Historically, British queens tapped highborn “ladies-in-waiting” to provide companionship to the monarch and serve as personal assistants and loyal friends. The position dates back to the Middle Ages.
But Camilla, Charles’s second wife, has done away with the traditional title and some of its duties in a modernizing move.
It’s not a complete overhaul. The new role will be similar to what it was: a member of the Queen’s dutiful and trustworthy circle. But now it will be a less all-encompassing position, with less regular presence, that is, waiting for the queen. The companions will “accompany her occasionally” and support some of her official duties, the palace statement said on Sunday.
“Some of the Queen’s companions will attend the reception of Her Majesty’s Violence Against Women and Girls at Buckingham Palace for the first time on Tuesday,” the statement read by way of example.
“The role of the Queen’s Companion will be to support The Queen Consort in some of her most important official and state duties, alongside her Chief of Cabinet/Deputy Chief of Cabinet,” the palace statement said.
The concept of a “lady-in-waiting” has existed in European history since the Middle Ages to support queens even with dressing and bathing. Once paid servants, the role changed amid the changed belief that only men of stature should associate closely with a monarch associated with divinity.
Some official and perhaps dated titles have also largely stuck over the centuries, including the title of lady-in-waiting of “Woman of the Bedroom,” who helped the queen dress, and the “Mistress of the Robes‘, charged with looking after the Queen’s wardrobe and jewellery. The different roles, all honorary, are part of one hierarchy which served the queen’s daily life.
During her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II had her own rotating slate of about half a dozen trusted ladies-in-waiting. On her way to her husband Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021, Elizabeth sat next to Lady Susan Hussey – perhaps her most loyal lady-in-waiting.
For six decades she collected flowers, accompanied the Queen to social events and watched television with her. She was Elizabeth’s confidante and Prince William’s godmother, endearingly known in the palace as the Queen’s ‘Number One Head Girl’. Hussey’s husband, Marmaduke Hussey, was portrayed in the final season of “The Crown” as the chairman of the BBC’s board of directors.
The role of lady-in-waiting was not paid. It was given to aristocrats who were so wealthy that they did not have to work.
Camilla’s new queen’s companions include old and close friends, according to the palace’s list: ‘The Marquise of Lansdowne (Fiona), Mrs. von Westenholz (Jane), the Hon. Lady Brooke (Katharine), Mrs Peter Troughton (Sarah), [and] Lady Sarah Keswick.”
The Queen Consort is also getting a new full-time equerry: Major Ollie Plunket of The Rifles, the palace said. An equerry is traditionally a military officer who acts as a royal aide.
Queen Elizabeth’s remaining ladies-in-waiting stay on to help Charles organize events at Buckingham Palace. They will now be referred to as “ladies of the household,” the palace said.
The new king reportedly wants to downsize the monarchy by reducing the size of its staff and the number of palaces and castles.
Alexandra Ma contributed to this report from London.