Wednesday, November 4, 2015
When You Sit Down to Dine with a Duke . . .
Yes, I did it. I made things complicated for myself--I wrote a series of books about the nobility of England, complete with all their complicated rules on what to call people.
Even worse, I wrote books about dukes. Who aren't treated like the rest of the nobility, at least not in speech. Oh no. That would be far too simple.
So I read all I could find on how to address them. I scratched my head at what seemed really weird to me, and double checked it with those fiction writers who have made a career of this sort of thing. They agreed with the weirdness. So I went with it. And, of course, have heard from a few readers that I've got it all wrong, LOL. So I went back to those experts, who assures me that, no, I'm right. Small consolation when my readers don't realize it, snicker, snicker.
But I thought I'd give us all a quick crash course--you know, just in case you're ever dining with an Edwardian duke.
Now, we have it easy as commoners--the duke is just Your Grace when speaking to him. When speaking of him, you go with the full Duke of Stafford (because that's the duke in my first book, so what other duke would you possibly want to dine with??) You never, never, never call him "my lord" or "Lord Stafford." Dukes are too high up the social ladder to get a mere "lord." If you become very good friends with him (despite your own lowly station, ahem), you may call him "Stafford" without the Duke part.
But what, you ask, if you happen to marry an earl or a marquess or a baron and are yourself titled when you meet him?? Well, that is the question, isn't it? Then it gets tricky. Other peers (as you're called) don't ever say "Your Grace." I mean, really--that would be beneath you. No, no, you simply call him Duke.
Which is where that weirdness comes in. "Duke?" People say. "What a funny nickname."
But it's not a nickname--it's a term of respect. A bit like saying, "Come this way, Mr. President." You would say, "Have a seat, Duke."
In a pinch, you might use a "sir" with him--but again, never, never, never a "my lord" or "Lord Stafford." You would just use Duke or Stafford.
Unless, of course, you know him really well. Then you might actually give him a nickname. (Yes, even lords and ladies have nicknames!) But what nickname? Because, honestly, they never, never, never use first names--not unless you were the mother or sibling of a titled man. And even then, if it's a title they had since birth, you'd use the title, not the Christian name. So you're not going to call them Bill or Joe or Alex. Sorry. No, what they did was shorten or modify the name they went by.
Which was--you guessed it!--their title.
My Duke of Stafford had a friend who loved to come up with odd nicknames. Back before he inherited the duchy, he was Lord Harlow--Thate called him Harry. Then he inherited the title of Marquess of Abingdon--Thate called him Bing. So what did Thate come up with for the Duke of Stafford?
"Stafford . . . Staff . . . which reminds me of a shepherd . . . so Shep!"
More simply, my Lord Whitby would have been called, for instance, Whit. Strange as it seems to us to take a high-faluting title and then un-falute it (let's pretend that's a word), they did. We have scores of books of the Victorian and Edwardian era proving it.
I know, I know. The rules are complicated for how to address the nobility, and especially so for dukes and duchesses. But we all must be prepared. So next time you dine with an Edwardian duke, you'll know just what to do.