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In Portugal, the woman charged with taking care of a noble person's body (cleanliness, clothes, etc) was called 'covilheira' (also spelt 'cuvilheira').

Her job (this was always a woman's job) included bathing children and ladies and handling their clothes (particularly the undergarments, such as the chemise and drawers). They were also responsible for washing and cleaning hair, cutting nails, dealing with depilation and other 'body services'.

Men also had their own 'covilheiras'. These women could be simple servants but could also be noblewomen (working for a noble of royal blood, for example). Nevertheless, it was not a position of prestige in the household.

What was the name given to this 'job' in the British households?

And if perchance these particular tasks weren't in the hands of a particular person, what would be the best way of translating the word into English without a job description?


I accepted Aaron Brick's answer because I assume there isn't an exact match between the two European cultures for the position in question and his answer seems to me as the closest.

Nevertheless, and since I require a word to translate 'covilheira' that sounds a bit more natural (and perhaps more obvious) in a sentence such as 'she noticed the woman of the bedchamber sleeping on a straw mattress', I am considering to pen an alternative to the proper designation: I shall go with 'grooming-maid' as 'maid' conveys the appropriate sense of servant (which the Portuguese word carries) and 'grooming' conveys an idea of her tasks.

Thank you all for your ideas and suggestions, for they were the ones that inspired the designation I 'created' to replace the factual one.

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  • The term Ladies-in-Waiting seems a close fit.
    – Steve Bird
    Dec 19, 2016 at 20:53
  • Sorry, but this was definitely not a lady-in-waiting. A servant would be closer; only with royal people would a noble woman (of particularly low standing) fill the position. This woman was not at all supposed to be a companion. Dec 19, 2016 at 20:55
  • A note of etymology: Portuguese covilheira / Old Galician Covilleira < Latin CUBICULARIA.ref. Dec 20, 2016 at 13:46
  • A noble woman in England would have her "gentlewomen" to attend on her.
    – TheHonRose
    Dec 21, 2016 at 1:16

2 Answers 2

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It seems that in England the royal grooming staff were Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, Women of the Bedchamber, and Ladies of the Bedchamber.

Lower-ranking noblewomen would have enjoyed the service of a Lady's maid.

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I believed at the time of writing that the best matching English term was "chamberlain" (Merriam-Webster: "an attendant on a sovereign or lord in his bedchamber"). Both words derive from reference to the bedroom in which the duties are performed: covilheira from cubicularius, and chamberlain from chambre. Sometimes the French term valet, or valet de chambre, was also applied.

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  • Unfortunately for me, chamberlain is 'camareira' in Portuguese, a position of power within the lady's household (much like the male chamberlain, 'camareiro', was a position of power, though not as much as the steward). In a big household she would control the ladies-in-waiting, the 'cuvilheira' and the servants (in order of importance). Dec 19, 2016 at 23:36
  • I agree that most chamberlains are in a different role, but that M-W definition is suggestive (or an error?). However, see my other answer. Dec 20, 2016 at 7:04
  • I'm afraid I didn't quite get the meaning of "M-W definition". Dec 20, 2016 at 8:40
  • Merriam-Webster is the name of the dictionary where I found that definition. I don't have access to an Oxford English Dictionary at the moment. Dec 20, 2016 at 16:29
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    Well, having in mind the Iberian Peninsula, the M-W definition is simply very vague. Ladies and Maidens-in-waiting, chamberlain, 'cuvilheiras', even servants were in fact 'attendants in someone's bedchamber', but their social standing and actual tasks could be greatly diverse. Dec 20, 2016 at 16:56

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