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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tantalizing Tuesday

Dukes are Different From You and Me


Kelly McClymer

One of the things that I love most as a reader (and sometimes writer)
of historical romance is the opportunity to spend a few hours back in
the day without having to actually live back in the day (one of the
big disadvantages to time travel, should it actually ever be
invented). I like running water. Hot running water.

Sometimes, readers, reviewers, or critics will make a disparaging
comment about the way historical romance novels are peopled with more
dukes than have ever been created in England's rather lengthy history.
As someone who has studied that history, I know the critics are right.
But I don't care. Sure, if my research tells me that there weren't
many unmarried dukes who qualified for the lead role of hero in a
romance I have to admit I'm taking liberties. But so are my heroes, so
I just have to hope that readers forgive me.

There are many aspects of Victorian England  that interest me.
Victoria, for one. Became Queen because her uncles were not that good
at passing on the genes, married a man she loved, had nine children,
worn mourning for the rest of her life after her husband died at a
relatively young age. Reputedly loved her stable master in her later

But the other thing that has always fascinated me about Victorian
England was the idea that an Earl, or a Duke, or a Marquess, inherits
a heavy mantle of duty, responsibility and history with each
successive generation. What does that do to a person, to know that
you're "it"? You represent the family motto, every ancestor in the
portrait gallery, and your people in the House of Lords. Sure, it
comes with power, but it also comes with responsibility (if you're the

Of the seven books in my Once Upon a Wedding series, half have peers
for heroes (despite my agreement with the critics that I'm stretching
history almost to the breaking point). The Fairy Tale Bride has the
upright Duke of Kerstone who doesn't think he is a worthy living
representation of his family motto. The Star-Crossed Bride has
Valentine the penniless Baron who really should marry for money not
love. The Next Best Bride has an earl in line to inherit a marquisate,
but with no money of his own unless he can marry and produce an heir
to satisfy his grandfather the current marquess. The Twelfth Night
Bride has an Irish peer -- a conundrum in its own right -- who hasn't
got a lot of use for the English, though he does have a seat in

Each of these heroes fascinates me, and each represents one way I
think a person might react to inheriting such weighty responsibility:
the Duke of Kerstone is impeccably proper and ready to die to keep the
dukely bloodline true; Valentine has six sisters to marry off, but he
still finds time to rescue his lady love, even though she isn't going
to bring any funds with her to the marriage; the unrepentantly rakish
earl is planning to gamble and drink himself into an early grave to
avoid the responsibilities of his title; the Irish peer is determined
to use his title to get a little justice. Everyone reacts differently
to power, but most people don't inherit it, they earn it, or are given
it by people who trust them whether they deserve it or not.

Not the dukes and marquesses and earls in historical romances. They
get the weight on their shoulders from birth (except the ones who get
it dropped on them unexpectedly when they didn't really think they'd
inherit…kind of like Victoria herself, come to think of it). They
don't get to do a thing without knowing that it will reflect on their
family honor and legacy. It was fun to think about what that must feel
like (without having to actually having to live with that kind of
weight, of course).

And, since my novels are historical romances, there are the women who
would marry men with such heavy responsibilities on their shoulders. I
wouldn't do it myself. To have to behave impeccably because I'd
tarnish my husband's 400 year old family reputation? No thank you. But
it was fun to imagine what kind of woman could love these men, and
bring them a measure of happiness amidst all the responsibility (not
to mention straighten out their thinking where the weight of the title
had warped it a bit).

And then, of course, I got to escape all that with the other three
books -- sending one heroine off to Boston and another onto the Oregon
Trail. And sending one haring off across England in search of Malory's
Morte d'Artur with her scholarly hero.

My own family can trace our roots back to Ireland, but there aren't
any queens or kings, or even knights in the family line. Just people
who worked the land for the dukes and earls and barons. (History
tidbit: earls and barons are the oldest titles, dukes were almost
exclusively royal for a long time after they were created, and
marquesses and viscounts were added for gradation purposes).

I know some writers like the power part of the title. Me, I like to
flip over the power side and see what's underneath. If I had to
choose, I'd be a Duchess. A boring, and very responsible duchess, who
made everyone call her Your Grace, even the Duke.

Kelly McClymer's The Fairy Tale Bride is on sale for 99 cents until
July ends to help raise funds for her daughter's wedding (a weighty
responsibility she tried not to shoulder -- but when push came to
shove, elopement just didn't seem like as good an idea in practice as
it sounded in theory).

Places to find Kelly:

5 Moonbeams (comments):

Kelly McClymer said...

Margay, thank you for letting me babble about dukes and earls and such today!

Kate Dolan said...

You raised some really interesting points. For instance, to wonder what it does to a man to know your whole life that the family history/reputation/future is going to be riding on you does create some interesting characters and choices. And as you say, it's fun to explore these situations without having to live them. Great post! And it makes a great premise for a series.

Karen Cioffi said...

Very interesting post. I learn a lot about Victorian English titles.

V.R. Leavitt said...

Great post. Very informative! Thanks for sharing. :-)

Margay Leah Justice said...

Kelly, I just wanted to thank you again for blogging with us. It was fun!