It is a very rare, but very British, get together.

Ten wealthy men recently gathered for oysters and Dover sole at a swanky London establishment, ten wealthy men who are all distantly related to each other and are each addressed "Your Grace."

These ten men are all dukes, and it was the largest gathering of dukes in the same place since the Queen's coronation in 1953.

The very first dukedom was created in 1337 when King Edward III created his son, the Black Prince, the Duke of Cornwall.

Traditionally, the rank of duke is the highest rank below the monarch, and each duke controls a duchy.

Today there are just 24 dukes, down from a peak of 40 during the Georgian era (1714-1830).

One of them is John Seymour, 19th Duke of Somerset, a direct descendant of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife.

Arthur Wellesley, 8th Duke of Wellington, is a direct descendant of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who led the British Army in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and was Prime Minister from 1828-1830 and again in 1834. The present Duke of Wellington also served in the British Army.

The 8th Duke of Montrose is the descendant of the 6th Duke of Montrose, who invented the aircraft carrier during World War I.

The gathering was to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Tatler, a magazine which focuses on the social trends of the upper classes (there are two magazines called Tatler in Britain).

The original tatler was founded in 1709 by Richard Steele to publish the news and gossip (tittle-tattle) heard in London's coffeehouses, hence the name Tatler.

Ten dukes-a-dining: Gathered together over lunch for a unique picture, the grandees with 2bn and 340,000 acres between them

By Robert Hardman
07th October 2009
Daily Mail

At first glance, it might resemble the board meeting of a firm of auctioneers or a convention of prep school headmasters.

On closer inspection, it is actually a remarkable portrait of the grandest club in Britain, a super-elite who account for some 340,000 acres, more than 2billion and 4,505 years of aristocratic moving and shaking.

Some owe their fortunes to bravery in battle, others to royal philandering or political chicanery. But they are all distantly related to each other and they are all addressed in exactly the same way: Your Grace.

Outside the Royal Family, dukedoms have only ever been granted to a handful of men of power and influence.

The assembled: (from left to right) 1. James Graham, 8th Duke of Montrose; 2. David Manners, 11th Duke of Rutland; 3. John Seymour, 19th Duke of Somerset; 4. Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland; 5. Andrew Russell, 15th Duke of Bedford; 6. Edward Fizalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk; 7. Torquhil Campbell, 18th Duke of Argyll; 8. Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Duke of Leinster; 9. Murray Beauclerk, 14th Duke of St Albans; 10. Arthur Wellesey, 8th Duke of Wellington. See list below for details

Dukes are just one rung down from royalty in the social pecking order and enjoy a special status way above the rank and file of the aristocracy. As peerages go, it's the jackpot.

Today, there are just 24 non-royal dukes in existence, down from a total of 40 in their Georgian heyday. And it's fair to say that no modern monarch or government is likely to create any more.

So, to celebrate its 300th birthday, Tatler magazine decided to invite this dwindling band of mega-toffs to a ducal lunch. The result was the largest gathering of dukes since the Coronation of 1953.

Some were too frail to attend. Some live abroad. But ten of them gathered for oysters and Dover sole in London's clubland. And the result is this intriguing study of 21st century nobility.

'After 300 years, we wanted to recapture the spirit of the original Tatler, and what better than a room full of dukes,' says Tatler editor Catherine Ostler.

Once, the holders of these titles would have been the A-list celebrities of their time. Today, most people would be pushed to name a single one of them.

An 1844 photograph of the 1st Duke of Wellington, who led the British Army at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and was Prime Minister from 1828-1830 and again in 1834. Today's 8th Duke of Wellington is a descendant

With hereditary peers cast out into the political wilderness, dukes might seem little more than a comic anachronism in modern Britain. While they retain their rank and social clout, their only power is financial.

In the case of, say, the Duke of Bedford, this amounts to 500million in art, London property and a large slab of Home Counties commuter belt. As for the Duke of Leinster, whose grandfather ran a teashop, it is next to nothing.

A very special edition: The picture appears in the November issue of Tatler magazine

Yet many dukes still play an active part in public life. The Duke of Norfolk, as hereditary Earl Marshal, is still responsible for organising the State Opening of Parliament and any coronations which should occur.

The Duke of Northumberland runs several public bodies across the North East while his wife is the local Lord Lieutenant.

The very first dukedom was a royal affair. In 1337, Edward III created his son, the Black Prince, the Duke of Cornwall.

John Seymour, 19th Duke of Somerset, is a descendant of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife

The title derives from the Latin dux - leader - and, throughout history, fewer than 500 British men have held the rank of 'Duke'.

The last non-royal dukedom was created in 1900 for the former Earl of Fife, who was upgraded to Duke following his wedding to Queen Victoria's granddaughter.

There might have been a new one in 1955 when the Queen offered one to Churchill, but he declined, preferring to die a commoner.

The only non-duke at the Tatler gathering was historian Andrew Roberts, invited to chronicle the event.

'They're all related and they all stick up for each other,' he recalls.

But he fears that dukes could become an endangered species. 'Not long ago, two important dukedoms - Newcastle and Portland - became extinct,' says the historian.

The Black Prince, the son of King Edward III, became the first duke in 1337

'So, my parting plea to the dukes was simple, even if it startled some of them. I simply said: 'Keep procreating!'

The Who's Who of Dukedom:

1 James Graham, 8th Duke of Montrose

Age: 72.
Title created: 1707. Other titles include Viscount Dundaff and Lord Aberuthven, Mugdock and Fintrie.
Seat: Auchmar, a modest estate near Loch Lomond.
Wealth: A high-ranking, but lower league landowner with 8,800 acres valued at around 1 million in 2001.
History: The dukedom was awarded for supporting the Act of Union in 1707. The sixth Duke helped to invent the aircraft carrier during World War I. The present Duke spent part of his childhood in a mud hut in Rhodesia (where his father was building a farm). Instead of the usual Eton education, he attended Loretto School in Edinburgh - just like the Chancellor, Alistair Darling.
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2 David Manners, 11th Duke of Rutland

Age: 50.
Title created: 1703. Other titles include Marquess of Granby and Baron Roos of Belvoir.
Seat: Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire.
Wealth: Ranked 474th in the latest Rich List, he is valued at 115 million. Estates across Leicestershire (12,000 acres), Derbyshire (10,000 acres), Cambridgeshire (4,000 acres) and Lincolnshire (2,000 acres).
History: While the main seat, Belvoir, is a magnificent 365-room pile with an underground railway and 100 million of art, the family also owns Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, widely recognised as one of Britain's finest medieval and Tudor manor houses. A previous Marquess of Granby (later the third duke) was a popular soldier and helped many of his men with their retirement, hence the number of pubs called the Marquess of Granby. Rutland is England's smallest county, and the smallest normal unitary authority in mainland England after the City of London (the Square Mile).
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3 John Seymour, 19th Duke of Somerset

Age: 56. Title created: 1547. His other title is Lord Seymour.
Seat: Maiden Bradley, Somerset.
Wealth: Around 5,000 acres of Somerset, including several villages.
History: He is a descendant of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife. The first Duke of Somerset, Edward Seymour, was Jane's brother.
The family owns the fourposter oak bed in which King Edward VI (the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour) is said to have been conceived.
Having rented out his main house at 50,000 a year, the Duke runs the estate from a smaller house in Devon.

4 Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland

Age: 52.
Title created: 1766. Other titles include Earl Percy, Earl of Beverley, Baron Warkworth.
Seat: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.
Wealth: With 132,000 acres, Syon Park in West London and a substantial art collection, he is valued at 300 million and ranked No. 178 on the latest Rich List.
History: Part of the original Norman Conquest gang, the Percy family have been dominant in their part of the country for centuries. Alnwick Castle is the authentic knight-in-shining-armour fortress and has featured in Blackadder and the Harry Potter films. The present Duke recently sold a Raphael painting to the nation for 22 million, a deal which attracted controversy because of the use of Lottery funds. The newly-refurbished Alnwick Garden is a major tourist attraction.
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5 Andrew Russell, 15th Duke of Bedford

Age: 47.
Title created: 1694. Other titles include Marquess of Tavistock and Baron Howland
Seat: Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire
Wealth: Valued at 489million. Owns 23,000 acres and prime central London real estate.
History: The first Duke fought on both sides in the Civil War and was ennobled after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The family has made Woburn Abbey a major tourist attraction and the present Duke is busy refurbishing much of the London estate (significantly smaller than it once was after much of it became part of London University).
The family were stars of the BBC's Country House series.
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6 Edward Fizalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk

Age: 53.
Title created: 1483. Other titles include Earl of Surrey and Baron Maltravers.
Seat: Arundel Castle, West Sussex.
Wealth: Half his 30,000 acres are in leafy West Sussex, while the family also owns a ten-acre parcel of London valued at 100 million in 2001.
History: As England's senior duke, Norfolk carries the hereditary title of Earl Marshal. As such, he plays an important role in running state occasions. The family's royal links stretch back centuries and the present Duke's wife, Georgina, stands in for the Queen at rehearsals of the State Opening of Parliament. The Duke's eldest son and heir, Henry, the Earl of Arundel, 21, is a promising Formula Three driver.
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7 Torquhil Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll

Age: 41.
Title created: 1701. Other titles include Marquess of Kintyre and Lorne, Viscount Lochow and Glenilla and Lord Morvern.
Seat: Inveraray Castle, Argyllshire.
Wealth: Family owns 60,000 acres of Scotland, valued at 12.5m in 2001.
History: The dukedom comes with plenty of baggage, including the hereditary posts of Master of HM's Household in Scotland and Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland.
The family suffered serious scandal in the Sixties, when the divorce proceedings of the 11th duke unearthed a famous photograph of his soon-to-be former wife with a mysterious naked man. The present duke, when not working in the whisky trade, is captain of the Scottish elephant polo team.

8 Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Duke of Leinster

Age: 61.

Title created: 1766. Other titles include Marquess of Kildare and Earl of Offaly
Seat: Formerly Carton House, Co. Kildare. Now a farmhouse in Oxfordshire.
Wealth: No landholdings of any note, the Duke works as a landscape gardener.
History: The FitzGeralds, an Irish family, assisted Edward I in his battles against the Scots. The family fortunes declined in the 20th century after the 7th Duke sold his interests in the family estates and was then declared bankrupt. His fourth wife, with whom he opened a teashop in Rye in 1965, was the caretaker of the block of flats in which he lived. Educated at Millfield, the present Duke is president of the Oxfordshire Dyslexia Association.

9 Murray Beauclerk, 14th Duke of St Albans

Age: 70. Title created: 1684. Other titles include Earl of Burford, and Baron Heddington.
Seat: A terrace house in Knightsbridge, London.
Wealth: Never a great landowning family, the Beauclerks were said to own 4,000 acres, worth 12m, in 2001.
History: The first Duke was the illegitimate son of Charles II and Nell Gwyn. Though the present Duke is a Tonbridge-educated chartered accountant, an eccentric strain still runs through family.
His heir, the Earl of Burford, has long campaigned to prove his ancestor, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the works of Shakespeare. In 1999, the young Earl was forcibly expelled from the House of Lords for jumping on the Woolsack (the seat of the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords, so named because it is stuffed with wool and covered with red cloth. Unusually, it has no arms or back) and accusing the Government of treason in its expulsion of hereditary peers.

10 Arthur Wellesley, 8th Duke of Wellington

Age: 94.
Title created: 1814. Other titles include Prince of Waterloo, Duke of Vittoria and Earl of Mornington.
Seat: Stratfield Saye House, Hampshire and Apsley House, London.
Wealth: 7,000-acre Hampshire estate, 20,000 acres of Belgium and Spain. Thought to be worth 50m in 2001.
History: Like the original Iron Duke, the present Duke had a long Army career, winning the Military Cross and reaching the rank of Brigadier. In later life, he has devoted himself to his estates and charities, coming top in Country Life's 'Good Duke Guide' in 1991. His heir, the Marquess of Douro, is a former Tory MEP while his daughter, Lady Jane Wellesley, was once talked of as a bride for the Prince of Wales. More recent beaux include Melvyn Bragg and Loyd Grossman.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Oct 8th, 2009 at 12:33 PM..