Addressing Younger Sons of the Peerage
by Ann Lethbridge
Yes, pesky titles. I know I should have this down pat by now. But I started a book several years ago, and lo and behold the darn hero was the second son of a duke. Not the heir. Now there are all kinds of pitfalls with Dukes, not just what you call them, but what you call their sons, their wives, their sons wives and so on. I am going to deal with just a couple of them here.
I thought rather than do a dry list, I would use the 5th Duke of Devonshire as a living — a well a previously living– example. His first wife was Georgiana, a very interesting woman, but in the matter of titles I have chosen this particular Duke because he was around in the Georgian era.
This is a portrait of the fifth duke. Now how would you address the starchy looking gentleman. Oh and by the way, his family name (like your surname) is Cavendish. That becomes important later.
The form of address partly depends on who is addressing him and in what form, writing or speech (just to give you hiccups). A servant might well address him as “Your Grace”, probably with his nose touching his knees. Anyone with the rank of baronet or below, e.g. just plain Mrs, Miss or Mr. would also call him Your Grace.
His wife would probably call him Devonshire or, if they were alone or with intimate family or friends, she might call him, "my lord" or "my love." It sounds very formal, but that in a way is the reason for our enchantment for bygone ages. It was different.
Here is a picture of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough, while this is still in the 1780′s we can see the classical influence.
The Duke’s friends, if they are peers, would most likely call him Devonshsire, although they might say, "How are you today, Duke?" and as the conversation continues would address him as "sir".
A Duke is never addressed as "my lord".
Very rarely were first names used, except possibly between boys who were close friends at school, and then only in private. Last names, or the title name (e.g. Devonshire) were the most common forms of address, if not using the respectful, "your grace”.
He would sign his name Devonshire on all correspondence. There is only one Devonshire, and there would be absolutely no mistake as to whom had written. If you are going to write to a Duke, you would begin: "My Lord Duke".
Perhaps one of my favorite fictional dukes is His Grace Duke of Avon, in Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub. Oh man, gotta read those books again now I have thought about them. He was also in the Black Moth, but he was an anti hero and so she changed his name, but we guessed. I always felt a teeny bit sorry for him in the first book. I do love a bad boy.
Back to titles, girl, before you lose your audience. Note that a Duke is always the Duke of "somewhere". That is not true of some of the other titles. Remember the Duke of Wellington? He was the first Duke of Wellington.
A Duke will usually have one or more courtesy titles. These are often titles of progression, titles his family earned over the centuries, gradually climbing the ladder of the peerage. So he might also be Marquess of Malmsbury and Earl Chokingham and some others as well as being "Duke of Somewhere". His eldest son will normally take his highest courtesy title during the Duke’s lifetime.
The duchess is also "Your Grace" but rather than "My Lord Duke" she is "Madam", on formal correspondence and "Madam" instead of "Sir" in informal speech. She would sign her name Georgiana Devonshire.
Now in my novel, I have an heir, who is a Marquess, so I have to follow the rules for him, but he only makes a brief appearance so I will talk about his title another time. My hero is the second son. So what do I need to know about him?
Of course the biggest fear of the writer is that by now you have so many names floating on the pages that you have made your reader fall asleep.
To wake you up, here is a picture of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Very much a Regency gentleman. This picture was painted by Thomas Lawrence in 1811.
Anyway, younger sons of Dukes. Since he is my main character let me get it right. Announced formally or addressed on formal correspondence as: Lord Malcolm Cavendish (All right so Devonshire only had one son, but this is fiction so use your imagination.) What we have above is a title "Lord" his Christian or firstname "Malcolm" and his family name or surname "Cavendish". Neither his father, mother or older brother use the Cavendish. But he isn’t really a peer, he is only the second son, poor sod.
The salutation on correspondence would be "My Lord". He would be announced as "The Lord Malcolm Cavendish" He would be addressed by his friends as Lord Malcolm (or Malcolm or Cavendish, if addressed by a very close friend or relative). He would sign himself as Malcolm Cavendish or Cavendish. If he had a younger brother, a third son to the Duke, then that son could not sign just Cavendish. He would have to use his Christian name and then the family name in his signature to avoid confusion with his older brother.
By the way, if you would like all the detail, check out this website. I think it is very clear. You can also investigate Debrett’s or Burke’s, you will find them listed in the bibliography on the above website.
Re-posted by permission of the author from her blog Regency Ramble.