I have been known to complain about the excessive number of dukes in romantic fiction, but here I am with a duke of my own, His Grace the Duke of Ithorne. He's not my first duke. That was in a short story, A Mummers' Play. My only other full length duke (another odd image there!) was the Duke of St. Raven in the book. St Raven. In that case, Tris Tregallows had come late to the title. In the case of Ithorne, however, he was born a duke, as his father died before his birth.Quite a burden for a tiny mite. To add to it, his mother is soon forced to leave him. She falls in love with a French lord but is not allowed to take so important a child out of the country.
That's the back story, and as with most of my characters' histories, it just unfurled for me without my planning. It means that he's every inch the duke, but also makes his occasional escape into the persona of Captain Rose of the Black Swan understandable, as is his close friendship with his cousin, Robin, Earl of Huntersdown (A Lady's Secret), and his foster-brother, Christian Hill (The Secret Wedding.)Here's Thorn's arrival in A Lady's Secret. Robin has been injured in a sword fight and sent for help.
Robin woke to a deep voice drawling, "What have you been up to
now, you madman?"
"Thorn?" he asked, opening his eyes, but only slowly
recollecting events. He moved, winced as pain shot up his leg, but then
grinned. "Thank heaven and hell. Help has arrived."
"It certainly has," the Duke of Ithorne said, sinking onto a
chair that an awestruck Mrs. Andrew had just pushed up to the bed. He turned
and thanked her, which made her blush. Presumably he was here as plain Captain
Rose, but still they swooned.
He wasn't exactly a handsome man, but somehow women never noticed.
Like many young men he wore his own hair, but it was neatly tied
back and his buckskin breeches, plain brown coat, and neck cloth were impeccably
neat. It was most annoying…
There were a surprising number of young dukes in 1764, most of them married or soon to be married, so the older, single duke of romantic fiction isn't exactly realistic, it would seem.
Beaufort was 20, and at 22 would marry. That's his duchess, about 20 years later.
Manchester was 27. In 1762 he'd become duke and married Elizabeth Dashwood.
Marlborough was 26 and at 24 had married Lady Caroline Russell.
Northumberland was 22 and around the time of The Secret Duke married Anne Stuart, whom he divorced in 1779.
Portland was 26 and in 2 years would marry Lady Dorothy Cavendish.
St. Albans is 24 and one year married to Lady Catherine Ponsonby.
I thought of creating a dukes' club for the book, because they would have quite a bit in common, but it didn't fit my storyline.
A real duke in my books.
The last young duke is Bridgwater, shown right, pointing to his achievements. He was 28 in 1764, and is a character in my novel Tempting Fortune, because Lord Bryght Malloren has invested in his canal building plans. Bridgwater's canals were a major force in the revolution of transportation in the 18th century and the progress of the Industrial Revolution. So dukes were not necessarily idle wastrels or above practical matters. In fact, in the 18th century, the time of the Enlightenment, most of the aristocracy were involved in the arts and sciences, including industry, astronomy, global exploration, and agricultural improvements.
Bridgewater makes an appearance in The Secret Duke as the king's worrying behaviour begins to be spoken of. In the end, of course, the poor man — George III, not Bridgwater, will go mad, probably from porphyria.
It seems many readers can't get enough of dukes, but my question is, how do you feel about young dukes as heroes? Does that undercut some idea of power? Thorn's in his twenties, but there's nothing wrong with men in their twenties. They could be said to be in their prime.
What do you think?
If you haven't read the excerpt from The Secret Duke, it's here.
And this is a painting from 1764 which captures something of the thoughtful, reserved duke. Or perhaps he's simply pondering the mess he's in now Bella Barstowe is back in his life!