek, later Duchess von Hohenberg
- Anna Vyrubova
- Ivy Gordon-Lennox, later Duchess of Portland
- Jang Ok-Jeong
- Murasaki Shikibu
- Sei Shōnagon
- Ruth, Lady Fermoy
- Lady Pamela Mountbatten
- Jane Loftus, Marchioness of Ely
- Vibhavadi Rangsit
- Countess Louise von Plessen