History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

09 April 2007

Dukes, A Cast of Thousands

Recently on one of the loops or blogs (honestly can’t remember which) there was a discussion of justifying badly behaved heroes by saying that it’s “historically accurate” for men to behave that way. I’m not buying it. The whole point of writing romance (and reading it) for me is that I’m writing about the 1% who weren’t rampaging ass-hats.

But there were other points brought up too: Baths (or the lack there of), horse droppings in the streets (street sweepers existed not just because the city was crawling with the poor), and my favorite, the thousand or so dukes that seemingly occupy England (and sometimes Scotland and Wales). Currently there are only 27 dukedoms in all of Britain, and they are held by only 24 people (yep, somebody is doubling up). The first English Duke (Edward, the Black Price) was created in 1337, and the title died out entirely during Elizabeth’s reign (all those political machinations). James I and Charles II were particularly profuse in adding to the peerage, as was Queen Anne, but even then, dukes remained a rarity (earls, viscounts, and barons, however are plentiful, relatively speaking).

But there’s something about a duke: readers love them, editors can’t resist them, and writers all seem to have at least one (and sometimes more!) lurking in their imaginations. What do you all think, are we in duke overload, or are you always happy to meet another one?


Blogger Lois said...

Oh heck, I always love a good Duke. . . and Marquis. . . and Viscount. . . and Earl and Mister too. I'm not picky at all. :)


11:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've been spreading my titles around. I have a duke in my books, but he's an older mentor character, not the hero. I just can't imagine writing a duke hero (though I'm sure one will pop up eventually).

11:53 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks Kalen that is such a timely question -- for me at least. I have just thought this through as I am creating a family for my new series with Bantam. Having a family with a ducal connection ups the dramatic tension significantly. They have a name and a family to live up to (or not.) The rest of society knows who they are and is always on the lookout for bad, scandalous or style-setting behavior. If you have a duke who is well-behaved than any kind of bad behavior will cause trouble.

Why not marquis? My previous family were the children of a marquis -- that title grew in numbers dramatically in the early 19th century -- but the I hate the way the English pronounce it.

Why not earl? It really is my favorite. Important but not so conspicuously in the public eye. I will use it someday but if I recall correctly, the second and third sons are not addressed as My Lord -- and in this series that matters to me as much as it does to the ton.

So they are the Pennistans, the brothers and sister of the Duke of Meryon. And each one of them handles the challenge of the public eye in a different way.

That said, the non-titled family is just as much fun. They can be part of society, on the edge of it or completly detached from it. I have used commoners as heroes in one book and two novellas and they are every bit as romantic as the duke and his siblings.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

So many of the very sucessful series out there are centered around a duke (Julia Quinn's Bridgertons, Jo Beverley's Mallorens, Mary Balgoh's "Simply" series, Stephanie Lauren's Cynsters). Clearly it works for readers.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Good question, Kalen. I think the word "Duke" is just so sexy, I have to imagine a sexy alpha male when I read the word.

"Earl" just doesn't do the trick, exactly. ;-)

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on, Kathrynn. :)
I have duke in my book too, he's the father of my heroine.


2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I am sick of Dukes. It seems like in every historical I've read lately, if the hero's not a Duke already, he's the heir to a dukedom. It's...boring. Often it seems like the author is just using the title as a shorthand for "powerful and important," the lazy way out instead of showing why this man is attractive and special. And characters who by all logic shouldn't be Dukes still are - like, he's a famous artist...and secretly a Duke. He's a wounded soldier...and secretly a Duke. He's a pirate smuggler Duke! Whatever, I'm over it. Are books about Misters truly un-sellable?

2:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

OMG Molly, I think I love you. I wonder if they'll let me title my next book THE SECRET DUKE. LOL!

3:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

And no, you can still sell a book about a mister. My second book (which I'm sure will still be called "LORD Something" has an untitled hero.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, it doesn't matter what their title is. I'm not particular as long as I like the hero.

Granted in my own story..I tend to steer clear of using a Duke just because I've seen so many people jumping up and down about it not being realistic as there aren't that many Dukes. Of course....the story is fiction so I've never really understood the anti-duke feelings that much.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

I don't have anything other than dukes per say, except for the way they're written in most books: too alpha (read: jerk) with "other" lives and hardly any ducal regard, custom, or land management. I even read of this poor fellow with one impoverished estate. One?! I roll my eyes and wait for the character to jump up and embrace me and make me want to read his story. Otherwise, it becomes a wall banger.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I don't think I'll ever do a duke. I've had an earl, the illegitimate 3rd son of a marquess (I love how they pronounce it, or at least how I think they do), a common sailor, and a French viscount (viscomte -- but the French are more arbitrary about how they do their titles). And my current guy is the younger son of a baronet. I don't think I feel enuff of the England grandeur of Dukes -- and I like younger sons and guys who discover their vocations.

5:49 PM  
Blogger J said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:41 PM  
Blogger J said...

Well, the appeal of dukes is akin to any men of power. I don't care if they've been done to death as long as they possess depth, are believable and cherish and protect their heroines to the best of their ability.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

I think the word "Duke" is just so sexy [..] "Earl" just doesn't do the trick, exactly

I'll be flippant and comment that you could combine the two: Duke of Earl.

5:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The title says alpha male to me and since I do love my alpha males (alpha male in real life)...

But really the title doesn't matter, the character does.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I should add, qua Laura's post, that my husband is wont to refer to whatever hero I'm writing as "your guy the Duke of Earl."

7:54 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

All valid comments and exactly why I want to do a ducal family. To convey the truth (or my perception of it) of their lives. Never totally private and a life full of responsibilities. Servants who may or may not be loyal and honest. Family with mixed expectations. Never certain whether you are valued for yourself or your title. This rings so true to me because of my husband's job (now retired). We lived a little bit of a "ducal" life and I think I can write about it with credibility.

Pam, an illegitimate son is one of the continuing characters in this family group. Already can see he is going to be fascinating man to get to know.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with the mob on this one, Kalen. I like a good Duke. :) Although I agree, there does seem to be a proliferation lately. But that could extend to Regency romance in general, right?

10:42 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Regency is certainly the 800lb gorilla of historical romance (how's that for an image?). Followed closely by the 799lb Scottish one.

I’m SURE that at some point I’ll have a duke pop up and demand that his story be told, but he’ll have to get in line behind the black fencing champion and that damned balloonist. LOL!

11:10 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Sounds great Kalen, but be advised that both heroes and heroines do sometimes insist on jumping the line -- duke or not....

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started out small, a mere baron. The higher the rank the more ironclad the social/legal rules and limitations. Thought I'd give myself a little wiggle room...

Believable dukes are fine. Love Rothgar!

But I'd prefer to read about a balloonist or a black swordsman, so get busy, Kalen. :-)

5:13 PM  
Blogger Anne Mallory said...

As far as all the dukes running around...I think of it as everyone writing about the same guy in history - but just giving their own version of him. ;)

I like both the titled men and the everyman heroes. Kalen, your new heroes sound awesome!

7:50 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think of it as everyone writing about the same guy in history

OMG, Anne, that's hysterical. LOL!

8:05 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Sorry. . . late to the game! I'm all over the board on this one. My first hero is a bastard Scotsman horse farmer with a purchased Scottish baroney. Not very noble.

My second hero is a duke who's isolated emotionally as a result of his title. Feels like a stud stallion on parade at every gathering. Very, very rich and very alone.

My third hero will be an impoverished viscount. And my fourth hero will (I think) be a second son of a viscount who's made his own way in the world.

I think it's fascinating to explore characterization through all these different elevations of (high) society. I love them all! And to encourage those of you who DON'T love the duke phenomenon. . . My editor nixed the Duke title I proposed. Said it was boring. Thank God!

9:25 AM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Kalen & Jane: Funny you should mention balloonist heroes. Elena at the RiskyRegencies is blogging about it today. :)

11:23 AM  
Blogger Elena Greene said...

I used to love a good duke. I blogged about some of my favorites at the Riskies but I also have to admit that there seems to be surfeit of them now. It's beginning to seem cliche although I'm sure a good author could still have a fresh take on a duke.

I would love to read about those other heroes, Kalen, and by all means let's share the research on the ballooning. :)

5:35 AM  
Blogger lacey kaye said...

Absolutely always ready to meet another!

7:27 PM  

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