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Before heads of state are granted an audience with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, they must first meet one of her attendants, a lady-in-waiting.

Video of Queen Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting greeting President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during their visit to Buckingham Palace last week was splashed across some U.S. media broadcasts. But according to the Web site Elizabethan-era.org.uk, the role of the lady-in-waiting dates back to the Dark Ages, and it has evolved since that time.

The same site indicated that the lady-in-waiting is an integral part of the royal court who participates in its activities, such as balls and other events. The role has evolved according to the wishes of each reigning monarch, and many — most notably Queen Elizabeth I — had several ladies-in-waiting.

According to the British Monarch’s official Web site, ladies-in-waiting are part of the Private Secretary’s Office, which supports the queen in her duties as the head of state.

Ladies-in-waiting are appointed personally by Queen Elizabeth and other female royalty to accompany them in public. Their role includes tending to gifts to the royal family as well as assisting with the queen’s private correspondences and answering children’s letters.

Ladies-in-waiting have included famous people in British history, such as Anne Boleyn, who was married to Henry VIII and later executed; Jane Seymour, the mother of King Edward and another former wife of Henry VIII; and Catherine Howard, who was also married to King Henry VIII and later executed. In fact many ladies-in-waiting became kings’ mistresses.

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