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A duchy (spelled with capital D when it is part of a country's name or a title of a head of state) is a country, territory, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess. The term is used almost exclusively in Europe, where in present-day there is no sovereign Duchy (i.e. with the status of a nation state) left.

The term "Duke" (resp. "Duchy") should not be confounded with the title "Grand Duke" (resp. "Grand Duchy", such as the present-day Grand Duchy of Luxembourg), as there exists a significant difference of rank between the two.

In common European cultural heritage, a Grand Duke is the third highest monarchic rank, after Emperor and King. Its synonym in many eastern European languages (Russian, Lithuanian etc.) is Grand Prince, whereas most western European languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian etc.) use the expression Grand Duke.[1] Unlike a duke, the sovereign Grand Duke is considered to be part of "Royalty" (i.e. royal nobility, in German: Königsadel). The correct form of address is His Royal Highness (HRH).[2]

In contrast to this, the rank of a Duke differs from one country to the next. In Germany, for example, a Duke is listed in the aristocratic hierarchy below an Emperor (Kaiser), King (König), Grand Duke (Großherzog), Elector (Kurfürst) and Sovereign Prince (Fürst) -in that order-, whereas in Britain the Duke comes third after King/Queen and Prince (there are no British Grand Dukes or Electors).[3]

In all countries existed an important difference between "Sovereign Dukes" and Dukes subordinate to a King or Emperor. Some historic Duchies were sovereign in areas that would become part of nation state realms only during the Modern era, such as Germany (a federal Empire) and Italy (a unified Kingdom). In contrast, others were subordinate districts of those Kingdoms that unified either partially or completely during the Medieval era, such as France, Spain, Sicily, Naples and the Papal States. In England, the term is used in respect of non-territorial entities.


Traditionally, a Grand Duchy, such as Luxembourg or Tuscany (1569-1860), was generally independent and sovereign. There were also many sovereign or semi-sovereign Duchies in the de facto confederate Holy Roman Empire (961-1806) and German-speaking areas.

In France, a number of duchies existed in the medieval period. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom still claims the medieval French title of Duke of Normandy as successor of William the Conqueror, and this provides the legal status of the Channel Islands as Crown Dependencies. Other important French duchies included Burgundy, Brittany, and Aquitaine.

The medieval German Stem duchies (German: Stammesherzogtum, literally "tribal duchy", the official title of its ruler being Herzog, "Duke") were associated with the Frankish Kingdom and corresponded with the areas of settlement of the major Germanic tribes. They formed the nuclei of the major feudal states that comprised the early era of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation (961-1806; in German: Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation).

These were Schwaben (Swabia, mainly the present-day German State of Baden-Württemberg), Bayern (Bavaria) and Sachsen (Saxony) in pre-Carolingian times, to which Franken (Franconia, at present the northern part of the German State of Bavaria) and Lothringen (Lorraine, nowadays mostly part of France) were added in post-Carolingian times. As mentioned before, such a duke was titled Herzog (literally "the one who is leading (the troups)").

In medieval England, duchies associated with the territories of Lancashire and Cornwall were created, with certain powers and estates of land accruing to their dukes. The Duchy of Lancaster was created in 1351 but became merged with the Crown when, in 1399, the duke, Henry Bolingbroke ascended the throne of England as Henry IV. Nowadays the Duchy of Lancaster always belongs to the sovereign and its revenue is the Privy Purse. The Duchy of Cornwall was created in 1337 and held successively by the Dukes of Cornwall, who were also heirs to the throne. Nowadays the Duchy of Cornwall belongs to the sovereign's heir apparent, if any: it reverts to the Crown in the absence of an heir apparent, and is automatically conferred to the heir apparent upon birth. These duchies today have mostly lost any non-ceremonial political role, but generate their holders' private income. During the Wars of the Roses, the Duke of York made a successful entry into the City of York, by merely claiming no harm and that it was his right to possess "his duchy of York".[4] Any and all feudal duchies that made up the patchwork of England have since been absorbed within the Royal Family. Other than Cornwall and Lancaster, British royal dukedoms are titular and do not include land holdings. Non-royal dukedoms are associated with ducal property, but this is meant as the duke's private property, with no other feudal privileges attached.

In more recent times territorial duchies have become rare; most dukedoms conferred in the last few centuries have been of a purely ceremonial or honorific character (see Duke). At present all independent (i.e. sovereign) Duchies have disappeared.

Luxembourg, an independent and sovereign nation with a history dating back as far as the 8th century,[5] is the only remaining Grand Duchy, with HRH the Grand Duke Henri I. (dynasty of Luxembourg-Nassau) as its Head of State since the year 2000.

List of Grand Duchies

(the only still existing Grand Duchy as a sovereign nation)

List of Duchies

Holy Roman Empire

The following duchies were part of the medieval Kingdom of Italy (not to confound with the modern Kingdom of Italy (1860-1945)), which itself was part of the Holy Roman Empire:

Duchies in the Papal States (Holy See)

Duchies in Croatia

Duchies in the Kingdom of Naples

Duchies under Danish rule, but formally part of the Holy Roman Empire

Duchies in England

Duchies in France

Duchies in Poland

Duchies in Baltic States

Duchies in Sweden

All Provinces of Sweden are technically considered duchies. Princes and princesses are given dukedoms of one or more of them. The current such royal duchies are:

Other current or historical duchies

See also

Fictional Duchies

Fictional Grand Duchies


  1. Meyers Taschenlexikon Geschichte 1982, vol. 2, p319
  2. Meyers Taschenlexikon Geschichte 1982, vol.1, p21
  3. Meyers Taschenlexikon Geschichte 1982, vol. 3, p62
  4. The Second War of the Roses
  5. Paul Margue, Luxemburg in Mittelalter und Neuzeit, publ. Bourg-Bourger, Luxembourg City 1974, p13

External links