Saturday, March 21, 2009

Learning about titles

One of the key structures of Regency society was the system of aristocracy that ruled England. One of the most difficult things, it seems, for authors--particularly North American authors--to grasp is the system of titles that organized that aristocracy.

We use a great many titles in Regency romance. It is part of the fascination of the period for readers. Regency historicals seem to be particularly fond of dukes. That is surprising for there were never very many around and most of them were royal. But the imaginary world of the Regency is overrun with them. Likewise there have never been many marquesses in England, but I have one of those among my heroes. These days I seem to be leaning more to viscounts and barons, but who knows when another earl or marquess will pop up!

If an author is going to use titles, she must do her characters the courtesy of addressing them properly. The feminine side of the peerage nomenclature is equally as important as the male. A working knowledge of the system should be the first thing every Regency romance author pursues.

I've read two books Regencies recently in which a baron or baronet (eg. Sir Firstname Lastname) was called, repeatedly, Sir Lastname. It always, always, always, is Sir Firstname, and I find this an unforgiveable error. It's so easy to look up, and there are plenty of reference websites and books available to help:

- Bestselling author Jo Beverley has one of the best summaries of the system

- Nancy Mayer, researcher extraordinaire, has a great section on titles

- Burke's Peerage has a brief section on titles and lots of other fascinating information

- Wikipedia is also useful. Check out the following pages:
British nobility
Peerage of England

- "Titles and Forms of Address: a guide to their correct usage" by A & C Black Publishers, 22th print ed. 2007 is an impeccable resource

- Emily Hendrickson's "The Regency Reference Book" has a great section on titles. You can purchase it on CD-ROM.

- Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage is probably the ultimate authority.

This is admittedly a vast field of study. I'm still learning about it. But the basics are easily picked up. I hope every author of historical romance takes the time to do so.

Till next time,

1 comment:

Helena said...

Your passion for all things Regency is very contagious. I have been out of the habit of reading historical novels of any stripe since my teenage years, but reading your discourse on matters such as proper use of titles in your current post is creating an itch that I am going to have to scratch. And that's just the reading side of things.

One day I can see myself attempting to write in the genre, and when I do, you will be a great source of information that I know will be authoritative. The Regency period is very appealing to me, primarily because your blog and website make it so.