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Duke is a title of nobility (customarily hereditary in nature) which in many cases referred to the male monarch of certain -mainly Continental European- principalities, referred to as duchy after their title.
- a nobleman of a specific, high but nominal rank without an actual principality, e.g. the highest titular Ranks of nobility and peerage in France, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and Italy (except in Naples, where the title of principe was held to be higher).
- a title for cadet princes of reigning dynasties, conferred as an individual title or appanage in Britain, Scandinavia and Latin Europe, or inherited by right in some German monarchies.
Furthermore it renders various -in fact otherwise styled- high ranks of nobility, e.g. in Slavic and central European monarchies, or even in non-western cultures.
A woman who holds in her own right the title to such duchy or dukedom -ruling or nominal-, or is the wife of a duke, is styled duchess.
Originally Dux (Latin for leader) was a title given in Latin to a general commanding a single military expedition and holding no other power than that which he exercised over his soldiers. The designation, first applied to barbaric tribal leaders and various military commanders, became a formal Roman title in the Roman Empire over time. Upon the separation of the civil and military functions in the fourth century the dux became commander of all the troops cantoned in a military territory, often corresponding to one or more Roman provinces; this Roman rank was below the similar Comes rei militaris (the rank of Comes, which also had various court and other civilian uses, survives in the title Count, which is lower in the feudal hierarchy). To avoid the connotations of the modern "dukes", Roman military leaders are usually called duces.
There were no Anglo-Saxon duchies in the feudal sense, only individual duces; the Middle English duke derives from the Old French duc, which in turn came from the Latin dux/ducis deriving from the verb ducere, meaning "to lead". The Genoese and Venetian elective, 'crowned republican' title "doge" is derived from the same origin.
 The Roman Empire and the Dark Ages
In the late Roman Empire, dux was a military title. Latin chroniclers applied it to the leaders of Lombard warbands. When this title appeared in the Carolingian empire, stem dukes ruled over non-Frankish nations (dukes of the Alamans, of the Bavarians, of the Aquitans), while counts ruled over a region in the Frankish realm.
The Germanic Franks converted, under Roman influence, the Germanic concept of Herzog (literally: "war-leader", commonly translated as "duke"), the temporarily elected general for a major expedition of warfare, into military governors for units of up to a dozen counties. In the 7th century these units developed into hereditary clan-duchies of Bavarians, Thuringians, Alemanni, Franks and other Germanic tribes, which Charlemagne crushed in 788, converting the border provinces into margraviates (which however soon emerged as clan-margraviates: Saxony, Bavaria, Swabia, Lorraine...).
The dissolution tendency was counteracted by the appointment of younger sons of the monarchs (royal dukes) as military governors of the important border provinces, which however also soon developed into hereditary duchies and a source of intrigues against the monarch (see for instance: History of Schleswig-Holstein). The medieval dukes had a strong position in the realms they belonged to. Like the margraves, they were responsible for the military defence of an important region, and had strong arguments for retaining the Crown's tax incomes of their duchy to fund their military force.
 The Middle Ages
The Black Prince was created Duke of Cornwall in 1337. He was the first proper Duke to be created by a King of England. To celebrate this event six new Earls were created. In the Patent creating the new Earl of Salisbury, on 16th March 1337, the King refers also to this higher Honor as: "willing more securely to establish the Royal sceptre as well as by the addition of new honors as by the restoration of old ones, and to augment the number of nobles by whose counsels our realm may be directed in doubtful, and by whose suffrages be supported in adverse circumstances, have advanced our most dear first begotten Edward (whom in the prerogative of honour as is meet, we have caused to have precedence of others) to be Duke of Cornwall, over which awhile ago Dukes for a long time successively presided as chief rulers..."
 The Modern Age
In the 19th century, the sovereign dukes of Parma and Modena in Italy, and of Anhalt, Brunswick-Lüneburg, Nassau (state), Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen and Saxe-Altenburg in Germany survived Napoleon's reorganization.
Since the unification of Italy in 1870 and the end of monarchy in Germany in 1918, there have no longer been any reigning dukes in Europe; Luxembourg is ruled by a grand duke, a higher title, just below King.
In the United Kingdom, the inherited position of a duke along with its dignities, privileges, and rights is a dukedom. However, the title of duke has never been associated with independent rule in the British Isles: they hold dukedoms, not duchies. Dukes in the United Kingdom are addressed as 'Your Grace' and referred to as 'His Grace'. Currently, there are twenty-seven dukedoms in the peerages of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom, held by twenty-four different people (see List of Dukes in order of precedence).
 Equivalents in other European languages
 Royal dukes
Various royal houses traditionally awarded (mainly) dukedoms to the sons and in some cases, the daughters, of their respective Sovereigns; others include at least one dukedom in a wider list of similarly granted titles, nominal dukedoms without any actual authority, often even without an estate. Such titles are still conferred on royal princes or princesses in the current European monarchies of Belgium, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Other historical cases occurred for example in Denmark, Finland (as Sweden, in personal union) and France, Portugal and some former colonial possessions such as Brazil and Haiti.
 United Kingdom
See Dukes in Britain.
In Belgium, the title of Duke of Brabant (historically the most prestigious in the Low Countries, and containing the federal capital Brussels), if still vacant, has been awarded preferentially to the eldest son and heir presumptive of the King, other male dynasts receiving various lower historical titles (much older than Belgium, and in principle never fallen to the Belgian crown), such as Count of Flanders (king Leopold III's so-titled brother held the title when he became the realm's temporary head of state as Prince-regent) and Prince of Liège (a secularised version of the historical Prince-bishopric; e.g. the present king Albert II until he succeeded his older brother Baudouin=Boudewijn I)
Denmark's kings gave appanages in their twin-duchies of Schleswig-Holstein (now three-fourths of them is part of Germany, but then the Holstein half of it was part of HRE in personal union with Denmark proper) to younger sons and/or their male-line descendants, with a specific though not sovereign title of Duke, e.g. Duke of Gottorp, Duke of Sonderburg, Duke of Augustenborg, Duke of Franzhagen, Duke of Beck, Duke of Glucksburg and Duke of Norburg.
Spanish infantes and infantas were usually given a dukedom upon marriage. This title is nowadays not hereditary but carries a grandeza de España. The current royal duchesses are: HRH the Duchess of Badajoz (Infanta Maria del Pilar), HRH the Duchess of Soria (Infanta Margarita) (although she inherited the title of Duchess of Hernani from her cousin and is second holder of that title), HRH the Duchess of Lugo (Infanta Elena) and HRH the Duchess of Palma de Mallorca (Infanta Cristina).
 Finland and Sweden
- Main article: Dukes of Swedish Provinces.
Sweden had a history of making sons of its Kings real ruling princes of vast duchies, but this ceased in 1622. Title-wise, however, all Swedish princes since 1772, and princesses since 1980, are given a dukedom for life. Currently, there is one duke and three duchesses. The territorial designations of these dukedoms refer to four of the Provinces of Sweden.
In Finland, while a nominal realm in personal union with Sweden, the ducal title herttua was equally reserved for (Swedish) princes of the blood, without actual feudal estates.
 France and other former monarchies
See appanage (mainly for the French kingdom) and the list in the geographical section below, which also treats special ducal titles in orders or national significance.
For Portugal, see below
The highest precedence in the realm, attached to a feudal territory, was given to the twelve original pairies, which also had a traditional function in the royal coronation, comparable to the German imperial archoffices. Half of them were ducal: three ecclesiastical (the six prelates all ranked above the six secular peers of the realm) and three temporal, each time above three counts of the same social estate: The Prince-Bishops with ducal territories among them were:
- The Archbishop of Reims, styled archevêque-duc pair de France (in Champagne; who crown and anoint the king, traditionally in his cathedral)
- Two suffragan bishops, styled evêque-duc pair de France :
The secular dukes in the peerage of the realm were, again in order of precedence:
- the duc de Bourgogne, i.e. Duke of Burgundy (known as Grand duc; not a separate title at that time; just a description of the wealth and real clout of the 15th century Dukes, cousins of the Kings of France) (bears the crown, fastens the belt)
- Duke of Normandy or duc de Normandie (holds the first square banner)
- Duke of Aquitaine or duc d'Aquitaine or - de Guyenne (holds the second square banner)
It should be noted what the theory of the participation of the peers in the coronation was laid down in the late XIIIth century, when some of the peerage (the duchy of Normandy and the county of Toulouse) had already been merged in the crown.
At the end of this same century, the King erected some counties into duchies, a practice what went increasing till the Revolution. Many of this duchies were also peerages (the so-called 'new peerages').
For more information see Dukes in France.
 Iberian peninsula
When the Christian Reconquista, sweeping the Moors from the former caliphate of Cordoba and its taifa-remnants, transformed the territory of former Suevi and Visigothic realms into catholic feudal principalities, none of these war lords was exactly styled Duke, a few (as Portugal itself) started as Count (even if the title of Dux was sometimes added), but soon all politically relevant princes were to use the royal style of King.
No duchies as true politically important principalities, but many domanial or purely titular ones Many hold the court rank of Grande, i.e. Grandee of the realm, which had precedence over all other feudatories.
 Colonial titles
In various Spanish-American viceroyalties (one dukedom in present Chile; in Mexico, in addition to the title Duque de Moctesuma for descendants of the deposed last Aztec ruler of that very name, three: Arion, Atrisco and Regla, all four Spanish Grandees; in Panama only Duque de Veragua, also Grande de España; in Peru San Carlos and Buono, again Grandees; in several other Spanish American countries only lower titles were created) and on the Canary Islands
In other colonial empires, notably as victory titles.
 Italy, Germany and Austria
 Elsewhere in Europe
- In Denmark, the longest-surviving duchy being Schleswig, i.e Sonderjylland, part of which later was transferred to Germany; its southern neighbour Holstein in personal union with the Danish crown was always a German principality; ultimately both ended up joint as the German federation's Bundesland of Schleswig-Holstein.
- In Sweden, medieval duchies of Finland, Sudermannia, Scania and Halland, and in modern ages almost each province.
In the Kingdom of Hungary no ducal principalities existed but duchies were often formed for members of the dynasty as appanage. During the rule of the Árpád dinasty dukes held territorial powers, some of them even minted coins, but later this title became more often nominal. These duchies usually were
- the Duchy of Nitra
- the Duchy of Bihar
- the Duchy of Slavonia or whole Slavonia (consisted Slavonia and Croatia).
- the Duchy of Transylvania (consisted the voivodship of Transylvania and some other counties)
In the Jagellonian era (1490-1526) only two dukes did not belong to the royal dynasty: John Corvin (the illegitimate son of Matthias Corvinus) and Lőrinc Újlaki (whose father was the king of Bosnia), while both bore the title as royal dukes.
As the Catholic crusaders overran orthodox parts of the Byzantine empire, they installed several crusader states, some of which were of ducal rank:
- duchy of Athens, to which duchy of Neopatras (in Thessaly) was later linked
- the Aegean insular duchy of Naxos, more officially "Duchy of the Archipelago"
- duchy of Negroponte, i.e. the Aegean island of Euboia.
Sometimes in Italy and other Western countries, the later Byzantine appanages were translated as duchies: Peloponnese, Mistra, Mesembria, Selymbria and Thessalonike. However, as these had Greek holders, they were titled Archon ('magistrate') or Despotes (rather Prince of the blood).
 Slavic countries
Generally, confusion reigns whether to translate the usual petty ruler titles, knyaz/ knez/ ksiaze etc. as Prince (analogous to the German Fürst) or as Duke;
- in splintered Poland, also in (later ethnically German parts of) Silesia (later within the HRE), petty principalities generally ruled by branches of the earlier Polish Piast dynasty are regarded as duchies in translated titulary. Examples of such: Kujavia, Masovia, Sandomir, Greater Poland, Kalisz and Silesia (Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia), as well as various minor duchies, often short-lived and/or in personal union or merger, named after their capitals, mainly in the regions known as Little Poland and Greater Poland, including (there are often also important Latin and/or German forms) Cracow, Opole, Ratibor, Legnica, Zator, Leczyca and Sieradz.
- In Pomerelia and Pomerania (inhabited by the Kashubians, different Slavic people from the Poles proper), branches of native ruling dynasties were usually recognized as dukes, quite similarly to the pattern in Poland.
- in Russia, before the imperial unification from Muscovy; sometimes even as vassal, tributary to a Tartar Khan; later, in Peter the Great's autocratic empire, the russification gertsog was used as the Russian rendering of the German ducal title Herzog, especially as (the last) part of the full official style of the Russian Emperor: Gertsog Shlesvig-Golstinskiy, Stormarnskiy, Ditmarsenskiy i Oldenburgskiy i prochaya, i prochaya, i prochaya "Duke of Schleswig-Holstein [see above], Stormarn, Dithmarschen and Oldenburg, and of other lands", in chief of German and Danish territories to which the Tsar was dynastically linked.
 Post-colonial non-European states
 Brazilian empire
In this former Portuguese viceroyalty, after separation ruled by a branch of the Portuguese royal dynasty (House of Bragança), three dukedoms were created (being its highest ranks for non-members of the imperial dynasty), two of which were for illegitimate sons of the Emperor.
The royal Christophe dynasty created eight hereditary dukedoms, in rank directly below the nominal princes.
Like other major Western noble titles, Duke is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-western languages with their own traditions, even though they are as a rule etumologically and often historically unrelated and thus hard to compare, which are considered roughly equivalent, especially in hierarchic aristocracies such as feudal Japan, useful as an indication of relative rank.
For details see Equivalents of Duke outside Europe.
 Fictional Dukes and Duchesses
- Duke Leto Atreides, leader of House Atreides on planet Caladan, in Frank Herbert's Dune.
- Paul Atreides, son of Leto and heir to (and later Duke of) House Atreides in the novel Dune.
- Duke of Manhattan, a one-time character in the Doctor Who episode, "New Earth".
- Duke Org, one of the monsters from the Power Rangers season, Power Rangers: Wild Force.
- Dutchess R of Winnipeg , a socialite in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" who is host of the masked ball where "Lemony Snicket" warns Beatrice of some danger.
 See also
- List of Dukes in the Peerage of the United Kingdom
- List of dukes in the peerages of the British Isles