Duking it out

In Georgette Heyer’s FREDERICA, the heroine’s little brother calls the hero, the Marquis of Alverstoke, a “second-best nobleman.” Of course, the “best” is a duke. Maybe that’s why I found 121 romance titles at Barnes & Noble with “Duke” somewhere in the title.

For me, “duke” (or “millionaire” for that matter) in the title doesn’t affect my buying decision either way. Beautiful estates and gardens and horses are fun to imagine, but I don’t necessarily prefer a hero with vast wealth and power over one who’s in dire straits or one that is somewhere in between. I do want to know how his situation affects him and how he deals with it.

A duke was kind of like a CEO of a large company. He had political and economic clout, influence over people’s lives and the state of his country. If the hero’s a duke, his power and the responsibilities that go along with it ought to be important elements in his story. Otherwise it seems that his rank is just a shortcut for creating a “perfect” hero (who sounds like a bore to me). If he is a duke, I want to know how that affects him besides the obvious attraction he has for golddiggers.

Anyway, here are a few from my Dukes Done Right list:

Possibly my favorite fictional duke is the Duke of Salford in Georgette Heyer’s SYLVESTER. He is so busy being the perfect duke he has trouble being a human being. Of course, Phoebe, the heroine, helps him in that area.

Rafe, Duke of Candover in Mary Jo Putney’s PETALS IN THE STORM. I am usually skeptical of spy-dukes. In this case it works because he is busy being an impeccable duke when the spy thing is thrust upon him. His rank also plays into part of the conflict with the heroine.

Christian, Duke of Jervaulx in Laura Kinsale’s FLOWERS FROM THE STORM. In this case, Maddy, the heroine, is a Quaker. Christian’s rank creates a daunting chasm between her simple and unworldly view of life and his approach to dealing with his vast holdings and responsibilities. It raises the stakes when his relatives try to declare him insane.

So what do you think about romances featuring dukes?

Do you love them? Who are some of your favorite fictional dukes?

Or do you think there are too many dukes already? Do you think Romanceland could use more marquesses, earls, etc…, or even (gasp!) a few mere misters?

Elena, who likes variety in her fantasy men 🙂
www.elenagreene.com

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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Megan Frampton
15 years ago

It’s precisely that CEO thing that keeps me from writing dukes–how can my guy be off chasing after the heroine when so many people are dependent on him?

My latest hero is a very irresponsible marquess, the one before that a mere mister, and a bastard, to boot.

I don’t look for dukes one way or the other, but definitely cock an eyebrow when a book has one off spying for England or something, like he doesn’t already have a job.

Cara King
15 years ago

I’m happy to have heroes who are just mister. (Some of my favorite Regency heroes have been!) But I have nothing against noblemen.

I do, however, wish they wouldn’t do dukes and have them act like ordinary men! If he’s a duke, I want to see the seven huge estates. I want to see him own half of Mayfair. I want to see him have hundreds of servants, tons of servants to supervise those servants, and be richer than Bill Gates.

Cara

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

Like Megan, I’m fine with dukes as long as they’re doing realistic ducal things, but tend to roll my eyes over the proliferation of spy-dukes and the like.

I do always enjoy the younger sons, commoners, etc., though, because there’s something about a man who has to make his own way in the world that appeals to me far more than one who has everything handed to him by accidents of birth and death.

That said, I just finished a manuscript where the hero is an indecently rich viscount who inherited his title at a very young age, and his conflict is all about having to learn to accept limitations on his power and ability to control others, others like, oh, the heroine. But I don’t think I’m going to do many like him. I’m waffling between two ideas for new projects, one of them starring a highly ambitious younger son of an earl, the other featuring a perfectly common commoner. They’re more my thing.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

I really don’t care about titles and such, but agents and editors sure do seem to. LOL!

I’m with Susan on the “spy duke” and the “army officer duke” etc. Hello! A “duke” is basically a CEO, Senator, and head of a major charity all at once. How would he have time to be gallivanting around France or Spain getting shot at? It always makes me think he’s an irresponsible lout, and that certainly doesn’t add up to heroic in my book.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I do, however, wish they wouldn’t do dukes and have them act like ordinary men!

That’s interesting taken along with what Kalen said about editors liking dukes. I once heard an author say an editor at a small press told her that Regency heroes had to be dukes. What I’m wondering is whether there are people who are confused about the different ranks. Do dukes just seem a safe choice?

So far I’ve written one earl, two viscounts, a baron, a baronet and a gentleman farmer. In my works-in-progress there’s an heir to an earldom but also two commoners. I hope readers won’t mind!

Lois
15 years ago

Oh sure, I love dukes. . . and I don’t think there are too many of them out there. It seems like I read a good assortment of dukes, marquis, earls and the like, plus plenty of simple Misters. But dukes (or any title for that matter) on the cover will catch my attention if it’s a book that I wasn’t familiar with or on my list. Because after all, chances are it might be taking place in England, and I might want to buy it. LOL 🙂

Lois

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I’ve wondered if part of the reason we see so many inappropriately employed dukes is that not everyone realizes that certain famous figures, especially the Duke of Wellington, were awarded their rank rather than inheriting it. And so they see this famous duke who’s also a general and think their duke can do whatever he wants.

Of course, I think most of it is publishing industry pressure.

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

Susan, what a good point! I never thought of that before, but it makes a lot of sense.

LOL, Elena! A Regency MUST have a duke. I never knew that. 🙂

I like a “well done” duke, but it’s not necessary to my reading enjoyment. 🙂 I think Kalen is right, though, that editors (and many readers!) love them, or there wouldn’t be so many of them out there. I’ve heard that having “duke” in a book’s title can really improve its numbers!

In the “Muse” book I just turned in, one of the secondary characters was a duke, a very wealthy, handsome eccentric. He was meant to be the villain, but wouldn’t behave as I instructed, and thus redeemed himself and will be the hero in “Muse 2.” But he is treated kind of like a Regency rock star everywhere he goes–everyone watches him and gossips about him. So I’d love to hear more about this subject before I revisit this character.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

One of my friends got asked point blank to make her commoner hero a duke (which wouldn’t have worked at all, since it was a role-reversal Pygmalion story!). Ugh. I don’t think readers care so much if the guy has a title (Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, Mr. Bingley anyone?). I sure hope not, since the hero of my second book is only plain Mr. Angelstone (ok, there’s nothing else plain about him *grin*).

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

“But he is treated kind of like a Regency rock star everywhere he goes–everyone watches him and gossips about him.”

LOL!

Is it Sprigged Muslin where the young duke runs off almost by accident and has to learn to get by as a plain mister? I love that book, esp the girl (not the heroine) whining constantly about wanting a silk dress.

Cara King
15 years ago

Is it Sprigged Muslin where the young duke runs off almost by accident and has to learn to get by as a plain mister? I love that book, esp the girl (not the heroine) whining constantly about wanting a silk dress.

No, it’s THE FOUNDLING, one of my favorite Heyers, and the one I was going to (and forgot to) name as my favorite Duke book!

Cara

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

I’m a sucker for noblemen of the Regency period. However, even for the Regency stories, dukes are tend me to too top lofty for me. I’m happy with earls and misters–more plot possibilities. More than dukes as spies, those impoverished ones are my betes noirs. And I’m tired that there are so many of them gadding about the countryside.

Susan, excellent point about why so many of us have the misconception about dukes being dashing dangerous sorts.

I did like the dukes from Heyer’s These Old Shades and MJP’s Petals. I just started Heyer’s Sylvester, so can’t comment there.

Kalen, an excellent recent mister is by none other than our Diane. There’s been plenty of interest about her book in the blogosphere to debunk this myth held by editors that every Regency must be about a duke. It’s like that erroneous myth editors tout that the Regency is dying. Pah, I say!

Regency rock star… 🙂

Elena Greene
15 years ago

Susan, I think you’ve got a good point there about the spy and soldier dukes.

THE FOUNDLING was another great duke story. A fun yarn though the romance is scant compared to some of Heyer’s others. I still prefer SYLVESTER. The characterizations are so good.

But dukes (or any title for that matter) on the cover will catch my attention if it’s a book that I wasn’t familiar with or on my list. Because after all, chances are it might be taking place in England, and I might want to buy it. LOL 🙂

Lois, I hadn’t thought about it that way before. My own book titles often include “Lord” or “Lady” (as in LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE) because I like using characters’ names. In retrospect these titles probably worked the same way as ones with duke, marquis,etc…

It’s interesting to hear how readers react to titles. Maybe this should be another blog post. 🙂

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

Ha ha, Keira. Again, folks, Keira is NOT my publicist (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it)

I was busy all day yesterday with the Romance Vagabonds – blogging at their site. What a nice ragtag group!

In April, we’re going to have an interview with the author of one of those 121 books with Duke in the title, only her present hero is a lowly earl. Sally MacKenzie is visiting up on Apr 9. Her Naked Duke was a fun book and PW raves about her new one, The Naked Earl.

And don’t forget that Richard Cerqueira, cover model, is visiting us on Sunday and Monday. Bet he’s played a Duke on a bookcover!

Diane

Manuelita
15 years ago

I love Dukes!! I’ll pick up a book and check out the back blurb if the word Duke is in the title or if the hero is a Duke. Nope, can never have too many Dukes for me.

Manuelita – who wishes she were a Duchess 🙂

PS – Diane, although it is Duke-less, I am currently reading I&I. So far so good!!

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

Well, if I’d known, Manuelita, I might have written a Duke! Hope you like I&I!!

Me, I’ll settle for a king–King Leonidas (from the movie 300– only one day to go!!)

Diane

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
15 years ago

As to the first question, an excellent duke-to-be is Lucien, in Jo Beverley’s “An Unwilling Bride”. Too many authors don’t seem to understand how the wealth and responsibilities and power would affect a person, but Beverley definitely gives you a sense that Fitzgerald was right and the rich (and in this case the aristocratic) are different.

As to the second question, I am actually somewhat put off by seeing duke in the title precisely for that reason — too many authors portray dukes as if they were ordinary people who occasionally have to show up at the House of Lords. It almost makes the romance harder to believe in — as someone said, in some ways these guys were like rock stars, and we know how rarely they find HEA. However, I must admit a soft spot for the Cinderella story, and I like it when the poor governess/companion finds both True Love and a healthy bank account.

Karen
14 years ago

Sylvester and Flowers in the Storm are 2 of the best uses of dukes. Sylvester I love just for the opening paragraph, one of the best I’ve ever read. I loved the legal hoopla in Flowers. Another great nobleman (non-duke) character is the Marquess of Rothgar in Jo Beverly’s series. He is definitely the C

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Hi, Karen! I’m not sure what you mean by “the C” but I probably agree–Rothgar is the perfect example of a fully realized nobleman with all the associated power and responsibilities.