Ladies in waiting and maids of honour

Lady Catherine Knollys

And what exactly is the difference? The ladies are married and the maids are not generally speaking. The roles changed slightly with each queen so this is a look at ladies in the reign of Elizabeth I. The complication arrives with whether the lady in question a Lady of the Privy Chamber or a Lady of the Presence Chamber. As the name would suggest a lady of the privy or private chamber was on closer terms with the Queen than a lady who was part of the public arena. All good so far. On occasion the word lady is replaced with Gentlewoman.

The four most senior Ladies of the Privy Chamber were the ladies with the job title “Lady of the BedChamber.” These ladies looked after Elizabeth’s most intimate needs.

The Mother of the Maids was the woman, either married or widowed, appointed to look after the unmarried maids-of-honour. This was a salaried post of £20 per year. It wasn’t necessarily a straight forward job. One of them, Elizabeth Jones found herself in the Tower in 1591 when one of the maids, Katherine Legh, gave birth gave birth to Francis Darcy’s child. Katherine became a maid-of-honour in 1588 and ordinarily would have stayed in post until she married. Unsurprisingly producing an illegitimate child in the room opposite the Queen’s Privy Chamber resulted in dismissal. The couple married upon release from the Tower although other versions of the story suggest that the couple were already married. In any event they went on to have three children.

Not all maids left after their marriage, some returned in the role of ladies-in-waiting. Catherine Carey who was the Queen’s cousin (and in all likelihood her half sister) was a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard She married Sir Francis Knollys in 1540. She returned to court as a lady-in-waiting for Elizabeth where she was the Chief Lady of the Bedchamber.

6 thoughts on “Ladies in waiting and maids of honour

  1. So are you implying that Catherine Carey’s father was Henry VIII? I know her mother was the sister of Anne Boleyn

    • I’m doing a bit more than implying – I would fully support the argument that her father was Henry VIII. Mary Boleyn was married off to William Carey but the birth of Catherine, who was older than her brother Henry would suggest that the king was her father. if you’re interested Sarah-both Watkins’ book Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII makes interesting reading. Incidentally Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon described himself as Henry VIII’s son.

      • Hello Julia, Due you have a primary source for Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon describing himself as Henry VIII’s son. Thank you. JP.

      • He said it when he was a child if I remember correctly. In terms of primary evidence a summary can be found in Sarah Beth Watkins text about Lady Katherine Knollys. The Venetian Ambassador reported the child’s existence in 1531, The vicar of Isleworth believed him to be. Think the primary source might be listed in Elizabeth Norton’s book on the subject.

      • Thank you for getting back to me. I will check both sources. I am interested in Mary Boleyn and it is quite difficult to separate the myth from the facts.

      • Its frustrating because I know there is a source but my external hard drive had an accident last year and my notes were on that – have you checked the Alison Weir book on Mary Boleyn – I’m sure you will have.

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