Forms of Address and Manners in Regency England

How to Behave Like an Aristocrat in Regency England

Note! This is a repeat post from nearly a year prior. Several have asked for its return because of the long list of ways to address the aristocracy. 

 

images2Regency Era manners were based on the conduct of the upper crust of Renaissance Italy, as well as 17th Century France. The fashions and the codes of conduct were influenced by both, but the Regency Period carved out a specific style all its own. Social classes were more obvious during the Regency. It was important to know one’s place and to act accordingly. Social rank determined many everyday interactions.

From a very young age, men of the period were taught how to be a “gentleman.” Their tutors and formal schooling enforced such codes. A gentleman was expected to speak and act with confidence; to use correct English and to avoid vulgarity in speech; to be exceptionally dressed; to walk with confidence and proper posture; to dance well; to have a well-rounded education that included science, math, the arts, literature, etc.; to demonstrate proper manners; and to show of a lesser class consideration.

Women were expected to be meek, obedient, docile, fragile, and dependent on the men in their lives. A woman’s appearance was her crowning glory; therefore, women were expected to take care with their dress and hair. Women were taught to value beauty over education. Learning and intelligence was frowned upon.

Men of the period turned to courtesy books and guides on rules for behavior. Sir Thomas Holby translated an Italian courtesy book entitled Il Cortegiano from the early 1500s. It was very popular during the Regency. Women consulted conduct manuals such as Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women and Gregory’s A Father’s Legacy to His Daughter.

Some of the stricter guidelines for behavior included proper ways to address others. For example, only close friends and family would use a person’s given name. It was permissible for a person of higher rank to use the given name of a lower class acquaintance, but not the reverse. The eldest daughter in a family was “Miss” + last name (as in Miss Bennet for Jane Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice”). Her sisters would be “Miss” + given name (as in Miss Elizabeth).

unknownOnly those of a higher rank could approach someone he did not know. People of a lower or equal rank had to wait for an introduction by a friend or a master of ceremonies. After an introduction, a person was considered an “acquaintance.” Shunning an acquaintance was considered rude and was a “direct cut.” If an acquaintance was in the same room in the company of an unknown person, one would simple acknowledge the acquaintance with a nod or an unobstructive wave or a bow. A handshake was only exchanged among close friends.

People entered a room by social rank. Members of the aristocracy entered by rank: Duke/Duchess; Marquess/Marchioness; Earl/Countess; Viscount/Viscountess; Baron/Baroness. The aristocracy were followed by the landed gentry. Family members entered according to their age and marital status. (Do you recall Lydia Bennet Wickham claiming precedence over her elder sister Jane. Although Lydia was the youngest Bennet sister, her marriage would place her above her sisters.)  jenalyd

British Forms of Address

How does one address the members of the nobility or the aristocracy in England. That depends on whether a person is speaking directly to the person, writing to the person informally, and writing to the person in a formal situation.

Royalty
For each entry, one will find the following pattern:

Position
On envelopes
Oral address

King
His Majesty The King
Your Majesty, and thereafter as “Sir/Sire”

Queen
Her Majesty The Queen
Your Majesty, and thereafter as “Ma’am”

Prince of Wales
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Sir”

Wife of the Prince of Wales
Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales (traditionally)
(or) Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall
(or) Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Rothesay (an exception to tradition since 2005)
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Ma’am”

Princess Royal
HRH The Princess Royal
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Ma’am”

Royal Peer
HRH The Duke of XXX, e.g., HRH The Duke of Cambridge
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Sir”

Royal Peeress
HRH The Duchess of XXX, e.g., HRH The Duchess of Cambridge
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Ma’am”

Sovereign’s Son
(unless a peer) HRH The Prince XXX, e.g. HRH The Prince John
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Sir”

Sovereign’s son’s wife
(unless a peeress) HRH The Princess XXX, e.g. HRH The Princess John
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Ma’am”

Sovereign’s Daughter
(unless a peeress)
HRH The Princess XXX
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Ma’am”

Sons of the Prince of Wales
(unless a peer) HRH Prince XXX of Wales, e.g., HRH Prince Frederick of Wales
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Sir”

Sovereign’s son’s son, Prince of Wales’s eldest son’s sons
(unless a peer) HRH Prince XXX of XXX, e.g. HRH Prince Michael of Kent
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Sir”

Sovereign’s son’s son’s wife
(unless a peeress) HRH Princess XXX of XXX, e.g., HRH Princess Michael of Kent
Your Royal Highness, and thereafter as “Ma’am”

Sovereign’s son’s daughter, Prince of Wales’s eldest son’s daughters
(unless a peeress) HRH Princess XXX of XXX, e.g., HRH Princess Beatrice of York
Your Royal Highness

Sovereign’s son’s son’s son
(unless a peer) (Except son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales) The Lord XXX Windsor, e.g., The Lord Nicholas Windsor
Lord XXX

Sovereign’s son’s son’s son’s wife
(unless a peeress) The Lady XXX Windsor, e.g., The Lady Nicholas Windsor
Lady XXX

Sovereign’s son’s son’s daughter
(unless a peeress) The Lady XXX Windsor, e.g., The Lady Helen Taylor
Lady XXX

A formal announcement in The London Gazette reads: “The Queen has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm dated 31 December 2012 to declare that all the children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales should have and enjoy the style, title and attribute of Royal Highness with the titular dignity of Prince or Princess prefixed to their Christian names or with such other titles of honour.” This refers to any children of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

_________________________

Nobility
Peers and Peeresses

Duke
(His Grace) The Duke of XXX
Your Grace or Duke

Duchess
(Her Grace) The Duchess of XXX
Your Grace or Duchess

Marquess or Marquis
(The Most Honourable) The Marquess of XXX
My Lord or Your Lordship or Lord XXX

Marchioness
(The Most Honourable) The Marchioness of XXX
My Lady or Your Ladyship or Lady XXX

Earl
(The Right Honourable) The Earl of XXX
My Lord or Your Lordship or Lord XXX

Countess
(The Rt Hon) The Countess of XXX
My Lady or Your Ladyship or Lady XXX

Viscount
(The Rt Hon) The Viscount XXX
My Lord or Your Lordship or Lord XXX

Viscountess
(The Rt Hon) The Viscountess XXX
My Lady or Your Ladyship or Lady XXX

Baron (or) Lord of Parliament
(The Rt Hon) The Lord XXX
My Lord or Your Lordship or Lord XXX

Baroness (in her own right)
(The Rt Hon) The Lady XXX or (The Rt Hon) The Baroness XXX
My Lady or Your Ladyship or Lady XXX or Baroness XXX

Baroness (in her husband’s right) (or) Lady of Parliament (in her or her husband’s right) (The Rt Hon) The Lady XXX
My Lady or Your Ladyship or Lady XXX

Eldest sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of dukes, marquesses and earls

Eldest sons of dukes, marquesses and earls use their father’s most senior subsidiary title as courtesy titles: note the absence of “The” before the title. If applicable, eldest sons of courtesy marquesses or courtesy earls also use a subsidiary title from their (great) grandfather, which is lower ranking than the one used by their father. Eldest daughters do not have courtesy titles; all courtesy peeresses are wives of courtesy peers.

Courtesy Marquess
(The) Marquess of XXX
My Lord or Lord XXX

Courtesy Marquess’s Wife
(The) Marchioness of XXX
My Lady or Lady XXX

Courtesy Earl
(The) Earl of XXX
My Lord or Lord XXX

Courtesy Earl’s Wife
(The) Countess of XXX
My Lady or Lady XXX

Courtesy Viscount
(The) Viscount XXX
My Lord or Lord XXX

Courtesy Viscount’s Wife
(The) Viscountess XXX
My Lady or Lady XXX

Courtesy Baron (or) Courtesy Lord of Parliament 
(The) Lord XXX
My Lord or Lord XXX

Courtesy Baron’s wife (or) Wife of Courtesy Lord of Parliament
(The) Lady XXX
My Lady or Lady XXX

Heirs-apparent and heirs-presumptive of Scottish peers
Heirs-apparent and heirs-presumptive of Scottish peers use the titles “Master” and “Mistress”; these are substantive, not courtesy titles. If, however, the individual is the eldest son of a Duke, Marquess or Earl, then he uses the appropriate courtesy title, as noted above.

Scottish peer’s heir-apparent or heir-presumptive
The Master of XXX
Sir or Master

Scottish peer’s heiress-apparent or heiress-presumptive
The Mistress of XXX
Madam or Mistress

Sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of peers

Duke’s younger son (or) (Courtesy) Marquess’s younger son
(The) Lord XXX XXX, e.g. (The) Lord James Marshall
My Lord or Lord XXX, e.g. Lord James

Duke’s younger son’s wife (or) (Courtesy) Marquess’s younger son’s wife 
(The) Lady XXX XXX, e.g., (The) Lady James Marshall
My Lady or Lady XXX, e.g., Lady James

(Courtesy) Earl’s younger son (or) (Courtesy) Viscount’s son (or) (Courtesy) Baron’s son (or) (Courtesy) Lord of Parliament’s son
The Hon XXX XXX, e.g. The Hon James Marshall
Sir or Mr XXX, e.g. Mr Marshall

(Courtesy) Earl’s younger son’s wife (or) (Courtesy) Viscount’s son’s wife (or) (Courtesy) Baron’s son’s wife (or) (Courtesy) Lord of Parliament’s son’s wife
The Hon Mrs XXX XXX, e.g. The Hon Mrs James Marshall
Madam or Mrs XXX, e.g. Mrs Marshall

Daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters of peers

If a daughter of a peer or courtesy peer marries another peer or courtesy peer, she takes her husband’s rank. If she marries anyone else, she keeps her rank and title, using her husband’s surname instead of her maiden name.

Duke’s daughter (or) (Courtesy) Marquess’s daughter (or) (Courtesy) Earl’s daughter (or) (unmarried or married to a commoner)
(The) Lady XXX XXX (if unmarried), e.g. (The) Lady Sarah Brady (or) (The) Lady XXX XXX (Husband Surname, if Married), e.g. (The) Lady Sarah Williams
My Lady or Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Sarah

(Courtesy) Viscount’s daughter (or) (Courtesy) Baron’s daughter (or) (Courtesy) Lord of parliament’s daughter (unmarried)
The Hon XXX XXX, e.g. The Hon Melinda Alexander
Madam or Miss XXX, e.g. Miss Alexander

(Courtesy) Viscount’s daughter (or) (Courtesy) Baron’s daughter (or) (Courtesy) Lord of Parliament’s daughter(married to a commoner)
The Hon Mrs Brown (Husband Surname)
Madam or Mrs Brown

Gentry and Minor Nobility

Baronet
Sir XXX XXX, Bt (or Bart), e.g. Sir Samuel Smith
Sir or Sir XXX, e.g. Sir Samuel

Baronetess in her own right
Dame XXX XXX, Btss, e.g. Dame Samantha Brown, Btss
Madam or Dame XXX, e.g. Dame Samantha

Baronet’s wife
Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Lowery
My Lady or Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Lowery

Baronet’s divorced wife 
XXX, Lady XXX, e.g. Grace, Lady Lowery
My Lady or Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Lowery

Baronet’s Widow 
Dowager Lady XXX or Lady XXX if the heir incumbent is unmarried, e.g. Dowager Lady Lowery (or) Lady Lowery
My Lady or Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Lowery

Knight (of any order)
Sir XXX XXX, e.g. Sir James Lucas
Sir or Sir XXX, e.g. Sir James

Lady (of the Order of the Garter or the Thistle)
Lady XXX XXX, e.g. Lady Mary Smith
My Lady or Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Mary

Dame (of an order other than the Garter or the Thistle) 
Dame XXX XXX, e.g. Dame Margaret Lowery
Madam or Dame XXX, e.g. Dame Margaret

Knight’s Wife 
Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Lowery
My Lady or Lady XXX, e.g. Lady Lowery

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, Living in the Regency, Regency era and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Forms of Address and Manners in Regency England

  1. I think you’ll find that a Duke can only be addressed as Duke by a social equal, who after initial contact would drop that form and address his equal as say “Norfolk”: being way down the social scale I would never be permitted nor would I dare to address a Duke as anything but Your Grace or My Lord Duke, and with the lower ranks of nobility always My Lord no other form of address being availble to me.
    It’s all rather odd really, don’t you think, in this day and age?
    We are an odd people we English/British 🙄

    • When I write Regency romances, it grinds on me to have my lower class characters say “Your Grace” to a duke, but it is customary in the genre. I was taught “Your Grace” as being more for his servants, but I could be wrong (not that I have ever made a mistake other than in marriage – LOL). I will tell you when a writer of the period has a character address the duke as “Duke,” he/she will inevitably received several nasty reviews for not knowing “Duke” is inappropriate.

      • In actual fact even an Earl would call a Duke “Your Grace” naturally all Royal dukes and duchesses are HRH. I would have no problem with addressing a duke as Your Grace if ever the occasion arose, just as I have no problem in addressing an archbishop of the Church of Engand as such. I personally cannot read in a novel anything but the correct forms of address for any member of the English nobility without horror, I actually like and prefer it because it is right and sounds right to me.
        I can understand the reluctance of ex-colonials in the USA not liking it but I do think that they should treat the English system with consideration. I would never consider speaking about the President of the USA without the respect for that office that is it’s due, likewise I would not refer to a Congressman or Senator as anything but Congressman or Senator because it is the right thing, perhaps I’m too old fashioned.
        I believe everybody is entitled to be treated to and spoken to with the respect that their title or office carries, whether they deserve it or not, it is not the person but the principle of order that needs to be maintained.

        I was born and brought up on the second lowest rung of English society, whether I’ve climbed any higher is open for discussion, I’m a bit of a know it all arrogant sod/snob 🙂

      • Politeness is one of the reasons I settled in the southern states. At least, one still often hears “Yes, Ma’am” and “Yes, Sir.”

  2. Oh, by the bye, I would never dream of addressing the wife of a knight as My Lady, that is reserved for the nobility I would always address her as Lady Jeffers; or, in Sir William’s case Lady Lucas never ever MY Lady it’s just not done.

    • Like you, I would say “Lady Surname,” as in Lady Lucas in Pride and Prejudice. The British system of titles is VERY confusing to those of us across the Atlantic. Even though I have a good grasp of what is appropriate, I am always checking Debretts website for such correctness as how to address the sister of an earl or why “Lady Catherine” keeps her title even though she marries Sir Louis (a baronet).

      • Actually the Lady Catherine is just an honory title given to the daughters of Earls. Lady Diana Princess of Wales was still a commoner after marrying Prince Charles, The HRH again is an honory title like that now worn by HRH Katherine Duchess of Cambridge through her marriage to a Prince,, though married to the Prince William she is still a commoner, she may take the title Princess William of Wales but she can never be Princess Catherine of Wales she did not become a princess as say the bride of a Prince of Denmark, Lady Diana would have remained a commoner until she was annointed at her coronation as Queen Consort had the marriage lasted til then the same as the late Queen Mother, up until she was crowned alonside her Bertie she was HRH Lady Elizabeth Windsor(Bowes-Lyon)
        I’m sure Miss Austen’s lady Catherine would have hated being reminded that though she was a ‘Lady’, only her father and eldest brother would have been actually of the nobility and she was a commoner, unless Lady C’s mother was of the nobility in her own rght even as a countess she would have been a commoner.

        Somewhat confusing don’t you think 🙄 🙂

      • It is a bit confusing – something one must read over and over again to keep it straight.
        The point I was attempting to make was as Sir Louis’s wife, she should have been Lady de Bourgh. By keeping the “Lady First Name,” Lady Catherine can have more sway in Society that the wife of a baronet.

      • Yes well she would have considerably more sway, but the point is she was actually born ‘Lady’ whereas the daughter of a Baronet or Knight is not born ‘Lady’. and the wife of these men obtain the honorific upon marraige or by being married to a commoner when elevated to the knighthood.Should the wife of a knight divorce him she looses the right to use the title. If widowed she may keep the honorific until she remarries.

        We had what is known in the best of circles as the “A” listers 2 ladies who went to great lengths to keep their titles, one in particular always caused me much merriement Lady McMahon the wife of perhaps Australia’s worse PM ever, back then all PM”s stuck their hands up for a KBEwhen losing office, and as they were always replaced by a member of their own party (Liberal = US GOP) they got the gong. Not for merit but so the new PM would get one when his time came to be ousted by another pushy Lib. Absolutely obscene, disgusting behaviour, thankfully we have done away with the so clled Imperial Honours Lists now, although the clown we now have as PM wants to reinstate them.
        Lady McMahon liked to be called Lady Sonia which was entirely inappropriate she was not entitled to this honour(?) and the stupid press/media bowed to her wishes so she showed plenty of leg and skin for their pictures. Class? I don’t think so.
        🙄 🙄 what fun 😛

  3. Pingback: Regency Reader Questions: Forms of Address - Regency Reader

  4. Emily Michel says:

    Here’s a question that may not be right for this forum. But let’s say two women enter the room. One is the great aunt of the other young women. But they both are unmarried. Are they both Miss _____. Or is the old woman (great aunt) a Mrs regardless of whether she’s married or not?

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