A duchy is a territory, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess. The term is used almost exclusively in Europe, where the only remaining sovereign duchy is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Some historic duchies were sovereign in areas that would become unified realms only during the Modern era, such as Germany and Northern Italy. 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, was generally independent and sovereign. Sovereign duchies were common in the Holy Roman Empire 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, 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") 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 Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. These were Schwaben, Bayern and Sachsen in pre-Carolingian times, to which Franken and Lothringen were added in post-Carolingian times. Such a duke was titled Herzog.

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".[1] 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 symbolic character (see Duke). No independent duchy exists today, except for Luxembourg, which is an independent country formally called a grand duchy.

See also

Grand Duchies

Duchies in Austria, Germany, Italy, Bohemia and the Low Countries (i.e. Holy Roman Empire)

Duchies in the Kingdom of Italy (part of the Holy Roman Empire)

Duchies in the Papal States

Duchies in the Kingdom of Naples

Duchy in Denmark

Duchies in England

Duchies in France

Duchies in Poland

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


  1. ^ The Second War of the Roses

External links

  • The Duchy of Cornwall - The Duchy of Cornwall official web-site