For other uses, see Dame (disambiguation).

Dame is a noble 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 is used on the official British Monarchy website as being 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 becomes a dame.[1] Because there is no female equivalent to a Knight Bachelor, women are always appointed to an order of chivalry.[2] 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".[3]

History and heraldry

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.[4] 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.[5][6] Additionally women adopted certain forms of regalia which became closely associated with the status of knighthood.[7]

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 is the most famous, but there were countless others. 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, who rode beside her Norman mercenary husband.[7] She was a knight in her own right.[7][8] 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.[8]

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 in 1936, the Order of St Michael and St George, and finally the Order of the Bath in 1971.

The youngest person to be appointed a dame was Ellen MacArthur[9] at the age of 28. The oldest was Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies at the age of 100.[10] Several high-profile figures, including actress Vanessa Redgrave, have declined the honour (however Redgrave does hold lower grade CBE).


  1. "Dame". Debretts. n.d. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  2. "Knights Bachelor". Debretts. n.d. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  3. "Ladies of the Garter and Ladies of the Thistle". Debretts. n.d. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  4. Ackermann, G. A. (1855). Ordensbuch sämmtlicher in Europa blühender und erloschener Orden und Ehrenzeichen. Rudolph & Dieterici.
  5. F.S.W. (1886) Dame Heraldry. Boston, MA: D. Lothrop and Company.
  6. Starling, E. (1856). Noble Deeds of Woman. Phillips, Sampson.
  7. 1 2 3 De Marly, D. (1986). Working dress: a history of occupational clothing. Holmes & Meier.
  8. 1 2 Kasparek, R. (2014). Knight of the Grail Code. WestBow Press.
  9. The London Gazette: no. 57557. p. 1713. 2005-02-11. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
  10. "Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies". movies.yahoo.com. Retrieved March 3, 2013.

External links

Look up dame in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Media related to Dames at Wikimedia Commons

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