Thursday, November 06, 2008

Question from Sarah - Plantagenet v. Tudor ladies in waiting

It seems to me the ladies in waiting during the Tudor period were much more influential and daughters of privliged people that wanted a daughter to be at court to find a suitor. But when I read about the Plantagenets, the ladies in waiting seem to be more servants than anything with no real importance and marrying other servants. In one book it said, someone of real importance would never do chores, even for the queen. Could you explain how that changed from one era to another, and if this has any truth to it? Thank you!

7 comments:

kb said...

I suspect that the books you are referring to were not published in the last 10-15 years?

The historical debate over ladies-in-waiting is really just getting going. The idea that Tudor ladies-in-waiting participated more in public and political life was put forth most forcefully by Barbara Harris. She works on the early Tudors. I am sorry to say that I can not at this moment suggest some more current interpretations of the Plantagenets. But I am sure others will provide some good ideas.

I think that women at court have always participated more fully than the literature, especially literature influenced by Victorian ideals, indicates.

PhD Historian said...

I have to agree with KB. And she is our resident expert on the feminine side of Tudor royal courts!

However, I suspect that the female side probably paralleled the male side in its evolution and development. Sarah refers specifically to the change from the early Plantagenet period through the later Plantagenet period, then to the early and later Tudor periods. Over that long time span, "persons"-in-waiting transformed from servant-labor to power-brokers and (on the male side only) office holders with real administrative responsibilities. Where an early medieval groom or lady of the bedchamber might have been an uneducated common person charged solely with doing the actual labor of maintaining the bedchamber of the monarch or his consort, by the Tudor period they were wielders of real power with governmental duties who also acted as personal secretaries. And they were usually drawn from wealthy and/or titled families, not the common folk as before. The menial labor of the bedchamber was left to lesser servants with lesser titles.

This is just informed speculation on my part, but I am betting that those scholars now finally beginning to address the issues of the female side of the court may find the same pattern of evolution among ladies-in-waiting as among male servant-courtiers.

kb said...

phd historian - AMEN

Tracey said...

The only book I have ever read that deals strictly with "Ladies in Waiting" is by Anne Somerset. It was published in 1984, which makes it almost 30 years old.

About the only detail remembered about Plantagent ladies is that women around the court didn't provide any sort of focus until Henry III's queen came into England from Provence. Up until then, the court was almost exclusively male.

It must surely be time for another historical study to be conducted about the female power-brokers about the court.

kb said...

Tracey - For the Elizabethan court - I'm working on it.

Sheri said...

How old would a new lady-in-waiting in Henry VII's court have been? Since there seems to have been a "career ladder" of sorts for ladies-in-waiting, is there a specific path that ladies-in-waiting would truly follow?

Would an 18 year old girl at court have been seen as an "old maid"?

kb said...

Sheri - I know significantly less about Henry VII's court than Elizabeth's. The best source for you would be almost anything written by Barbara Harris.

Elizabeth's court had several young girls - maids of the court - who were related either to the queen or to a senior lady in waiting. Some of these maids were as young as 9.

It seems however that the generally accepted age for entering the court as a maid of honour was 16th year, or 15. You could be older than that but I do not know of any starting Elizabethan maid of honour older than 18.

If you were joining the court for the first time, unmarried and older than 18 you most likely jumped right to lady of the privy chamber.

Because Elizabeth was unmarried it was not considered politic to label any unmarried court woman as 'old maid' in public. However, if you had not married by around 27 the general consensus was that you had reached your expiration date.

For more accurate information about Henry VII's court though - do look up Barbara Harris's work. She's the expert on early Tudor court women.