A duke can either be a monarch ranked below the emperor, king, and grand duke ruling over a duchy or a member of royalty or nobility, historically of highest rank, below princes of nobility and grand dukes. The title comes from French duc, itself from the Latin dux, 'leader', a term used in republican Rome to refer to a military commander without an official rank, and later coming to mean the leading military commander of a province. In most countries, the word duchess is the female equivalent. However, in some countries, the term duke is used even for females, and the word duchess is reserved for those who marry dukes.
Following the reforms of Constantine the Great which separated the civilian and military administration of the Roman provinces, a dux became the military commander in each province. The title dux, Hellenised to doux, survived in the Eastern Roman Empire where it continued in several contexts signifying a rank equivalent to a captain or general. Later on, in the 11th century, the title Megas Doux was introduced for the post of commander-in-chief of the entire navy.
During the Middle Ages the title signified first among the Germanic monarchies. Dukes were the rulers of the provinces and the superiors of the counts in the cities and later, in the feudal monarchies, the highest-ranking peers of the king. A duke may or may not be, ipso facto, a member of the nation's peerage: in the United Kingdom and Spain all dukes are/were also peers of the realm, in France some were and some were not, while the term is not applicable to dukedoms of other nations, even where an institution similar to the peerage existed.
During the 19th century, many of the smaller German and Italian states were ruled by Dukes or Grand Dukes. But at present, with the exception of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, there are no dukes ruling as monarchs. Duke remains the highest hereditary title in Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In Sweden, members of the Royal Family are given a personal dukedom at birth. The Pope, as a temporal sovereign, has also, though rarely, granted the title of Duke or Duchess to persons for "services" to the Holy See. In some realms the relative status of "duke" and "prince", as titles borne by the nobility rather than by members of reigning dynasties, varied—e.g., in Italy and the Germany
A woman who holds in her own right the title to such duchy or dukedom, or is the wife of a duke, is normally styled duchess. Queen Elizabeth II, however, is known by tradition as Duke of Normandy in the Channel Islands and Duke of Lancaster in Lancashire.

Duchy and dukedom

A duchy is the territory or geopolitical entity ruled by a duke, whereas his title or area is often called a dukedom. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a fully independent state and its head, the Grand Duke, is a sovereign monarch reigning over his Luxembourgish subjects.
The Duke of Cornwall holds both the dukedom and duchy, the latter being the source of his personal income; those living on the ducal estates are subjects of the British sovereign and owe neither fealty nor services to the duke per se. In Scotland the male heir apparent to the British crown is always the Duke of Rothesay as well, but this is a dukedom without a duchy. Similarly, the British monarch rules and owns the Duchy of Lancaster as Duke of Lancaster, but it is held separately from the Crown, with the income of the duchy estates providing the Sovereign's Privy Purse.
The Channel Islands are two of the three remaining Crown Dependencies, the last vestiges of the lands of the Duchy of Normandy. The Islanders in their loyal toast will say "La Reine, notre Duc". Though the title was apparently renounced under the Treaty of Paris in 1259, the Crown still maintains that the title is retained: "In 1106, William's youngest son Henry I seized the Duchy of Normandy from his brother Robert; since that time, the English Sovereign has always held the title Duke of Normandy," and that "By 1205, England had lost most of its French lands, including Normandy. However, the Channel Islands, part of the lost Duchy, remained a self-governing possession of the English Crown. While the islands today retain autonomy in government, they owe allegiance to The Queen in her role as Duke of Normandy."

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, after Roman power in Western Europe collapsed, the title was still employed in the Germanic kingdoms, usually to refer to the rulers of old Roman provinces.


The Venetians installed a "Duke of Durazzo" during their brief rule over the city and its environs in 1205–1213.
In 1332, Robert of Taranto succeeded his father, Philip. Robert's uncle, John, did not wish to do him homage for the Principality of Achaea, so Robert received Achaea from John in exchange for 5,000 ounces of gold and the rights to the diminished Kingdom of Albania. John took the style of Duke of Durazzo.
In 1368, Durazzo fell to Karl Thopia, who was recognized by Venice as Prince of Albania.


The Visigoths retained the Roman divisions of their kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula and it seems that dukes ruled over these areas. They were the most powerful landowners and, along with the bishops, elected the king, usually from their own midst. They were the military commanders and in this capacity often acted independently from the king, most notably in the latter period before the Muslim invasions.
The army was structured decimally with the highest unit, the thiufa, probably corresponding to about 1,000 people from each civitas. The cities were commanded by counts, who were in turn answerable to the dukes, who called up the thiufae when necessary.


When the Lombards entered Italy, the Latin chroniclers called their war leaders duces in the old fashion. These leaders eventually became the provincial rulers, each with a recognized seat of government. Though nominally loyal to the king, the concept of kingship was new to the Lombards and the dukes were highly independent, especially in central and southern Italy, where the Duke of Spoleto and the Duke of Benevento were de facto sovereigns. In 575, when Cleph died, a period known as the Rule of the Dukes, in which the dukes governed without a king, commenced. It lasted only a decade before the disunited magnates, in order to defend the kingdom from external attacks, elected a new king and even diminished their own duchies to provide him with a handsome royal demesne.
The Lombard kings were usually drawn from the duke pool when the title was not hereditary. The dukes tried to make their own offices hereditary. Beneath them in the internal structure were the counts and gastalds, a uniquely Lombard title initially referring to judicial functions, similar to a count's, in provincial regions


The Franks employed dukes as the governors of Roman provinces, though they also led military expeditions far from their duchies. The dukes were the highest-ranking officials in the realm, typically Frankish, and formed the class from which the kings' generals were chosen in times of war. The dukes met with the king every May to discuss policy for the upcoming year, the so-called Mayfield.
In Burgundy and Provence, the titles of patrician and prefect were commonly employed instead of duke, probably for historical reasons relating to the greater Romanization of those provinces. But the titles were basically equivalent.
In late Merovingian Gaul, the mayors of the palace of the Arnulfing clan began to use the title dux et princeps Francorum: 'duke and prince of the Franks'. In this title, duke implied supreme military control of the entire nation and it was thus used until the end of the Carolingian dynasty in France in 987.

Holy Roman Empire

Stem duchies

The stem duchies were the constituent duchies of the kingdom of Germany at the time of the extinction of the Carolingian dynasty and the transitional period leading to the formation of the Holy Roman Empire later in the 10th century.


Anglo-Saxon times

In Anglo-Saxon England, where the Roman political divisions were largely abandoned, the highest political rank beneath that of king was ealdorman, and the first ealdormen were referred to as duces in the chronicles. The title ealdorman was replaced by the Danish eorl over time. After the Norman conquest, their power and regional jurisdiction was limited to that of the Norman counts.

Late medieval times

created the first English dukedom by naming his eldest son Edward, the Black Prince, as Duke of Cornwall in 1337, after he lost his own title of Duke of Normandy. Upon the death of the Black Prince, the duchy of Cornwall passed to his nine-year-old son, who would eventually succeed his grandfather as Richard II.
The title of Duke of Lancaster was created by Edward III in 1351 for Henry of Grosmont, but became extinct upon the duke's death in 1361. The following year, Edward III bestowed the title on his fourth son, John of Gaunt, who was also married to the first duke's daughter. On the same day Edward III also created his second son, Lionel of Antwerp, as Duke of Clarence.
All five of Edward III's surviving sons eventually became dukes. In 1385, ten years after their father's death, his heir Richard II created dukedoms for his last two uncles on the same day. Thomas of Woodstock was named Duke of Gloucester and Edmund of Langley became Duke of York, thereby founding the House of York, which later fought for the throne with John of Gaunt's Lancastrian descendants during the Wars of the Roses.
By 1483, a total of 16 ducal titles had been created: Cornwall, Lancaster, Clarence, Gloucester, York, Ireland, Hereford, Aumale, Exeter, Surrey, Norfolk, Bedford, Somerset, Buckingham, Warwick and Suffolk. Some became extinct, others had multiple creations, and some had merged with the crown upon the holder's accession to the throne. When the Plantagenet dynasty came to an end at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485, only four ducal titles remained extant, of which two were now permanently associated with the crown. John de la Pole was Duke of Suffolk and John Howard was Duke of Norfolk, while the duchy of Cornwall was reserved as a title and source of income for the eldest son of the sovereign, and the duchy of Lancaster was now held by the monarch.
Norfolk perished alongside Richard III at Bosworth field, and the title was forfeit. It was restored to his son Thomas thirty years later by Henry VIII, as one of a number of dukes created or recreated by the Tudor dynasty over the ensuing century. England's premier ducal title, Norfolk, remains in the Howard family to this day.

The modern age

In the 19th century, the sovereign dukes of Parma and Modena in Italy, and of Anhalt, Brunswick-Lüneburg, Nassau, 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 thirty-five dukedoms in the Peerage of England, Peerage of Scotland, Peerage of Great Britain, Peerage of Ireland and Peerage of the United Kingdom, held by thirty different people, as three people hold two dukedoms and one holds three.
All Dukedoms in the UK apart from the Duchy of Lancaster are inherited through the male line only, and the word Duchess is only used for the wife of a Duke. Dukes of Lancaster are called Dukes even when they are female, and by tradition the monarch of the UK is known in the Channel Islands as the Duke of Normandy whether male or female.

Equivalents in other European languages

See for equivalents in other European languages.

Royal dukes

Various royal houses traditionally awarded 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 and France, Portugal and some former colonial possessions such as Brazil and Haiti.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, ducal titles which have been given within the royal family include Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Clarence, Duke of York, Duke of Gloucester, Duke of Bedford, Duke of Cumberland, Duke of Cambridge, Duke of Rothesay, Duke of Albany, Duke of Ross, Duke of Edinburgh, Duke of Kent, Duke of Sussex, and Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.
Following his abdication in 1936 the former King Edward VIII was given the title Duke of Windsor.


In Belgium, the title of Duke of Brabant is awarded to the heir apparent of the monarch, other dynasts receiving various lower historical titles, such as Count of Flanders and Prince of Liège.


Denmark's kings gave appanages in their twin-duchies of Schleswig-Holstein to younger sons or their male-line descendants, with a specific though not sovereign title of Duke, e.g., Duke of Gottorp, Duke of Sønderborg, Duke of Augustenborg, Duke of Franzhagen, Duke of Beck, Duke of Glücksburg and Duke of Nordborg.

Iberian peninsula

When the Christian Reconquista, sweeping the Moors from the former Caliphate of Córdoba and its taifa-remnants, transformed the territory of former Suevic and Visigothic realms into Catholic feudal principalities, none of these warlords was exactly styled Duke. A few started as Count, but soon all politically relevant princes were to use the royal style of King.


In Portugal, the title of Duke was granted for the first time in 1415 to infante Peter and infante Henry, the second and third sons of king John I, following their participation in the successful Conquest of Ceuta. Pedro became the first Duke of Coimbra and Henry the first Duke of Viseu.
From the reign of king Manuel I, the title of Duke of Beja was given to the second son of the monarch. This was changed during the Liberal regime in the 19th century, when the first infante got the title of Duke of Porto and the second infante was known as Duke of Beja.
There are examples of Duke as a subsidiary title, granted to the most powerful noble Houses:
Usually, the title of Duke was granted to relatives of the Royal Family, such as the infantes or natural sons of the monarch. There are exceptions, such as António José de Ávila, who, although not having any relation to the royal family, was given the title of duke of Ávila and Bolama in the 19th Century.


Spanish infantes and infantas were usually given a dukedom upon marriage, excepting the heir apparent who is the Prince of Asturias. This title is nowadays not hereditary but carries a Grandeza de España. The current royal duchesses are: the Duchess of Badajoz, the Duchess of Soria , and the Duchess of Lugo.
In Spain all the dukes hold the court rank of Grande, i.e., Grandee of the realm, which had precedence over all other feudatories.

Nordic countries

The Northern European duchies of Halland, Jutland, Lolland, Osilia and Reval existed in the Middle Ages. The longest-surviving duchy was Schleswig, i.e., Sonderjylland. Its southern neighbor, the duchy of Holstein, in personal union with the Danish crown, was nonetheless always a German principality. The two duchies jointly became a member of the German Bundesland as "Schleswig-Holstein" in the 19th century.
In Sweden, medieval duchies of Finland, Södermanland, Skåne, and Halland were some appanages for princes of the reigning dynasty. In modern times almost every province in Sweden was used as the territorial designation for a royal prince's dukedom.
Sweden had a history of making the sons of its kings ruling princes of vast duchies, but this ceased in 1622. Only one non-royal person was ever given a dukedom. In 1772, King Gustav III reinstated the appointment of dukes but as a non-hereditary title for his brothers. Since then, all Swedish princes have been created dukes of a province at birth. When the 1810 Act of Succession was amended to allow female succession to the throne, King Carl XVI Gustaf's eldest daughter Victoria became Crown Princess and received the title of Duchess of Västergötland. The practice of conferring ducal titles has since extended to Swedish princesses as well as princes. Currently, there are five dukes and four duchesses in their own right. The territorial designations of these dukedoms refer to ten of the Provinces of Sweden.
Key parts of Finland were sometimes under a Duke of Finland during the Swedish reign. Some of the provinces are still considered duchies for the purposes of heraldry.

France and other former monarchies

See appanage and the list in the geographical section below, which also treats special ducal titles in orders or national significance.


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 and three temporal, each time above three counts of the same social estate:
The Prince-Bishops with ducal territories among them were:
Later, the Archbishop of Paris was given the title of duc de Saint-Cloud with the dignity of peerage, but it was debated if he was an ecclesiastical peer or merely a bishop holding a lay peerage.
The secular dukes in the peerage of the realm were, again in order of precedence:
The theory of the participation of the peers in the coronation was laid down in the late 13th century, when some of the peerage had already been merged in the crown.
At the end of this same century, the king elevated some counties into duchies, a practice that increased up until the Revolution. Many of these duchies were also peerages.

Italy, Germany and Austria

In Italy, Germany and Austria the title of "duke" was quite common. As the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was until its dissolution a feudal structure, most of its Dukes were actually reigning in their lands. As the titles from the HRE were taken over after its dissolution, or in Italy after their territories became independent of the Empire, both countries also had a share of fully sovereign dukes. Also, in Germany in many ducal families every agnate would bear the ducal title of the family as a courtesy title.
In Italy some important sovereign ducal families were the Visconti and the Sforza, who ruled Milan; the Savoy in Piedmont; the Medici of Florence; the Farnese of Parma and Piacenza; the Cybo-Malaspina of Massa; the Gonzaga of Mantua; the Este of Modena and Ferrara.
In Germany, important ducal families were the Wittelsbachs in Bavaria, the Welfs in Hannover, the ducal family of Cleves, the Wettins in Saxony, the Württembergs and the Mecklenburgs. In the German Confederation the Nassaus, the Ascanians of Anhalt, the Welf branch of Brunswick and the Ernestine lines of the Saxon duchies were the sovereign ducal families.
In Austria, "Archduke" was the title borne from 1358 by the Habsburg rulers of the Archduchy of Austria, and later by all senior members of that dynasty.

Elsewhere in Europe


In the Kingdom of Hungary no ducal principalities existed but duchies were often formed for members of the dynasty as appanages. During the rule of the Árpád dynasty dukes held territorial powers, some of them even minted coins, but later this title became more often nominal.
These duchies usually were
In the Jagellonian era only two dukes did not belong to the royal dynasty: John Corvin and Lőrinc Újlaki, and both bore the title as royal dukes.
After the Battle of Mohács the Habsburg kings rewarded Hungarian aristocrats with princely titles, but they created these titles as Holy Roman Emperors, not as kings of Hungary.


The Byzantines retained the title dux, transcribed as doux in Greek. As in the later Roman Empire, it remained a military office and was not a feudal or hereditary rank. In the 10th century, it was given to the military commanders over several themata, and in the late 11th century it became used for the governor of a thema.
When the Catholic crusaders overran the Byzantine Empire in the Fourth Crusade, they installed several crusader states, some of which were of ducal rank:
In Italy and other western countries, the later Byzantine appanages of the Palaiologan period were sometimes translated as duchies: the Morea, Mesembria, Selymbria and Thessaloniki. The Greek rank of their holders, however, was that of despotes.
In the independent Kingdom of Greece, the style of Duke of Sparta was instituted in 1868 upon the birth of the future Constantine I as a distinct title for the Crown Prince of Greece.

Slavic and nearby countries

Generally, confusion reigns whether to translate the usual ruler titles, knyaz/ knez/ książe etc. as Prince or as Duke;
After Belgium and the Netherlands separated in 1830, the title of duke no longer existed in the Netherlands. There is, however, one exception; the title Hertog van Limburg still exists. This title, however, is an exclusive title for the head of state.

Post-colonial non-European states

Empire of Brazil

In the Empire of Brazil duke was the highest rank for people born outside the imperial house and only three dukedoms were created. Two of these titles were for relatives of Emperor Pedro I: an illegitimate daughter and a brother-in-law who received the title when married to Pedro I's daughter Maria II. The third, given to Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, was the only dukedom created during the reign of Pedro II. None of these titles were hereditary, just like every other title in the Brazilian nobility system.


The royal Christophe dynasty created eight hereditary dukedoms, in rank directly below the nominal princes. They were short-lived and only recognised in the country.


Like other major Western noble titles, Duke is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-western languages. "Duke" is used even though those titles are generally etymologically and often historically unrelated and thus hard to compare. However, they are considered roughly equivalent, especially in hierarchic aristocracies such as feudal Japan, useful as an indication of relative rank.


Indian feudal system cannot be fully translated to its European counterparts. The closest equivalent to the title of Sovereign Duke is Rao and to a feudal duchy, a large jagir. Thus, a Rao or a Jagirdar, Deshmukh, Patil and Zamindar are closely equivalent to a Duke.

Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran

Duke in Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran after Mongolian war against them, was added as generals and kings of districts or states but in the Kingdom of Persians and Ottomans, the systems cannot be fully translated to its European counterparts so they called those generals and kings as Khan, a Mongolian royal and noble rank from the Turco-Mongol word for "lord," equal to Duke. After, revolutions and falling Empire system in those countries, those Khans and the other equal ranks titles added to the titleholder's surnames and the ranking system as usual was disqualified as an official ranking.


During the era of feudalism in Ancient China, the title of gōng was sparingly granted. In a tradition called "Three Deferences and Two Royal Descendants", the three former royal houses were granted the title of Duke. For the Zhou dynasty, this would be the descendants of the Xia Dynasty and Shang Dynasty; their dukedoms were respectively the states of Qi and Song. When the rulers of these states called at the Zhou court, the king greeted them as equals, out of deference for their former status as royalty.
Noble titles also existed in subsequent periods.
The Duke of Yansheng noble title was granted to the descendants of Confucius. In 1935, the Nationalist Government changed the title to Sacrificial Official to Confucius, which still exists as an office of the Republic of China, de facto hereditary.
Dukedoms and other lesser titles were also awarded, sometimes posthumously, during the imperial period of Chinese history to recognize distinguished civil and military officials. For example, Emperor Lizong of Song granted the posthumous title Duke of Hui to the Neo-Confucian thinker Zhu Xi.


The Javanese kingdom of Majapahit, which dominated eastern Java in the 14th and 15th centuries, was divided into nagara. The administration of these nagara was entrusted to members of the royal family, who bore the title of Bhre—i.e., Bhra i, "lord of", followed by the name of the land they were entrusted with: for example a sister of king Hayam Wuruk was "Bhre Lasem", "lady of Lasem". This system was similar to the Apanage system in Western Europe.
Sultan Agung, king of Mataram in Central Java, would entrust the administration of territories he gradually conquered all over the island of Java, to officials bearing the title of Adipati, this title is hereditary. Such territories were called Kadipaten. Prior to the unification of Java by Sultan Agung, independent kadipatens also exist, e.g. the Duchy of Surabaya which was conquered by Agung in 1625.
The VOC, while gradually taking control of Javanese territory, would maintain the existing Mataram administrative structure. Adipati were called "regenten" in Dutch, and the territories they administered, "regentschappen".
In the 19th century, the Javanese term for regent was bupati. French traveller Gérard Louis Domeny de Rienzi mentions bapati.
The bupati have been maintained in the modern Indonesian administrative subdivision structure, heading a kabupaten, the subdivision of a provinsi or province.
The word Adipati is still found in the official title of the hereditary dukes Mangkunegara of Surakarta and Paku Alam of Yogyakarta—i.e., Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Adipati Arya.


In the Kingdom of Benin, a viceroyal chieftain that is known as an Enogie in the Edo language is usually referred to as a duke in English. Often a cadet of the dynasty that produces the oba of Benin, the enogie is expected to rule his domain as he sees fit, subject to the approval of the oba.
In Ife, Oyo and the other kingdoms of Nigerian Yorubaland, a viceroyal chieftain is known as a Baale in the Yoruba language. He is barred from wearing a crown as a matter of tradition, and is generally seen as the reigning representative of his oba, the monarch who has the right to wear one.

In fiction

Dukes and duchesses have appeared in various works of fiction. For examples of fictional dukes and duchesses, see List of fictional nobility#Dukes and duchesses.