Duchess the podcastNicola here. I was very interested in Wench Andrea’s blog a week or so ago about Dukes, and the reality of dukes and dukedoms as opposed to what we see on film and read about in books. This prompted me to think about duchesses, particularly as a new podcast called “Duchess” started recently. It’s a show that explores the inspiring women who are running the stately home of Britain. In it, Emma Manners, the Duchess of Rutland, travels the country and talks to a variety of women about their lives caring for historic houses. It’s quite an eye-opening listen (if that isn’t an odd metaphor!) Despite the very modern approach of some of the chatelaines, there were times when I felt I could have been listening to someone talking in the 19th century, particularly when the made reference to “taking care of the staff.” It’s all part and parcel of running a modern estate.

One of the messages that came over clearly from all the participants of the show was that life changes forever when you marry and take on the care of one of Britain’s most historic buildings. Of course you get to live in the most amazing setting and enjoy all the treasures of a grand pile, but you are sharing your home with visitors and need some privacy some of the time.

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The Truth About Dukes

200px-Coronet_of_a_British_Duke.svgNicola here, talking about dukes, as you do if you are an author of historical romance. I’ve live in Britain all my life and I’ve never met a duke. In fact they are the only rank of the peerage I haven’t met. There are currently only 24 of them in existence which in a population of 65 million must make them amongst the rarest creatures in the country on a par with the Scottish wild cat. At times during the UK's history there have been no more than two or three; at others – the mid 1700s – there were as many as forty so even at their height they were an endangered species.

That’s the reality, of course. In stories, particularly in historical romances, they pop up in London, Bath and various country towns and villages with a regularity that is rather fun. If only!

A little while ago, Mary Jo wrote a wonderful blog piece on billionaires, dukes, and hero inflation, looking at the reasons why a billionaire, or duke, or billionaire duke, is so appealing in our fiction. You can read it here. Today though, I’m talking about the fact behind the fiction, which is actually no less entertaining and contains some characters who, if they were fictional, would seem far too bizarre, eccentric and unlikely.

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NewkidJo here, waffling on a bit about peerage titles. I'm sure I've done this before here, but a few things came together to inspire another go. Why is it that even people who should know better make silly errors in British titles?

Once a duke, always a duke.

I picked up a Regency and put it down again sharpish when in the first pages a duke was also called (Inventing here) Lord Pickingham. I think the author was aware that this was odd and trying to exDucalcoronetplain it by the duke also having the title of Lord Pickingham in his collection, but that's not how it works. It's quite possible that a ducal family could have aquired along the way four baronetcies, three viscountcies, two earldoms and a partridge in a pear tree, but none of them will be used except as titles for his heirs — or in the case of patridge and pear, for dinner. 

For more on that and other details about titles check out my easy guide to titles page. The image is a duke's coronet, worn with his scarlet and ermine robes.Up left we have Billy wearing a very inauthentic crown!

The Smithsonian should know better.

ChatsThen I clicked on a link to an on-line article from the Smithsonian where the writer said that Chatsworth House in Derbyshire was owned by the Duke and Duchess of Cavendish. This is a straight error, but a sloppy one arising from not understanding in the bones that a noble family's surname is rarely their title, and never at the ducal level. The family name is Cavendish. The title is Duke of Devonshire.

Hold on, you might be thinking, being sharp of eye and keen of wit. Didn't I say Chatsworth was in Derbyshire? I did. It is. The story I heard was that when a Cavendish was being raised to Earl of Devonshire in the early 17th century the king made a mistake. It should have been Earl of Derbyshire, but once the king had declared him Earl of Devonshire, no one dared correct it.

This is why the Earl of Devon — who lives just down the road in a manner of speaking, at Powderham Castle — is not the Earl of Devonshire.

So should the New York Times.

Yesterday there was a post on the Regency yahoo list about an article in the NYT called Splitsville For Lady Crawley. As someone pointed out, Lady Crawley doesn't exist. The article is satirical, but that loses bite when the headline is wrong. Splitsville for Lady Grantham would have worked just as well.

So should Downton Abbey?

Someone else pointed out that "Lady Violet Crawley" was impossible. True enough, but I don't remember the dowager ever being referred to as Lady Violet, so Lord Fellowes is exonerated, by me, at least.

I think she is referred to as Cousin Violet sometimes, but "cousin" is a convenient but vague term. In my upcoming book, Seduction In Silk, we have the hero, Perry Perriam, and a distant relative, Giles Perriam. The term "Cousin Giles" covers it without implying a close blood tie.

No one in Downton Abbey is Lady Crawley, because Crawley is the surname not the title. The daughters are Lady Firstname Crawley — the correct use of the surname. They are not, ever, Lady Crawley, not even the imperious elder one, Mary.

Let me try another way of looking at this. The title is not the name.

If Pat Macguire is the Mayor of Ballybridge would anyone call him Pat Ballybridge, or Mr. Ballybridge? Well, perhaps the latter if he was seen that way, but not formally. Nor would he be Mayor of Macguire.

Have any howlers to share?

So there are a few a just stumbled over in the past week. Have you come across any recently? Some authors really don't think it matters, and many readers don't care, but Getting Things Wrong Through Sheer Laziness should not be encouraged!

I'm clearly feeling my inner Violet.