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Friday, June 5, 2009

Tricky Titles

Historical romances, especially Regency-set, abound with titled lords and ladies. There’s nothing quite like a handsome, fabulously wealthy, but misunderstood English duke who doesn’t yet know that he’s waiting for the perfect woman to capture his well-guarded heart. Such a man can make even the most pragmatic of heroines swoon with a breathy, “Oh, my lord, you make my heart flutter…

…wait. That’s not right. Or is it? Not the heart fluttering part -- yeah, pretty weak dialogue, I admit it -- but should she call him ‘my lord’? Not in the higher-power sense, but as a form of address.

The answer is no. An English duke is referred to as ‘your grace’ or ‘his grace’. They’re dukes – much too grand for a mere ‘my lord’. All the other titles are ‘my lord’. No, wait, not all of them. Baronets are referred to as ‘sir’. Mustn’t forget them. But their wives do get to be ‘my lady’.

Now if the hero in question is an heir the dukedom, then matters get a bit more complex. The heroine can still swoon “Oh, my lord…” if he is the heir apparent and eldest son of the current duke. In that case, the fellow would be granted the use of his father’s 2nd most lofty title to use as a courtesy title until he inherits the fabulous dukedom. If his father is the Duke of Fabulous, the Marquess of Awesome, then the eldest son gets to use the Marquess of Awesome title. He’d be Lord Awesome and would be the heroine’s ‘my lord’. But if he’s a mere younger son, then he’s simply Lord John Smith (first name, surname), and she’d swoon “Oh, Lord John…”. But not Lord Smith. Never that.

Confused yet? I hope not. But English titles can be tricky beasts. Get them wrong, and an author can ruffled a reader’s feathers. But it’s not too difficult to get them right, as long as an author has a good reference book or site at her fingertips.

My absolute favorite, go-to reference site is this one -
Correct Forms of Address
I thank Laura for creating all those wonderful, neat and tidy tables every time I click on the link. Most anything an author would need on the subject of English forms of address is right there, in those lovely tables.

Jo Beverly also has a wonderful article on English Titles –
English Titles in the 18th and 19th Centuries

So that’s all for me today on the subject of tricky titles and how to make them not so tricky. And if you have a great resource for English titles, I'd love to hear about.

Evangeline Collins
Lush. Elegant. Sensual Historical Romance

Ava March
CONVINCING ARTHUR – Loose Id/July 2009
OBJECT OF HIS DESIRE – Samhain Publishing
Gay Erotic Romance…in the Regency era


Unknown said...

I had never thought about titles being tricky until you mentioned it. Great post, thinks for sharing.


Leigh Royals said...

In watching Sense and Sensibility it was illustrated well, as well as in The Duchess with Keira Knightley. Reading it, at least for me, only goes so far.