Although King George III of Great Britain did respond to a Loyal Address using the personal pronoun I:

My Lords,
I thank you for this dutiful and affectionate Address. The satisfaction which you express, on the intended marriage of my sister ...

[A Parliamentary History, Hansard, 1765–6]

some thirty years later he had progressed to using the Royal We:

By the KING,

A Proclamation.

GEORGE R.
Whereas, on the Twenty-ninth Day of this Instant Month of October, divers Persons, riotously assembled in different Places in Our City of Westminster, proceeded to commit certain daring and highly Criminal Outrages, in gross Violation of the Public Peace, to the actual Danger of Our Royal Person, and to the interruption of Our Passage to and from Our Parliament: We therefore, with the Advice of Our Privy Council, in pursuance of an Address from Our Two Houses of Parliament, do hereby enjoin all Magistrates, and all other Our living Subjects, to use their utmost Endeavours to discover and cause to be apprehended, the Authors, Actors and Abettors, concerned in such Outrages, in order that they may be dealt with according to Law: And We do hereby promise, That any Person or Persons, other than those actually concerned in doing any Act by which Our Royal Person was immediately endangered ...

[Journals of the House of Commons, 36 Geo III (1796)]

Now, it's plain that a Proclamation is more official and weighty than a reply to a Loyal Address. But the King obviously knows he's only one person ("Our Royal Person") so apart from that one person, why does the King refer to himself in the plural? Who or what is the "other" who is included in Our and the Royal We? The Proclamation would have been just as effective if "My Royal Person" had appeared with capital letters.


As a side issue, it's interesting that proper nouns like George, October and Westminster get italicised, presumably to differentiate between them and common nouns which get capitalised (rather like modern German). But Our is always capitalised as well.

  • 2
    Why need there be an "other"? Was there an "other" when people start addressing individuals respectfully as 'ye', 'vous', 'вы'? – Colin Fine Jul 11 '16 at 21:17
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    Re. capitalization, and the usage of italics. History of using capital letters for names – Mari-Lou A Jul 11 '16 at 21:20
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    Do you think it may have anything to do with using the plural pronoun in Italian and French as a sign of respect? For example, Lei and Voi in Italian for the singular pronouns lei = she, lui = he and tu = you is always capitalized. – Mari-Lou A Jul 11 '16 at 21:27
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    Plural is more formal, hence more polite, hence more noble, hence more royal. Q.E.D. – John Lawler Jul 11 '16 at 22:04
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    There is no "other." That is the nature of the royal "we," or majestic plural. Queen Victoria quite famously took this to the extreme by pretty much always saying "We" instead of "I" (e.g., "We are NOT amused!"). – Benjamin Harman Jul 11 '16 at 22:58

William Longchamp is credited with its introduction to England in the late 12th century, following the practice of the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs.[2] Its first recorded use was in 1169 when King Henry II, hard pressed by his barons over the Investiture Controversy, assumed the common theory of "divine right of kings", that the monarch acted conjointly with the deity. Hence, he used "we", meaning "God and I...". Wikpedia

  • 1
    I think it's clear that it's not my original work. It should also be clear that it is work that should have been somehow included in a properly-researched question. – Hot Licks Jul 11 '16 at 21:46
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    However, I have just tagged the citation in that Wikipedia article as {{failed verification}}: I cannot find any words ascribed to the king in the five pages of abbreviated Latin cited, and if there is anything, and even if it talks about the divine right, I'm damn sure it doesn't explain that the king calls himself "we" because he claims to act with the deity. Without a citation, that bit of the article is unsupported speculation. I have drawn attention to it on the article's talk page, and if I don't get a useful rely, will probably delete the claim. – Colin Fine Jul 11 '16 at 21:50
  • Thanks for that, @MετάEd. The Wikipedia article on Longchamp does indeed say that he introduced the use of the plural, misrepresenting its source which says that he was "probably responsible". But it is silent about the point for which Wikipedia was adduced, viz the purported reason for the practice. I continue to think that the reason (in the "Royal we" article) is unsupported speculation. – Colin Fine Jul 12 '16 at 18:29
  • I have just edited the William Longchamp to add "probably", better reflecting the source. – Colin Fine Jul 12 '16 at 18:34

The above explanation of it referring to god is very plausible, however I was taught a different meaning where "we" refers to the whole country. Since the king dictates what the government does, and by extension what the country does, his decisions are the same as the country's decision. I would not be surprised if it held different meanings for different rulers.

  • The fact that a lot of religious leaders (Popes etc. ) use 'we' might back up the other respondent's point about God – BladorthinTheGrey Jul 12 '16 at 18:53
  • I think that 'we' is referring to the king's court. A king can't choose his subjects - the whole country - but he can choose the members of his court, so presumably can assume that they all agreed with him. – David Garner Jul 12 '16 at 22:04

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