Dukes, Coronets, Strawberry Leaves, and Silver Balls
“Good morning, sir,” said one child, on being introduced to the Duke of Sutherland at one Coronation. “No, boy!” hissed his embarrassed father, “Say ‘Your Grace.'” “Beg pardon, father,” rejoined the child, and looking the Duke full in the face, cried: “For what we are to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.”
—Their Noble Lordships, Class and Power in Modern Britain, by Simon Winchester
I recently overheard an (unpublished) romance writer complaining about the plethora of randy dukes who populate the Amazon bestseller lists.
And she is right about the numbers. Of the top 100 Regency Romances on Amazon, I counted fifteen titles involving Dukes or Duchesses. It appears that there are currently thirty-one British dukedoms. An analysis of ancient, extinct and extant titles since the early nineteenth century (and I’m not doing that math) would likely reveal that there weren’t many more during the Regency period. Readers with a nose for historical accuracy will see the impossibility of finding that many virile, unmarried dukes desperate for romance.
But those who can suspend historical disbelief, and those with a nose for romance, know that this loftiest member of the peerage (addressed not as my “My Lord” but “Your Grace”) makes the perfect Regency hero–bred to responsibility, often emotionally isolated, and very, very rich.
And rich he must be when it’s time to “suit up” for a coronation. Author Simon Winchester says the ducal coronet is made of solid gold, with “eight strawberry leaves round the rim, and fits around a velvet and ermine ‘cap of estate’ that stops the ducal brow from becoming chafed.” Hard to picture? Here it is:
A mere marquess is adorned with four strawberry leaves and four silver balls:
An earl with eight silver balls and eight strawberry leaves:
A viscount with sixteen silver balls:
And a baron a mere six silver balls.
I imagine the more cash-strapped members of the peerage–and there must be some–are grateful their monarch is so long-lived.