MAIDEN, or MAID, a young unmarried girl. " Maid" is a shortened form of " maiden," O. Eng. maegden, which represents a diminutive of a Teutonic word meaning " young person," of either sex. An old English word " may," meaning a kinsman or kinswoman, and also a virgin or girl, represents the original. In early usage " maiden " as meaning " virgin " is frequently applied to the male sex, thus, in Malory's Morte d' Arthur, Sir Percyvale is called a " parfyte clene megden." Apart from the direct applications of the word to the unmarried state, such as " maiden name," " maiden lady," etc., the word is used adjectivally, implying the preservation of the first state of an object, or indicating a first effort of any kind. Probably a " maiden " fortress is one which has never fallen, though the New English Dictionary suggests that the various "maiden castles" in England, usually ancient earthworks, may have been so called from being so strong that they could be defended by maidens, and points out that Edinburgh Castle, called " maiden-castle " by William Drummond of Hawthornden (Speech for Edinburgh to the King), is styled Castrum puellarum, the " castle of the maidens," in Geoffrey of Monmouth. A " maiden " assize, circuit or session is one at which there are no prisoners for trial; a " maiden over " or " maiden " in cricket is an over from which no runs are scored. A " maiden speech " is the first speech made by a member of parliament in the house. In the Annual Register for 1794 (quoted in N.E.D.) the expression, with reference to Canning's first speech, is said to be " according to the technical language of the house." " Maiden " is applied to several objects, to a movable framework or horse for drying and airing of linen, to a washerwoman's " dolly " or wooden beater, to the " kirnbaby " formed of the last sheaf of corn reaped which formerly figured in the Scottish harvest homes, and to the beheading instrument, known as the " Scottish maiden " (see below). " Maid," apart from its primary sense of an unmarried woman, is chiefly used for a domestic female servant, usually with a qualifying word prefixed, such as " housemaid," " parlourmaid." etc.
The title of "MAID OP HONOUR" is given to an unmarried lady attached to the personal suite of a queen. The custom of sending young girls of noble or good birth to the court of a prince or feudal superior, for the purpose, primarily, of education, goes back to early feudal times, and is parallel with the sending of boys to act as pages and squires to the feudal castles. The regular establishment of maids of honour (filles d'honneur) appears first in the royal court of France. This has usually been attributed to Anne of Brittany, wife of Charles VIII.; she had a group of unmarried girls of high rank at her court as part of her household, in whom she took a lively and parental interest, educating them and bestowing a dowry upon them on their marriage. A slightly earlier instance, however, has been found. When the young Margaret of Austria came to France on her espousal to Charles VIII., broken by his marriage to Anne of Brittany, there were in her train several filles d'honneur, whose names appear in the Comptes d'argenterie de la reine Marguerite d'Autriche, from 1484-1485 and 1488-1489 (Archives del' empire K.K.. 80 and 81 quoted by A. Jal, Dictionnaire critique de biographic et d'histoire). It is from the days of Francis I. that the chroniques scandaleuses begin which circle round the maids of honour of the French court. The maids of Catherine de Medici, celebrat'ed as the " flying squadron," I'escadron volant, are familiar from the pages of Pierre de 1'Estoile (1574-1611) and Brantome. Among those whose beauty Catherine used in her political intrigues, the most famous were Isabelle de Limeuil, Mile de Montmorency-Fosseux, known as la belle Fosseuse, and Charlotte de Baune. The filles d' honneur, as an institution, were suppressed in the reign of Louis XIV., at the instigation of Mme de Montespan who had been one of them and their place was taken by the dames de palais. In the English court, this custom of attaching " maids of honour " to the queen's person was no doubt adopted from France. At the present day a queen regnant has eight maids of honour, a queen consort four. They take precedence next after the daughters of barons, and where they have not by right or courtesy a title of their own, they are styled " Honourable."
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)