Repository logo

Women who served Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth : Ladies, Gentlewomen and Maids of the Privy Chamber, 1553-1603.



Change log


Merton, Charlotte Isabelle. 


A brief introduction to the history of the Tudor Court and the subject in hand is enlarged upon in the second 'chapter ('The Court'). which describes the nature of the evidence available, the process of admission to the Privy Chamber, the hierarchy within it and the titles given to the various Privy Chamber posts, and official payment (wages, food and accommodation). Chamber reform and the status of the womens' own servants are also discussed. The third chapter ('Recruitment') turns to the criteria used by the queens in selecting their women and discusses specialised duties (laundry, dancing etc.), the use by the queens of service as a form of house arrest, the eager pursuit of places in the Privy Chamber by women and their families and the alternatives in the event of failure to obtain them. The low turnover and stability in overall numbers and membership is also considered, as are the unofficial, material rewards of office. The fourth chapter ('The Privy Chamber') is concerned with the womens' official duties: the daily routine; the administration for and care of the Wardrobe of Robes, the jewels and royal books; the manufacture of royal clothing; and their duties in cooking, distilling, chaperoning and nursing. Their role in Court entertainments and on state occasions is also described. The fifth chapter ('Manners and marriage') analyses the social norms of 'Courtly' behaviour and then the womens' part in arranging' marriages (their own and others'), secret marriages and royal marriage negotiations. The sixth chapter ('Influence: and politics') argues the point central to the thesis: that the unofficial role of the Privy Chamber women as power brokers and patrons of family, friends and fee-paying clients was of great importance. Their power derived from their constant and guaranteed access to their queen, and the importance of this access, the lack of representation in the Privy Chamber as a factor in rebellion and styles of pleading a suit are discussed. Their participation in international politics, including royal service away from Court, is analysed, as are their actions on behalf of their paying clients, their role as 'spies' and go-betweens, their relations with government officers and administration and their intervention in local politiCS. The rewards that this brought, both in bribes and in land grants from the queens, are also examined. In the seventh chapter ('Religion') an overview of the piety of the Courts is elaborated on to discuss the womens' activities as patrons of religious activists and authors. Their relationship with the episcopacy and their dealings in advowsons are considered. It is argued that Catholics were present in the Privy Chamber, while others showed interest in non-Christian beliefs and in the 'sciences'. The standard of education of the Privy Chamber women discussed, as are the expectations which men had of them and aristocratic women in general. The conclusion is drawn that the women of the Privy Chamber were a force to be reckoned with because of their access to the monarch, and that subsequently this power was first misrepresented and then ignored. There are three appendices (a list of the women of the Privy Chamber from 1553 to 1603 with a date and manuscript reference key, a transcribed Household ordinance relating to stabling of horses for women, and a list of New Year's Gift rolls with references) and a select bibliography.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge