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‘We Are Not Amused’ – A Guide To The ‘Royal We’

“We are not amused”. A phrase commonly attributed to Queen Victoria, though likely to have not been said by her. Although Queen Victoria was probably talking in reference to members of her court rather than herself alone, in response to something that displeased the Royal party.

When attributed to Queen Victoria, people often ask who the ‘We’ was in the phrase. When a Monarch says ‘we’ talking about just themselves, this is called the ‘Royal We’ or more formally, ‘Majestic Plural’. It has proved somewhat illusive over the years, appearing now and again in speeches and in one of The Queen’s speeches where, referencing to this illusive Majestic Plural, in reference to her and Prince Philip, she exclaimed, ‘We, and by that I mean the both of us’, causing huge uproar of laughter.

The Majestic Plural’s origins are just as illusive as the phrase itself. It was believed that it originated from King Henry II when the King was arguing that due to what is known as ‘the divine right of Kings’, he and God were at one in agreement when he communicated. I.e. ‘God and I’, hence the ‘We’ part.

Some people consider that actually, when a Monarch says ‘We’ in singular reference, they are speaking for the country of which they are Sovereign.

Another, interesting example of the use of the ‘Majestic Plural’ was by Margaret Thatcher in 1989 when she was Prime Minister, she became a grandmother, a press statement was released saying ‘We have become a grandmother’. The fact that she was a mere Prime Minister using the Majestic Plural caused quite a stir, leading to such jokes as ‘Why is Margaret Thatcher like a pound coin?
– Because she is thick, brassy and thinks she’s a sovereign.

Nowadays, Majestic Plural has fallen somewhat out of use, it is never used by The Queen herself, however is used by others, in reference. For example, when referring to The Queen’s reign, the phrase ‘our reign’ is often used, especially on Letters Patent and formal documents.

Queen Victoria’s alleged quote ‘we are not amused’ was actually said to be in response to an anecdote, the tale goes of the unfortunate equerry who ventured during dinner at Windsor to tell a story with a spice of scandal or impropriety in it. “We are not amused,” said the Queen when he had finished”.

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