The British monarchy and the surrounding royal family is steeped in centuries of history and tradition. These days it is not likely that anyone will find themselves locked up in the Tower of London for incorrectly addressing an aristocrat, but it is useful to understand the different titles and the proper way to address the people who hold them. From the monarch at the top, down through the various degrees of the peerage, it will serve you well to know your dukes from your barons.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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The Queen is the most senior royal and is addressed in conversation as “Your Majesty” the first time, and “Ma’am” thereafter. This should be accompanied by a bow of the head for a man, or a small curtsy for a woman. Do not initiate a conversation with the Queen, you must wait until she addresses you.
The Queen’s children and grandchildren are princes and princesses and, as such, are addressed as “Your Royal Highness” when spoken to for the first time and are thereafter called “Sir” or “Ma’am." If introducing them, you should refer to their full title, for example, “His Highness the Prince of Wales.”
Then come the five different levels of the peerage: Duke/Duchess, Marques/Marchioness, Earl/Countess, Viscount/Viscountess and Baron/Baroness. The address for dukes and duchesses is slightly different from the lower peers.
Dukes and duchesses are referred to formally as “Your Grace” or “Duke/Duchess." If introducing them to someone else, you need to refer to their full title, for example, “His Grace the Duke of Cambridge.”
The next four levels of peerage have three acceptable forms of address: they may be called directly “My Lord” or “My Lady,” or alternatively “Your Lordship/Ladyship.” They may also be called “Lord” or “Lady” followed by their surname, for example, “Lord Templeton.”
Underneath the peerage lies a hereditary title of Baronet/Baronetess, created by James I. The holder of this title is addressed as “Sir” for a man followed by his first name. A female holder of baronetcy is called “Dame” followed by her first name.
There are other people entitled to be called “Sir,” “Lady” and “Dame” but these are usually titles bestowed by the Queen in her honour’s list on particular individuals who shine in their chosen field and their title does not pass down to the next generation.
Tips and warnings
- This article covers how to address titled people when meeting them face-to-face. Different forms of address are used when writing a formal letter and guidance can be found in Burke’s Peerage.
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