Dame is an honorific title and the feminine form of address for the
honour of knighthood in the British honours system and the systems of
several other Commonwealth countries, such as
Australia and New
Zealand, with the masculine form of address being Sir. The word
damehood is rarely used, but the official website of the British
monarchy uses it as the correct term.
A woman appointed to the grades of
Dame Commander or
Dame Grand Cross
of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, the Most Distinguished Order
of Saint Michael and Saint George, the Royal Victorian Order, or the
Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
Most Excellent Order of the British Empire becomes a dame. Since
there is no female equivalent to a
Knight Bachelor, women are always
appointed to an order of chivalry. Women who are appointed to the
Most Noble Order of the Garter or the Most Ancient and Most Noble
Order of the Thistle are given the title of
Lady rather than Dame.
The Order of the Ermine, founded by John V,
Duke of Brittany in 1381,
was the first order of chivalry to accept women; however, female
knights existed for centuries in many places in the world prior to
this. Like their male counterparts, they were distinguished by the
flying of coloured banners and generally bore a coat of arms.
One woman who participated in tournaments was Joane
Agnes Hotot (born
1378), but she was not the only one. Additionally, women adopted
certain forms of regalia which became closely associated with the
status of knighthood.
Unlike the male knights, it was virtually unimaginable to see women
taking part in medieval battles or commanding battalions of soldiers,
but there are exceptions.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc is the most famous. Some wore
armour, others commanded troops, and some were members of an official
order of chivalry. One woman to wear full armour into battle was the
Duchess Gaita of Lombardy (also called Sikelgaita), who rode beside
her Norman mercenary husband, Robert Guiscard. She was a knight in
her own right. Another was Petronilla de Grandmesnil, Countess
of Leicester; wearing a mail hauberk with a sword and a shield, she
defended her lands from Henry II of England. She and her husband
participated in the rebellion in 1173 against
King Henry II.
Formerly, a knight's wife was given the title of "Dame" before her
name, but this usage was replaced by "Lady" during the 17th century.
The title of dame as the official equivalent of knight was introduced
in 1917 with the introduction of the Order of the British Empire, and
was subsequently extended to the
Royal Victorian Order
Royal Victorian Order in 1936, the
Order of St Michael and St George, and finally the Order of the Bath
The youngest person to be appointed a dame was Ellen MacArthur at
the age of 28. The oldest were
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies at the age of
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland was appointed just days short of her
101st birthday.
Several high-profile figures, including actresses
Geraldine McEwan and
Vanessa Redgrave, have declined the honour (however Redgrave does hold
the lower grade of CBE).
^ "Dame". Debretts. n.d. Archived from the original on 10 February
2015. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
^ "Knights Bachelor". Debretts. n.d. Archived from the original on 16
March 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
^ "Ladies of the Garter and Ladies of the Thistle". Debretts. n.d.
Archived from the original on 15 March 2015. Retrieved 16 January
^ Ackermann, G. A. (1855). Ordensbuch sämmtlicher in Europa
blühender und erloschener Orden und Ehrenzeichen. Rudolph &
^ F.S.W. (1886)
Dame Heraldry. Boston, MA: D. Lothrop and Company.
^ Starling, E. (1856). Noble Deeds of Woman. Phillips, Sampson.
^ a b c De Marly, D. (1986). Working dress: a history of occupational
clothing. Holmes & Meier.
^ a b Kasparek, R. (2014).
Knight of the Grail Code. WestBow Press.
^ "No. 57557". The London Gazette. 2005-02-11. p. 1713.
^ "Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies". movies.yahoo.com. Archived from the
original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
Look up dame in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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English social honorific titles
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