Getting Presented to Queen Victoria, Paying Social Calls, and Riding Etiquette in the 1870s

Today I am excerpting again from The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette: A Complete Manual of the Manners and Dress of American Society. Containing Forms of Letters, Invitations, Acceptances and Regrets. With a Copious Index published in 1877. I must be honest with you; I’m not particularly interested in the topics of calling and riding etiquette.  I just wanted to play with fashion from  La Mode Illustrée in 1869.



It is frequently a satisfaction to an American to be presented to the queen during a sojourn in England. It is at least something to talk about when one returns home; and as the queen is really a good woman, worthy of all honor, we, even as a born republican, can find no valid cause for objection.

Those Eligible To Presentation At Court

The nobility, with their wives and daughters, are eligible to presentation at court unless there be some grave moral objection, in which case, as it has ever been the aim of the good and virtuous queen to maintain a high standard of morality within her court, the objectionable parties are rigidly excluded.

The clergy, naval and military officers, physicians and barristers and the squirearchy, with their wives and daughters, have also a right to pay their personal respects to their queen.

Those Not Eligible

Those of more democratic professions, such as solicitors, merchants and mechanics, have not, as a rule, that right, though wealth and connexion have recently proved an open sesame at the gates of St. James.


Those Who May Present Others

Any person who has been presented at court may present a friend in his or her turn. A person wishing to be presented must beg the favor from the friend or relative of the highest rank he or she may possess.


Preliminaries To Presentation

Any nobleman or gentleman who proposes to be presented to the queen must leave at the lord chamberlain’s office before twelve o’clock, two days before the levee, a card with his name written thereon, and with the name of the nobleman or gentleman by whom he is to be presented. In order to carry out the existing regulation that no presentation can be made at a levee excepting by a person actually attending that levee, it is also necessary that a letter from the nobleman or gentleman who is to make the presentation, stating it to be his intention to be present, should accompany the presentation card above referred to, which will be submitted to the queen for Her Majesty’s approbation. These regulations of the lord chamberlain must be implicitly obeyed.

Directions at what gate to enter and where the carriages are to stop are always printed in the newspapers.

These directions apply with equal force to ladies and to gentlemen.


 Presentation Costume

The person to be presented must provide himself or herself with a court costume, which need not be particularly described here, but which for men consists partly of knee-breeches and hose, for women of an ample court train. These costumes are indispensable, and can be hired for the occasion.

The Presentation

It is desirable to be early to escape the crowd. When the lady leaves her carriage, she must leave everything in the shape of a cloak or scarf behind her. Her train must be carefully folded over her left arm as she enters the long gallery of St. James, where she awaits her turn for presentation.

The lady is at length ushered into the presence-chamber, which is entered by two doors. She goes in at the one indicated to her, dropping her train as she passes the threshold, which train is instantly spread out by the wands of the lords-in-waiting. The lady then walks forward toward the sovereign or the person who represents the sovereign. The card on which her name is inscribed is then handed to another lord-in-waiting, who reads the name aloud.

When she arrives just before His or Her Majesty, she should curtsey as low as possible, so as to almost kneel.


If the lady presented be a peeress or peer’s daughter, the queen kisses her on her forehead. If only a commoner, then the queen extends her hand to be kissed by the lady presented, who, having done so, rises, curtseys to each of the other members of the royal family present, and then passes on. She must keep her face turned toward the sovereign as she goes to and through the door leading from the presence-chamber. Considerable dexterity is required in managing the train in this backward transit, and it is well to rehearse the scene beforehand.

Rights Of Peers And Peeresses

Peeresses in their own right, as well as peers, may demand a private audience of their sovereign.


Calls may be made either in the morning or in the evening.

Morning Calls

Morning calls should not be made earlier than twelve M. nor later than five p. M. From twelve until three are the most fashionable hours.

A morning call should not exceed half an hour in length. From ten to twenty minutes is ordinarily quite long enough. If other visitors come in, the visit should terminate as speedily as possible. Upon leaving bow slightly to the strangers. It is not necessary to introduce visitors to each other at a morning call unless they have indicated their desire to be acquainted.

In making a call be careful to avoid the lunch- or dinner-hour of your friends.

Evening Calls

In many cases it is more convenient for both caller and called upon that the call should be made in the evening. An evening call should never take place later than nine o’clock nor be prolonged after ten, neither should it be more than an hour in length.


The Visiting-card

On making a call send up your card by the one who answers your summons at the door, if the person or persons called upon are at home. This is better than trusting your name to a servant, who may possibly mispronounce it. Leave your card at the door if you find no one at home. If there are two or more ladies, for whom the call was intended, a corner of the card should be turned down.

Inscription On Visiting-card

A visiting-card should bear simply the name and address of its owner. If the person has any legitimate title, such as Dr. or Rev. or Capt., it is perfectly proper to prefix it to the name; but if the title is merely an honorary one, such as Prof, or Hon., good taste indicates that it should be omitted.

Receiving A Visitor

A gentleman on receiving a friend meets him at the door and places a chair for him. A lady should rise to meet a gentleman, but need not advance from her seat if she do not choose. She may shake hands with her guest if she feels inclined, or she may merely bow. In receiving a lady she should advance to meet her.


Departure Of Visitors

A gentleman on receiving a lady should not only meet her at the door of the drawing-room, but should at the end of her call accompany her to the steps, and even to her carriage. A lady should accompany a lady visitor to the door on leaving unless other guests claim her attention. If her visitor be a gentleman, she may content herself with ringing for the servant to see him to the door.



General Rules Regarding Calls

In making a formal call a gentleman should retain his hat and gloves in his hand on entering the room. The hat should not be laid upon a table or stand, but kept in the hand, unless it is found necessary from some cause to set it down. In that case deposit it upon the floor. An umbrella should be left in the hall. In an informal evening call the hat, gloves, overcoat and cane may all be left in the hall.

A lady may in making a call bring a stranger, even a gentleman, with her without previous permission. A gentleman should never take that liberty.

No one should prolong a call if the person upon whom the call is made is found dressed ready to go out.

Never look at a watch during a morning visit.

A lady never calls upon a gentlemen except professionally or officially.

A lady should be more richly dressed when calling on her friends than for an ordinary walk.

Never allow young children or pets of any sort to accompany you in a call. They often prove very disagreeable and troublesome.


In receiving morning visits it is unnecessary for a lady to lay aside any employment not of an absorbing nature upon which she may happen to be engaged. Embroidery, crocheting or light needlework is perfectly in harmony with the requirements of the hour, and the lady looks much better employed than in perfect idleness.

A lady should pay equal attention to all her guests. The display of unusual deference is alone allowable when distinguished rank or reputation or advanced age justifies it.

A guest should take the seat indicated by the hostess. A gentleman should never seat himself on a sofa beside her, or in a chair in immediate proximity, unless she specially invites him to do so.

The seat of honor in the winter is in the corner by the fireplace, and that seat should be offered to the most distinguished guest. If a single lady occupies the seat and a married lady enters, the former should immediately rise and offer the latter her seat, herself taking another chair.

When a person has once risen to take his leave, he should not be persuaded to prolong his stay.

A caller should take special pains to make his visits opportune. On the other hand, a lady should always receive her callers at whatever hour or day they come if it is possible to do so.

Etiquette Of The Visiting-card

The card plays an important role in visits.

A card should always be sent by the servant who admits you to the hostess who is to receive you, that there may be no mistake in your name.

If you find any one absent from home or engaged, a card may be left in lieu of a visit.

A married lady may leave her husband’s card with her own.

Cards may be sent during the illness of any one, accompanied with verbal inquiries concerning the patient’s health.

In case of visits of condolence, cards may be made to serve the purpose of an actual visit.

So, also, on occasions for congratulation, if circumstances forbid an immediate formal visit, a card should be sent instead.


A newly-married couple indicate whom they wish to retain for acquaintances by sending out their cards. The reception of these cards should be acknowledged by an early personal call.

Cards must be left the week following a dinner party, ball or social gathering.

The First To Call

Residents in a place should make the first call upon new comers. This call should be returned within a week.

Calling On Strangers

If there is a stranger visiting at the house of a friend, the acquaintances of the family should be punctilious to call at an early date.

Laying Aside The Bonnet

A lady should never lay aside her bonnet during a formal call even though urged to do so. If the call be a friendly and unceremonious one, she may do so if she thinks proper, though never without an invitation.

If you should call upon a friend and find a party assembled, remain a short time and converse in an unembarrassed manner, and then withdraw, refusing invitations to remain unless they be very pressing and apparently sincere.

Seat Of Honor In A Carriage

In driving the choicest seat is the one facing the horses. Gentlemen should always yield this to the ladies; and if there are but one gentleman and one lady in the carriage, the gentleman must sit down opposite the lady unless she invite him to the seat by her side. The place of honor is on the right hand of the seat facing the horses. This is also the seat of the hostess, and she is never expected to resign it. If she is not driving, it must be offered to the most distinguished lady.

Entering A Carriage.

In entering a carriage one should so enter that the back is toward the seat intended to be occupied, so that there will be no need of turning round. A gentleman must be careful not to trample upon or crush ladies’ dresses.

Assisting Ladies To Alight

A gentleman must first alight from a carriage, even if he has to pass before a lady in so doing. He must then assist the ladies to alights, If there is a servant with the carriage, the latter may hold open the door, but the gentleman must by all means furnish the ladies the required assistance.


It is quite an art to descend from a carriage properly. More attention is paid to this matter in England than in America. We are told an anecdote by M. Mercy d’Argenteau illustrative of the importance of this. He says: “The princess of Hesse-Darmstadt, having been desired by the empress of Austria to bring her three daughters to court in order that Her Imperial Majesty might choose one of them for a wife to one of her sons, drove up in her coach to the palace gate. Scarcely had they entered her presence when, before even speaking to them, the empress went up to the second daughter, and taking her by the hand said,

“‘ I choose this young lady.’

“The mother, astonished at the suddenness of her choice, inquired what had actuated her.

“‘I watched the young ladies get out of their carriage,’ said the empress. ‘Your eldest daughter stepped on her dress, and only saved herself from falling by an awkward scramble. The youngest jumped from the coach to the ground without touching the steps. The second, just lifting her dress in front as she descended, so as to show the point of her shoe, calmly stepped from the carriage to the ground, neither hurriedly nor stiffly, but with grace and dignity. She is fit to be an empress. The eldest sister is too awkward, the youngest too wild.”

A gentleman in assisting a lady into a carriage will take care that the skirt of her dress is not allowed to hang outside. It is best to have a carriage-robe to protect it entirely from the mud or dust of the road. He should provide her with her parasol, fan and shawl before he seats himself, and make certain that she is in every way comfortable.

If a lady has occasion to leave the carriage before the gentleman accompanying her, he must alight to assist her out; and if she wishes to resume her seat in the carriage, he must again alight to help her to do so.


Etiquette Of Riding

The etiquette of riding is very exact and important.

One should not make too prominent an appearance on horseback until one is thoroughly master of the situation. There is an old rhyme which gives the art of riding in one lesson:

“Keep up your head and your heart,

Your hands and your heels keep down;

Press your knees close to your horse’s sides,

And your elbows close to your own.”

Preparations For Riding

A gentleman contemplating a ride with a lady should make certain her horse is a proper one for her use if it is one to which she is not accustomed. He must also see that everything about the saddle and head-gear is in perfect order and secure from accident, and not trust to the careless supervision of grooms or livery-stable men. He is for the time being responsible for her safety.


Assisting Ladies To Mount

In riding with a lady it is the gentleman’s duty to assist her to mount. The lady will place herself on the near or left side of the horse, standing as close to him as possible, with her skirt gathered in her left hand, her right hand upon the pommel and her face toward the horse’s head. The gentleman should stand at the horse’s shoulder, facing her, stooping, with his hand held so that she may place her left foot in it. This she does when the foot is lifted as she springs, so as to gently aid her in gaining the saddle. The gentleman must then put her foot in the stirrup and smooth the skirt of her habit . He is then at liberty to mount himself.

How close proximity he keeps to her, and if there are two ladies whether he ride between or on one side of them, must depend upon how skilled the ladies are in riding and how much assistance they require of him.

Pace In Riding

The lady must always decide upon the pace. It is ungenerous to urge her or incite her horse to a faster gait than she feels competent to undertake.

If a gentleman riding alone meets a lady walking and desires to speak to her, he must alight to do so.


Assisting A Lady To Alight From A Horse

After the ride the gentleman must assist his companion to alight. She must first free her knee from the pommel and be certain that her habit is entirely disengaged. He must then take her left hand in his right and offer his left hand as a step for her foot. He must lower this hand gently and allow her to reach the ground quietly without springing. A lady should not attempt to spring from the saddle.

Courtesies In Riding

A gentleman should offer all the courtesies of the road, yielding the best and shadiest side of the road to the lady or elderly gentleman with whom he is riding. He must open all gates and pay all tolls. He should ride to the right of his companion, unless circumstances temporarily favor the other side.


2 Replies to “Getting Presented to Queen Victoria, Paying Social Calls, and Riding Etiquette in the 1870s”

  1. I think one could make two or three modern dresses out of one of those gowns. I think one could make several dresses for girls under age twelve out of the material.
    They are lovely but can you see yourself washing the dishes or chasing a child in one of those gowns? I know, I know, rich lady clothes for visits and evening parties. How in the word did they ever let a man get close enough to embrace them, much less do any thing more.
    I do like these postings on etiquette.

  2. Thanks, Nancy. In one of my costume books…can’t remember which one….its said that the everyday dresses weren’t that wide. I guess we only have images and photographs of everyone’s “sunday best.”

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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