The rank of maid of honor (freilina) was instituted by Catherine II (1729-1796), who reigned as empress from 1762 to 1796. The exact year the title was instituted is not known; however, it is thought to have been nearer the end of the empress’s reign. The configuration of the award, which was introduced by Catherine and remained the same through the reign of Nicholas II, consisted of the reigning empress's initials surmounted by the imperial crown. When a new empress ascended to the throne, or upon the death of a dowager empress, the initials were changed. The present badge is in the form of the Cyrillic initial E and the numerals II, which stand for Ekaterina II. Examples of maid of honour badges from the reign of Catherine II are exceedingly rare. One example is held in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and another was sold Christie's, Geneva, 17 November 1981, lot 179. The present brooch is thought to have been re-mounted in the nineteenth century using the original diamonds.
Young ladies who were appointed as maids of honour to the empress came from the most illustrious families of the Russian Empire. Their fathers served with distinction in either the civil service, the military, or at court. The nomination was thus an honour for her father and her family at large, as much as it was for the young lady. (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, The Russian Imperial Award System 1894-1917, Helsinki, 2005, p. 35). Prior to being appointed a maid of honour, a young lady's character, and her family and social circle, were carefully scrutinised. The position afforded a young lady many privileges, the foremost of which was access to the Imperial court. Such access allowed her to form an influential network, which could be beneficial to her future.
For a further discussion of the subject of maids of honour and ladies of the Russian Imperial court, see U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op cit, pp. 31-45.
We are grateful to Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm for her assistance with the present lot.