‘The Gilded Age’: Was The Duke of Buckingham A Real Person? And Will Gladys Marry Him?

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The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 4 “His Grace the Duke” finally introduces some British blue blood to the HBO show. The Duke of Buckingham (Ben Lamb) arrives in town to Bertha Russell’s (Carrie Coon) delight. Everyone’s favorite social climber sabotages rival Mrs. Winterton’s (Kelley Curran) changes to sit next to the duke at dinner, preferring to sneak herself and daughter Gladys (Taissa Farmiga) into his orbit. Gilded Age fans might be swept away by the duke’s arrival, but there’s reason to be wary. That is, of course, if The Gilded Age‘s creator Julian Fellowes sticks with history and marries Gladys to the Duke…

History nerds will know that English nobles, no longer to afford their crumbling mansions during the international rise of industry over agriculture, swarmed New York City during the 1870s and 1880s in search of wealthy new money heiresses to wed. The women who poached these noblemen were nicknamed “buccaneers” and the men were able to keep the British aristocracy going into the 20th century. This practice was the inspiration behind Downton Abbey‘s American Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and led to none other than Winston Churchill being able to trace his mom’s roots to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. However, the most infamous marriage of American money to British nobility was that of socialite Conseulo Vanderbilt to the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895. The bride needed to be locked in her chambers the night before so she wouldn’t run away and tears had to be sponged off her face. The marriage was a disaster and would eventually be annulled.

Because Bertha Russell has been positioned as The Gilded Age‘s stand-in for the imperious and ambitious Alva Vanderbilt, aka Conseulo’s controlling mother, fans have worried for a while that poor, sweet Gladys might share Conseulo’s fate. The arrival of Ben Lamb’s the Duke of Buckingham in The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 4 — and Bertha’s determination to connect him with Gladys — seems to only confirm these theories.

So is Gladys destined to marry the young and handsome Duke of Buckingham? And will she be as reluctant to walk down the aisle as the real Consuelo Vanderbilt was? And is the Duke of Buckingham a real person? Here’s what Gilded Age fans need to know…

Gladys, Bertha, and George Russell in 'The Gilded Age' Season 2
Photo: HBO

Is Gladys Russell Destined to Marry the Duke on The Gilded Age, Like Real-Life Inspiration Consuelo Vanderbilt?

If Gladys Russell is indeed a character inspired by Consuelo Vanderbilt, will they share the same fate? Decider went straight to the source and asked The Gilded Age executive producer Sonja Warfield just how closely fans should expect Gladys’s story to follow that of Consuelo Vanderbilt’s. She admitted there will definitely be similarities, but, more pertinently, differences.

“Well, I mean, Julian is really inspired by that story, as he was inspired by the Vanderbilt story for the [origins of the Metropolitan] Opera House and all of that,” Warfield said, alluding to Bertha taking Alva Vanderbilt’s role as primary champion of new opera house, the Met, in HBO’s The Gilded Age.”Obviously there will be differences and we’ll take artistic license.”

Warfield then admitted, “I mean, that’s the biggest ascension right into society, is if you marry into royalty. Come on, Bertha is gonna be pushing that to the very end, whether Gladys wants it or not.”

So who is the Duke of Buckingham? And is he one of the many real-life figures to make their way into the drama of HBO’s The Gilded Age?

Ben Lamb as the Duke of Buckingham on 'The Gilded age'
Photo: HBO

Who is the Duke of Buckingham on The Gilded Age? The True Story

Although many British and European nobles hobnobbed with American new money families during the 1870s, ’80s, and ’90s, the Duke of Buckingham wasn’t one of them. Ben Lamb’s young and handsome Duke is a fictional character created for The Gilded Age.

So is the Duke of Buckingham a real title? Well, it was. The Duke of Buckingham was a title used on and off in English history. The most famous Duke of Buckingham was probably George Villiers (1592 – 1628). He was the “favorite” of King James I of English, meaning he was the monarch’s lover. Starz’s 2024 series Mary & George will follow the story of George Villiers (Nicholas Galitzine) and his mother Mary (Julianne Moore), so look out for that.

While there were three Dukes of Buckingham and Chados during the 19th century, none of them fit the description of the Duke we meet in The Gilded Age. So he is a fictional creation.

The Gilded Age‘s Duke of Buckingham is played by Ben Lamb, who played another British noble in Starz’s The White Queen and who is best-known for playing the titular prince in Netflix’s The Christmas Prince movies.