A lady-in-waiting is a personal assistant to a queen, princess, or noblewoman at court. They are often of noble birth themselves, but are usually from a lower social rank then the woman they are attending to.
The duties of a lady-in-waiting can vary greatly, as can their relationship with their mistress. They will often help her get dressed, get food, and prepare her for bed, while also accompanying her during courtly activities like dancing or horse riding. Depending on how much the mistress trusts her ladies-in-waiting, they could pass on secret messages for her or act as spies on other members of the court. Ladies-in-waiting can be either viewed as friends by the mistress, or simple tools to use however she sees fit.
If a lady-in-waiting has a close physical resemblance to their mistress, she may be utilized as a Body Double
to throw off possible assassination attempts.
If the lady-in-waiting is older, she may be part of a Maid and Maiden
to The Squire
Other terms that are used instead of lady-in-waiting include lady-of-honor, handmaiden, and lady attendant.
- "Las Meninas◊" by Diego Velasquez depicts the princess of Spain with her Ladies-of-Honor, another term for a lady-in-waiting.
- Pictured above: In Aldnoah.Zero, Eddelrittuo works as the companion of Princess Asseylum and later, of Asseylum's half-sister and Body Double Princess Lemrina.
- In Rose of Versailles, one of the main antagonists is Martine Gabrielle de Polastron aka the Countess of Polignac, lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette and the long-lost mother of Rosalie, Oscar's own sort-of lady-in-waiting.
- In The Twelve Kingdoms, the deaths of two ladies-in-waiting have very important consequences for the Kingdom of Hou. They were mother and daughter, and both worked as companions for the the cruel Queen Consort and the spoiled Princess Shoukei. The Queen framed the mother for corruption and got her and her daughter executed for such a "crime", out of jealousy because the daughter was more talented than the Princess. This was the cherry on top of the Royal Family's already present sins that were driving Hou to ruin, causing Governor Gekkei to lead a revolution that finished with the Royal Couple and their kirin dead, and with Shoukei as a Sole Survivor who goes through quite the Break the Haughty.
- And later, the Older and Wiser Shoukei and a girl named Suzu Ooki become ladies-in-waiting to Youko/Sekishi, the Queen of Kei.
- The Creepy Twins Hien and Souhi can be seen as this for Hinoto in X/1999. Hinoto in't exactly a noblewoman but actually the leader of the Dragons of the Heaven, but she's referred to as "princess" and since she's also a a deaf/mute/crippled Ill Girl, the twins are always by her side.
- Yuri Ishtar from Anatolia Story has several ladies in waiting, as it befits her position as Kail's lover and partner. Three of them are sisters as well as Action Girls (the Lady of War Hadi and the Cute Bruisers Shala and Ryuhi), the other two are Princess Alexandra from the Arzawa lands and a commoner girl named Ursula who later pulls an Heroic Sacrifice to help Yuri when she's falsely accused of murder.
- In Saint Seiya: Soul of Gold, a young woman named Lyfia starts as Princess Hilda's lady-in-waiting before she becomes The Protagonist of the series.
Film (Live Action)
- Lady Cluck to Maid Marian in the Disney version of Robin Hood. In their first scene they are playing badminton and Cluck jokes, "As your lady in waiting, I'm waiting."
- Padme's handmaidens in The Phantom Menace serve as both attendants and decoys for her.
- In The Other Boleyn Girl Mary Boleyn is added as a short-lived lady-in-waiting to the queen.
- In the Disney version of The Three Musketeers (1993), Constance Bonacieux specifically refers to herself as a lady in waiting to the Queen of France.
- In the camp classic Cobra Woman Naja, the Cobra Queen, has six female attendants whose duties include intricately choreographed dance routines during cobra ceremonies.
- As in Real Life, Marie Antoinette is attended by her two closest friends, the Princesse de Lamballe and the Duchesse de Polignac.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, several ladies-in-waiting serve as minor characters who attend to more major characters. Not surprisingly for this series, they tend to meet with some misfortune due to their positions.
- Queen Cersei Lannister has several attendants, including Jocelyn Swyft.
- Margaery Tyrell has several ladies-in-waiting, including her cousins Megga, Elinor, and Alla. When Cersei frames Margaery for having sex with several men, she likewise frames her cousins since they never leave Margaery's side.
- Lady Ashara Dayne was a lady-in-waiting for Princess Elia Martell. This placed her at the Tourney at Harrenhall, where she became pregnant by an unknown man (rumored to be a Stark). She lost the baby at birth, which, along with the death of her elder brother Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, led to her suicide.
- In Reflections of Eterna, Louise Aramona, one of the narrators, and her daughter Celine end up as ladies-in-waiting of first Aeris Oakdell (sister of Duke Richard Oakdell) and then Queen Catharine—at the whim of the inscrutable yet all-powerful Duke Roque Alva.
- In The War of the Ancients, Queen Azshara, has a retinue of handmaidens, all of whom dye their hair silver to match that of their queen, but none of them can compare with Azshara's overwhelming beauty.
- In the Doubled Edge novels by Mercedes Lackey, most of young Elizabeth's ladies in waiting are spying on her for other factions.
- In the Sissi novels by several authors, Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary aka Sissi has several noblewomen as her ladies-in-waiting. One of them is the Italian countess Paola di Bellegarde whom Sissi hooks up with the Count of Königsegg-Aulendorf.
- In Seraphina, Princess Glisselda spends most of her time with her favourite lady-in-waiting, Milliphrene, whom she nicknames 'Millie'.
- In the Protector of the Small quartet, Yukimi noh Daiomoru and Haname noh Ajikuro are the ladies-in-waiting to Princess Shinkokami.
- Journey to Chaos: Princess (later Queen) Kasile of Ataidar has a gaggle of ladies following her around. Among their duties are making sure she looks appropriately royal, even after she's stabbed through the chest during an attempted coup.
- Millie Chillum in Lords and Ladies, who is totally overawed at being in the presence of the (soon-to-be) Queen, which Magrat finds rather odd, since she's known the girl her whole life.
- The Imperial palace and assorted princely and noble households in The Tale of Genji simply overflow with numerous ladies in waiting. The author of the Tale, Murasaki Shikibu, was a real life lady in waiting.
- In Queen Without a Country from The Royal Diaries, Mary Queen of Scots has four of these with her in the French court. They are all named Mary, and she refers to them as her lucky four-leaf clover.
Mythology and Religion
- Our Miss Brooks: In "King and Brooks", Miss Brooks' dream sequence features several ladies in waiting serving her.
- In The Tudors a large proportion of Henry VIII's mistresses come from his various wives' ladies-in-waiting, as well as two of his wives themselves (Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour).
- In The Sarah Jane Adventures, Rani becomes a lady-in-waiting to the ill-fated Lady Jane Gray, the Nine Days Queen, while time traveling. She claims to be "Lady Rani of the Court of the Taj Mahal", in order to Hand Wave the fact that she's claiming to be a gentlewomen despite her ethnicity.
- Magnificent Century has lots of these. Daye Hatun is the Valide Sultan's servant, Gülşah is Mahidevran's, Gülnihal and Nilüfer are Hürrem's, Sadıka is the Valide Sultan's and later Hatice's…
- On Reign, Mary Stuart's historical 'four Maries' are renamed Greer, Kenna, Lola and Aylee. God Help Us.
Opera and Theater
- In Hawaiian Mythology, the other three Snow Maidens, Lilinoe, Kahoupokane, and Waia'u, serve as this to their sister Poli'ahu. Lilinoe styes Poli'ahu's hair, Waia'u bathes her, and Kahoupokane is in charge of laundry.
- From the Book of Genesis: Hagar is this to Sarah, Zilpah is this to Leah, and Bilhah is this to Rachel. (Some say that Zilpah and Bilhah were in fact half-sisters of Leah and Rachel, though this is uncertain.) All are used as Chosen Conception Partners when their mistresses get slammed by the Law of Inverse Fertility, in keeping with the Code of Hammurabi. Hagar's son Ishmael becomes an important patriarch to Muslims after he and his mother get sent away by Sarah. Zilpah's sons Gad and Asher and Bilhah's sons Dan and Naphtali later start four of Israel's Twelve Tribes.
- Given the time period he wrote in, it's not surprising that a lot of these have supporting roles in Shakespeare plays (although not as many as one might expect, given the number of royals and nobles he depicts):
- In Twelfth Night, Maria is a gentlewoman to Olivia, the highest ranking female noble in Illyria. At the end of the play it is announced that Sir Toby Belch has married Maria offstage, which simply wouldn't have happened if she was a commoner maid.
- Hero in Much Ado About Nothing has Margaret and Ursula. This one uses a variant on the Body Double concept, as Margaret apparently resembles Hero enough that Don John uses her in a plot to convince Hero's fiancé that she's unfaithful.
- Portia in The Merchant of Venice has Nerissa, who becomes a Wholesome Crossdresser along with her mistress.
- The Princess of France in Love's Labour's Lost has Rosaline, Katherine, and Maria. Unusual for Shakespeare in that Rosaline, not the Princess, is part of the lead couple.
- Cleopatra has Charmian and Iras, who are loyal enough to follow Cleopatra into death.
- Emilia plays this role for Desdemona in Othello, as the wife of a military officer attending on the wife of a higher-ranking officer.
- Princess Katherine in Henry V learns English from her lady-in-waiting Alice.
- In The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro's sweetheart Susanna works as Countess Rosina's handmaid. Then, the Count of Almaviva starts courting her and creating obstacles to her and Figaro's relationship. The plot of both the play and the opera relays on pretty much everyone brewing a Xanatos Gambit to get the Count to stop.
- In one of the multiple endings of Princess Maker 2, the daughter of the game ends up working as the lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Technically speaking, however, she can sort-of unofficially play the role by sneaking into the palace and managing to talk to either the Royal Concubine or the Queen if she has the traits needed (Conversation for the first, Temperance fo the second).
- Diablo III: Queen Asylla, wife of King Leoric, had some handmaidens who were imprisoned and killed along with her as Leoric fell into madness and paranoia. They were later re-animated by dark magic and rose as the Wretched Mothers, Stripperiffic Stringy Haired Ghost Girls with the dangerous ability to regurgitate monsters. They're led by the Wretched Queen, who once was the first handmaid of the unfortunate Asylla.
- In Fire Emblem: Sword of Seals, the White Mage Ellen works as the lady-in-waiting of Rebellious Princess Guinevere of Bern. This is vital to the plot since, when both women are cornered by the Bernese military as Guinevere takes the Fire Emblem from her older brother King Zephiel , Ellen manages to escape from their grip and reaches for Roy's Badass Crew...
- In Jane and the Dragon, Jane's mother, Adeline, is a lady-in-waiting. Jane was originally to become a lady-in-waiting as well, if not for her leaping at the opportunity to become a squire instead.
- The Other Wiki gives us a list of women who have been this through history. Some of them are: the aforementioned Comtesse de Polignac alongside Louise Marie of Savoy-Carignan aka the Princess of Lamballe (France); writers and rivals Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon (Japan); the also aforementioned Paola di Bellegarde alongside Countess Wulff, Sofia Esterhàzy-Liechtenstein and Countess Caroline Lamberg (Austro-Hungarian Empire), four of Henry VIII's six wives (Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr) (England), Lady and later Queen Consort Hui-bin Jang (Korea), Christina Augusta von Fersen/Loewenheim (Sweden), etc.