Does your story have a royal family? Do you keep second-guessing if it should be ‘king’ or ‘King’, ‘queen or ‘Queen’? Do you know how members of a royal family should be addressed by others? Here is a quick guide on writing royal titles and forms of address for royalty and nobles.

To capitalise or not to capitalise, that is the question

The general rule for capitalising titles is: does it replace or come before a name? If so, capitalise it. If it doesn’t, don’t. So…

‘Good morning, Princess.’

In this sentence, ‘Princess’ replaces her name; you could put ‘Anne’ or ‘Julie’ where the title is and the sentence would still make sense. You can also consider this a form of address, and those are always capitalised. Otherwise, the titles are kept lowercase.

‘The princess took a stroll in the gardens today.’

If you do have their name in the sentence and it is preceded by their title, then the title is always capitalised. So, ‘Princess Anne’, never ‘princess Anne’.

Where it gets tricky

The main reason why writers get confused when it comes to capitalising royal titles is that this rule can slightly vary depending on style guides, has exceptions (as any rule does), and can be ‘ignored’ as a way to show respect to the title holder.

Within the UK, for example, Queen Elizabeth II is always addressed in writing as ‘the Queen’ regardless of context: she is the reigning monarch and there are no other queens in any country of the UK, so it is always implied it addresses her and her alone and is used as a form of respect. So take this into account when it comes to your own writing: is there only one king and/or queen? Better yet, are you referencing a monarch that is not named? If there is no risk of this character being mistaken with another, then capitalising the title is an acceptable choice (since it is, technically, replacing their name).

What about longer royal titles? Continuing with the UK’s royal family as an example, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II is Prince Charles, but his full title is ‘Prince of Wales’. So he shouldn’t be addressed as just ‘the Prince’, as it does not replace his full title (and it would allow for confusion, as there are several princes within the royal family). Remember this if you have specific titles for your characters!

Your Majesty or Your Highness?

Members of royal and noble families can be addressed in a variety of ways, and which one is chosen can help establish the kind of relationship the speaker has with them. If someone addresses a royal by their name alone, for example, it can imply a level of closeness between the two or contempt for the title they hold.

If your characters are addressing your royals/nobles formally, then there are a variety of terms that can apply. These are the most generic forms of address; historically, and depending on geography, there have been slightly different ones, so feel free to adapt them to your own fictional world (but remember to be consistent!).

King/Queen (and their widows) – Your Majesty
Emperor/Empress – Your Imperial Majesty
Other members of royal families – Your Highness
Other members of imperial families – Your Imperial Highness
Non-royal Duke/Duchess – Your Grace
International diplomats/heads of state (can also apply to titleless spouses/children of royals and former royals) – Your Excellency
Religious leaders – Your Holiness

‘Writing Woes’ is a series of blog posts breaking down common issues writers can come across and explaining the rules behind them in a clear and simple way. Read more posts in the series here.

Sofia Matias is a professional writer, editor and proofreader. She specialises in working with independent authors of Young Adult and genre fiction, publishers and publications. She is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). Learn more about her and her services on her website and connect via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.