Who Comes First? Precedence in Regency Romance

Thank goodness I am not a member of the British Ton, now or at any time in history!  I would most assuredly be kicked out. Even by today’s more lax standards as a hostess I am a bit lazy; or exhausted. 

Oh, it’s not that I don’t have enough food, or drink, it’s just that usually I entertain friends of long standing and tell them on their arrival to help themselves to anything they need.  I always think this lets me off the hook for making sure no one is wanting.  Of course I do check back with my guests once in a while to ascertain they have enough of whatever they might like.

But, my sympathies are with the Ton hostess of days gone by.  Even as rules changed, the order of precedence would have ruled every move you made when company was present.

The protocol for  precedence in standing and privilege applied to who was seated where at the dinner table, and who proceeded into or out of a room first. Some different sources provide contradictory information.  Recently, in MY AMERICAN DUCHESS by Eloisa James, A duke is repeatedly the subject breaches in protocol by his twin.

Often, in books, British characters look up who’s who in Debretts Peerage.  Their article on hosting a dinner party ( http://www.debretts.com/british-etiquette/home-life/entertaining/entertaining-home/hosting-dinner-party) provides a lot of helpful advice.

The traditional plan is for the host and hostess to sit at either end of the table, with the most important woman guest on the host’s right and the most important man on the hostess’s right. Some hosts prefer to sit opposite each other in the middle. Hosts who need to go in and out to the kitchen should sit near the door.  Any peculiarities of the room – for example, drafts, proximity to fires or radiators, low ceilings – should be noted and guests can be seated accordingly. Men and women are alternated where possible and couples should not be seated next to one another (traditionally this rule was relaxed for engaged couples). – See more at: http://www.debretts.com/british-etiquette/home-life/entertaining/entertaining-home/hosting-dinner-party#sthash.1vBl4V2W.dpuf

In the A&E production of  P & P, when Lydia returns to  Longbourne with Wickham, she trumps Elizabeth and Jane because as a married woman, she out ranks any of her unmarried sisters by precedence. And, she lets them know it as well. There is at least one instance where this did not apply:

Edwardian Promenade (http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/resources/titles-and-orders-of-precedence/) which offers a fabulous and very complete list of who gets to sit where, walk first and well, pretty much who comes first in the British Ton.

The daughter of a peer if married to another peer takes the precedence of her husband and relinquishes her own, but she retains it if she marries a commoner, and one of the anomalies of the English scale of precedence is to be found in the following circumstances: if the two elder daughters of a duke were to marry an Earl and a Baron respectively, whilst the youngest daughter were to run away with the footman, she would, nevertheless, rank as the daughter of a Duke above her sisters ranking as wives of an Earl and a Baron.

The Precedence of ranks below King and Prince is  Duke, Marquess/Marquis, Earl (Comte), Viscount, Baron, Baronet (hereditary but not a peer). http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/resources/titles-and-orders-of-precedence/


There’s some disagreement about who sat where or at least which was the left and which the right. Wiki How Says:

Seat guests of honour in order. If you have a guest of honour, for example, a boss, an elderly relative, a visiting superstar, there are etiquette rules as to their seating. A female guest of honour usually sits to the right of the host, while a male guest of honour usually sits to the left of the hostess. http://www.wikihow.com/Seat-Dinner-Guests

In a 2013 Guest post on JesssetevenHughes, Author Maria Grace wrote about precedence at Regency parties.

Two different styles of procession were noted with a transition occurring in the middle of the Regency era.

Early in the period, the ladies entered the dining room first, without the men. …The highest ranking lady would lead the rest of the company into the dining room. The rest followed in order of precedence. The hostess would bring up the rear of the company. Once the ladies had taken their seats, the gentlemen would follow the same procedure.

…The order of precedence remained consistent in all circumstances: 1) Aristocracy …entered before titled commoners 2) Titled commoners and their offspring went before untitled folks. 3) Married women went before single women, though some awkwardness could ensue when seniority of age clashed with seniority of rank.

In the later part of the era, etiquette dictated that each gentleman should offer an arm to escort a lady into the dining room. The host always escorted the female guest of the highest social position, and the highest ranking male guest escorted the hostess. From there, paired by precedence, the ladies and gentlemen advanced to the dining room..


In short who ever ranks highest goes first or comes first depending!