Fiction Q&A: Styling Royal and Noble Titles

Q: When referring to a king or lord, when do you capitalize—if at all—for sire and your majesty and such? For example:

All we can do now is wait and pray that you and your healers can help my sister, your majesty.

I’m so confused. Thanks for your help.

question answer
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A: Titles are tricky, because it depends how you’re using them.

Generally speaking, the title will be capitalized if it’s being used with or in place of the person’s name. So in your example, Your Majesty would be capitalized. That’s what we call “direct address.” But if you and I are talking about the king, “king” isn’t capitalized because we’re using the word to talk about him, not as a name when talking to him.

Similarly, “Prince Charles” is capped because it’s part of his name, but when you refer to “the prince” it’s lowercase because you are not addressing him directly.

This is also true of military titles. So you might write:

Next, Admiral Akbar will give the briefing
(capitalized because it’s part of his name)

“Good morning, Admiral.”
(Capitalized because it’s a direct address in place of his name.)

But:

“The admiral said it was a trap.”

The exceptions—I see a lot of people get these wrong—are these:

  • sir
  • ma’am
  • my lord
  • my lady

Unless they’re at the start of a sentence, these are lowercase, even in direct address, per The Chicago Manual of Style 8.32 (16th edition) or 8.33 (17th edition). So “lord” is capitalized in “Lord Fauntleroy” and “Your Lordship,” but lowercase in “my lord.” Chicago doesn’t include “sire” in this list, but the usage example in Merriam-Webster shows it lowercase, presumably because it’s akin to “sir.”

Generally speaking, the “Your” forms are capitalized (Your Excellency, Your Majesty), as are “his” forms (His Excellency, Her Majesty), while the “my” forms not (my lord, my liege).

This post originally appeared at my other blog.

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8 Comments

  1. Hi, Kristen.

    Thanks for this. Very helpful.

    However, in a sentence such as the one below, would it or not be capitalised?

    Brian rolled his eyes. “Whatever you want, your highness.”

    He’s being sarcastic. She’s not of any noble lineage. Just your normal everyday person. Always confusing to me!

    Thank you,
    Sandra

    1. Since it’s not her title, you need to determine whether he’s using this as a term of endearment (e.g., dear, sweetheart), in which case it would be lowercase, or if he’s making it her nickname (e.g., Bubba, Punkin), in which case it would be capitalized. Either way is fine as long as you’re consistent.

  2. That last paragraph has been the most helpful reference I have ever found. Thank you. Hard to remember and keep straight, but that makes it easy.

    1. Thank you for letting me know this helped! That was my goal.

  3. Thanks for the clarification re: You’re Lordship.

    Which of the following is correct:

    Your most illustrious Lordship

    or

    Your Most Illustrious Lordship

    thanks

    1. You’re very welcome, Stephen. Your Most Illustrious Lordship is correct.

  4. What about in the case of “Charles, Prince of Wales”? Is “prince” capitalized or not?

    1. “Charles, prince of Wales” is correct, though in many places you’ll see it capitalized anyway. I would lowercase it for consistency with other titles.

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