Knowing how to address kings, queens, other royals, and nobles is something many people might struggle with. If you were to travel back in time to the medieval times, the rules would be more complicated, and the punishments more severe.
Even though shows like “Game of Thrones” make these titles seem frivolous, there are rules around what you should call people.
How to address a king in Medieval times
In the Medieval times, most people would refer to the king as “Your Grace”, this is a shortened version of “By the grace of God”; part of the king’s title that is still held by the current British Monarch.
Why kings were called “Your Grace”
In the past, England strongly believed in the idea of the “Divine right of kings”. This is a concept that people used to argue was backed up by scripture, although today, that is hotly contested.
The idea behind “Divine right of kings” is that the king was appointed by God to lead his country. God, who always knows best, decides who gets to rule the country. Many wars back then were fought not over who would be a better monarch, but over who they thought God had appointed.
This might sound uniquely Christian, but even the Roman emperors believed it was the will of the gods to rule over Rome.
How to address the Queen today
The rules of how to address the queen today are slightly different. Even though things are somewhat more relaxed, she is a well-respected figure.
When you first meet her, you should address her as “Your Majesty”. Every time you refer to her from that point on, you will say “Ma’am”.
Remember, “Ma’am” sounds like mam- Mam as in jam, not marm as in arm!
Ma’am comes from the French “Madam”. Remember, the first Monarch of England was French, so much of the royal jargon comes from the land of croissants and snails.
Why does the UK have a queen?
The first king of England was William the Conqueror. In the year 1066, there was a battle over who had the right to rule England. And of course, that battle was won by William I.
In the Stuart era, some people got fed up with the monarchy, and they were overthrown after the English Civil War. However, the new ruler “Oliver Cromwell” ruled England the same way a king would!
People got fed up with him, so when he died, they kicked out his son, and brought back the king. However, his powers were significantly reduced.
Ever since then, the role of the Monarch has gotten smaller and smaller. Today, the queen is little more than a lovely face who England keeps out of tradition.
Who should you call “Your Grace” today?
Today, there are still people who you should technically refer to as “your grace”.
The first group is bishops. These are people within the church who have worked their way up the ranks and can now sit in the House of Lords.
Becoming a bishop isn’t easy. It’s like the boss level of priesthood.
Technically, you should also refer to non-royal dukes as “Your Grace”. However, this is controversial as they did not earn their Dukehood.
Who should you call Highness, Majesty, and Lord?
We’ve covered Grace, but what about Highness, Majesty, and Lord?
In medieval times, “My Lord” was how the king’s friends and close advisors would refer to him. It was a way of respecting his authority with less formality.
“Your highness” was and still is, how you refer to members of the royal family who are not ruling monarchs. This could refer to queens, princes, princesses, dukes, and duchesses.
Today, people who should be referred to as “Lord” include viscounts, barons, dukes/marquis, and of course, members of the “House of Lords”.
Traditionally, the eldest son of a duke is called “Lord A” by the upper class and “My Lord” by other classes.
Why do we have these rules about “Your Grace”, etc?
These rules seem awfully weird. Even to most British people, they make very little sense.
But the rules of how to refer to people go back to “feudalism”, the political system that came before capitalism.
Feudalism is the idea that everybody has a place in society. The lower classes must serve the upper classes. They believed this was the will of God, and to go against it would be blasphemy.
Today, whilst it does have remnants, nobody believes class hierarchy is the “will of God” anymore.
What are some titles more modern than “Your Grace”? How do you earn them?
There are notable titles that can be awarded to people in England. However, you will need to do more than being born into a wealthy family to earn these titles.
Let’s say there’s a man called John Smith.
If he wanted to be known as “The Right Honourable John Smith”, he would need to get elected into Parliament and sit as an MP.
If he wanted to be “Doctor John Smith”, he would need to earn a doctorate. You don’t need to study medicine to become a doctor. It can be philosophy, history, anything you want!
And if he wanted a title like MBE, OBE, or National Treasure, he would need to achieve something incredible!
What happens if you get someone’s title wrong?
With all these rules, the question is “What happens if I get it wrong”?
Well, it depends.
If you were to travel back to Medieval times, there would likely be a more severe punishment. This could be a fine, or in the worst-case scenarios, death!
Today, the worst that will happen is you look like a bit of wally in front of people. Addressing the queen wrong will cause some people to look down on you a bit. But you were to say “Yes Sir” rather than “Yes my Lord” to a member of the House of Lords, nothing will happen.
England is a country with a strange set of rules on how to refer to people. Thankfully today, it’s a lot easier than it used to be.
Your Grace used to be how most people referred to the king. But people close to him would just call him “My Lord”.
Your Grace comes from “by the grace of God”, which stems from the idea of the Divine right of kings. Even today, the Queen’s full title is “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”.