KNOW YOU that it is Our will and pleasure that the Victoria Cross be the highest decoration for according recognition to persons who, in the presence of the enemy, perform acts of the most conspicuous gallantry, or daring or pre-eminent acts of valour or self-sacrifice or display extreme devotion to duty:
AND WE DO ordain that the award of the Victoria Cross shall be governed by the Regulations set out in the Schedule.
IN WITNESS whereof We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent.
— ELIZABETH THE SECOND, by the Grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
In western systems, when royalty speak on behalf of their office, they tend to use refer to themselves as if they were more than one person. In Latin, this is known as Pluralis Maiestatis — the Majestic Plural. In English, this is known as the Royal We.
This was most famously attributed to Queen "We are not amused" Victoria, who believed herself to be the avatar for the British Empire. This happens in fiction as well. A good way to show when the monarch in question has had enough and demands obedience is to have them switch to this form of address. Another way is to use this comedically, have a monarch use this in informal contexts or have people confuse the majestic plural for the regular one ("Where are the rest of them?"). It can also be used to demonstrate an absurd degree of self-regard and pomposity if used by someone who isn't royal.
The origin of this tradition is the idea that the monarch in question is speaking for the nation, although in times gone it was also used by religious officials speaking on behalf of the Church. Sometimes other characters will reinforce this by referring to the monarch by the name of their country; in Hamlet, for example, Claudius and the dead king are both referred to as Denmark, and another king is only ever called Norway.
Also, some languages use the plural to address other people formally. Even English does this, in a way — originally, "you" was only used as a plural objective; the nominative was "ye" and the singular equivalents were (nominative) "thou" and (objective) "thee". However, using "you" as a formal term for a single person, even as subject, became so commonplace that it replaced "ye" and "thou" entirely. Yes, you heard right: "you" was once more formal than "thou", regardless of how it sounds to the modern ear.
The "Editorial We" is similar, meaning "I, speaking for this newspaper." You'll sometimes see something a lot like this used on TV Tropes, meaning "I, speaking for This Very Wiki."* This is NOT, under ANY circumstances, to be used to refer to the editor's personal opinions, ONLY for statements regarding administrative policy and the like. A contrasting term is the "Patronizing We" or Nurse's We ("How are we feeling today?"), which means "you".
Of course, if the royal in question is a Hive Queen, it all makes a lot more sense. Finally, note that no matter how many times she refers to herself as "We", the Queen of England does not like being addressed as "Y'all".
For other interesting (and a lot more complex and convoluted) pronoun implication shenanigans, see Japanese Pronouns.
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Anime & Manga
Rurichiyo speaks like this in the Amagai filler arc of Bleach. Keigo once wonders why she's talking this way. Despite being lower in rank than Byakuya, she speaks as though she's higher in rank than him. This is lampshaded by Ichigo and Rukia when Ichigo complains about the way she speaks and Rukia observes not even her brother speaks like that.
Jack Atlas, being the (former) king of the riding duel, speaks this way in the original Japanese version of Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds.
The Anti-Spiral in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann never refers to himself in the singular, because he's speaking on behalf of his species. In fact, it's thought that he is his entire species in a merged consciousness, if so, it makes even more sense.
Luna talks like this all the time in My Bride Is a Mermaid, and it's easy to see why. She's a famous and hugely popular Idol Singer and the daughter of one of the most economically (and physically) powerful (mer)men in all of Japan (and Japan's seas). The only time she ever refers to herself in the singular is when Nagasumi teaches her a lesson in humility.
Hotohori talks like this in Fushigi Yuugi. He starts doing it less and less as he begins to interact with the other Seishi as friends.
The New Yorker had a cartoon that showed a king answering the phone with "Yes this is we" (I'm sure they've done other Royal We jokes as well)
Referred to in a FoxTrot comic where after Thanksgiving Roger is going through the fridge commenting "Boy we really polished off that turkey, eh? And that stuffing, we really did a number on that! Oh no, did we eat all the pumpkin pie?", etc, to which Andy replies "You're using the royal we, I assume"
Lucifer speaks this way in the first volume of The Sandman and in his initial appearance in A Season of Mists. He stops once he abdicates from the throne of Hell, and stays that way for the rest of the comic as well as in his spin-off.
Eddie Brock as Venom uses the Royal "We", referring to both himself and the symbiote. Other hosts of the Venom symbiote avert this, as does Carnage, as Kasady and his symbiote are so in sync that they're practically one entity.
Films — Animated
Vanellope of Wreck-It Ralph uses this term jokingly while mock-knighting Ralph. Serves as foreshadowing for The Reveal that she's a princess.
Films — Live-Action
M. Bison in the Street Fighter movie. "We have decided to grant her a private audience."
Referenced in The Big Lebowski, when The Dude talked to the title character. Although, this is more because of a slip of the tongue (he was to deliver ransom money alone) and him trying and barely able to backpedal over his mistake.
The Dude: We dropped off the damn money— Mr. Lebowski:We?! (beat) The Dude:I! The Royal "We"! You know, the editorial...
Parodied in the Italian movie Madly in love. Adriano Celentano is Barnaba, bus driver who wants to marry a princess and visits her place, talking to her father:
Barnaba: I want to talk to Cristina. Where's she? Gustave VI: Young man, we are the ones that want to know. Barnaba: We, who? Gustave VI: Pluralis majestatis. We rulers talk always in plural. What do you want? Barnaba:He wants to meet Cristina. Gustave VI: He, who? Barnaba: Barnaba. We folks talk always singular.
In the Cinderella film musical The Slipper and the Rose, as part of his song "Why can't I be two people?", the Prince argues that since it is natural for royals to use the plural, he should have the right to be more than one person.
Used in Casanova by the non-royal (but equally well-known) Casanova when he's with his manservant Lupo. Amusingly, Lupo uses it, as well.
Lupo: Where have you been? We were worried about us.
In The Ten Commandments, Seti I uses both forms in one line, when addressing the King of Ethiopia and his sister: "Our son has dealt wisely with you, Ethiopia."
Played straight and averted in the Soviet comedy Ivan Vasilievich, where Ivan the Terrible ends up in modern-day (when the movie came out) Moscow. While he mostly speaks normally, he does, occasionally, use the royal "We", such as in the scene where he's interrogated by the cops. When asked for his last name, he replies "We are Rurikids" (i.e. of the Rurik dynasty).
In the Sven Hassel books, Gregor Martin always describes his unnamed General Ripper whom he served as a batman via the Royal We (e.g. "my general and our monocle") right up to the moment the general commits suicide "And then we shot ourselves!" after which he's described normally.
Given that several of the main characters are or become royalty, this shows up occasionally in The Chronicles of Narnia. It's fairly low-key and easy to miss when it does, though, and someone unfamiliar with the trope (as many children might be expected to be) could easily take it as nothing more than a leader speaking for his immediate associates, and the story loses nothing with this interpretation.
"We are the Empress Jadis," though, spells it out pretty clearly.
Used occasionally by Emperor Gregor Vorbarra in the Vorkosigan Saga and usually when he's making a point. In Memory, he says "I, or to put it more officially, We are not happy with current progress."
Tenel Ka uses this on very rare occasion in the Star Wars Expanded Universe — it works specifically because she is generally informal (especially with the Jedi).
Runt calls himself "we", and in Wraith Squadron he's specifically asked if it's a royal "we". It's plural.
A more literal use of the plural pronoun is seen in A Madness Of Angels. The narrator switches between singular and plural pronouns frequently, sometimes in the middle of a sentence and even during dialogue. This is because he's sharing his body with the blue electric angels. The choice of pronouns indicates which part of their collective personality is talking.
King John uses it sporadically in the Lord Darcy stories. Typically if he's giving a briefing, he doesn't use it; in one case, transitioning between its use and its non-use is noted as a change from briefing to a more normal sovereign-to-subject talk. In other words when King John calls himself 'I' instead of 'We' one is free to interrupt with questions and otherwise treat him - temporarily - like a regular person rather than one's dread sovereign. This can be a bit jarring, especially to American readers, when he speaks as the sovereign: in the note accompanying the gift of a pistol to Lord Darcy, he ends with "If We hear that it is hanging on the wall of your trophy room in a golden frame, or other such foolishness, We will personally come over there and take it away from you."
This series also uses the name of a realm ruled by a noble to refer to the noble very consistently: for example, the Marquis of London note a takeoff on Nero Wolfe, complete with Lord Bontriomphe (a French analogue of Goodwin) as his wisecracking, womanizing assistant is referred to as though de London is his name.
Used by the Dark Queen in Saga by Conor Kostick.
The Bible has God mention something interesting about Adam and Eve after they had sinned. "They have become as one of us. Knowing the difference between good and evil." Many Biblical scholars have debated what this means, one interpretation is that God being a Trinity is referring collectively to His God-hood of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Another interpretation is that God is referring to the angels of heaven. Either way some sort of heavenly hierarchy is being talked to.
In The Qur'an God refers to Himself as "We" all the time, despite Islam being stringently monotheistic.
In Niven and Pournelle's version of Dante's Inferno, Henry VIII refers to himself as "England".
Used fairly often in Safehold, unsurprisingly as a Ruling Couple are main characters, and one or or the other of them makes a speech in this mode once or twice a book on average, and other royalty show up as well and are sometimes seen making such speeches.
In the Heralds of Valdemar series, King Ancar of Hardorn used the royal plural constantly. Averted with King Tremane (formerly a Duke of the Eastern Empire), after being Offered the Crown, who chose to do away with it as one way of distancing himself from his evil predecessor.
When Solaris and Selenay meet in Storm Rising, Solaris bounces back and forth between "We" and "I". Karal identifies her reasoning as 1) "I" to indicate she's not claiming any special precedence and 2) "We" because as High Priest Solaris speaks for Vkandis as well as herself.
The wife of the late Centari Emperor in Babylon 5 speaks in plural, but because she is traditionally assumed to be speaking for her dead husband.
Silas from Kings; in this case it is intended in the religious sense, not the "avatar of the nation" sense, as Silas was literally chosen by God.
A clever use in Robin Hood: To make the point that the Robin Hood legend wasn't just about him, Robin had the gang reciting "We are Robin Hood!" When they go to the Holy Land and meet King Richard, he asks them to represent him when they get back to England. "You are Richard. And we are Robin Hood."
In Yes Minister, Humphrey invokes this to rub in that the Minister has made a bad decision because he wanted to sound important. The Minister has been assigned an awful role, one which Humphrey would have advised him against taking, but he jumped at it because the holder would be described as a "supremo". When he decides that he doesn't want it anymore:
Minister: Clearly, the title Transport Supremo is one that is not worth having. We must endeavor to change the Prime Minister's mind. Sir Humphrey: Do you mean "we" plural or do Supremos now use the royal pronoun?
Lexx: Upon settling into her role, Pope Genevieve I only refers to herself in the majestic plural.
Nudge used it in Hey, Dad..!, when he became convinced that he was long-lost royalty.
Nudge: I'm doing the Royal "We" here. Martin: Well, don't do it on the carpet!
Used for comedic effect in the Blackadder Christmas special.
Queen Victoria: We are Queen Victoria. Baldrick: What, all three of you?
Some of the Tok'ra in Stargate SG-1 use this, as the symbiote shares the body of the host.
Any Tok'ra: We are not Goa'uld! (flashes eyes, which doesn't help matters)
Played straight with the Goa'uld Hathor, who uses it in the royal sense. An interesting One-Liner by O'Neill before killing Hathor.
Hathor: We will destroy you for this! Jack O'Neill: We would just like you to go away!
Used in the Shining Time Station finale "Queen for a Day." Some crooks uncoupled the Queen's private car from an American railtour and left her stranded in the countryside - leaving the locals baffled as to where the other people are whom this poor old lady keeps mentioning.
When Alexander VI becomes pope in The Borgias he lampshades the fact he'll now be using the royal "we". For the rest of the series he's consistent: acting as pope, he always uses "we". When privately conniving, it's "I". When he wants to have the last word with people he's privately conniving with, he switches to "we" again.
Angel: He kept saying "we." This morning is was "we have to go." Now, "we're thirsty..."
Cordelia: Okay, so he's pretentious.
In one episode of Clarissa Explains It All, Ferguson's birth certificate is lost, so Ferguson starts thinking he's adopted and really descended from royalty. He starts doing this.
Ferguson: Haven't you heard of the Royal "We"?
Clarissa: Don't you mean the Royal Weenie?
Ferguson: We shall not forget your insolence.
The Austrian comedy TV show "Wir Sind Kaiser" ("We Are Emperor") parodies this trope. The setting is in the present day, but acts as though Austria never stopped being a monarchy, and the titular Austrian Kaiser always refers to himself in the German first person plural "Wir" ("We") instead of the German first person singular "Ich" ("I"). This goes on to hilarious extent when everyone is forced to refer to him in the German 2nd person plural, at all times, especially when addressing him directly (he will correct you if you get it wrong). This is something which isn't even possible in the modern English language.
The Silversun Pickups' song The Royal We could be said to be about threats of war from the perspective of the ruler of a nation.
TNA's Matt "The Blueprint" Morgan tends to use the Royal We most of the time.
Shows up, of course, in any Shakespeare play about royalty, like Hamlet or Henry V.
Henry V has some monologues where he switches from "we" to "I." Some productions use that as the point at which he loses his temper or composure.
In Hamlet, Claudius uses it even when referring to himself personally: he calls Gertrude "our sometime sister, now our Queen". Of course Gertrude is also the nation's Queen, but was never its sister(-in-law).
Wiseman: Our people are obviously happy. Are we wrong? Thoran: You think the people of Rasalas were happy? Wiseman: They ARE happy. They may not understand it now, but the day will come when they thank us.
It might be entirely possible, however, that he could be referring to the magnus contained within him.
Maximilian of Valkyria Chronicles speaks like this - most of the time, anyway. Occasionally, he speaks without it.
The mysterious swordswoman Athena uses this in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. I smell a WMG coming on...
Dormin from Shadow of the Colossus uses this a lot, although, to be fair, Dormin is compromised of a male and female entity, so this trope is used quite appropriately. However, as the game goes on, the masculine side of Dormin eventually eclipses the feminine side. It is speculated that this may be because the feminine portion of Dormin is harboring Mono's body, per the deal Dormin upheld with Wander. Further speculation even goes into Ico, but you probably don't care.
In E.V.O.: Search for Eden, the King and Queen Bees don't do this, and neither does the Rogon King. When Bolbox revives the Queen Bee and restores her to her giant size near the end of the game, she seems to start using the Royal We, as no other giant insects are seen, barring Bolbox's giant Profasu/Cockroach.
An episode of Timon & Pumbaa uses this when the title duo meet a rich pig who is being carried by several servants and introduces himself by saying "We are Mr. Pig," to which Pumbaa replies, "All of you?" Timon quickly points out that he was using the royal "we".
One of the most well-known phrases using this is Queen Victoria's alleged line, "We are not amused." It's been speculated that either she didn't say it, or she was speaking on behalf of herself and all the other ladies at court, as this Straight Dope article suggests. This was referenced in her appearance on Doctor Who; the Doctor and Rose made a bet over whether or not she would say it. She didn't; she said "I am not amused!" The Doctor and Rose seemed to count it as the same thing, though.
A phrase which frequently pops up in Victoria's diaries is: "I was very much amused." Go figure...
It was also common for Russian Tsars and Emperors to use "we" when referring to themselves. It's still common in Russian-speaking countries to answer to people who say "we" for no apparent reason: "We what, we Nicholas the Second?".
In a documentary about the Danish princes Joachim and Frederik, a journalist said that he felt the moment where one of them finally asked the journalist to use the plural "you" instead of the singular one was the moment said prince finally was ready to be a royal. (Because it correlated with a more responsible behavior, not just that alone, but still...)
It should be noted that in Danish, there is a big difference in formality between polite/plural "you" ("De", always capitalised when pluralised for this reason), which is slightly old-fashioned but merely a gesture to avoid seeming overly familiar, and referring to yourself as "we", which is about as Royal as Rex in your signature.
Mary I's initial response to the Lady Jane Grey being proclaimed Queen, when Henry VIII's will clearly stated that Mary was next in line after the recently-deceased Edward VI, was a diplomatic, yet commanding letter to the lords responsible that used the royal plural to underline the point.
In Dynastic China, there was a special first-person pronoun used only by the Emperor ("朕"/"zhen"), and he could not be addressed as "you" or by his given name.
United States Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover once told a subordinate who used the royal we: "Three groups are permitted that usage: royalty, pregnant women, and schizophrenics. Which one are you?"
Similarly, Mark Twain once said "three orders of men, by right, speak of themselves as "we". These are editors, royal personages, and people with tapeworms."
Hillary Clinton is quoted by James Stewart in "Blood Sport: The President and His Adversaries" as having responded to a question regarding subpoenaed documents, "I'm not going to have some reporters pawing through our papers. We are the president."
In various European languages, other august personages such as bishops and university rectors also use the royal "we." In fact, in Spanish, there's an entirely separate pronoun for it (nos, the origin of the modern first person plural nosotros).
In Spanish, there are several distinct usages of the first person plural, easily distinguished by context: the authority-derived one ("Hemos declarado la guerra." - "[We] have declared war."), equivalent to the Royal We discussed here, and the teacher-derived one ("Ahora estudiaremos las fracciones." "[We] will now study fractions.") are the most common ones.
Similarly, many southern African languages use plural pronouns and concords as a way to respectfully refer to others. Whether the plural is used only for high-ranking people (ie. royalty) or for anyone older or higher-up, however slightly, than the speaker varies between languages and regions, as does whether the person being addressed refers to themselves in the plural as well.
The Pope once used the Royal "We" as well, until Pope John Paul I (August 26, 1978 - September 28, 1978) broke with tradition and ceased its usage along with other royal symbols of the papacy (the sedan chair, the papal crown and coronation, et al.).
It is common enough in legal writing that a letter from a firm of lawyers will use the pronoun "we," simply because the letter has gone through multiple hands (who all agree on its contents) or it is the considered opinion of the entirety of the lawyers who are working on that matter. It does look rather odd when only one of them signs it, however. It is *also* not a grammatical error when a lawyer switches from "I" to "we" in legal correspondence and vice versa...
Similarly, judges will refer to themselves as "we" in court opinions, even if there is only one judge involved, rather than a panel of judges. This is because the judge is speaking as "the court", or for the legal system as a whole. By the same token, you can tell when an opinion is a dissent or concurrence (or partial concurrence/partial dissent) by the use of singular first-person: although judges in a court with more than three judges might "join" a dissenting or concurring opinion, these opinions are theoretically only those of the individual judge who wrote them. That is: when judges "join" the majority, they are part of the court majority for which the opinion speaks, and so the judge writing it is saying "we—that is, me, and these x other judges, speaking on behalf of this court as an institution—say..."; judges who "join" concurrences and dissents are merely saying "Yeah, what that guy said."
As seen in the quote at the top of the page, Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and fifteen other countries, including as mentioned in the quote, Australia, uses the Royal We in official documents. The quote is not fiction, it is (part of) the real order setting forth the awarding of the Victoria Cross (Australia).
When someone presumes to speak for a group of people, effectively trying to pull off a small-scale Royal We, a common joking way to dispute the person's authority is by asking, "What do you mean 'we?' You got a mouse in your pocket?" The Russian version of the joke involves asking that person if they are Nicholas II.
In Chile, the President uses the Royal We in formal announcements. In semi-formal contexts, some presidents have been more fond of using it too than others. Presidential candidates have also picked up the trend, hoping to sound presidential.