15 June, 2007

Titles, Forms of Address, Names, Letters...

This hotch-potch of a post is the blog's 100th!! Yay!

It was inspired by my irritation with much of the historical fiction set in the Middle Ages, which anachronistically refers to kings as 'your majesty' and their children as 'prince' and 'princess'.
And a big thank you to Liam Kearns, my lovely, knowledgeable friend in Dublin, for providing me with some of the information in the post!

For the record, kings of England were not known as 'your majesty' until Henry VIII - who else?? - copied the king of France, who had copied the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Before that, they were addressed as 'your grace', and even after Henry VIII, this form of address was still often used, with 'your majesty' finally becoming the standard form in the reign of James I (1609-1625). Henry VIII's daughters were occasionally called 'princess' but also 'lady' or 'madame', and the future Queen Anne was known as 'the Princess of Denmark' after her marriage to Prince George of Denmark. However, the children of kings were not consistently called 'prince' and 'princess' until as late as the eighteenth century.

I can't remember where, but I know I've seen a reference to Edward II's elder daughter as the 'Princess Royal', just a few centuries too early - the first Princess Royal was Charles I's daughter Mary, born in 1631, and the second was George II's daughter Anne, born in 1709. Princess Mary's French mother Queen Henrietta Maria wished to emulate the French title of Madame Royale. Princess Anne, the current Princess Royal, is only the seventh woman to hold the title.

In the Middle Ages, kings' children were simply called 'lord' and 'lady': in Latin dominus and domina, in French sire or monsire ('my lord') and dame or madame ('my lady'). They were the only people granted this right from birth; Edward II's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock was referred to as 'Lady Alienora' in Edward's Wardrobe accounts shortly after she was born, in 1318, and Edward himself was always called dominus Edwardus or sire Edward as a child.

This courtesy was not extended to a king's grandchildren, who were not called 'lord' or 'lady' until they were knighted or married a knight. For example, Edward I's eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare was called 'domina Alianore [le Despenser]' only after her 1306 marriage, and another granddaughter, Joan of Bar, was called simply 'Joan [Johane], daughter of H., sometime Count of Bar' before her marriage, not 'Lady Joan'.

The future Edward II was made Prince of Wales on 7 February 1301, when he was sixteen. Interestingly, he's never called 'Prince Edward' in contemporary documents, but rather 'Lord Edward, Prince of Wales' [sire Edward, prince de Galles]. He was also often called 'Lord Edward, son of our noble lord the king', 'son of the illustrious king of England', or similar.

The title of 'duke' didn't exist in England until 1337, except that the king was also duke of Aquitaine, in France. The first English duke was Edward II's grandson Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, created duke of Cornwall in 1337. The second was Henry of Grosmont, created duke of Lancaster in 1351.

Titles were of course very important - on 18 June 1312, the day before before the Earl of Lancaster had Piers Gaveston killed, he was still careful to refer to him in letters patent as Sire Pierres de Gavastone. In October 1324, over a year after Roger Mortimer had escaped from the Tower of London and was causing problems on the Continent, Hugh Despenser still referred to him - his mortal enemy - in a letter as sire Rogier de Mortymer. Edward II, however, took to calling him 'the Mortimer' around this time, and a letter sent to Despenser in November 1324 talks about 'the son of the Mortimer' [le fuiz du Mortimer].

In letters, writs, indentures and so on of the period, Edward is always called 'Edward by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine' [in French: Edward par la grace de Dieu Roy Dengleterre, Seignur Dirlaunde et Ducs Daquitayne, with a few variations in spelling, or in Latin Edwardus, dei gracia Rex Anglie Dominus Hibernie et Dux Aquitannie.]

Understandably, this was often shortened to Edward par la grace de Dieu et cetera. :)

Sometimes, his title of Count of Ponthieu and Montreuil was added [comte de Pontiff et de Monstroill]. In letters sent jointly by Edward and Isabella, her titles were also added as '...and Isabella his consort, by the same grace Queen, Lady, Duchess and Countess of the places above named'.

Edward always called Isabella nostre treschere compaigne ['our very dear companion/consort'] in letters, but this was a convention of the time and doesn't say anything about their relationship. She called him 'my very dear and dread lord' [mon trescher et redoute seigneur], again, a purely conventional form. Sadly, private letters betweeen the couple were sent under the secret seal (as opposed to the great seal or the privy seal) so rarely survive.

Monsire was often abbreviated as mons'. Place names were also often abbreviated: London (Londres or Loundres) was usually Londr', Westminster was Westm' and Canterbury was Cant' or Canterb' [Canterbire]. Some placenames were different from the modern name: York was Everwyk, Lincoln was Nicole, Dublin was Dyvelin, Newcastle-upon-Tyne was the brilliant Noef Chastel sur Tyne. Otherwise, placenames were recognisably the same as today, albeit occasionally with French-looking spellings (Gloucester was Gloucestre, Lancaster Lancastre, Portchester Porcestre, etc.). Edward II's favourite residence Langley came out as Langele and Windsor was Wyndesore.

The vast majority of documents in Edward II's reign were in French, with the remainder in Latin. They were never in English. French - or rather, the variant of it spoken in fourteenth-century England - was Edward's native language, though I imagine he also spoke fluent English, given his friendliness and familiarity with 'peasants' who wouldn't have spoken French, the language of the elite.

People's names were usually spelt in a variety of interesting and inventive ways. Isabella's name appears as Isabel, Isabelle, Ysabel, Ysabell and others, including the very odd 'Isabiaus' in 1326; this last one is from France and presumably represents Isabeau, not Isabella. 'Hugh' most often appears as it is in modern English, but is sometimes seen as Hughe, Hue, Hwe, Hew, even Hugg and Huge. The name of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Walter Reynolds, sometimes appears as the very French-looking Wautier Reignaud, but mostly, names were in the English form, not the French one - for example, it's always William, not Guillaume. Ralph is usually Rauf, John Johan, Joan Johane, Eleanor Alianore or Alianor, Edmund Edmon or Esmon.

One exception to the multiplicity of spellings is the name Edward, which was always spelt the same way as in modern English in Edward II's reign, and as far as I know in the reigns of his father and son, too. Letters sent from France or other countries, though, change the spelling to something like Edduvart or Edouwart, which probably give a good indication of how they pronounced it.

Any documents referring to Edward in the third person simply call him 'our lord the king' [nostre seignour le roy], which is a far cry from the flowery formulations of later centuries. Letters addressed to him directly usually say 'my very dear and dread lord' [mon trescher et redoute seignour]. Isabella was called 'Lady Isabella, queen of England' or just 'madame the queen' [madame la royne].

Edward called Isabella's brothers, and his sisters' husbands, 'our very dear brother' [nostre trescher frere] and his half-brother the Earl of Norfolk's wife Alice Hailes 'our very dear sister'. In the last few years of his reign, he always called the younger Despenser 'our very dear and faithful nephew'. Edward's other half-brother the Earl of Kent also called Despenser his trescher neveu, which is amusing, considering he was at least a dozen years younger than Despenser. In 1325/6, Edward sent letters to his son in France, calling him Beaufuitz ('fair son').

On the subjects of dates, of letters and writs, etc: they never say '1311', for example, but use Edward's regnal year, which ran from 8 July to 7 July. His reign began on 8 July 1307, so that 30 June 1320 was in the regnal year 13 Edward II. Usually the date appears as in modern usage, but sometimes also 'the Wednesday before the feast of St Mark' or similar.

Two examples: Donne souz nostre priue seal a Shene le xviij iour ffeuerer lan de nostre regne unzime ['Given under our privy seal at Sheen the eighteenth day [of] February the year of our reign eleventh', or 1318]. The Earl of Lancaster's 1312 letters patent about Piers Gaveston, mentioned above, end Escrit a Warrewik le xviij iour de Juyn Lan du regne nostre seigneur le Roi Edward fuiz au tresnoble Roi Edward quint ['Written at Warwick the eighteenth day of June the year of reign [of] our lord the King Edward son of the very noble King Edward fifth', or 1312]

Some typical endings of fourteenth-century letters:
- The Holy Spirit have you in his keeping [le Seint Esperit vous eit en sa garde]
- The Holy Spirit save and keep you [le Seint Esperit vous sauve et garde]
- God grant you a good and long life [Dieu vous doint une bonne vie et longe]
- Our Lord God have you in his keeping [Nostre Seignur Dieux vous ayt en sa garde]
- Our Lord keep you [Nostre Seigneur vous gard]
- May God keep you [A Dieu, qe vous gard']

In the 1320s, the English government was dominated by Hugh Despenser the Younger, who received the vast majority of letters sent on government business in this period. Amusingly, letters to him are very often much more obsequious than letters to Edward II - one written in November 1324 calls him 'my very noble, very puissant and very honourable lord' while another one begins to 'the very noble man, my very honourable lord, mons' Hugh' le Despenser...honours and all manner of reverences."

By contrast, letters written by Despenser - who was clearly very conscious of his power and position - usually begin very abruptly. Even to the Earl of Kent, son of Edward I, Despenser only begins with Mon trescher seignur [my very dear lord], though he does call Kent 'sire' frequently throughout the letters. A frequent phrase in his letters is 'It seems to our lord the king and to us...' [semble a nostre seignur le roi et a nous...].

There's a lot of evidence of written forms of address, but very little of spoken forms. How Edward's family and close circle addressed him is uncertain - probably as Sire, but it's impossible to say for sure. How earls expected to be addressed is also uncertain: 'my lord' or 'my lord earl', perhaps? Although ritual and etiquette were clearly very important, there was none of the endless bowing and scraping and kowtowing of later courts, for example, the Tudors.

The Vita Edwardi Secundi mentions an edict of Edward II that nobody should call Piers Gaveston by his name, but by his title of Earl of Cornwall. However, in my view, this doesn't say anything about typical forms of address at Edward's court or how earls expected to be addressed, but rather points to Edward's sensitivity over raising a Gascon 'foreigner' ("a night-grown mushrump", as Marlowe memorably called him) to the English nobility, and his determination that nobody should disparage his beloved. Gaveston, in a letter of (I think) 1307 calls himself Pieres de Gauastoun Conte de Cornewaille.

I'm going to end the post by quoting the start of a letter written by Edward* to his sister Elizabeth on 30 March 1305, when he was not quite twenty-one, just because I like it so much:

"To the noble lady, his dearest sister, Elizabeth, daughter of the King of England, Countess of Holland, Hereford and Essex, from Edward, her brother, greeting and all honour. As we understand and know that you would willingly hear good news of us, we give you to know that we were in good estate and in good health, thank God, when these letters were made, which we desire to hear and know of you, and so we pray that you will send us word as often and as well as you can, of your estate, which God make always good; for we are glad at heart every time that we hear good news of you." [Yes, that is one sentence.]

* Written by his clerk, not Edward himself, obviously.

10 comments:

Liam said...

Great post, I like topics like this! ;) I've always wondered what calling someone 'dread lord' was meant to signify. It doesn't sounds complimentary at all to me, more like evil!!

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the great post! I thought I was the only one driven crazy when authors use the wrong form address. How do some of these massive mistakes get by the editors?? Sometimes I think the author is just being lazy or worse is "talking down" to the audience by assuming the readers won't understand the older forms of address so they "simplify". Ugh!

Alianore said...

Thanks, both! Got a bit carried away with myself, there - it might have been better as several separate posts! :)

Liam: 'dread lord' or 'dread sovereign' is weird, isn't it??

Stephanie: no, you're definitely not alone! It's interesting - there's a newish review of Edith Felber's Queen of Shadows (one of the novels that inspired the post) on Amazon that makes the same points. I also wonder if sometimes novelists think that 'your majesty' and 'princess' just sound 'better' somehow than 'your grace' and 'lady'??

Gabriele C. said...

Another one who is bothered by the wrong addresses.

I don't think most editors know about history, they're there to improve the writing - maybe it's asking too much to have them also check for historical blunders.

Historical fiction could do with a second editor for that. :)

Alianore said...

I'm not sure if publishers would consider that financially feasible, Gabriele, but I think it's a great idea. Anyone who's looking for a historical editor, I will happily volunteer my services ;)

There was a really gross historical error in Queen of Shadows (in addition to all the other errors): the author stated that Ed II's niece Elizabeth de Clare founded the Poor Clare religious order, when it fact it was St Clare of Assisi, nearly a century before Elizabeth was even born. That one nearly made me choke on my coffee. I'm sure editors do sterling work, and of course they can't be expected to pick up all or even most of the historical mistakes, but it's a shame that a book was published with such a huge - and very silly - error.

Daphne said...

Congratulations on your 100th post!! As always, full of very interesting information. Now that I know all this, I will probably notice inappropriate uses of titles more!

Alianore said...

Thank you, Daphne!

Hope I won't ruin your enjoyment of historical fiction too much...;)

Kate Plantagenet said...

Congratulations on your century (fellow cricket fan!)

I am going to use "a night-grown mushrump" the next time my 11 year old son gives me any lip. That should stop him in his tracks. Thanks Marlowe and thanks Alianore for letting us know of such a great quote.

It was a great post of very interesting information. Perhaps those authors who incorrectly title their characters have been misguided by historians. There is a true saying.. history doesn't repeat itself but historians repeat each other... or something like that. Whilst not exactly correct to title characters "your majesty" etc. It sounds more "dramatic" don't you think?

Cheers to you for the next 100 blog posts!

Alianore said...

Thank you, fellow cricket fan! :) Yes, I wonder if some novelists use 'your majesty' and 'princess' etc because they think they sound more impressive, or that readers will expect them...

My favourite Edward II quote is (from memory) "But what are kings, when regiment is gone/But perfect shadows in a sunshine day?" If you want to find more Marlowe quotes to use on your kids - which is a brilliant idea! - you can find the full text of Edward II at http://www.classic-literature.co.uk/british-authors/16th-century/christopher-marlowe/edward-ii/

Jeanne Tomlin said...

If you have original sources showing that Isabel MacDuff was actually released from her captivity in the cage at Berwick-on-Tweed would you be kind enough to post what it is.

I've seen people SAY she was released but never found a single original source that authoritatively PROVED it. I suspect that there is no evidence that she was. Considering the conditions under which she was imprisoned, her dying under those conditions seems highly believable. But if there is evidence otherwise, I would like to know about it.
Thanks