Tag Archives: magisterial plural

The royal we and other nosisms


“We are not amused,” said Queen Victoria, reportedly after Sir Arthur Helps, the clerk of the privy council, told a saucy story over a royal dinner at Windsor Castle one evening. “We have become a grandmother” was what Margaret Thatcher declared after the birth of her son’s first child. “We dropped off the damn money.” (Watch this clip to see which famous movie character said that line.)

The majestic plural (pluralis maiestatis in Latin, meaning literally “the plural of majesty”) is the self-referential use of a plural pronoun by a single person holding a high office, such as a monarch, earl, bishop or pope. (Or a proud British prime minister.) It’s thought by some that King Henry II was the first British monarch to use it, when the “divine right of kings” had come into effect and determined that the monarch acted in tandem with the deity. So when he used the word “we”, he actually meant “God and I.” Queen Elizabeth has occasionally made jokey or ironic references to the majestic plural during her reign; on her silver wedding anniversary in 1972, in an address at the Guildhall, she started by saying, “I think everybody really will concede that on this, of all days, I should begin my speech with the words ‘my husband and I’. We — and by that I mean both of us — are most grateful.”  Continue reading