History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 June 2014

A Few Notes on Proper Forms of Address

My recent trip to the Romantic Times Book Reviews Convention in New Orleans gave me time to delve into my monstrous TBR and pull out a few books I’ve been itching to get to. And while I mostly enjoyed them, there were several issues with proper forms of address that drove me batty.  I’m going to quote Laura A. Wallace’s fabulous website in order to lay this stuff out. Personally, I do a quick check on how to address my characters before every book, but it’s so damn easy to forget just where on the peerage ladder Lord Christian Name becomes plain old Mr. Surname.
But the most common errors I see repeated frequently are how to address/refer to a duke, a baron, and a duke or marquess’s younger son’s wife.

[Note: I'm talking about Georgian and Victorian books here, if you're writing medieval stuff, you have a WHOLE different world and set of rules to deal with (e.g. the king is "your grace" not "your majesty", and lord knows how many other differences)]
How to address a duke (also posted because I’m not seeing friends get slammed in reviews for getting this one RIGHT!):
6th Duke of Devonshire
The rule is that a social inferior addresses him as "Your Grace" and a social equal as "Duke."  I have not been able to discover where precisely the line is drawn to distinguish social inferiors from equals.  Obviously it is not drawn at the dukes themselves.  My tentative hypothesis is that a "social equal" is anyone who is a peer or a member of a peer's family.  A lower line might be drawn at baronets, knights, or gentlemen, but I think that the connotation of the word "peer" lends itself to drawing the line at barons.  So Miss Anne Elliot would address a duke as "Your Grace," while her cousin, Miss Carteret, would call him "Duke."
How to address a duke or marquess’s younger son’s wife:
I always think of Sayers’s marvelous Lord Peter Wimsey novels. As the younger son of a duke, he’s Lord Peter, and Harriet Vane, after she marries Lord Peter ,is LADY PETER (or Lady Peter Wimsey if being formally announced or in correspondence). She is NOT Lady Harriet Wimsey, Lady Wimsey, or Lady Harriet. 

The trouble with barons:
Barons, unlike dukes, are NOT addressed as “baron” and unlike earls they are NOT addressed or referred as The Baron of Blank. When playing with barons, keep Lord Byron in mind (have you ever seen him referred to as Baron Byron? No? There’s a reason for that!). Barons (and baronesses) are simply Lord/Lady Title (which may or may not also be their last name). If there are multiple barons of the same last name (and yes, this was not uncommon) then in formal address you would add the “of Place”. Thus, to again quote Laura Wallace, Baron Featherstone (surname Stanley) is addressed simply as My Lord, Lord Featherstone, or more familiarly Featherstone.  The ONLY exception to this is a baroness in her own right (but not the mere wife of a baron), who may be properly addressed as Baroness Featherstone as well as Lady Featherstone.
Quick note on baronets, which some people also seem to find tricky:
Think of Sir Walter in Persuasion. He’s formally announced as Sir Walter Elliot. He’s addressed as Sir Walter*. He is never Lord Elliot, even though his wife is Lady Elliot. Confusing, I know, but that’s just how it is.

*Thanks to Sunita for the save!



Blogger Miranda Neville said...

I've pondered the question of where the Duke/Your Grace line falls. I think your rule of thumb is as good as any though certain not hard and fast and adaptable to circumstances. (don't you love 'rules' like that?) I would apply it to the early nineteenth century, but as time went on, social distance became more fluid. By the twentieth century I would say that if you were in a position to be introduced to a duke (or duchess) socially, as opposed to for a business reason, then you addressed them as Duke/Duchess.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

@Miranda: Yes, that sounds about right to me. I'm guessing it's an engrained thing. You KNOW if you're supposed to use duke/your grace because you grew up knowing. In a book/series, I'd just look for consistency.

I found it really interesting to watch the BBC reality show about Chatsworth to see who called the Duke of Devonshire "Duke" and who called him "Your Grace" (as well as his wife and mother). Also, I'm kind just flat out in love with him. He comes off like your favorite dotty uncle as he putters about picking up rubbish and putting up plaques.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Ros said...

I mostly agree on Duke, too, though I think friendship could also tip the line towards Duke rather than Your Grace. But then, you'll never get romance writers to stop using first names in that situation. *sigh*

11:01 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

@Ros I'd say male friends would be more likely to use title alone, or maybe a childhood nickname if the friendship goes back that far. But women friends (perhaps wives of male friends?) would use Duke. I certainly don't think Duke was confined to relations. As for Christian names, I threw in the towel on that one years ago. One has to think of one's readers. I usually try to give some kind of explanation for intimate usage.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

@Ros, the first name thing is HARD to avoid when you don't want your book to come out really stilted for modern readers. Even so, it feels so wrong. I find it hard even when writing a duke's younger son who quite likely WOULD have been known to his friends by his first name. It's a fine line thing.

@Miranda: I love using nicknames, but I get complaints from American readers sometimes who often don't seem to be on the same page as their British counterparts.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I should do a post on the prevalence of nicknames in the English aristocracy. *rubs hands together*

11:51 AM  
Blogger Helena said...

Ooh, I'd love a post on nicknames in the English aristocracy, with lots of examples!! Lots of room for pitfalls there, too; who would be entitled to use the nicknames?

I find that I instinctively know a lot of the rules on the correct forms of address from reading Heyer and Austen. Also, I remember the fuss when Prince Charles was about to get married and people realised that Diana should properly be called Princess Charles ...

3:53 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Great post, Isobel, and I love the idea of a post about nicknames in the nobility!

4:12 PM  

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