Noblesse Oblige

I’ve been putting together a book discussion guide for the Castle Shade book club kit (like the ones we did for Riviera Gold and Island of the Mad) and wanted to include a question about the idea of noblesse oblige.  So I did…but I have to wonder what kind of conversations that one will prompt.

Queen Marie of Romania

The phrase refers, of course, to the obligations inherent in being a noble.  Those born into the “upper” classes, whether aristocrats or royals, hold the power, but they also (speaking ideally, of course) hold the responsibility.

Without giving any spoilers, I can tell you that the idea permeates Castle Shade, for good and for bad.  In 1925, Romania was still a land of peasants and monarchy.  Its Queen (in many ways more ruler than the king) was a granddaughter of Victoria, raised to the idea of service.  She lived in mind-boggling luxury, yes, with palaces and jewels and servants for every need; she expected her people to literally bow and press her hand to their foreheads when she approached; she never doubted that even the nations’ rulers meeting to divide up Europe after the War would receive her and do as she commanded —and yet this same woman spent her War years nursing the sick and wounded, and did not retreat to England even when her young son died of typhoid as enemy troops approached.

In feudal times, the survival of a region depended on noblesse oblige.  If a duke or king felt no responsibility for his people, they wouldn’t make it when the next kingdom over invaded.  Over the centuries and millennia, boundaries have expanded, until now entire countries are looking at their neighbors and realizing that responsibilities reach beyond national identity.

If you’re reading this, you are almost certainly one of the world’s aristocracy, born into a degree of power and luxury that vast swaths of the world’s population can only begin to imagine.  If bombs are not falling on your head; if your children and neighbors are not wasting from malnutrition; if you need only flip a switch to push away the night; if your brother disappears into a prison you still feel he has rights—then you, like me, are one of our globe’s aristocrats.

So, is all that too much to inflict on a book club discussion?

Castle Shade, out June 8, 2021, here. Order a copy signed from Bookshop Santa Cruz and Poisoned Pen, or from your local Indie bookshop, or Barnes & Noble or Amazon.


  1. Elizabeth Sherry on June 20, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    Just a note that on page 122 of my.copy of Castle Shade, it states that Queen Elizabeth failed to bear King Carlos I a son, then later encouraged an affair between “their eldest son and an unmarriageable lady-in-waiting”. Seems inconsistent. L. Sherry

    • Laurie King on June 21, 2021 at 12:59 pm

      Ah, sorry–the word “eldest” is wrong there. They adopted his nephew Ferdinand, who later married Marie.

  2. Melissa Carter on June 23, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    Ah, thank you for a beautiful reminder of how much we truly have. It’s been a grumpy kind of morning, behind in work, blah, blah, blah, und so weiter. Your exploration of what it means to be an aristocrat today hit me hard, in the best way. I’m OK with my bouts of grumpitude (human, after all!), but I’m looking at my work, the light switches, and even my peanut butter toast breakfast with new feelings of gratitude. Thank you (and thank you for all the many, many hours of delicious reading—oh, how I love the Mary and Sherlock adventures).

    • Laurie King on June 23, 2021 at 4:45 pm

      It’s always a balance, isn’t it, between compulsive gratitude (those starving children in China we were raised with, to whom we’d have been glad to send our unwanted foods) and simple appreciation?

      Grumpitude is a good word…


  3. Karen Speers on July 17, 2021 at 12:49 pm

    A couple weeks ago I had just started reading Castle Shade when the cruise of the Columbia River in Oregon I was on had a shore excursion to Maryhill Museum. This museum is on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River. It is in a beautiful area but it is in the middle of nowhere. Imagine my surprise when I get there and I see that the museum was dedicated by Queen Marie of Roumania in 1926! They had numerous photographs and paintings of the Queen and her family in the museum. Small world!

    • Laurie King on July 19, 2021 at 2:08 pm

      Hah–what a coincidence! And you’re right, it is an unexpected place for it!

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