Tuesday, August 19, 2014

M. le Comte de Rateliff

So, thanks to Janice for the following link, to a short film called THE DUEL AT BLOOD CREEK [2010]. For the first thirty or forty seconds I thought it was a remake of/tribute to the opening scene of Arthur and his squire from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, leading into the Black Knight/You Shall Not Pass episode, recast into eighteenth century garb. But it turned out the filmmaker (Leo Burton) was up to something cleverer than that. Here's the link (be warned, though, that it includes some unbleeped profanity):


Watching this makes me want to dig out my copy of EN GARDE, one of the earliest rpgs [GDW, 1975], part of the first wave of post D&D-games, when imitators of Gygax and Arneson were trying to expand the concept into other genres (another example being TSR's own BOOT HILL). In EN GARDE,  PCs are gallants in the era of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and might rise to be Musketeers themselves (or alternately their chief rivals, the Cardinal's Guard), if they live long enough (which, given the lethality of the dueling system, is unlikely).

And, speaking of France in the ancien regime, while looking up something entirely unrelated a few nights ago, I came across a wholly unexpected appearance of the name RATELIFF in an unusual context: one 'M. le Comte de Rateliff' who was, at least according to an online scan of the ALMANACH ROYAL,* one of the 'marechaux de camp** in the French army in Janvier (January) 1770. It's quite unusual to come across folks who spell the name the same way I do (with the silent e), and I've never seen it in a French context before (according to family tradition it's either German altered to sound more English, or English altered to sound more 'American'); it's probably English, one of a number of inadvertent variants of Ratcliffe (which goes way back in England; one of Richard III's chief henchmen, in both Shakespeare's play and real life, was a Ratcliffe).

So, interesting, but not significant. I assume this title 'Comte de Rateliff' vanished, probably along with the family, during the Revolution that followed less than twenty years later. Still, I'll keep my eye out, in case I come across more references to them down the road.

--John R.
current reading: THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA by Philip Roth [2004], the Fifth Edition PLAYER'S HANDBOOK [July 2014]


**which translates literally to 'Field Marshall', but was apparently instead equivalent to a two-star general.


David Bratman said...

I'll just note two things about the film:
1) Most, though not all, of the music is by Beethoven.
2) The character's title, "Lord Allesbury, 7th Earl of Winchester," makes no sense. In the terminology of British nobility, you'd have to be called one or the other, not both at once. It's a very irritating error that I've seen in other cases. Threw me out of the little secondary world immediately, which I doubt was what was intended.

John D. Rateliff said...

Like Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, 18th baron Dunsany?
Family name: Plunkett
title: baron Dunsany
correct form of address: Lord Dunsany ('lord' being the form that goes with the rank of baron)

Which is why I assume that le Comte de Rateliff's family name was not Rateliff, and that the 'Rateliff' in his title must be a place name somewhere in France. Not that it sounds v. French; perhaps it's somewhere on the eastern frontier. But I know next to nothing about the French peerage (only what I've picked up from Warnie L.); their system might differ from English usage.

--John R.

David Bratman said...

"Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, 18th baron Dunsany" is an incorrect way to refer to him.

First, "Lord Dunsany" and "18th baron Dunsany" are redundant and would never be used together. The one is informal, the other more formal and specific (distinguishing him from his ancestors of the same title).

And, once he succeeded to the title, he would never, except in formal documents and biographical reference books, be referred to as "Edward Plunkett" at all, unless he was one of the few peers who didn't use his title (very rare in his day).

The problem with the title of the character in the film is that, not only is it redundant to use two titles, but they're different titles! "Lord Dunsany" and "Baron Dunsany" are at least the same title in different modes of formality. You cannot use two different titles at once.

That's British rules of noble nomenclature. French rules are different, and I don't know them. However in British rules it is possible for your title to be the same as your surname.

David Bratman said...

Let me put it this way.

The idea of Dunsany introducing himself to anyone as "the 18th Baron Dunsany" would be ludicrous to etiquette. Probably he'd just say "Dunsany" while shaking hands, and leave it to you to figure out that he's a lord. (Not difficult for anyone likely to meet him socially: the community of peers is not that large.) Preening yourself on your title would be the act of a cad or bounder.

Some current British practices of informal use of titles were unknown more than about half a century ago; the rise of life peerages, often given to people with no idea how to properly use their titles, has contributed to this.

As for multiple, different titles: many peers have them, but aside from some specialized legal purposes or going incognito, you would never, ever use any but the principal title you currently hold. For one thing, your #2 title is customarily used, as a courtesy, by your heir apparent. So though it's still technically yours, it's not yours to use.