Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Peerage

Yes, pesky titles. I know I should have this down pat by now. But I just started a new work, and lo and behold the darn hero is the second son of a duke. Not the heir. Now there are all kinds of pitfalls with Dukes, not just what you call them, but what you call their sons, their wives, their sons wives and so on. I am going to deal with just a couple of them here.

I thought rather than do a dry list, I would use the 5th Duke of Devonshire as a living -- a well a previously living-- example. His first wife was Georgiana, a very interesting woman, but in the matter of titles I have chosen this particular Duke because he was around in the Georgian era.

This is a portrait of the fifth duke. Now how would you address the starchy looking gentleman. Oh and by the way, his family name (like your surname) is Cavendish. That becomes important later.

The form of address partly depends on who is addressing him and in what form, writing or speech (just to give you hiccups). A servant might well address him as "Your Grace", probably with his nose touching his knees. Anyone with the rank of baronet or below, e.g. just plain Mrs, Miss or Mr. would also call him Your Grace.

His wife would probably call him Devonshire or, if they were alone or with intimate family or friends, she might call him, "my lord" or "my love". It sounds very formal, but that in a way is the reason for our enchantment for bygone ages. It was different.

Here is a picture of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough, while this is still in the 1780's we can see the classical influence.

The Duke's friends, if they are peers, would most likely call him Devonshsire, although they might say, "How are you today, Duke?" and as the conversation continues would address him as "sir".

A Duke is never addressed as "my lord".

Very rarely were first names used, except possibly between boys who were close friends at school, and then only in private. Last names, or the title name (e.g. Devonshire) were the most common forms of address, if not using the respectful, "your grace".

He would sign his name Devonshire on all correspondence. There is only one Devonshire, and there would be absolutely no mistake as to whom had written. If you are going to write to a Duke, you would begin: "My Lord Duke"

Perhaps one of my favorite fictional dukes is His Grace Duke of Avon, in Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades and Devil's Cub. Oh man, gotta read those books again now I have thought about them. He was also in the Black Moth, but he was an anti hero and so she changed his name, but we guessed. I always felt a teeny bit sorry for him in the first book. I do love a bad boy.

Back to titles, girl, before you lose your audience.
Note that a Duke is always the Duke of "somewhere". That is not true of some of the other titles. Remember the Duke of Wellington? He was the first Duke of Wellington.

A Duke will usually have one or more courtesy titles. These are often titles of progression, titles his family earned over the centuries, gradually climbing the ladder of the peerage. So he might also be Marquess of Malmsbury and Earl Chokingham and some others as well as being "Duke of Somewhere". His eldest son will normally take his highest courtesy title during the Duke's lifetime.

The duchess is also "Your Grace" but rather than "My Lord Duke" she is "Madam", on formal correspondence and "Madam" instead of "Sir" in informal speech. She would sign her name Georgiana Devonshire.

Now in my novel, I have an heir, who is a Marquess, so I have to follow the rules for him, but he only makes a brief appearance so I will talk about his title another time. My hero is the second son. So what do I need to know about him?

Of course the biggest fear of the writer is that by now you have so many names floating on the pages that you have made your reader fall asleep.
To wake you up, here is a picture of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Very much a Regency gentleman. This picture was painted by Thomas Lawrence in 1811.

Anyway, younger sons of Dukes. Since he is my main character let me get it right.
Announced formally or addressed on formal correspondence as: Lord Malcolm Cavendish
(All right so Devonshire only had one son, but this is fiction so use your imagination.)
What we have above is a title "Lord" his Christian or firstname "Malcolm" and his family name or surname "Cavendish". Neither his father, mother or older brother use the Cavendish. But he isn't really a peer, he is only the second son, poor sod.

The salutation on correspondence would be "My Lord". He would be announced as "The Lord Malcolm Cavendish" He would be addressed by his friends as Lord Malcolm (or Malcolm or Cavendish, if addressed by a very close friend or relative). He would sign himself as Malcolm Cavendish or Cavendish. If he had a younger brother, a third son to the Duke, then that son could not sign just Cavendish. He would have to use his Christian name and then the family name in his signature to avoid confusion with his older brother.


Thank you so much for helping me do my research for this book. Without you I would still have a note in the manuscript that says - must check ducal sons' forms of address.

By the way, if you would like all the detail, check out this website. I think it is very clear. You can also investigate Debrett's or Burke's, you will find them listed in the bibliography on the above website. Until next time, Happy rambles.


  1. I checked out Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire two days ago from the library (by Amanda Foreman, the big print edition, very easy on the eyes).

    A section on page 71 made me pause: It says that both Georgianna and the Duke were expected to present themselves to the Queen, in 1774 after their marriage. I had thought only the woman was to make her appearance in the Queen's drawing room, but I am thinking of 1815. Had the tradition changed by then?

    Best of luck on your new WIP!

  2. Hi Beth,
    I am pretty sure men, the sons of peers etc, were presented at court, to the King, probably by their father's or a sponsor, on their "come out" I think they called it making their bows. It was not quite the fuss and bother as the debutante's, because they were more likely to be at court on the King's business during the course of their duties as a peer.

    A peer would present his new wife at court also. My sources say that there were three occasions when a woman was presented, on her come out, on her marriage, and when an honor was conferred on her husband.
    I will try to find the information about men being presented at court and post it for you.

  3. Thanks Michele!

    I think my confusion came because an author I love, love and deeply respect had a newly married wife going with the husband's aunt for her intro to the queen, she had never "come out" before, and the husband stayed home.

    And the way it was written in "Georgianna", it was as though she and the Duke were to approach the Queen together. So I was a tad confused.

    I know we are not supposed to use fiction as research, it just made me think.

  4. All
    I have a question, which hopefully one of you will be in a position to indulge...
    Suppose a Countess or Duchess (by marriage) only bears daughters OR remain childless by the time their husbands "expire"...
    Naturally the title will follow to the next male in line of succession - such as the son of a younger brother, or cousin (as it should be - LOL)...
    Even presuming that the next male in line is still a child, sooner or later, as an adult, he will take over the title (as well as any land & building... Further presuming the Gentlemen marries a lucky lady who will become the next Countess or Duchess (whatever the title may be)
    Under these circumstances, BY WHAT TITLE (if any) the original Countess or Duchess (if still alive) will be addressed by Society?

  5. Augustus, I am going to assume you are speaking of England in the Regency.

    The dead peer's wife remains as duchess or countess until the new duke or earl marries. She then becomes the dowager duchess or dowager countess, and the new bride becomes the countess or duchess.
    she will still be Lady xxx or your grace when addressed in person. Hope that answers your question

  6. Many thanks, Michelle.
    Your assumption was correct, as I presume the surviving British Aristocracy must have updated some of the rules vis-a-vis female titles and certainly regarding the inheritance of property.
    Regarding your answer, interestingly it made clear that the book I'm currently reading contains an error (althogh it takes place much later - 1890's). During the Dialogue, the widow Viscountess was informed by her best friend, that she was incorrect in the assumption of being considered "dowager", which led me to ask my question.
    Finally, I'm interested in your books (although I suspect you may not be "familiar" with males in your fan club- LOL). I just LOVE Regency England, and just cannot get enough of it.

  7. Thank you for being interested in my books.

    Interestingly enough, it was my father who first introduced me to the romances of Georgette Heyer, and while many men do not admit to enjoying romance, I believe many do enjoy them as much as we females do.

    Best wishes

  8. If a duke in Regency time was courting a young woman, what would she call him in a private setting such as a carriage ride or in the parlour.



  9. Hi Meg,
    A duke is always called by his title. Therefore the Duke of Devonshire, would be Devonshire to all and sundry who were in his social strata.

    Early on in their courtship, she would call him your grace, or Devonshire. As things moved along, she might call him duke, which was being really familiar.

    Just because they were private, would not make a difference. The formalities were observed.

    However, as an author you can have a bit of poetic licence. For example, if he asks her to call him by his first name, or something happens that creates a private "pet" name, it is possible they could have something like that between them. But remember, the only time they are likely to be alone is in a phaeton, an open carriage which he is driving. In every other circumstance, she ought to be chaperoned.

    Depending on what is happening in your story of course. And a duke would be set about with servants. Footmen, valet, butlers all hanging around.

    If I haven't answered your question, don't hesitate to redirect.


  10. I'm rather late, and this post is probably long forgotten, but I've been reading up on the London Season. The latest book I've read is The Best Circles by Leonore Davidoff, and the author states that it wasn't until after WWI that court presentations for debutantes became a big deal. Prior to that, the emphasis was on newly married women. Granted, Davidoff's book is the only one in which I've come across this tidbit, but a look through my etiquette books doesn't really say that court presentations were imperative for every English debutante.

    As for men, I do know that they were presented to the Prince Consort/Prince of Wales at St James's in the Victorian era.

  11. I had forgotten how much interest this particular topic generated. I will schedule it for a full discussion in the next week or two. But in answer Evangeline, because otherwise her comment remains the last word on this blog, Presentation at Court was always a vital part of peerage. Your ladies on their come out were presented at the queen's drawing room, when it was held, by invitation of the Lord Chamberlain.

    It is subtely is different to the whole deb thing in more recent times.

    I do promise a detailed post on this. Gotta dig out the books first.