Snow White didn't fall in love with one of the dwarves. She fell in love with the prince. But princes are scarce, and the next title of any consequence is that of the duke – which explains a lot about the rows and rows of romance novels with the word "duke" somewhere on the cover.
In the real world, dukes are thin on the ground: Generally, there are fewer than thirty — but it's more than rarity that makes dukes so wildly popular: They're just downright sexy. In modern terms, the duke is the equivalent of the movie star, seen on the big screen, bolder than life. They cause palpitations and sighs aplenty. Robert Downey Jr., Denzel Washington, Tom Hiddleston and Daniel Craig are all dukes in our modern celebrity peerage.
The marquess, one rung down, more closely resembles the television star: Certainly worthy of attention but not the one sitting on the front row at the Oscars. Nathan Fillion, Andrew Lincoln, Alexander Skarsgard: Far more numerous, but shining just a bit less brightly.
The earl, lower still, is the equivalent of a reality television show cast member. He may find himself running naked through the jungles of an uninhabited island, getting sunburned and eaten by bugs. He may appeal to many but he's not pulling in the millions that the movie star does. Nor does he usually walk down the red carpet.
Lowest of all, the viscount; he appears in commercials. Generally nameless, he's the focus of attention for a fleeting few seconds. He's the one you fast-forward through, or abandon entirely to go grab a snack.
When a lady finds herself in trouble, she knows she can rely on a duke to assist her in setting matters right. To mix our movie metaphors, he's Jason Bourne: He always knows how to get the job done. It doesn't matter that he's had no military training; something in his background has prepared him for the moment when he is called upon. He is as strong, determined, and capable as the heroine at facing dangers and emerging victorious.
A duke is never referred to as "my lord" or merely a lord. Up on the pedestal of his exalted rank, he's above all that. He is addressed as "Your Grace," or simply "Duke" if no other duke is around to create confusion.. And of course, a lady who marries a Duke becomes a duchess. She is not "Lady So-and-so" or "My lady," rather she is "Duchess" or "Your Grace." Much more elegant.
It isn't just celebrity worship — in historical romances, the social ladder matters. Marriage to a duke elevates the lady's social status, which is the reason that so many American heiresses flocked to Great Britain in the late 19th century. They would, of course, settle for a lesser rank if need be, but a duke was always considered the prize.
Yes, every lady, every heroine, dreams of having a duke of her own. It matters not if he's wicked, wayward, dangerous, and scandalous – and he usually is. Ladies set out to romance, tame, and reform him. But on her terms — this man of power, influence, and prestige presents a challenge to the heroine, one she is more than capable of facing. She is his equal in character, strength, and determination, and quite adept at bringing him to heel.
The duke always gets the leading role and the leading lady. Who doesn't want to be the leading lady?
Lorraine Heath always dreamed of being a writer. In 1990, she read a romance novel and became not only hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She's been writing about them ever since.