Court etiquette

The hazards of attending a queen

When Queen Alexandra chose her ladies in waiting she prudently surrounded herself with elderly and plainish ones, who did not tempt her susceptible husband Edward VII. ‘These are your wives?’ the Shah of Persia solicitously enquired. ‘They are old and ugly. Have them beheaded and take new and pretty ones.’ In earlier times, beheading was a definite possibility (one of Catherine Howard’s ladies was executed) and court life was, to say the least, fraught. As Anne Somerset reports, Tudor courts were a maelstrom of intrigue, surreptitious liaisons, political in-fighting, struggles for the ear of the monarch and rampant greed. Elizabeth I’s ladies were terrified of her: her sarcasm was withering