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100 Questions Answered: Etiquette (Q84-Q87)

Q84. How does the honours system work?


British honours are awarded on merit, for exceptional achievement or service. In 1993 the then Prime Minister, John Major, ended the automatic practice of conferring awards on the holders of certain posts, opening the honours system to more people - particularly those in the voluntary sector - who qualify on merit.

Most honours are announced in one of the two annual sets of honours lists - one at New Year and the other in June, on the Queens official birthday. The Queen chooses the recipients of honours on the advice of the Prime Minister and other relevant ministers, to whom recommendations are made by their departments or members of the public.

The various honours include:

Life Peers

These titles are not hereditary and are the only form of peerage regularly created by the Queen nowadays.


A baronetcy is a heritable honour - a title that is passed on to male heirs.


Knights may be either Knights Bachelor, or members of one of the Orders of Chivalry. The honour of knighthood derives from the usage of medieval chivalry, as does the method normally used to confer the knighthood: the accolade, or touch of a sword by the Sovereign.

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

This award is given mainly to civilians and service personnel for public service and other distinctions. The OBE and MBE are the two orders most commonly awarded to men and women for services to their country.

Q85. What does "Right Honourable" mean?

Right Honourable (Rt Hon) is the form of address used for people holding the following titles or offices: an earl or countess, a viscount, a baron, a Lord Mayor (the title given to the Mayor of London and other large cities) and a Privy Councillor. All Cabinet ministers are members of the Privy Council, the private council of the Sovereign.

The full title appears in the form "The Right Honourable the Earl of Derby", for example.

Q86. How should I address someone with a title?

Information on the protocol of addressing holders of honours and titles can be found in Whitakers Almanac (published annually) and Debretts Correct Form (Webb and Bower, Exeter).

Some examples are:

The Queen is addressed as "Your Majesty" and subsequently "Ma'am."

A Royal Prince is addressed as "Your Royal Highness" and subsequently "Sir."

A Royal Princess is addressed as "Your Royal Highness" and subsequently "Ma'am."

A Knight is addressed as "Sir" and the wife of a Knight as "Lady."

An Archbishop is addressed as "Your Grace" and a bishop is addressed as "My Lord."

An ambassador is addressed as "Your Excellency." In writing they should be addressed as "Dear Ambassador" or "Dear High Commissioner" if a representative of a Commonwealth country, or very formally as "Your Excellency."

Q87. What is the order of precedence for royalty, peers etc?

The order of precedence in England and Wales is as follows: The Sovereign; The Duke of Edinburgh; The Prince of Wales; The Sovereigns younger sons; The Sovereigns grandsons; The Sovereigns cousins; The Archbishop of Canterbury; Lord High Chancellor; Archbishop of York; The Prime Minister; Lord High Treasurer; Lord President of the Council; Speaker of the House of Commons; Lord Privy Seal; Ambassadors and High Commissioners.

Peers rank among themselves as follows: 1. of England, 2. of Scotland, 3. of Great Britain, 4. of Ireland, 5. of UK and Ireland.

Precedence among those with honours and titles: Dukes; Marquesses; Earls; Viscounts; Barons; Knights of the Garter; Baronets; Knights of the Thistle and other orders; Knights Bachelor; Companions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury takes precedence in England and Wales after Royal Princes, while Bishops rank above barons but below viscounts.

In Scotland precedence alters as follows: The Sovereign; The Duke of Edinburgh; The Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly (while that Assembly is sitting); The Duke of Rothesay (eldest son of the Sovereign); The Sovereigns younger sons; The Sovereigns cousins; Lord Lieutenant of Counties; Lords Provost of Counties of Cities; Sheriffs Principal; Lord Chancellor of Great Britain; Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; The Prime Minister.

Full details can be found in "Whitakers Almanac" or "Debretts Peerage and Baronetage".

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