Of course the main point is that every reign is different. Monarchs expect different things. What I would say first, though, to anyone taking time on a royal retinue is that you are not a slave, or even a servant in the modern sense of the word. The job of someone on retinue is not necessarily to wait hand and foot on your monarch. You are there to help them look good, help things run smoothly, and help preserve the dream. My understanding of period ladies in waiting is far more like being a professional friend/companion/bridesmaid, and they were also from the nobility, and would have had servants of their own. You are also not obligated to do so much that your own fun or comfort suffers. I've done that at times, and it's a really stupid idea. This is a voluntary service, and you won't do anyone any good if you're burnt out. There are more than 20 ladies on the retinue I'm in, and there are always at least a few of us to help share the job.
Anyway, I collected a list of duties and tips when I was researching before coronation. I'm going to share that list here with my comments and experiences. I hope it's useful.
Duties of Royal Retinue
- Camp setup and breakdown - I definitely help with this when I can, but then, our group generally helps each other out with this anyway.
- Court organization - in concert with the Herald. Mostly making sure awards and scrolls are in order, also making sure thrones are set up with a table in between, and making sure there is water and snacks there for Their Majesties.
- Taking notes during meetings - I didn't do much of this, especially as I'm not able to participate in peer circles, etc.
- Fetching and carrying - All the time. Almost certainly at every event. I got very familiar with how/where Her Majesty stores everything she owns.
- Minding children - Not at all a part of my experience. Their Majesties always arranged for a babysitter if their children were not with them. They have been parents first and foremost, which I respect.
- Deliver messages/retrieve people the royals need to see - Yep. Lots of this too.
- Cooking and cleaning - no cooking, really, but certainly cleaning, especially cleaning up after feasts, keeping camp and general areas tidy, making sure things get put away where they belong after events, etc.
- Dressing and hair styling - I helped with this a lot. It felt fun and intimate to me, and it'd something I enjoy.
- Maintaining the royal presence - there are two aspects to this. First, I try to lead by example and show due deference, rising when the royals are within about ten feet, curtseying, using appropriate titles and forms of address, etc. Secondly, this means making sure Their Majesties have privacy. If they are in conversation or running late, etc. I think I'm particularly good at staying out of the way but within eyesight to give privacy and to help head off anyone who might interrupt to reassure them I will have the royals come find them when they are at leisure.
- Carrying stuff - Her Majesty will carry small items, such as a cup, book, purse, etc. but other than that, if the crown is on she is attended and someone else does the hauling. I have gotten really good at hauling several bags, baskets, etc. of both my own stuff and Her Majesty's (and sometimes His Majesty's too)
- Opening doors - Something I try to do, but isn't an issue very often.
- Be discreet - There is a lot of this. I spend a lot of time with the royals, and often hear things in confidence. This can range from past experiences with an individual, silly things that happen when the crowns are off, who will be receiving an award, etc. Helping maintain the dream by keeping private things private is important.
- Be honest - that said, I give my opinion and perspective to Their Majesties honestly. They have invited feedback and our populace is frequently asked for it. If I have a problem with something, or know something they don't, I tell them.
- Note gifts received - Keeping track of people who give a gift, what it is, what their mundane name and address is for thank you notes, etc. has been a frequent duty for me.
- Monitor regalia - definitely. Making sure it is safe and secure, making sure that when worn crowns and collars of estate are clean and not crooked, etc.
- Coordinate largesse - I didn't do as much of this, but did a lot of carrying it!
- Maintain persona as much as possible - yes. Trying to keep period stuff tucked away, trying to keep the dream alive, etc. is very important to me. This also means really working on my own garb and persona too, and I think I've done a lot since I joined the retinue, with at least four new sets of garb, lots of new accessories to spruce it up, and lots of new knowledge too.
- Most important at all, and not one I encountered as much in my research, keep track of creature comforts. Keep them warm if it's cold or cool if it's hot, make sure they get enough to eat and drink, make sure they get time for rest, privacy, and restroom breaks, make sure their clothes are comfortable and presentable, and generally keep them on their feet for the long, busy days.
I made a list of items it's nice to have on hand when attending the royals. I'll include that here as well. Not all of this was at every event, and I will say that the majority of it was purchased by the monarchs. They didn't expect us as retinue to go to great expense to maintain them, which is a good thing since I don't have a lot of extra cash floating around. By the way, prepare to be the one carrying this stuff around if it's stuff that may be needed at any time.
List of items to keep on hand
- Feast gear (including linens and table decorations)
- Water/other beverages
- Sewing kit
- Hair ties, pins, and comb
- First aid kit
- Clean socks
- Eye drops
- Baby wipes
- Pen and paper
- Cell phone
- Lint roller
- Cough drops/hard candies
- Facial tissues/handkerchiefs
- Lip Balm
- Note cards/envelopes
I feel like an old pro now. I've really enjoyed doing this, but it's a lot of work. I would definitely do it again, but it would be torture if you didn't get along with the monarchs you're serving, and it will be a while before I'll be ready to work this hard. I hope this all proves useful and helpful to the future ladies in waiting who will inevitably be as green as I was back in October when I stood my first court.