British Etiquette

12 Days of Downton: A Guide to Forms of Address and Other Social Minefields in Downton Abbey

For those of us who’ve grown up on this side of the Pond, another potentially confusing bit of Downton Abbey is the complicated system of proper forms of address among the all the British upper classes. (Also known as the “Who are these people?” or “Who are they talking about, again?” effect.)

For example, though I used “Lord Robert” repeatedly in my post about Downton and the entail problem for the sake of clarity, this is actually a huge faux pas, as he would never be called that by anyone he interacted with, be they servants, family members or peers. But, why? What are we supposed to call him instead? (Answer: it often depends on who is doing the talking.)

But, click right on through to the rest of this post, and I’ll try to explain some of the occasionally bizarre rules of the British peerage and the forms of address that would be used by the characters who inhabit the world of Downton. (And please, British scholars out there, jump on in if you’ve got more in-depth reasoning for some of these rules or if you can add some clarity!)