Recognise him? Of course you do, it’s old Vic the 9th Duke of Devonshire in his ceremonial gear as Governor General of Canada. They get around these aristocrats. And it’s that thought that’s got me thinking. Regular readers will know that I do ponder on the bigger issues in society.
Now a Duke is the highest rank in the aristocracy beneath the Royal family, and from what I can see there are 3 basic ways in which it is bestowed. Firstly as a gift from a grateful nation eg like those awarded to the Dukes of Wellington and Marlborough for their successful military campaigns. These seem not unworthy to insignificant Mr me though it seems wrong that Nelson never received equal recognition. Did you know Churchill declined a Dukedom when offered by the Queen after his leadership during WWII?
Secondly, by marrying in to the Royal family or being progeny or closely related to it, like the Dukes of Edinburgh, York and Kent. If we ever had a glorious revolution you’d imagine these free-loading grouse-shooters might have to avoid going close to lamp-posts and standing in front of walls. You might sense that these fluke dukes aren’t my particular favourites.
But it’s the third category which is special. The majority of this country’s oldest and principal Dukedoms were bestowed upon the bastard offspring of the ruling monarch and his mistress(es). And as well as titles they received lands and wealth. That’s our noble background; a system of class largely based on the antics of King Dick.
But that’s not an original observation of course. What I have noticed however is another thing our Dukes have inherited from monarchs with a wandering eye; a tendency to, well, wander. Take Victor above and his clan. Now wouldn’t you think that the Duke of Devonshire would live in a grand place overlooking Dartmoor or Torquay? In fact the old chap’s family seat is Chatsworth House near Chesterfield which, last time I looked, is in the middle of Derbyshire. Now that strikes me as a little bit odd. And that’s the kind of thing I reflect on. Here’s the thing; he’s not alone. The Dukes of Norfolk are not seated in Norwich but in Arundel, W Sussex. The Duke of Westminster’s principal home is located near Chester whilst the Duke of Wellington’s title derived from Somerset but the family seat is Stratfield Saye House near Basingstoke. Finally, the Duke of Beaufort whose title comes from the name of a castle near Champagne in France is shacked up in Chipping Sodbury, which is as quintessentially English (and un-French) as it gets.
Now I know these are historical titles and things change and people move over time but if the monarch’s going to bestow estates and a title as grand as a Dukedom on somebody then the bearer ought to be obliged to live where the title suggests. It seems only right to me.
pp live from his laptop in The (unlikely but richly deserved) Duchy of Teddington-Marche