What's a Lady-in-Waiting?

Kate Middleton with Prince William Kate Middleton with Prince William The British princess-to-be must choose a lady-in-waiting. News of this development caused royal watchers to hit the Web, with Yahoo! searches on "lady in waiting" rising 925% in one day. Fans of the royal family also wanted to know "what is a lady in waiting"? Good question.

Dictionary.com defines the term as a woman attending on a princess or queen. Translated into American English, this position is basically a personal assistant to the princess. For those not schooled in palace intrigue or caught up on back episodes of "The Tudors," this role is traditionally taken up by a person close to the royal, such as a family member or friend.

The duties of a lady-in-waiting include handling the mail and traveling with the royal party on official visits. While the job is probably ideal for the sister of the bride (who will also serve as maid of honor at the wedding), there could be a hitch. Kate may go for someone more schooled in castle culture at first, before throwing her sister in without more knowledge of royal rules.

People magazine quotes a royal expert as noting that Diana didn't bring in her sisters until years into her role. "Up until then she had someone who was steeped in the royal background, and Kate might do the same."

By the way, if Kate does bring in Pippa, it is not just a sneaky way of making her sister a servant. It's more a role of right-hand woman with tons of history behind it.

Whoever fills the job can look to such past ladies-in-waiting like Mary Boleyn (sister of Anne Boleyn, queen to King Henry VIII). And across the English Channel there was Princess Marie Louise of Savoy, the confidante of none other than the monarch Marie Antoinette. Maybe they also ate cake together.

- Claudine Zap