Ladies in Waiting

Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day
by Anne Somerset
Phoenix, Phoenix Publishing, 2004
352 pages

Anne Somerset’s work on Elizabeth I is the historical biography I respect the most–at the time of writing this review. I purchased this one because it was by her and was a bit surprised to read the segment of a review on the front cover “a naughty knickers version of our island story.”

David Starkey has mentioned that authors need to add some juicy gossip materials to history in order to make it appealing to the masses. Okay, I understand that, especially if it is for television, but Anne Somerset?

I was worried about what I would find, but after reading the prologue, I was reassured. Anne was still at her scholarly best: here is an excerpt from her introduction:

To renounce the court entailed the renunciation of all worldly ambitions, and
involved besides foregoing the company of all but social inferiors, losing                   touch with developments in fashion and art, and more often than not, living in seclusion on a remote estate. It was not a decision to be taken lightly.

Certainly, there were time periods in the English royal history where the ladies-in-waiting were there for the royal pleasure and Somerset does not blush to cover those aspects, although never in a sensationalist manner. The only true negative was once or twice Anne lost touch with the idea of this being about the ladies-in-waiting and focused too much on other players at Court. Overall a great book using numerous primary sources and certainly portraying the character of each royal Court through the years.

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