Camilla replaces traditional ladies with “Queen’s Companions”


In an early symbolic break with the past, Camilla, Queen consort to King Charles III, abandoned the tradition of having ladies-in-waiting and instead appointed a group of five personal assistants who would be known as the “Queen’s Consorts”.

Sunday’s announcement from Buckingham Palace came as no surprise, as the British press reported the possibility of such a shift so soon after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8.

Historically, British queens have made use of their “ladies-in-waiting” to provide company for the monarch and act as personal assistants and loyal friends. The position dates back to the Middle Ages.

Camilla Parker Bowles married Prince Charles, now King Charles III, in 2005. With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, she now holds the title of Queen Consort. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

But Camilla, Charles’ second wife, abandoned the traditional title and some of its duties in a modernizing move.

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It’s not a complete fix. The new role will be the same as it used to be: a member of the Queen’s obedient and trustworthy inner circle. But now, it would be a less extensive situation, and would involve a less regular presence, i.e., waiting for the Queen. Sunday’s palace statement said her companions would “accompany her at times” and support some of her official duties.

For example, the statement said: “Some of the Queen’s companions will for the first time attend Her Majesty’s reception on violence against women and girls at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.”

“The role of the Queen’s Consort will be to support the Queen in some of her official and state duties, as well as the Private Secretary/Deputy Private Secretary,” the palace statement said.

The concept of a “lady-in-waiting” has been in European history since the Middle Ages to support queens, even with dressing and bathing. Once servants were paid, the role changed amid the changing belief that only people of status should deal closely with a king associated with a deity.

Some formal and probably archaic titles have stuck largely through the centuries as well – including that of a lady-in-waiting, “lady of the bedchamber”, who helped dress the queen, and “lady of robes”, charged with looking after the queen’s wardrobe and jewellery. The various roles, all of them honorary, are part of the hierarchy that served the Queen’s daily life.

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Over the course of her 70-year reign, Elizabeth had her own changing list of about half a dozen ladies-in-waiting. On the way to her husband, Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021, Elizabeth sat next to Dame Susan Hussey – perhaps her most loyal lady-in-waiting.

Over six decades in this role, she collected flowers, accompanied the Queen to social events, and watched television with her. She was Elizabeth’s close friend and godmother to Prince William, known in the palace as “the Queen’s First Principal Girl”. Hussey’s husband, Marmaduke Hussey, was cast in the final season of The Crown as Chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors.

The role of the lady-in-waiting is not paid. It was given to aristocrats wealthy enough that they didn’t need to work.

Queen Camilla’s new groomsmen include longtime close friends, according to the list provided by the palace: “March of Lansdowne (Fiona), Mrs. von Westenholz (Jane), The Hun.” Lady Brooke (Catherine), Lady Peter Troughton (Sarah), [and] Lady Sarah Keswick”.

The Queen will also have a new full-time squadron, Major Ollie Plunkett, of the Rifles, said the palace. A knight is traditionally a military officer who serves as a royal aide.

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The remaining ladies will remain waiting for Elizabeth, helping Charles host events at Buckingham Palace. The palace said they would now be called “ladies of the house”.

The new king reportedly wants to reduce the size of 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.

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