Première dame d'honneur

Première dame d'honneur ('First lady of honour'), or simply dame d'honneur ('lady of honour'), was an office at the royal court of France. It existed in nearly all French courts from the 16th-century onward. Though the tasks of the post shifted, the dame d'honneur was normally the first or second rank of all ladies-in-waiting. The dame d'honneur was selected from the members of the highest French nobility.


The office was created in 1523.[1] The task of the dame d'honneur was to supervise the female courtiers, control the budget, order necessary purchases, and organize the annual account and staff list; she supervised the daily routine, and attended both ordinary and ceremonial court functions, as well as escorting and introducing those seeking audience with the queen.[2] She had the keys to the queen's personal rooms in her possession.[2]

When the dame d'honneur was absent, she was replaced by the dame d'atour, who normally had the responsibility of overseeing the queen's wardrobe and jewelry in addition to dressing the queen.[2]

In 1619, the office of the Surintendante de la Maison de la Reine, or simply surintendante, was created.[2] The surintendante had roughly the same tasks as the dame d'honneur -- receiving the oath of the female personnel before they took office, supervising the daily routine of the staff and the queen, organizing the accounts and staff list -- but she was placed in rank above the dame d'honneur.[2] Whenever the surintendante was absent, she was replaced by the dame d'honneur.[2] The post of surintendante could be left vacant for long periods, such as between the death of Marie Anne de Bourbon in 1741 and the appointment of Princess Marie Louise of Savoy in 1775.

The term dame d'honneur has also been used as a general term for a (married) French lady-in-waiting. From 1523, the group of (married) ladies-in-waiting attending the court as companions of the queen had the title dame d'honneur ('Lady of Honour', commonly only 'dame'), hence the title 'Première dame d'honneur' ('First lady of honur') to distinguish between the chief lady-in-waiting and the remaining (married) ladies-in-waiting.[3] In 1674, however, a reform replaced the positions of both the common (married) dame d'honneur as well as the (unmarried) fille d'honneur ('maid of honour') with the (married) Dame du Palais.[4]

The position of dame d'honneur was revived during the First Empire, when the principal lady-in-waiting to the empress held the same title.[5]

During the Second Empire, the dame d'honneur had the same position as before, but was now formally ranked second below a surintendante with the title Grande-Maîtresse.[6]

List of Premières dames d'honneur to the queen of France

Dame d'honneur to Eleanor of Austria 1532-1547

  • 1530-1535 : Louise de Montmorency
  • 1535-? : Madame de Givry[7]
  • Beatrix Pacheco d'Ascalona, comtesse de Montbel d'Entremont

Dame d'honneur to Catherine de' Medici 1547-1589

Dame d'honneur to Mary Stuart 1559-1560

Dame d'honneur to Elisabeth of Austria 1570-1574

Dame d'honneur to Louise of Lorraine 1575-1601

Dame d'honneur to Marie de' Medici 1600-1632

Dame d'honneur to Anne of Austria 1615-1666

For the first years in France, before her Spanish entourage was sent back to Spain, Anne had both a French and a Spanish office holder in several posts of her court.

Dame d'honneur to Maria Theresa of Spain 1660-1683

Dame d'honneur to Marie Leszczyńska 1725-1768

Dame d'honneur to Marie Antoinette 1774-1792

Dame d'honneur to Joséphine de Beauharnais 1804-1814

Dame d'honneur to Marie Louise 1810-1814

Dame d'honneur to Marie Thérèse of France 1814-1830

Dame d'honneur to Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily 1830-1848

  • 1830-1849: Christine-Zoë de Montjoye, marquise de Dolomieu[9]

Dame d'honneur to Eugénie de Montijo 1853-1870

See also


  1. Caroline zum Kolk, "The Household of the Queen of France in the Sixteenth Century", in: The Court Historian; vol. 14, number 1, June 2009
  2. Nadine Akkerman & Birgit Houben, eds. The Politics of Female Households: Ladies-in-waiting across Early Modern Europe. Leiden: Brill, 2013
  3. Caroline zum Kolk, "The Household of the Queen of France in the Sixteenth Century", in: The Court Historian, vol. 14, number 1, June 2009
  4. Jeroen Frans Jozef Duindam: Vienna and Versailles: The Courts of Europe's Dynastic Rivals, 1550-1780.
  5. Philip Mansel: The Eagle in Splendour: Inside the Court of Napoleon
  6. Seward, Desmond: Eugénie. An empress and her empire. ISBN 0-7509-2979-0 (2004)
  7. Aline Roche, "Une perle de pris" : la maison de la reine Eléonore d’Autriche, Paris, Cour de, 2010. Article inédit publié en ligne le 1er octobre 2010 (
  8. Imbert de Saint-Amand, The Duchess of Berry and the court of Charles X
  9. Almanach royal
  • Mathieu da Vinha & Raphaël Masson: Versailles: Histoire, Dictionnaire et Anthologie
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