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Forms of Address

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Social status was important in Medieval society. Unlike in modern society where we all claim the "right" to be treated as "equals," feudals didn't engage in such nonsense. It was obvious who was superior and who was inferior. Who your ancestors were decided who you were.

Even the lowliest serf believed in the basic rightness of this fact! Nor did he resent being at the bottom of the class system and having to say "Sir" and "M'Lord" to the nobility.


In a Role-Play Context

To encourage role-playing with a degree of authenticity, proper forms of address can be used. While not essential, courtly manners and the proper show of respect is a good way to establishing "atmosphere" in a role-playing campaign and give players the feeling of actually being in a feudal society.

"Sire" is normally used by vassals addressing their liege lord, as well as by squires addressing the knight who nourished them.

Context is very important in using Forms of Address. For example, a chaplain may address a Duke as "My Lord" in public, but as "My Son" in the confessional. Also, friends of close social rank will often address one another by given names. Similarly, sarcastically calling a poor landless knight such as Garnfellow "Sir Girth" in the Boar is one thing. However, to speak disrespectfully of any knight in front of his peers and in a courtly setting is a good way for a peasant to get soundly beaten or possibly imprisoned. Even the fattest and most foolish of knights is considered to have more inherent worth than the wisest and noblest of peasants. This point cannot be emphasized enough: nobody likes an uppity churl, not even other peasants.

Thus, the proper way for the PCs to address Richard, Baronet of Lownell, is as either "My Lord," or "Lord Lownell." As both noble sons and knights, Edgar and Steven are addressed as "My Lord," "Lord Edgar" or "Lord Steven," or "Sir Edgar" or "Sir Steven." John the Bastard should be addressed as "Sir John." And in formal settings—however much it might stick in the craw—Garnfellow should be called "Sir Will."

"Subordinates can never go wrong by using `Sir' or `My Lord,' or `My Lady' or `Master' or `Mistress.' But using familiar forms of address to a social superior is a faux pas in an intensely class-conscious society."

The niceties of formal address are known only to members of the nobility, the Church, or to characters with the Etiquette non-weapon proficiency. Proper use of such conventions will likely impress nobles and clergy.


Social Position - Proper Form of Address

  • One's Overlord - Sire, My Liege, My Liege Lord, My Lord King Sire, Your Majesty
  • Queen - My Lady, Your Royal Highness, Madam, Ma'am
  • Prince - Sire, Your Royal Highness, or as Overlord
  • Princess - My Lady, Your Royal Highness
  • Duke - My Lord, My Lord Duke, Your Grace, (Sire if royalty)
  • Marquis or Margrave - My Lord, My Lord Marquis, Lord [name of holding], (Sire if royalty)
  • Earl or Count - My Lord, Lord [name of holding], (Sire if of royalty)
  • Baron or Baronet - My Lord, Lord [name of holding]
  • Knight - Sir [given name] (My Lord if addressed by subordinate vassal, retainer, or manorfolk)
  • Noble Lady - My Lady, Your Ladyship, Lady [given name], Madam, Ma'am, or else by title: My Queen, Princess, Marquessa, Countess, Baroness, etc.
  • Noble Son - My Lord, Lord [given name]
  • Noble Daughter - My Lady, Your Ladyship, Lady [given name]
  • Knight's son - Master [ given name]
  • Knight's daughter - My Lady, Lady [given name], Mistress [given name]
  • Lord Chancellor - My Lord, My Lord Chancellor, or by title if noble
  • Lord of Council - My Lord or by title
  • Lord Justice - My Lord, Sire, or by title
  • Lord Mayor - My Lord, Your Worship
  • Lord Mayor's Wife - Madam, Ma'am, Mistress, Mistress [given name]
  • Pope - Your Holiness, Most Holy Father
  • Cardinal - Your Eminence
  • Archbishop - Your Excellency, Your Grace, My Lord, My Lord Archbishop
  • Archdeacon - Venerable Sir, Reverend Father, Father [given name]
  • Canon or Dean - Very Reverend Sir, Reverend Father, Father [given name]
  • Rector of a Parish - Reverend Father, Father [given name]
  • Curate or Chaplain - Father, Father [given name]
  • Abbot or Prior - Reverend Father, My Dear Abbot, or Father [given name]
  • Monk or Friar - Brother [given name]
  • Abbess or Prioress - Very Reverend Mother, Reverend Mother, Mother [given name]
  • Nun - Sister, Sister [given name]
  • Mayor of a Town - Your Worship, (Sir by commoners)
  • Royal Justice - My Lord
  • Junior Serjeant - Master, Squire, Squire [given name]
  • Wife of Prominent Commoner - Mistress, Mistress [given name]
  • Freeman or Freewoman [given name]


On Pronouns

There is an important distinction between the second person pronouns thou, thee, and thy; and ye, you, and your. The most obvious difference is that "thou" is singular and "you" is plural. However, these pronouns also distinguish social rank. The singular forms (thou, thee, thy) are used in addressing familiars, children, or persons of inferior social rank. The plural forms (ye, you, your) are used as a mark of respect when addressing a superior.

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(reprinted from material by EricTheDog, with his permission)