Historical Romance: A Terminology Primer Presented By Anyone But a Duke


[Note from Frolic: This post is brought to you by our friends at Kensington. Brush up on your Historical Romance terminology, courtesy of Anyone But a Duke by Betina Krahn, out now!]

I recently read the final installment of Betina Krahn’s Sin and Sensibility series, Anyone But a Duke. I loved this book of mistaken identity, second chances – ish, and my sister’s former betrothed (not an actual trope but if the shoe fits…). This book doesn’t fit nicely into a particular trope, and I am A-OK with that. The gist of the tale is, woefully embarrassed youngest Bumgarten sister Sarah, flees the London ton in search of a life outside of judgey eyes and cruel society nonsense. The Bumgartens are originally from the United States, Nevada specifically, and honestly, they are strong-willed, wealthy women who suffer no fools. They appreciate and respect the hierarchy of British high society, but they, well, the daughters at least, don’t necessarily need the ton’s approval to know their own self-worth. And these women are certainly no one’s damsel in distress. As I read the story, I was reminded of a historical primer I made with my romance reading friends many years ago. Since I often refer back to it to get my historical romance terminology and date ranges right when reading historical romances, I figured it might be something you’d enjoy, too.

Let’s start at the beginning, time frame. Historical romance covers everything from ancient, medieval times all the way through to, well, technically the 1940s/50s. For purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on the time frame covered in Anyone But a Duke, Victorian England. Victorian England can be anywhere from 1832 – 1901 and includes the reign of Queen Victoria. Our time with Arthur and Sarah happens in the 1890s. There is an author’s note at the end of the book detailing the amount of research she put into getting this story right. Sarah is a bit of a bluestocking. A bluestocking is an intellectual woman often with literary interests: her educational desires go beyond cross stitch and dinner party planning. Her use and knowledge of thermometers, stethoscopes, and even germs and hygiene are based on facts relevant to the time. Now that we know where we are in time let’s figure out who we are.

The Ton consists of different levels of nobility within British high society. Society has five big titles:

1. Duke/Duchess
2. Marques/Marchioness
3. Earl/Countess
4. Viscount/Viscountess
5. Baron/Baroness

All of these people can be referred to as “Lord” or “Lady” except, of course, a Duke. The Duke and Duchess are always referred to with their full title, the grand poobah of titles if you will. These are all titles that are either inherited or granted by the monarchy. A prince is made a duke upon marriage. Our dear Sarah has written off dukes most decidedly.
“These blasted Dukes will be the death of me.”

Later on, when Arthur’s true identity is cleared up, Sarah’s matchmaking mother Elizabeth has her own concerns about dukes in general, and Arthur specifically. It would almost seem like she’s taken Sarah’s side and feels the proper match for her is anyone but a duke, indeed.

“He’s not a duke, then he is a duke, then he’s not a duke again…it’s as if the Bumgarten girls are under some sort of ducal curse.”

One level beneath a duke finds us with the marques. There aren’t a ton of them in society as the title was created by King Richard in the late 1300s. Marques usurped some of the rank of earls and went over about as well as a fart in church.

Next up is the earl. In Anyone But a Duke, the cad that betrays and embarrasses our lovely Sarah is the Earl of Kelling. Earls manage the shires of the King and typically, are lifetime appointments or only passed down to the first male heir. Possibly one of my favorite quotes from this book refers to the Earl of Kelling. Years after his cad-like treatment of Sarah and Arthur’s pledge to “flatten him” should they ever encounter him, they do happen upon him at an event. Arthur is worried Sarah might be upset he didn’t live up to his earlier promise of retribution but, “…he was wearing spectacles, after all, and I got a good look at his wife.” He chuckled. “I expect he’s been punished enough.” I do love a good duke with snarky jokes!

A viscount is a deputy to an earl, and a baron is a landholding nobleman who was often called by the monarch to attend Council or Parliament.

“The season” is the party circuit of British society. It was a time for single women to mingle at parties with eligible noblemen in a highly-chaperoned environment. Plenty of matchmaking and protocol is expected. In fact, “for the early part of the season, Terrence Tyrell had talked and teased, walked, and waltzed with her[Sarah] under the gaze of London society, raising both eyebrows and expectations. Terrence becomes the dastardly Earl of Kelling, who eventually sends Sarah into hiding.

A dowager is a term we are probably more familiar with thanks to Downton Abbey. A dowager is typically a dignified elderly woman who holds a title and land through her deceased husband. It’s also somewhat of a state of mind, as evidenced by Arthur’s perceived treatment of him during a life-threatening recovery process. He felt Sarah treated him, “like an imperious old dowager – laying down orders and condition as if he were a servant instead of – what?”

Harridan is a word not often seen outside of historical romances. It is another word for shrew and is beautifully used in a particularly humorous and oh so sexy exchange between Sarah and Arthur.

“…you do realize that the first time I saw you, you were breaking a fellow’s nose? After which you practically kicked another poor sod’s wedding tackle into next week. The second time I saw you, you were packing pistols…” She produced a demure smile. “You make me sound like a harridan.”

“More like a woman to be reckoned with.”

She was standing too close to him, Heaven knew, but she refused to retreat. There were things in life that a woman had to experience to understand, and this surge of anticipation was one of them. Then he ran a finger down the side of her face, along her jaw, and across her lips.

“What are you doing?” she said, her nerves tingling along the path he blazed in her skin.


If you are in the mood for historical romance, I strongly recommend Anyone But a Duke. It’s the third book in the Sin and Sensibility series but it can be read as a standalone. The writing is so good, the characters are so unique and interesting, you’d do well to read the whole thing!

Anyone but a Duke by Betina Krahn, your next swoon-worthy read!

The youngest of four spirited American sisters, Sarah Bumgarten has studiously avoided her mother’s attempts to find her a titled husband among London’s aristocracy. Now, after an earl’s very public rejection, it seems her ideal mate will be anyone but a duke, a marquis, a baron, or a viscount . . .
Thankfully, there are no noblemen in sight at Betancourt, the country estate where Sarah takes refuge. Its rightful owner, the Duke of Meridian, sibling to Sarah’s brother-in-law, has been absent for years. Accompanied by her bevy of beloved animals, Sarah delights in refurbishing the once-grand property. But even a self-assured frontier heiress needs help when greedy tenants are threatened by her presence . . .
Out of nowhere, a stranger jumps into the fray when ruffians attack. Nothing about “Art,” the roguish interloper—now recuperating in the ducal bedchamber—smacks of nobility, with his brazen sensuality, worldly knowledge, and deeply seductive voice. Yet could he be the errant duke? If so, Sarah soon realizes this homecoming promises to be filled with unexpected challenges and passionate possibilities .

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