The royal and imperial courts of Asia had complex systems of female hierarchy. The ruler’s wives and female relatives were at the top, and a great many other ladies were there to serve them. Similar to the ladies in waiting of European royal courts, these women cared for the rooms and wardrobes of higher ranking women, assist them in hygiene and grooming; and entertain them, keep them company, act as their secretaries and pass on all the latest gossip, crucial to palace intrigue. In Islamic empires, these women were collectively known as the harem. Anglo-phonic historians also use the term Harem or Palace Women to refer to the ladies of the Imperial courts of East Asia. In Christian Europe, Kings were supposed to be faithful to their Queens, but they still got up to plenty of hanky-panky with the court ladies. But in Asia, where polygamy was common practice, all court ladies were available to the monarch for sexual services, and if they took the Emperor’s fancy, even the lowest born woman could be promoted to concubine, consort or even Empress. Let’s take a look at the evolution, duties, ranks and lives of the Harem and Palace women of the imperial courts of China, Japan and the Ottoman Empire.
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