The Kardashians may be in the midst of a situation that can be considered “major drama,” even by their high standards, but don’t count out America’s other favorite factory of semi-real, female-fronted television intrigue, The Real Housewives, from pulling some swerves of its own. In a move not even Kris Jenner could have written, the former Real Housewives of New Jersey star Danielle Staub, already safely ensconced in the top 5 percent of most dramatic Housewives ever, has announced that just a week after her divorce became official she is now engaged to a man who claims to be the duke of Provence, and that she will, hence, become a French duchess.
People.com was the first to report the news, though the article itself was careful to attribute the claims of nobility solely to Staub and her new fiancé, Oliver Maier, leaving the Internet to wonder if Staub has truly made her way from girlfriend of a Miami criminal to a televised hot mess to the top of European society with a title on par with that of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
The short answer: Well, no.
Even if the extent of your knowledge of French history is having reblogged stills of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette to your Tumblr, you are probably vaguely aware that monarchy and nobility no longer exist in France in any real way aside from as a social construct (the concept of nobility has popped back up a few times in French history since the revolution of 1790 claimed Marie Antoinette’s head, but it was finally abolished for good in the late 1800s). While legally recognized nobility lingers in countries like England and Denmark, France has been done with it for quite a long while.
Descendants of the former French nobility are allowed to inherit royal titles as part of their legal names, sort of like a special last name, but that name grants the holder no special recognitions, rights, or privileges. Furthermore, as it relates to Staub’s situation, those names can only be passed down from a father to his eldest son. A woman would not be able to legally secure the title “duchess” (or, technically, “duchesse,” in French) by marrying a man who had “duc” in his name.
This is all assuming that Maier actually has any claim to the title “duke of Provence” to begin with. French History buffs on Twitter have pointed out that the title hasn’t been held since 843, and others remain skeptical.
There also seems to be nothing online identify Maier as the duke of Provence before this all broke.
Still, noble heritage is sometimes hard to parse in places where nobility no longer actually exists, and Europe is a continent full of pretenders to various extant thrones and dukedoms. Those German princes and princesses you sometimes read about? They’re not legally recognized as royalty, you know? But who’s to say Maier doesn’t have some sort of story to back up his claim to the dukedom. His family does appear to own two castles, so it’s possible.
Besides, as Americans, we fought an entire war to exclude ourselves from the ultimately problematic European narrative of nobility. Most of us are hopelessly naive when it comes to understanding any of this. Maybe in some way it’s only right, then, that we now recognize Danielle Staub, she of the infamous suburban New Jersey Italian restaurant showdown of 2009, as the true and rightful duchess of Provence. Nobles were people who either lied, stole, schemed, or fought their way to positions of prominence, or else are essentially legally recognized embodiments of “Don’t you know who my father is?” Frankly, European nobility doesn’t sound that different from American reality TV stardom when you think about it. Long live Duchess Danielle! May her wit, wisdom, and warmth bring protection and pride to her subjects in Provence, or whatever it is duchesses are supposed to do.