12 March 2007

Book Review: Ladies-in-Waiting by Anne Somerset

Ladies-in-Waiting For five hundred years, ladies-in-waiting, and their junior counterparts maids of honour, have formed part of the English court. Starting with the early Tudor court - and Henry VIII’s tendency to replace his current wife with one of her attendants - this book travels through the courts of the English monarchs right up to the present day. It provides an interesting picture of how court life has changed through the centuries, and from monarch to monarch; some delighted in a decadent court, while other were sticklers for propriety.

The book consists mostly of historical information about the royals, and tales of individual women of the court. The section on Henry VIII was just a rehashing of stuff I'd already read elsewhere, but after that things improved. While some women of the court were truly devoted to their employer, some were out for whatever they could get, most infamously Barbara, Lady Castlemaine, mistress to Charles II. (I still have not forgiven her for dismantling Henry VIII’s masterpiece palace in a fit of pique.) And the future George IV’s mistress Frances, Countess of Jersey, was even more malevolent. The most interesting thing was discovering how political life attending the Queen could be. Queen Anne's chambers were divided along party lines, and Queen Victoria's youthful determination to have the final say over her household brought down a government.

It’s a shame that more women at court didn’t keep diaries of daily life in the style of Fanny Burney, for then there might have been more information available as to what precisely serving the Queen entailed. But as the author pointed out in the introduction, the minutiae of court routine were taken for granted and not deemed worth recoding. So this is more of an overview of a different aspect of royal history than a detailed description of protocol and procedure.

Rating: B-

No comments:

Newer Posts Older Posts Home
Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776