The concept of politeness permeates all aspects of modern life and society. However, to what extent has this phenomenon changed over time? This book traces the elusive concept of politeness from its beginnings in the Middle Ages up to the present day. Detailed case studies of mostly literary texts provide insights into historically specific ways of being polite, from discernment politeness in Old English to recent examples, such as non-imposition politeness. Readers will gain a better understanding of both the folk-notion of politeness and specific scholarly definitions, and how these can be applied to historical data. The long diachrony provides a novel perspective both on the concept of politeness and on the history of the English language in its social context, making this essential reading for politeness specialists, cultural historians and historical linguists alike. Politeness emerges as a multifaceted phenomenon that is both culture-specific and history specific.