I am reading WILLIAM AND MARY by John Van Der Kiste 2008, 2011, in which he relates William III's reluctant plans to remarry after Mary II's death. This was to ensure the Protestant succession after Anne's death, as well as a future Stadtholder, particularly in view of the young Duke of Gloucester's precarious health. One of the "candidates" was Louise Dorothea Sophia, the daughter of Frederick of Brandenburg.

Van der Kiste discusses the protocol when, in 1696, William travelled to the Rhine to meet Frederick and the prospective bride. Initially, neither Frederick nor William would sit down, each reluctant to take the only great armchair. Kiste goes on:

Then Frederick left the room and everyone sat down to five hours of cards, the King in the great armchair, the Duke of Celle who had travelled with him in an ordinary one, the Electress on her bed and Portland and Keppel on stools. The rest stood watching, among them Princess Louise, until Keppel broke protocol by gallantly pulling forward another stool for her and inviting her to sit down. emphases mine.

I am confused by a "protocol" that left even a fourteen year old princess standing, when Portland and Keppel, who were commoners, were seated.


This, from the admittedly slightly later Court of Louis XVI, adds some context.

Only the royal family could take their places at the table and before them, seated, the duchesses, princesses or high-ranking persons who had the privilege to sit on a stool, then, standing, the other (courtiers).

Similarly -

The king and queen always had a fauteuil (armchair) to sit on. In their presence, no one else was allowed an armchair, unless you were also a monarch.

A chair with a back but no arms was allowed for those closest in rank to the king, such as his brother or children.

The tabouret, a padded stool was awarded to those holding the rank of duchess. Lesser ranking nobility would be expected to stand.

From this site

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    I don't think it was a breach of protocol for Luise Dorothea to sit down; I suspect the breach meant here was for Keppel to invite her to sit with his superiors.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 17, 2018 at 23:25
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    @Semaphore That's interesting, I hadn't read it that way. However, I still find it puzzling that a princess, in her parents' Court, should be left standing whilst "commoners" (Portland and Keppel) were seated. Not to mention she was a putative Queen Consort!
    – TheHonRose
    Feb 18, 2018 at 0:11
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    @TheHonRose Yes, it's indeed strange. But I would suggest it's more likely to be an oversight by the host (or perhaps a slight from the King, but I don't know how/why) than a matter of protocol preventing her from sitting. I still think Keppel inviting her was the breach being referred to, not her sitting per se.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 18, 2018 at 9:05
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    @Semaphore Yes, I'm thinking you're right, that it wasn't Keppel's place to decide who sat down - I'd read it as the princess sitting being the breach of protocol. Still strange, though!
    – TheHonRose
    Feb 18, 2018 at 11:17
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    In 1696 Frederick was an Elector, he didn't become king in Prussia until 1701, although the Duchy of Prussia was independent in 1696. So Frederick was a Furst (prince) of the Empire and his daughter Louise was a prinzessin as a member of his family. William Bentinck was made Earl of Portland in 1689, Keppel was created Earl of Albemarle on 10 February 1696/97, and so they might both have been English peers at the time of the meeting, though English peers were not exactly equal to H.R.E. princes. Possibly they were ambassadors of a sort and thus had part of the status of their king.
    – MAGolding
    Feb 18, 2018 at 22:08

1 Answer 1


Important points to note:

  • All nobles of the Holy Roman Empire who owed fealty directly to the (Austrian) Kaiser were Imperial Princes. The junior members of their families were entitled to style themselves as Fürst(in), translated in to English as (noble) Prince(ss). Although these families were regarded as sovereign, they were not royal.

  • The German Prinz(essin) is also translated into English as Prince(ss) - a royal style of address.

  • Within the Holy Roman Empire (at the time roughly German lands, Bohemia, Low Countries, and Northern Italy) the style Durchlaucht (English: Serene Highness) was, as of 1664, vested to all Imperial Princes by Leopold I.

  • The Elector (and Margrave) of Brandenburg is not granted the title and styles of royalty (while) in Prussia until 1701 -- because the title was King in Prussia rather than King of Prussia since the latter was not permitted in the HRE.

  • In 1696 Louise Dorothea of Prussia is a junior member of the von Brandenburg family, entitled to be addressed by any of the styles Fürst(in), Durchlaucht, and Markgräfin; however, the most exclusive and most privileged of these was Markgräfin von Brandenburg. Not for another five years, and then only while physically present in Prussia, would she be entitled to the more prestigious styles of Prinzessin and Hochadel (English: Highness).

    However, although Markgräfin Louise is entitled to be styled and addressed as such, being the daughter of the Margrave, she is not entitled to the privileges of such because she is not either:

    • The heir presumptive; or

    • The holder of an accelerated junior title.

  • English Orders of nobility in descending privilege; mnemonic: Do Men Ever Visit Boston (also valid as a simplification of Continental nobility):

    • Duke - German equivalents Erzhog

    • Marquess - German equivalents Margrave/Margravine

    • Earl - German equivalents Landgrave/Landgravine and Reichsgraf/Reichsgräfin, among others.

    • Viscount

    • Baron

    • Secular Prince Electors at the time comprised : the King of Bohemia, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Dukes (German: Erzhogs) of Saxony and Bavaria, and Marquess (German: Margrafs) of Brandenburg, with the latter three all additionally privileged by their status as Elector.

    • Bentnick "was ... Baron Cirencester, Viscount Woodstock and, in its second creation, Earl of Portland" since 1689

    • Keppel was created Earl of Albemarle in 1797 but was already Lord of Voorst (seems to be roughly equivalent to a baronetcy as far as I can discern) in Gelderland prior to that, and a junior member of the illustrious and ancient Gelderland family van Keppel. However the latter only seems to grant him honourary privilege as a Baron from what I can make out.

With the stage now set, after the Elector leaves, we have remaining in the room in descending privilege:

  • King William III in the armchair

  • Electress on her bed (by choice)

  • Duke of Celle on his own (armless) chair

  • William Bentinck Earl of Portland on a stool

and left wondering their status:

  • Sir (substantive Baronet) Van Keppel on a second stool

  • Markgräfin (courtesy) Louise Dorothea standing - as she is only entitled to the privileges of a Freifräulein - English Baroness.

I've got to think this situation was embarrassing all around, with all parties wondering who should be occupying the second stool: The substantive Baronet (a non-noble rank) entitled to courtesy style of Baron or the courtesy Freifräulein (Baroness) entitled to courtesy style of Markgräfin. The precedence of at least five separate sovereignties (England, Netherlands, Brandenburg, Prussia and HRE itself) and three languages (English, Dutch and German) are coming into play as everyone translates in their head.

In the end, I agree with Keppel - he's still common (or at best very slightly noble) and Louise is (very much) noble - that he shouldn't have a stool until she also has one.

  • Thank you, that's very helpful. I am obviously familiar with the ranks of nobility although not the proliferation of titles in the HRE. A couple of points: 1) While William and Frederick are both present, neither will take the great chair, which suggests that, by protocol or courtesy, they regarded each other as equals. 2) You state that Electors, whilst not royal, were sovereign - which Albemarle and Keppel were obviously not....
    – TheHonRose
    May 7, 2019 at 21:13
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    However, I do accept your conclusion, that, with the multiplicity of languages, titles and protocols, together with the demands of hospitality, no-one quite knew who was entitled to what - unless I've completely misunderstood you!
    – TheHonRose
    May 7, 2019 at 21:13
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    @TheHonRose: This is exactly why heralds were so useful. In a more formal setting this would all have been worked in advance. May 8, 2019 at 3:45
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    @Pieter Geerkens 1. You might want to edit your answer to specify that the noble ranks in ENGLAND were duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron, & in the HRE were archduke, grand duke, duke, prince, count palatine, margrave, landgrave, princely count, count, baron, etc. 2. At that time the 8 electors included 1 king, 2 dukes, 1 count palatine, 1 margrave, & 3 archbishops. 3. The HRE included more than just German lands in 1696, as the Duke of Mantua & Montferrat discovered to his cost.
    – MAGolding
    Jul 1, 2019 at 17:19
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    @MAGolding: Good points; done. Jul 1, 2019 at 17:38

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