Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Victorian Etiquette and Customs

 A 1900 illustration of Queen Victoria on the arm of illustration featuring Queen Victoria on the arm of Abdul Karim or Munshi, her Indian servant, being received by the Lord Lieutenant and Countess Cadogan at Dublin Castle in Ireland

Etiquette enjoins many formal customs on the great. It requires, for example, that no one shall sit in the presence of Queen Victoria while she is standing, or remain covered where she is. There is only one exception to the latter rule. There is an Irish Lord who, because of some deed of an ancestor calling forth royal gratitude, inherits the privilege to keep his hat on in the presence of royally. No one, also, must address the Queen until she speaks to him or her first. 

A Lady of rank who goes shopping in London will never allow herself to be seen carrying a parcel from the shop to her carriage. This is always done by the shop keeper, who crosses the pavement, head bare, and deposits the parcel. 

No Lady of rank carries her prayer-book to church. Her footman goes before her with it, and opens and closes the pew door. These are but examples of the minute things in which etiquette imposes its law. A breach of any the rules of etiquette, a forgetfulness of what to wear or how to act at the proper moment, is regarded by English society as a very grave offence. 

So despotic are the laws of etiquette in high European society that often the peace of nations has been imperiled by a neglect to treat a Prince, a Nobleman or an Ambassador with the required formality. There was serious trouble in the English Royal family when the Duchess of Elinburg, the daughter of the Czar, went to live among them, and insisted on “taking precedence” of the Princess of Wales. According to the English rule of etiquette, she was obliged to do so; but she insisted that the daughter of a Russian Emperor ought to walk before the daughter of a King of Denmark. 

An amusing story is told of a certain King of Spain who was one day discovered by somebody to be on fire. This somebody had no right to touch the King, so he hastened to the Chamberlain and the Chamberlain to the Marshal, and the Marshal to the Steward, and the Steward to the Groom of the Bedchamber, whose duty it was to take care of the Royal person. While these formalities of etiquette were being gone through with, however, the poor King burned up. — The Russian River Flag, 1878

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia