EtymologyMiddle English maieste, mageste, from Old French majesté, from Latin māiestās, derived from Proto-Indo-European *maǵ-yos- "greater", from *maǵ-, *meǵ- "great".
OriginOriginally, during the Roman republic, the word maiestas was the legal term for the supreme status and dignity of the state, to be respected above everything else. This was crucially defined by the existence of a specific crime, called laesa maiestatis, literally "Violated Majesty" (in English law Lese majesty, via the French Lèse-majesté), consisting of the violation of this supreme status. Various acts such as celebrating a party on a day of public mourning, contempt of the various rites of the state and disloyalty in word or act were punished as crimes against the majesty of the republic. However, later, under the Empire, it came to mean an offence against the dignity of the Emperor. Even indirect actions such as paying for a service in a brothel with a coin bearing the portrait of the emperor could be punished as an act aganst this "maiestas".
Western style monarch's addressAfter the fall of Rome, Majesty was used to describe a Monarch of the very highest rank - indeed, it was generally applied to God. The title was then also assumed by Monarchs of great powers as an attempt at self-praise and despite a supposed lower royal style as a King or Queen, who would thus often be called "His or Her Royal Majesty." The first English king to be styled Majesty was Henry VIII - earlier monarchs had used the form His Grace. Eventually the title became enshrined in law, and it was thus that all of the Kings and Queens of Europe bear the title to this day. Variations include His Catholic Majesty for Spain and Her Britannic Majesty for the United Kingdom, when used to distinguish Her Majesty from other Monarchs.
The Monarchs of Principalities were considered lesser, so they generally did not take the title, opting for either His Highness or His Serene Highness. On a similar note almost all rulers of princely states in the British Empire were denied the Majesty style, only being recognised as His Highness, a style commonly used for sons (and other relatives) of a Majesty, since they were not sovereigns in their own right.
The United KingdomIn the United Kingdom, several derivatives of Majesty have been or are used, either to distinguish the British sovereign from continental kings and queens or as further exalted forms of address fro the monarch in official documents or the most formal situations.
Most Gracious Majesty is only used in the most formal of occasions. Around 1519 King Henry VIII decided Majesty should become the style of the sovereign of England. "Majesty", however, was not used exclusively; it arbitrarily alternated with both "Highness" and "Grace", even in official documents. For example, one legal judgement issued by Henry VIII uses all three indiscriminately; Article 15 begins with "the Kinges Highness hath ordered," Article 16 with "the Kinges Majestie" and Article 17 with "the Kinges Grace."
In pre-Union Scotland Sovereigns were only addressed as Your Grace. During the reign of James I & VI, Majesty became the official style, to the exclusion of others. In full, the Sovereign is still referred to as "His (or Her) Most Gracious Majesty", actually a merger of both the Scottish Grace and the English Majesty.
Britannic Majesty is the style used for the monarch and the crown in diplomacy, the law of nations, and international relations. For example, in the Mandate for Palestine of the League of Nations, it was His Britannic Majesty who was designated as the Mandatory for Palestine. Britannic Majesty is famously used in all British Passports, where the following sentence is used: Most Excellent Majesty is mainly used in Acts of Parliament, where the phrase "The King's (or Queen's) Most Excellent Majesty" is used in the enacting clause. The standard is as follows:
Usage in AfricaIn most of Africa where there may be Kings and Queens or Chiefs, they use His/Her Majesty, instead of Highness or Royal Highness regardless of whether the Kings or Chiefs are sovereign over any land or not, since most are heads of the tribes within the various countries of Africa.
Imperial monarch's addressIn the case of Emperors and Empresses, the style "His (or Her) Imperial Majesty" is used instead, where there may be several monarchs (Kings or Queens) that are considered to be under the jurisdiction of the Emperor/Empress.
majesty in German: Majestät
majesty in Persian: مهستی (لقب)
majesty in Dutch: Majesteit
majesty in Norwegian: Majestet
majesty in Portuguese: Sua Majestade
majesty in Swedish: Majestät
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