A lady-in-waiting is a female personal assistant at a noble court, attending to a queen, a princess or other noblewoman. A lady-in-waiting is often a noblewoman of lower rank (i.e. a lesser noble) than the one she attends to, and is not considered a servant or other commoner. Their duties varied from monarchy to monarchy. In Tudor England they were divided into four separate caste systems - great ladies, ladies of the privy chamber, maids of honour and chamberers. The ladies of the privy chamber were the ones who were closest to the queen, but most of the other women were the maids of honour. Lady Margaret Lee was a Lady of the Privy Chamber to Queen Anne Boleyn, just as Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Cromwell was to Queen Jane Seymour. The duties of ladies-in-waiting at the Tudor court were to act as royal companions, and to accompany the Queen wherever she went. Tudor queens often had a large degree of say in who became their ladies-in-waiting.
This attitude was very different to ladies-in-waiting to French queens under the later Bourbon dynasty. Ladies-in-waiting often acted as glorified but distant companions to the Spanish and Polish wives of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Under France's last Bourbon queen, Marie-Antoinette several of her favourite ladies-in-waiting - namely Yolande, duchesse de Polignac acquired huge influence and wealth for themselves.
In later years, the ladies-in-waiting became discreet companions to the royal ladies of Europe. A practice which continues to this day.
Some notable ladies-in-waiting in history include: