Victorian Gentlemen and Ladies: Introductions

Lets look at some basics to start with introductions:

John Cooper, my great grandfather, Circa 1900

I guess we really don’t make a big deal of introductions today. Maybe we stand, a smile and a handshake; cards if used at all are business cards.

Introducing a spouse or partner is no big deal, if fact some people I know barely seem to be able to remember how to do that!

However introductions were and are important. From Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette 1899:

1. Introductions

To introduce persons who are mutually unknown is to undertake a serious responsibility, and to certify to each the respectability of the other. Never undertake this responsibility without in the first place asking yourself whether the persons are likely to be agreeable to each other; nor, in the second place, without ascertaining whether it will be acceptable to both parties to become acquainted.

A serious responsibility, indeed I hate having to introduce myself or being ignored!

But what about the fairer sex:

Always introduce the gentleman to the lady never the lady to the gentleman. The chivalry of etiquette assumes that the lady is invariably the superior in right of her sex, and that the gentleman is honoured in the introduction. This rule is to be observed even when the social rank of the gentleman is higher than that of the lady.

and the same sexes

Where the sexes are the same, always present the inferior to the superior. Never present a gentleman to a lady without first asking her permission to do so.

So once you have decided that very important task of who is superior to whom we move onto the next stage.

2. Tactile acknowledgements

For the men, an important point.

When you are introduced to a lady, never offer your hand.

Thinking about it I guess we ignore these sort of pleasantries today and everyone’s hands are shaken.

When introduced, persons limit their recognition of each other to a bow. On the Continent, ladies never shake hands with gentlemen unless under circumstances of great intimacy.

Never introduce morning visitors who happen to encounter each other in your rooms, unless they are persons whom you have already obtained permission to make known to each other. Visitors thus casually meeting in the house of a friend should converse with ease and freedom, as if they were acquainted.

I have to say there seems an awful lot to recall here!!

That they are both friends of the hostess is a sufficient guarantee of their respectability. To be silent and stiff on such an occasion would show much ignorance and ill breeding.

And one does not want to be seen as being ill-bred!

Persons who have met at the house of a mutual friend without being introduced should not bow if they afterwards meet elsewhere. A bow implies acquaintance; and persons who have not been introduced are not acquainted. 

If you are walking with one friend, and presently meet with, or are joined by, a third, do not commit the too frequent error of introducing them to each other. You have even less right to do so than if they encountered each other at your house during a morning call.

So beware of these rules, but of course with all rules…

3. There are some exceptions to the etiquette of introductions.

At a ball, or evening party where there is dancing, the mistress of the house may introduce any gentleman to any lady without first asking the lady’s permission. But she should first ascertain whether the lady is willing to dance; and this out of consideration for the gentleman, who may otherwise be refused. No man likes to be refused the hand of a lady, though it be only for a quadrille. A brother may present his sister or a father his son, without any kind of preliminary; but only when there is no inferiority on the part of his own family to that of the acquaintance.

A quadrille is a square dance performed typically by four couples and containing five figures, each of which is a complete dance in itself. Like the sort of thing you’d see in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (although set slightly earlier)

Friends may introduce friends at the house of a mutual acquaintance; but, as a rule, it is better to be introduced by the mistress of the house. Such an introduction carries more authority with it.

Introductions at evening parties are now almost wholly dispensed with. Persons who meet at a friend’s house are ostensibly upon equality, and pay a bad compliment to the host by appearing suspicious and formal. Some old-fashioned country hosts yet persevere in introducing each new comer to all the assembled guests. It is a custom that cannot be too soon abolished, and one that places the last unfortunate visitor in a singularly awkward position. All that he can do is to make a semi-circular bow, like a concert singer before an audience, and bear the general gaze with as much composure as possible.

If, when you enter a drawing-room, your name has been wrongly announced, or has passed unheard in the buzz of conversation, make your way at once to the mistress of the house, if you are a stranger, and introduce yourself by name. This should be done with the greatest simplicity, and your professional or titular rank made as little of as possible.

An introduction given at a ball for the mere purpose of conducting a lady through a dance does not give the gentleman any right to bow to her on a future occasion. If he commits this error, he must remember that she is not bound to see, or return, his salutation.

 An amazing array of social instructions which were given to apply to all but was most likely by the poor of the time.


5 thoughts on “Victorian Gentlemen and Ladies: Introductions

  1. I recall reading that if a gentleman calls on a lady he must always hold onto his cane/umbrella. Giving it to the maid or placing it on the floor would imply that he assumes his unexpected visit is a welcome one. It is always the lady’s happy responsibility to make him feel unwanted should he prove to be caddish.

    And what about calling cards? And the language of fans? I love all of the subtleties!

    • I have to agree…I find it fascinating and it’s such a shame that things like manners and etiquette seem to be becoming a thing of the past. I liked you blog btw:)

  2. I’m really enjoying your site!

    Have you ever read “Victorian Babylon” by Lynda Nead? It has some great stuff about how they planned the city, gas and street life.

    Great work!

    • Hi Lizzy


      I have that on my bookshelf ready to read…if you’d like to write a review of it i’d be happy to put it up here. All contributions are greatly received!



  3. Pingback: Ladey Adey – Have you made any Introductions Lately?

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