We recently received some questions asking what the heck a Lady-in-Waiting is, what the heck it is that these ladies do, and who some of them are. Hopefully this post sheds some light!
Simply put, a Lady-in-Waiting is a female personal assistant. Traditionally the role has been granted to aristocratic women who already have a friendship The Queen or whoever it is that requires a Lady-in-Waiting. They are not usually paid for their services, though they can be reimbursed for any travel expenses and some have received clothing allowances.
It is a bit of an arcane title that just doesn’t make much sense (what are they waiting for, to collect flowers?), but let’s run through some of them.
The Queen’s Ladies-in-Waiting
The Queen naturally grew up thinking this was all very normal and she currently has nine Ladies-in-Waiting who help her with such things as keeping up her daily correspondence, collecting flowers, and keeping her company while abroad.
The British Monarchy’s official website explains the role of the Queen’s Ladies-in-Waiting quite clearly:
The Ladies-in-Waiting are personally chosen by The Queen. The Senior Lady-in-Waiting is Mistress of the Robes, Fortune, Duchess of Grafton, and the other Ladies-in-Waiting are The Countess of Airlie; Diana, Lady Farnham; The Hon Mary Morrison; The Lady Susan Hussey; The Lady Elton; The Hon Mrs Whitehead; Mrs Michael Gordon Lennox and Mrs Robert de Pass.
Their duties are varied and include attending to private and personal matters for Her Majesty, and handling a substantial proportion of The Queen’s general correspondence. The Ladies-in-Waiting accompany Her Majesty on her engagements at home and abroad and, since the beginning of The Queen’s reign, when she is not accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, the Lady-in-Waiting on duty travels with Her Majesty in her vehicle.
The post of Lady-in-Waiting is not open to application. In addition to The Queen, other female Members of the Royal Family appoint their own Ladies-in-Waiting.
One name that stands out to me in that list is Lady Susan Hussey. She had a friendship with Prince Charles and the Queen asked her to help Diana adjust to royal life after the wedding, likely because she was the youngest of all her Ladies-in-Waiting at that time. This explains why she is one of Prince William’s godmothers, though she later had a falling out with Diana (who didn’t at one time or another?) and went back to working for the Queen.
She was also there for Prince William’s confirmation (in green) along with fellow godparents King Constantine of Greece, Princess Alexandra, the Duchess of Westminster, and Lord Romsey.
And oh look! There she is with Sophie and Kate during the Rememberance Day service in 2012.
Lady Susan Hussey was made Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in 2013, as was fellow Lady-In-Waiting Mary Morrison. Oh, the stories they could tell!
Right out of the gate, the new Princess of Wales had three Ladies-in-Waiting to help her with anything from errands to collecting flowers. In fact, the palace announced the ladies Diana had appointed on September 25, 1981 and they were Anne Beckwith-Smith, the Hon. Mrs. Vivian Baring, and Mrs. George Alston-Roberts-West (source). Over time, Diana appointed five more ladies to the role. To me, this is just yet another example of how things have changed since then, at least for the younger generation.
Anne Beckwith-Smith became Diana’s longest serving Lady-in-Waiting and by 1986 she also held the title of Assistant Private Secretary. Here she is on a walk about with Diana in the early ’80’s:
And that’s her in the background of this portrait of Diana, waiting:
She must be a tough cookie to have worked in the Royal Household for so long. In recognition of her services, she was made a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in 1990 and now works for the Tate in London.
The most interesting to me of all of Diana’s Ladies-in-Waiting is her sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale. Her official title was “Extra Lady-in-Waiting” and she held the post from 1992 to 1997. This appointment especially piques my interest because back in 1977, Sarah dated Prince Charles for a short spell. That ended shortly after she spoke the press (silly girl!) and she even admitted that she was keeping press clippings of any coverage of the relationship. Eek. I mean, I bet anything Carole Middleton has quite a collection herself (and I don’t blame her one bit!) but she’s not sharing that with journalists, thank you very much.
So that was the end of Sarah, and she ended up as Extra Lady-in-Waiting instead of Princess of Wales.
Sarah accompanied Diana on several engagements and there are pictures to prove it. This photo was taken during an engagement at the Great Ormond Hospital in February of 1994.
The Duchess of York
Next up is Fergie.
Back in 2010, the Duchess of York sat down for an interview with Oprah after that whole selling access to Prince Andrew scandal. Over the course of their conversation she revealed that she’d had six ladies in waiting, and that they were there to attend to any of her needs, for example if she dropped a kleenex and needed to have it picked up.
Oprah’s response to this admission? “Get out! No wonder you’re Finding Sarah”, a reference to the name of the 6-part documentary that Oprah’s network aired on the Duchess.
No kidding! Lordy.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex
Things had changed quite a bit by the time Sophie married Prince Edward in 1999. The Countess of Wessex waited ten years to appoint a Lady in Waiting and when she did it was her old school friend and former flatmate Sarah Sienesi that was chosen. Sarah also apparently helped with the wedding preparations for William and Kate.
While we don’t have any pictures of her and Sophie, we do have a picture of a different Lady-in-Waiting. In July of 2013, Sophie was photographed with Annabelle Galletley at Wimbledon. Annabelle has worked for the Royal household since 1987 (she even has a LinkedIn page that outlines that!) and was made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order in 1994 for her services.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
When Camilla married Charles it was announced that she’d have three Ladies-in-Waiting. This doesn’t surprise me at all; Charles is old school and he depends on staff for everything (apparently even preparing his tooth brush with toothpaste). One of the ladies is Camilla’s sister, Annabelle Elliot. Anabelle has also been appointed the interior designer for the Duchy of Cornwall, which has caused a wee bit of a stir (source).
Another Lady-in-Waiting is her old school friend, Kirsty Smallwood. This whole school chum thing is a nice tradition and makes a lot of sense.
The Duchess of Cambridge
Well, she earned the nickname ‘Waity Kaity’ for dating William for going on ten years and while she doesn’t have a formal Lady-in-Waiting, her assistant Rebecca Deacon fills that role as far as helping out on walkabout is concerned.
Rebecca seems totally delightful and must be kept on her toes all the time. You can read more about her in our post on Kate and William’s staff here if you like. Obviously she would never do it, but a book all about Rebecca’s experiences would be fascinating, no?
So, what do you think – will the Lady-in-Waiting role be phased out in the next few decades or will Kate and William keep it going? And are there any other royalty-related questions we could help answer? Do tell!