DUKE AND DUCHESS
The History and Significance of Duke and Duchess Titles

Duke and duchess titles conventionally are given to monarchs who rule over a duchy or to high-ranking nobles. The title of duke traditionally was recognized as the highest of all nobility titles, aside from those titles granted to ruling monarchs. The title has a long history, originating as the Latin “dux,” which means leader. In Rome, this term was first used for military commanders, particularly German and Celtic ones, who lacked official ranks. It later evolved to describe the top military commander of a province. The modern “duke” is based on the French title “duc,” stemming from the same Latin “dux.”

The Title During Medieval Times

Duke first appeared as a title among German monarchies during the Middle Ages. German dukes ranked above counts, ruled provinces, and were considered the highest-ranking nobility besides the king. In some countries, dukes belonged to the peerage, or titled class, but this varied. Dukes in Spain and the United Kingdom were always peers, while only some French dukes were. In other countries, peerage did not exist, but dukes may have held equivalent statuses.

Dukes in Modern Times

Dukes and grand dukes ruled many German and Italian states during the 19th century. Today, however, there is only one ruling duke, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Some other facts about the title today are:

  • Duke is recognized as the highest hereditary title under the monarchy in Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.
  • A royal dukedom is granted to members of the Swedish Royal Family upon birth.
  • The Pope occasionally grants Duke or Duchess titles in recognition of services to the Holy See.
  • In some countries, such as the Netherlands and Italy, the comparative ranks of nobles granted the title of duke or prince varies.

By convention, women who marry dukes or hold titles to a duchy are known as duchesses. One notable exception is Queen Elizabeth II, who is traditionally called the Duke of Lancaster and the Duke of Normandy.

The Evolving Title

There are fewer dukes or duchesses ruling today than in the past. Nonetheless, the title still commands respect because of its history and rank, and it remains a popular choice among people who buy nobility titles in modern times.

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