Styles of the Nobility

  • France
  • France

    Under the Old Regime (prior to 1789) the nobility did not use particular styles. A titled nobleman was addressed or referred to as Monsieur le duc, Monsieur le comte. More formal style was used in legal documents such as contracts: haut et puissant seigneur for any titled nobleman. There were special styles for the French royal family.

    In the 17th century, votre seigneurie was borrowed from the Italian (analogous ot the English your lordship) but the French Academy's Dictionnaire of 1694 notes that it is used only in very informal conversation or as a joke (the 5th edition of 1798 makes the same comment, also noting that, in chancery, it was used for papal nuncios, in the form votre illustrissime seigneurie or "your most-illustrious lordship"). However, this same style was adopted, most seriously, as the official style of all members of the House of Peers created in 1814.

    The style Votre Grandeur also came into use for important nobles and, in the 18th century, for bishops. It was also used during the Restoration (1814-30) for the Chancellor of France, Keeper of the Seals and president of the House of Peers. The style of Votre Excellence was used for even more important nobles (but ranking below Highnesses). The usage for ambassadors was extended to members of the cabinet or government in the 19th century, and survives to this day for ambassadors.

    the form of address monseigneur, originally used by servants with their masters, came into use in the late 17th c. as a form of address for bishops, dukes, field-marshals, cardinals, and other high officials. The attempts by bishops to impose this usage were ridiculed by Saint-Simon in his Memoirs, and gave the derisive verb monseigneuriser.

    For ecclesiastics, the style of révérendissime or Illustrissime et révérendissime (most-illustrious and most-reverend) was used for bishops, archbishops, generals of orders.

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    François Velde

    Last Modified: Jan 05, 2000