The Annunciation by Murillo, 1655–1660, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

A handmaiden (nowadays less commonly handmaid or maidservant) is a personal maid or female servant. (The term is also used metaphorically for something whose primary role is to serve or assist.) Depending on culture or historical period, a handmaiden may be of slave status or may be simply an employee. The terms handmaiden and handmaid are synonyms.

Depictions in Abrahamic texts

The Pharaoh's Handmaidens by John Collier

In the King James translation of the Hebrew Bible, the term handmaid is applied to a female servant who serves her mistress, as in the case of Hagar being described as Sarah's handmaid, Zilpah being Leah's handmaid and Bilhah as Rachel's handmaid. In each of these cases, the mistress "gave" their handmaid to their husbands "to wife", to bear his "seed" (children). The use in the Torah of the prefix "to", as in "gave to wife", may indicate that the wife is a concubine or inferior wife. The text repeats that these people remain handmaids of their mistress though they are also the concubine of the mistress's husband. They are referred to interchangeably by the Hebrew terms אָמָה (’āmāh) and שִׁפְחָה (šip̄ḥāh). Other modern English bible translations use the word slave, slave-girl or servant.


In Christianity, Mary, the mother of Jesus is referred to as the "handmaid of the Lord" or "servant of the Lord", both of which are titles of honour for the mother of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke describes Mary as the "handmaid of the Lord" (Greek δούλη, doulē) when she gives her consent to the message of the Angel (see Luke 1:38), and when she proclaims the greatness of the Lord because of "the great things" he has worked in her (see Luke 1:49)."

In popular culture

See also

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