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Of The Titles Of Illustrious, Highness, And Excellence Post by :medcop Category :Essays Author :Isaac Disraeli Date :August 2011 Read :1073

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Of The Titles Of Illustrious, Highness, And Excellence

The title of _illustrious_ was never given, till the reign of Constantine, but to those whose reputation was splendid in arms or in letters. Adulation had not yet adopted this noble word into her vocabulary. Suetonius composed a book to record those who had possessed this title; and, as it was _then_ bestowed, a moderate volume was sufficient to contain their names.

In the time of Constantine, the title of _illustrious_ was given more particularly to those princes who had distinguished themselves in war; but it was not continued to their descendants. At length, it became very common; and every son of a prince was _illustrious_. It is now a convenient epithet for the poet.

In the rage for TITLES the ancient lawyers in Italy were not satisfied by calling kings ILLUSTRES; they went a step higher, and would have emperors to be _super-illustres_, a barbarous coinage of their own.

In Spain, they published a book of _titles_ for their kings, as well as for the Portuguese; but Selden tells us, that "their _Cortesias_ and giving of titles grew at length, through the affectation of heaping great attributes on their princes to such an insufferable forme, that a remedie was provided against it." This remedy was an act published by Philip III. which ordained that all the _Cortesias_, as they termed these strange phrases they had so servilely and ridiculously invented, should be reduced to a simple superscription, "To the king our lord," leaving out those fantastical attributes of which every secretary had vied with his predecessors in increasing the number.

It would fill three or four of these pages to transcribe the titles and attributes of the Grand Signior, which he assumes in a letter to Henry IV. Selden, in his "Titles of Honour," first part, p. 140, has preserved them. This "emperor of victorious emperors," as he styles himself, at length condescended to agree with the emperor of Germany, in 1606, that in all their letters and instruments they should be only styled _father_ and _son_: the emperor calling the sultan his son; and the sultan the emperor, in regard of his years, his _father_.

Formerly, says Houssaie, the title of _highness_ was only given to kings; but now it has become so common that all the great houses assume it. All the great, says a modern, are desirous of being confounded with princes, and are ready to seize on the privileges of royal dignity. We have already come to _highness_. The pride of our descendants, I suspect, will usurp that of _majesty_.

Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his queen Isabella of Castile, were only treated with the title of _highness_. Charles was the first who took that of _majesty_: not in his quality of king of Spain, but as emperor. St. Foix informs us, that kings were usually addressed by the titles of _most illustrious_, or _your serenity_, or _your grace_; but that the custom of giving them that of _majesty_ was only established by Louis XI., a prince the least majestic in all his actions, his manners, and his exterior--a severe monarch, but no ordinary man, the Tiberius of France. The manners of this monarch were most sordid; in public audiences he dressed like the meanest of the people, and affected to sit on an old broken chair, with a filthy dog on his knees. In an account found of his household, this _majestic_ prince has a charge made him for two new sleeves sewed on one of his old doublets.

Formerly kings were apostrophised by the title of _your grace_. Henry VIII. was the first, says Houssaie, who assumed the title of _highness_; and at length _majesty_. It was Francis I. who saluted him with this last title, in their interview in the year 1520, though he called himself only the first gentleman in his kingdom!

So distinct were once the titles of _highness_ and _excellence_, that when Don Juan, the brother of Philip II., was permitted to take up the latter title, and the city of Granada saluted him by the title of _highness_, it occasioned such serious jealousy at court, that had he persisted in it, he would have been condemned for treason.

The usual title of _cardinals_, about 1600, was _seignoria illustrissima_; the Duke of Lerma, the Spanish minister and cardinal, in his old age, assumed the title of _eccellencia reverendissima_. The church of Rome was in its glory, and to be called _reverend_ was then accounted a higher honour than to be styled _illustrious_. But by use _illustrious_ grew familiar, and _reverend_ vulgar, and at last the cardinals were distinguished by the title of _eminent_.

After all these historical notices respecting these titles, the reader will smile when he is acquainted with the reason of an honest curate of Montferrat, who refused to bestow the title of _highness_ on the duke of Mantua, because he found in his breviary these words, _Tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus_; from all which he concluded, that none but the Lord was to be honoured with the title of _highness_! The "Titles of Honour" of Selden is a very curious volume, and, as the learned Usher told Evelyn, the most valuable work of this great scholar. The best edition is a folio of about one thousand pages. Selden vindicates the right of a king of England to the title of _emperor_.


"And never yet was TITLE did not move;
And never eke a mind, _that_ TITLE did not love."


(The end)
Isaac D'Israeli's essay: Of The Titles Of Illustrious, Highness, And Excellence

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