Life in Elizabethan England Next

Titles and Forms of Address

Even small children know how to address their social superiors.

Capt. Sir Walter Raleigh Sir goes only with a man's given name. To address a knight using only his surname, say Master (see examples below).

Lord implies a peerage whether temporal (baron or better) or spiritual (bishops).

Not every knight is a lord; not every lord is a knight. It is best not to say My Lord to anyone not so entitled.

A territorial title is one which is attached to a particular piece of land, such as a county.

Peers sign their names and refer to themselves and each other by their territorial titles, such as "Henry Southampton", "Francis Bedford", or "Thomas Rutland".

Every woman married to a knight or better can be called my lady. For unmarried women, see the various examples.

The children of a knight, baron, or viscount have no titles at all other than Master and Mistress.

All the sons of a marquis or a duke are styled lord.

Only the eldest son of an earl is called lord (because he takes his father's secondary title and is one, by courtesy) though all an earl's daughters are styled lady. They retain this courtesy even if they marry a commoner.

Your Grace belongs properly only to royal blood: the queen, dukes, and visiting princesses. It does not apply to Earls or Countesses in the 16th century. Archbishops share this honour as princes of the church.

The style of Honourable or Right Honourable for younger sons and daughters of peers has not yet come into use. Peers, however, often receive dedications in a form such as "the right Honourable the Lord Chandos".

Esquires are the younger sons of peers, the heirs male of knights, esquires of the body, and officials such as judges, sheriffs, and officers of the royal household. Esquire is not actually a title, although it may be used after a gentleman's surname; as, William More, Esquire.

If you are not noble, you may wish to address those above you as Your Worship, Your Honour, or Your Lordship/Ladyship.

Children are taught to address their parents as Sir and Madam, or my lord and my lady. A noble child refers to my lady mother and the lord my father.

Direct Address


Francis Russell, the Earl of Bedford can be called
Lord Bedford,
But not Lord Russell
and not Lord Francis

Thomas Howard, Viscount Bindon can be called
Lord Bindon,
But not Lord Howard,
and not Lord Thomas

Sir William Cecil, Baron Burghley, the Lord Treasurer can be called
Sir William or
Lord Burghley or
My Lord Treasurer,
But not Sir Cecil

Margaret Douglas, the Countess of Lennox can be called
Lady Lennox,
But not Lady Douglas
and is never styled Margaret Douglas Lady Stuart, Countess of Lennox

Jane, the Baroness Lumley is a baron's wife. Her maiden name was Fitzalan. She can be called
Lady Lumley
but not Lady Fitzalan
And is never styled Jane Fitzalan Lady Lumley.

Mary Wriothesley, the dowager countess of Southampton can be called
my lady countess or
the dowager lady Southampton
even after her re-marriage to Sir Thomas Heneage.
In letters she sometimes appears as "my old lady Southampton", to tell her from the new one, her son's wife.

Usage: A woman takes her husband's name at marriage, and leaves her father's name behind. The apparent custom of using the lady's maiden name as if she had never changed it comes from the historian's need to differentiate one countess of Bedford from another, and to emphasize family connections. It is not Elizabethan usage.

Knightly rank

Sir John Packington can be called
Sir John or
Master Packington,
but not Sir Packington

Captain Sir Walter Raleigh can also be called
Sir Walter or
Master Raleigh or
Captain Raleigh,
but never Sir Raleigh

Sir Thomas Jermyn's wife Catherine, can be called
Catherine Lady Jermyn, or
Lady Jermyn,
but not Lady Catherine
Usage note: The designation Dame appears to be applied to the Christian name of a knight's lady or the surname of a citizen or burgess's wife or widow. Later it will be used for female members of knightly orders, but there aren't any of those in this reign.

Courtesy titles: Maids of Honour and Other Unmarried Children

Courtesy titles are used only with Christian names, never with surnames. Use the following samples as guidelines.

Maids of Honour

Lady Margaret Russell, a Maid of Honour, and an Earl's daughter can be called
Lady Margaret or
Mistress Russell,
but never Lady Russell
and is never styled "Lady Margaret Mistress Russell"

Margaret Radcliffe, a Maid of Honour who is a knight's daughter, should be called
Mistress Margaret or
Mistress Radcliffe,
But not Lady Margaret (a Household office does not confer a title.)

Children of Peers

George Paulet, the Marquis of Winchester's second son, is
Lord George or
Master Paulet (but this sort of familiarity may be insulting)
but never Lord Paulet

Elizabeth Cecil, Baron Burghley's daughter, is
Mistress Elizabeth, or
Mistress Cecil
but neither Lady Elizabeth or Lady Cecil

::  Forms of Address for Non-Nobles
::  Patronage: Retinue, Companions, & Livery
::  Precedence, Preferment, & Attainder
::  Ranks & Files
::  The Senior Peers
::  The Noble Style
::  Honor & Dueling
::  Ladies of Honour

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8 March 2010 mps