In the world of the old aristocracy, the primary duty of a noble family was to maintain and hopefully augment status, wealth and power. The granting of a dukedom was a symbol of a noble family having reached the very top. Some, in circumstances of exceptional royal favour, achieved this in just one lifetime, whileContinue reading “Polignac dukes and princes”
Germany’s landscape is wonderfully varied, from steep Alpine peaks to unvaried flatness of the North European Plain. In the summer of 2014, I was lucky to enjoy not one but two research fellowships, in Vienna and Wolfenbüttel, so I took the opportunity of the week between them to rent a car and drive from oneContinue reading “Driving across Germany: Bavaria to Baden to Brunswick”
Sometimes one noble family needs another to boost its status slightly into the ranks of the dukes and princes. The Vorontsovs were an old noble family of middle rank who significantly influenced the history of Russia in the 18th century. The Dashkovs were an equally ancient family, and though of higher, even princely, rank, rarelyContinue reading “Vorontsov and Dashkov princes”
The Dukedom of Dorset is mostly forgotten today, a title that had only five holders between 1720 and 1843. Yet their surname, Sackville, is well remembered, particularly as borne by Vita Sackville-West, one of the leaders of the Bloomsbury Group of the early 20th century. The surname also probably inspired Tolkien in his choice ofContinue reading “Sackville dukes of Dorset”
Travelling in Britain and Ireland can be quite damp. While there are certainly moments of glorious sunshine, any traveller should also be prepared for days and days of drizzle, grey skies, and mud. Yet this can be a bonus for viewing historical monuments, adding drama and mystery to the landscape. Northern Ireland is one placeContinue reading “An Ulster Circuit: O’Neill princes and Abercorn dukes”
‘Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived’. Possibly the most successful mnemonic in history; people who love Tudor history can even remember that Number Four (‘divorced’) was Anne of Cleves. But where on earth was Cleves? A misleading clue is in one of her historical nicknames, the ‘Flanders Mare’, though in the sixteenth century, Englishmen oftenContinue reading “Dukes of Cleves, with Jülich, Berg and the Mark”
In a recent television series, the artist Leonardo da Vinci is brought to Milan to work for the most powerful man in Renaissance Italy: Ludovico il Moro. Il Moro was head of the Sforza family, one of the names most associated with Italian history in the fifteenth century—like Medici or Borgia—but interestingly, their name wasn’tContinue reading “Sforza dukes of Milan”
Madame de Montespan—one of the most famous women in French history, one of the most archetypal maîtresses en titre of the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. She was not a duchess, unlike many other women in her position, though she was given the equivalent rights at court as a mark of her unparalleled royalContinue reading “Dukes of Mortemart: the Rochechouarts”
Last summer I drove the lush green valleys of eastern Wales, in the region that was once the ancient Kingdom of Powys, ruled in the early Middle Ages by the Gwerthrynion dynasty until the 850s, then as divided principalities. As we passed by the market town of Welshpool, one of the former princely capitals, weContinue reading “The Herberts & the Duke of Powis”
The name Windsor was chosen to represent the royal family of the United Kingdom in 1917, taken, quite rightly, from the castle that had been at the centre of royal operations in England since the 11th century. But if we go back to an older way of giving names to royal dynasties, the name traditionallyContinue reading “Dukes of Oldenburg and Schleswig-Holstein”
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