In an early symbolic break with the past, Camilla, Queen Consort to King Charles III, has dispensed with the tradition of having ladies-in-waiting and instead appointed a group of five personal assistants who will be known as “Queen’s Companions.”
The announcement Sunday from Buckingham Palace was not a surprise, as the likelihood of such a switch was reported by the British press shortly after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Sept. 8.
Historically, British queens have tapped highborn “ladies-in-waiting” to provide company to the monarch and serve as personal assistants and loyal friends. The position dates to the Middle Ages.
But Camilla, the second wife of Charles, 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 has been: a member of queen’s dutiful and trustworthy inner circle. But now, it will be a less all-encompassing position, involving less regular attendance, waiting that is, on the queen. The companions will “on occasion accompany” her and support some of her official duties, said the palace statement Sunday.
“Some of the Queen’s Companions will be in attendance for the first time at Her Majesty’s Violence Against Women and Girls Reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday,” the statement said by way of example.
“The role of Queen’s Companion will be to support The Queen Consort in some of her key official and State duties, in addition to her Private Secretary/Deputy Private Secretary,” 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 altered amid the shifted belief that only people of stature should engage closely with a monarch associated with divinity.
Some official and perhaps dated titles have largely stuck over centuries, too — including the lady-in-waiting title of “Woman of the Bedchamber,” who helped the queen dress, and the “Mistress of the Robes,” tasked with looking after the queen’s wardrobe and jewelry. The different roles, all honorary, are part of a hierarchy that served the queen’s day-to-day life.
Over her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II had her own changing slate of about a half-dozen trusted ladies-in-waiting. On the way to the April 2021 funeral of her husband, Prince Philip, Elizabeth sat by the side of Lady Susan Hussey — perhaps her most loyal lady-in-waiting.
Over six decades in the role, she collected flowers, accompanied the queen to social events and watched television with her. She was Elizabeth’s confidante and Prince William’s godmother, known endearingly in the palace as the queen’s “Number One Head Girl.” Hussey’s husband, Marmaduke Hussey, was portrayed in the latest season of “The Crown” as the chairman of the board of governors of the BBC.
The role of lady-in-waiting was not paid. It was bestowed upon aristocrats sufficiently wealthy that they didn’t need to work.
Camilla’s new queen’s companions include long-standing and close friends, as per the list provided by the palace: “The Marchioness of Lansdowne (Fiona), Mrs von Westenholz (Jane), The Hon. Lady Brooke (Katharine), Mrs Peter Troughton (Sarah), [and] Lady Sarah Keswick.”
The queen consort will also have 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 assistant.
Queen Elizabeth’s remaining ladies-in-waiting will stay on, helping Charles host events at Buckingham Palace. They will now be called “ladies of the household,” the Palace said.
The new king reportedly wants to downsize the monarchy by reducing the size of its staff as well as the number of palaces and castles.
Alexandra Ma contributed to this report from London.