Fondly remembered as the “People’s Princess,” Diana’s life continues to fascinate in books, traveling exhibits and television programs, over 20 years after her death.
In 1985, Titles Created a Royal Problem for the Masses, And Miss Manners Responded
She is not “Princess Diana.” You perhaps know the lady Miss Manners means –the blonde one who wears hats so nicely but has not always managed to keep her hair out of her eyes.
Born a commoner, she was styled "Lady Diana" by courtesy because her father is an earl. She is now, having married up, “the Princess of Wales.” Only should she become Queen consort would a royal title appear before her first name, as “Queen Diana.” Is that clear? Of course not.
We Americans decided long ago that the idea of classifying some people as belonging to a higher order of humanity was not for us. Our highest title is “Mr.,” as in “Mr. President,” and it takes the individual some doing to get it. But the British do show up on our shores now and again, so one may want to know a bit about titles.
Besides, it is difficult to make one's way through 19th-century British novels or 20th-century British television without being able to figure out who is called what and why. The subject is infinitely complicated, and disputes have been known to last for centuries. Miss Manners will concern herself only with the basic outline. Only the reigning Queen and her mother (as the widow of the previous King) are addressed as “Your Majesty,” other members of the royal family being addressed as “Your Royal Highness.” Children of the Sovereign also use the prefix “the,” as in “Their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Wales.”
The peerage has five grades: duke, marquess (most use the good old English spelling rather than the French “marquis”), earl, viscount and baron. The female equivalents, for wives or widows (the latter styled dowager, if the succeeding peer has a wife) are: duchess, marchioness, countess, viscountess and baroness. Except for dukes and duchesses, who are called by those titles, peers and peeresses are addressed as “Lord” or “Lady” with the name of the senior peerage they possess. Legally, the children of these people are all commoners.
However, dukes, marquesses and earls tend to have other titles as well, and by courtesy, their oldest sons use the next family title down until after, courteously enough, the funerals, not the deaths, of their fathers. Then there are titled commoners: baronets, whose degrees of honor are hereditary, and knights, whose are not. They use “Sir” before their full names, but are addressed with the title and given name only. Their wives use “Lady” with the surname only, never with their given names (a common American error).
This is only the beginning. Miss Manners will not bore you with collateral privileges of the siblings of heirs presumptive who succeed, the rights of duchesses who were divorced in interesting trials, the children of peers who disclaimed their peerages, and so on. She only asks you to stop saying “Princess Diana.” – By Judith Martin, October 27, 1985
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia