Dowager (pronounced dów əjər ) is the widow of a man who held a title. She can continue to use the title she had during his lifetime as long as his successor is not married because his wife would have that title.
Maybe this will make more sense if I use an example that's probably familiar to many people: Downton Abbey.
I haven't watched many episodes, so I may not have all the backstory straight, but I'll give it a shot.
The fabulous woman pictured above is Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.
She is the mother of the current Lord Grantham. But, because he has a wife, his wife is known as Lady Grantham, so Violet becomes the dowager.
Also, going back to last week's Regency 101 discussion of Lady Firstname vs. Lady Lastname, notice that Lord Grantham's daughters are known as Lady Mary, Lady Elizabeth and Lady Sybil because their father is an earl.
In my book, Lady Katherine's Comeuppance (to be released August 14 by LazyDay Publishing), Katherine's husband has died, leaving her as a dowager, regardless of the manner in which people refer to her, because she is the widow of the former earl.
I don't know about you, but when I think of a "dowager", I picture someone old and maybe even someone with a dowager's hump. Well, Lady Katherine is far from that.
Thomas, the American who inherits the title Earl of Winchester from a distant cousin, is just as confused by the term dowager as I am. Here, the solicitor for the estate tries to explain things to him.
Thomas, the Earl of Winchester shook his head from side to side in slow disbelief. “To tell you the truth, Mr. Whitmore, I had myself convinced this whole thing was some sort of big mistake or a prank, though who would go to so much expense to make a fool of me, I do not know.”
“I assure you, sir, this is all quite serious. The duties of the Earl of Winchester are numerous and there are many people whose livelihood will depend upon you.”
“Why? Did I inherit some children?”
“No, my lord, the tenants on the estate. They work the land, which is owned by you, and in exchange they pay a portion of their profits to the estate. But it will be up to you to manage the estate, the grounds and the fields, in order to ensure their success.”
Thomas’ brow furrowed. “You told me my cousin died a year ago. Who has been running things since that time?”
“There is a steward who manages the day to day operations. In addition,” here the solicitor paused, unsure of how much to share with Thomas of his new life, “Lady Katherine Winchester, the dowager countess, your cousin’s widow, continues on at the estate and, I understand, is very much involved in the day to day operations.”
Thomas cocked his head to one side. “Dowager? Is she infirm?”
Percy sighed and hoped his annoyance did not show. “No, my lord. Dowager refers to the widow of an earl. It has nothing to do with age or infirmity.” Had he elaborated, he might have mentioned that Lady Katherine was known to be an energetic and lively participant in ton social gatherings, or at least she had been before she entered a period of mourning for her husband, though he believed the proper period of time for a respectable mourning had passed.
“What shall become of her?”
Here the solicitor paused, peering over his steepled fingers at Thomas, before he answered. “That,” he said, “would appear to be up to you.”
The new earl raised his eyebrows in a silent quest for explanation.
“She has no family. Her mother is now deceased, so Lady Katherine is quite alone. She does have a small income of her own which is the result of monies settled upon her by her family when she married. As the dowager, she is entitled to continue on as a member of the household, though where she resides is up to you.” The solicitor shuffled some papers on his desk.
“Are you saying she and I will live together?”
Yet again, the American’s directness stunned the solicitor. “I assume that is one option. I believe currently the countess has a hired companion who lives with her, for the sake of propriety. In most cases, the dowager is set up in a separate, smaller household, of her own,” he said. “Unless she remarries.”
“So why is what happens to her up to me? I am not expected to marry her am I? I inherited my cousin’s title and estate but I’d like to select my own wife, if I ever decide I need one.”
“Of course, Lady Winchester is not property to be inherited. She is a lady, in every sense of the word.” The solicitor felt the color in his face rise at the suggestion that such a fine, and beautiful, woman would be included in an estate like a clock or family Bible.
“I believe we have covered all of the documents which needed your attention, my lord,” the solicitor said, changing the subject. “If you would like, I would be happy to travel with you to your new London residence and make the proper introductions.”
Thomas looked the solicitor up and down, scanned the pile of papers on his desk and stood up. “Thank you, but I believe I would prefer to make my own introductions.”
As the man left, the solicitor felt a pang of regret. Watching Lady Winchester and this man’s first interaction would have been the highlight of his day. If not his whole week.
Blurb: The House of Winchester is set on its ear when Thomas, a distant cousin of the recently deceased earl, arrives to assume his role as Lord Winchester. In addition to an elegant London home and a luxurious country estate, Thomas "inherits" Lady Katherine, the widow of the former earl. Lady Katherine, herself the daughter of an earl, is horrified that a barbaric American will not only be the new lord of the manor, but also responsible for her future support and livelihood. Lady Katherine is determined to maintain her position in society and equally determined to ignore the brash American. That is, until their passions override their good judgment.
When a scandal erupts and forces them to marry, Thomas uses both tenderness and discipline to prepare his wife to face society and regain her good name. Will this fine English Lady surrender to the American?