The Countess of Airlie, Lady of the Bedchamber to
"One thing I was determined about - that I should have no discussion with their mammas about it !"
There was a time when the Mistress of the Robes was also mistress of the maids, and responsible for the proper conduct and deportment of her Majesty's Maids of Honour. In the old days, too, she, together with the Ladies of the Bedchamber, habitually assisted the Queen at her daily toilette. Since the accession of Queen Victoria, however, her duties have mainly consisted of standing behind the Queen at Courts, Court balls, and the opening of Parliament. She also walks behind her Royal lady in any State procession, and when a procession drives through the streets, the carriage in which she is seated follows next after the State carriage. In a Coronation year, however, many important duties devolve upon the Mistress of the Robes. It may be said that she is responsible for the Queen's attire at the Coronation, which she attends, not as a duchess, but as the chief member of the Queen's household. On the occasion of Queen Victoria's coronation the Mistress of the Robes attended the Queen from Buckingham Palace to the Abbey, and took an important part in the robing of the Sovereign, and in various other details connected with the long and elaborate service. As a reward she secures the most valuable perquisite connected with the ceremony - viz., the splendid purple velvet robes which form the most important part of the Queen's costume. These, once the ceremony is concluded, become the absolute property of the reigning Mistress of the Robes. Queen Mary will, of course, be attended at the Coronation by the Duchess of Devonshire, and the importance of the Mistress of the Robes on such an occasion is emphasised by the fact that her coronet is carried by a page.
There are amusing details given in the history of the English Court of instructions issued to the Mistress of the Robes by the Lord Chamberlain concerning the management of the Queen's dress at a coronation ceremony. How minute instructions, for instance, were issued to the Duchess of Dorset at the coronation of Queen Charlotte concerning the anointing of her Majesty, pinning on her crown, arranging her dress, mantle, and so on, in the Abbey. There is also a piquant account of a squabble between Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and the Duchess of Somerset, the former refusing to give up the golden key which in those days comprised the badge of office of the Mistress of the Robes, and which was usually worn as a brooch.
Only when the Court is at Windsor are the Mistress of the Robes and the Ladies of the Bedchamber acually in residence, although when the Court is at residence in Buckingham Palace they must hold themselves in readiness at their own homes. And it is a curious survival of an old-time custom that when her Majesty is at Windsor the Mistress of the Robes conducts her every night to the door of the Royal bedchamber.
For her services the Mistress of the Robes receives a salary of £700 per annum, and each Lady of the Bedchamber, £500. Queen Mary has appointed as Lady of the Bedchamber the Countess of Shaftesbury and as Extra Ladies of the Bedchamber she has appointed the Countess of Airlie, the Countess of Bradford, and Lady Lam-ington. Then, as Bedchamber Women - the difference between these and Ladies of the Bedchamber really only lies in the title, for they are all the personal friends and confidantes of her Majesty - Queen Mary has appointed Lady Eva Dugdale, Lady Mary Forbes-trefusis, Lady Katherine Coke, and Lady Bertha Dawkins. Queen Alexandra has three Ladies of the Bedchamber - the Countess of Antrim, the Countess of Gosford, and Lady Suffield; and as Extra Ladies of the Bedchamber, the Marchioness of Lansdowne, the Marchioness of Salisbury, the Countess of Derby, the Dowager Countess of Macclesfield, and Lady Hardinge.
Lady Eva Dugdale is probably Queen Mary's most intimate and oldest friend. She
The Countess of Bradford, one of Queen Mary's
Ladies of the Bedchamber, daughter of the ninth Earl of Scarborough
Photo, H. Whitlock & Sons
Lady Lamington. Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen
Mary, wife of the second Baron Lamington and daughter of the first Baron Newlands has been one of her Majesty's Ladies in Waiting or Bedchamber Women-the terms are practically synonymous-ever since her marriage, nearly eighteen years ago. Queen Mary is usually accompanied by Lady Eva when paying any visits, or by Lady Katherine Coke, who was formerly Lady in Waiting to the Queen's mother-the Duchess of Teck. The Countess of Shaftesbury, who, it will be remembered, accompanied their Majesties on their last visit to India, and will again do so in November, is another intimate friend of her Majesty's. Before her marriage with the Earl of Shaftesbury she was Lady Constance Grosvenor, a sister of the Duke of Westminster.
The lady who has been longest at the Court is the Dowager Lady Macclesfield, who has been in the service of Queen Alexandra since 1863, a few months before Miss Charlotte Knollys was appointed an Extra Woman of the Bedchamber. And here it might be mentioned that Extra Women of the Bedchamber are appointed according to the Queen's pleasure, but they have no salary and are not required to be in attendance. Ladies in waiting, on the other hand, receive a salary of £400 per annum.
The Ladies of the Bedchamber share the function of personal attendance upon the Sovereign throughout the year. Each is in waiting for about a fortnight or three weeks at a time, and only appear at Court functions and ceremonies according to a programme issued under the authority of the Lord Chamberlain. As a rule, two Ladies of the Bedchamber are in attendance at a time, and during their periods of waiting they go to and fro in the Royal carriage. Which reminds the writer of an adventure which once befell one of Queen Victoria's ladies. It is, or was, a rigid rule that no cab should be allowed to pass through the gates of Buckingham Palace. One day one of Queen Victoria's ladies was commanded to dine at Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, her coachman fell ill, and she was obliged to proceed to the Palace in a four-wheeler. Upon arrival at the gates a policeman barred the way, and refused to allow her to proceed, although she assured the man in blue that she was one of her Majesty's Ladies in Waiting. But he simply replied that he had strict orders to allow no cabs within the gates, and suggested that the lady should walk up to the door. It was a wet, muddy night, however, and the lady was in despair, until a happy thought struck her, and she showed the constable her bracelet, which contained a portrait of Queen Alexandra. This at last convinced him that she was really a member of the Royal household, and he allowed her to pass.
In the early part of Queen Victoria's reign it was the rule for Ladies in Waiting, as well as the Maids of Honour to live at Court during their term of waiting, whether the Royal Family were in residence at Windsor, Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, or Osborne. Queen Alexandra, however, as Queen Mary has done, dispensed with all her ladies as inmates, except, as already mentioned, when they were not residing in London.
The Ladies of the Bedchamber, even when in waiting, are usually quite free in the mornings, but are generally obliged to be at the Palace for luncheon, Royal carriages being sent round each day about half-past one to fetch them from their houses. Then they remain until her Majesty goes out driving, and return to dinner if they are required to be in attendance during the evening. During the last reign there was no separate table maintained for the suite, and those who had luncheon or dinner at Court had it, as a matter of course, with the King and Queen. This custom is being observed also by King George and Queen Mary. During the reign of Queen Victoria, however, her Majesty had a second table for the suite, for not even those in waiting dined with her unless specially invited. A large number of economies, however, were effected after the death of Queen Victoria, and the abolition of a second table at luncheon and dinner for the suite was one of them.
The Court is more democratic to-day than it was wont to be. Neither Queen Alexandra nor Queen Mary treat the ladies of the Court with the somewhat frigid dignity which characterised Queen Victoria, and the consequence is that, apart from the pleasure of being one of the Queen's ladies, they are always assured of the Royal favour, and everything that it means in the way of unfailing kindness and consideration.
Lady Eva Dugdale, Bedchamber Woman to H.m.
Queen Mary, one of her Majesty's oldest and most intimate friends
Photo, Val L'estrange