When addressing the Queen today, the correct form is "your/her Majesty" and for example not "your Royal Highness", or certainly not just "hey Lizzie".

As far as I, understand failure to use the correct form of address today would lead to a number of raised eyebrows and maybe distant snickering for not knowing your way around proper protocol.

But previously things like Lèse-majesté were prosecuted sometimes for different levels of insulting the monarch. Whether in writing, public speech or private talk.

Most of the time things had to get really crass (examples here would lead to distractions) to result in any legal action and from 1715 to 2010 these laws and their enforcement were slowly peeled back, sometimes now covered by other laws like those pertaining to public order.

What I cannot find a source based answer for is:
Was there ever a law interpreted in that way and enforced that made a form of more or less 'clearly' seen as disrespectful form of address at that time to the monarch punishable?

To clarify:
This is not about

Kill that bastardly heretic!

but more like something between

Hey, Lizzie!

Or even more subtle, but perhaps too specific, insisting on calling "his Majesty" just "your Royal Highness", after being told that this is deemed "incorrect" ('now', at that time readily interpretable as perhaps questioning his right to the throne simply by way of address). As the "correct form" has changed over time, this is not about the "correct form", whatever that may have been at the time of an incident, but just about failing to use that proscribed form.

One high time of quite strict laws surrounding "speech related to the monarch" seems to be found in the following age and customs:

The Elizabethan regime also used proclamations to respond to the threat of sedition. A proclamation of 1570, following the Northern Rebellion, required those seeking pardon to report anyone involved in ‘seditious matters’, including any who ‘speak any slanderous words of the queen’s majesty or of any of her councillors’. In 1576, responding to ‘certain infamous libels full of malice and falsehood… tending to sedition and dishonourable interpretations of her majesty’s godly actions and purposes’, the government sought to suppress these ‘villainous, treasonable, and seditious attempts’. A similar proclamation in 1601 addressed ‘traitorous and slanderous libels … stirring up rebellion and sedition’.
New legislation in 1581 criminalized the seditious words of ‘light and evil-disposed persons’ and others ‘evil-affected towards her highness’ who disturbed ‘the common tranquillity’ of the realm. The new law imposed harsher sanctions against speakers of ‘false, seditious and slanderous news, rumours, sayings or tales against our most natural sovereign lady the queen’s majesty’. Those found guilty of speaking ‘seditious words and rumours’ faced a spell in the pillory and the loss of both ears, a fine of £200, plus up to six months in prison. Simply to repeat or report such words risked similar punishment. The law also criminalized any casting of the queen’s nativity, calculation of her life span, or speculation about who might succeed her on the throne, threatening offenders with the ‘pains of death’. The medieval treason law continued to apply, buttressed by Tudor provisions.

David Cressy: "Dangerous Talk: Scandalous, Seditious, and Treasonable Speech in Pre-Modern England", Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2010. (fazebook summary by the author, read the book if possible)

  • 2
    I believe that from the time of Henry VIII to James I Majesty, highness , and grace were used interchangeably to describe the English monarch. I think one proclamation used all three terms to describe Henry VIII. And before that I think that up to about 1500 only five European kings, the kings of England, France, Castile, Aragon and the Emperor or King of the Romans, had the right to be styled highness, so nobody would have been punished for calling the English King highness in the middle ages.
    – MAGolding
    Dec 27, 2018 at 18:21
  • @MAGolding This is not about my imagined example now transferred back into MA, but just about anything that might be seen as an insult to the monarch by failing to follow whatever was the protocol at the time. So whether 'Highness' was 'bad' at any time is really just a small puzzle piece. In case you misunderstood the purpose of the example. I hope I made that clearer now? Dec 28, 2018 at 10:13
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    I was just pointing out that proper protocol has changed a lot over the centuries.
    – MAGolding
    Dec 28, 2018 at 17:14
  • @MAGolding: In support - the 1611 dedication of The King James Bible uses (by my count just now) twelve instance of Your Majesty with four instances of Your Highness. It would seem that the former was preferred, at least by the authors, though the latter was quite acceptable to avoid monotonous repetition. This would seem to be reinforced by the usage by John Adams in his audience with George III in 1785. Dec 31, 2018 at 0:51
  • it would also greatly depend on context, especially who exactly it is that is referring to the monarch and whether directly or indirectly. If her children call her mommy instead of Your Royal Highness, I doubt anyone would care. If a commoner petitioning the Queen does similar, it's quite a different matter.
    – jwenting
    Jan 2, 2019 at 9:21

1 Answer 1


In researching, these were the closest and most interesting.

From 1534 to 1547 it was treason to...

slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king our sovereign lord should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown

This mostly aimed at Papists. Everyone had to acknowledge the king, not the Pope, was the head of the church. To say otherwise was treason.

Prior to 1547 it was illegal to refer to a monarch correctly if that monarch was the king of France. The English monarchs claimed that title from 1340 until 1801.

  • That's within the time frame I suspect the most (or earlier; MA?). But remains theory. What I was looking for whether or how these theories were used (one eg being a 'usurper-caller' by using really (in our eyes at least) 'just' the wrong form of address). Jan 6, 2019 at 14:51

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