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'The honourable sisterhood': Queen Anne's maids of honour

Frances Harris


WHEN Sir Charles Sedley asked a new arrival among the maids of honour at the Restoration court whether she intended to set up as 'a Beauty, a Miss [mistress], a Wit or a Politician', he was acknowledging, in his unregenerate way, that these posts could oflfer considerable scope for a woman. The more famous among those who took advantage of this, including Sedley's own daughter ('none of the most virtuous but a wit'), have figured prominently in studies of court beauties and royal mistresses. But the experience of the majority of obscurer women, for whom the court was a social centre, a means of access to public life, a marriage market, or a source of livelihood, can be equally and more generally illuminating.

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