To the Manor Born – Meaning & History

by | Jul 14, 2023 | Aristocracy, Kingdoms, Noble Titles, Royal Titles

There’s a phrase in modern parlance that is often used to represent high society circles or people of noble birth: to the manor born. 

But what does this curious phrase really mean? Where did it originate? And what’s the right way to use it in everyday conversation? 

To The Manor Born: Meaning

If you ever see or hear someone use the phrase To the manor born, it’s usually meant to mean that the person in question is posh, noble, or wealthy – or perhaps all three. 

The idea behind the phrase is that the person was born in a manor, or is part of the Landed Gentry, i.e. the rich landowners or wealthy nobles, either in the local area or as part of an aristocratic family somewhere. 

Someone who is ‘to the manor born’ is someone who is used to the finer things in life, they move in the higher echelons of society, or they come from aristocratic lineage.  

Being ‘to the manor born’ has historically indicated some kind of noble background. Yet in modern speech, it has come to be used much more broadly, so these days, it’s possible that it may be used to indicate that someone is rich or living the high life.

This broader contemporary definition is not the true meaning of the phrase – as being rich doesn’t necessarily mean they are of noble birth or part of the Landed Gentry, i.e. the kind of people who live in or own a Manor House.

To The Manor Born: History

So that’s the meaning of To the manor born – but where did this curious phrase originate? 

There is a good deal of debate around this simple idiom, but the general consensus is that To the manor born is a mutation, or perhaps an intentional play on words, of a line in a well-known work by William Shakespeare. 

William Shakespeare's Hamlet

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet – J. Gurney & Son, N.Y., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In Act I, Scene IV of Hamlet, there’s the following line: 

“But to my mind, though I am native here

And to the manner born, it is a custom

More honour’d in the breach than the observance.”

Many people believe that this is the origin of the phrase To the manor born, i.e. that it’s a misspelling or pun based on the line from Shakespeare’s play. 

The theory is that the line ‘to the manner born’ eventually became more widely used and spelt as ‘to the manor born’. 

In the original, i.e. the phrase used in the work by Shakespeare, the phrase ‘to the manner born’ simply indicates that he was born to that manner or custom. It doesn’t have the same connotations relating to aristocracy, nobility, grand houses or family lineage. 

Manner Or Manor?  

Given that there are two versions of this interesting phrase, and many theories about what it really means – which one is the right one to use?

The word ‘manor’ is very evocative, it conjures up visions of great homes, country estates, wealthy landowners, and Lords and Ladies of the Manor. 

So, it would be appropriate to use the version ‘to the manor born’, if you’re trying to imply that a person comes from the upper classes or they have some kind of aristocratic background. 

For example, you might say that someone is used to fine dining at the best restaurants as they are to the manor born. Or you might explain someone’s eccentric, outlandish or ostentatious behaviour by saying, ‘Well, he is to the manor born!’, or, ‘You can tell she is to the manor born…’. 

In these examples, there’s a strong reference to some kind of noble or privileged background – whether or not the person in question actually has any genuine aristocratic titles or lineage. 

In contrast, to use the other spelling – the ‘manner born’ version is much broader, so it can be used to represent being born to any kind of manner or custom. 

For example, you might say that a certain cultural habit seems odd, but it wouldn’t be odd to those who grew up with such a custom, i.e. they were to the manner born. 

Or perhaps you might refer to a certain family trait that has repeated over generations, with the youngest members of the family being ‘to the manner born’. 

In this usage, the phrase simply means that a person was born into a certain manner or custom, rather than being born in a Manor House or as part of a noble family. 

What Is A Manor? 

The word manor dates back to the Middle Ages, with its root origins dating back to Ancient French versions and Latin words, and it has come to have a number of meanings over the centuries. 

The root of the word manor comes from a French word that means ‘dwelling place. An even older origin is the Latin word manere, which means to remain. 

This gives some idea as to the meaning of the word manor, i.e. that it’s a fixed place, sometimes a local area or maybe a private property. The colloquial use of the word manor in modern crime dramas reflects the idea of it being a certain locality, usually with significant boundaries. 

In today’s usage, manor often refers to a Manor House, which is usually a grand and impressive country home or estate within a private area of land, often farmlands or hamlets. 

A Manor House was typically the headquarters and home of a Lord and Lady of the Manor, i.e. the people who owned the land and administered the estate.  

Lords & Ladies Of The Manor

To help you get a clearer idea of the distinctions between these two versions of the phrase, it may be helpful to know some common features of the world’s Lords and Ladies of the Manor that have historically become stereotypes of this kind of individual. 

A Lord or Lady of the Manor was usually a lower-ranking noble, i.e. not a duke or duchess for example, but who owned property and sometimes hunting and fishing rights in a local area. They typically lived in the largest or most impressive house in the locality. 

These variations of the phrase ‘to the manor born’ make for a fascinating story of both a stereotype and a common phrase that is still popular today, as it adds colour and subtle implications when used to refer to certain individuals – some of which may well have actually been born in a Manor House.

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