In May 1914, Thomas Shelby met a Romani girl called Zelda, while at the Appleby Fair. Zelda stole Thomas’ watch and chain, but despite this, later that day they had sex underneath a hazel tree. Zelda became pregnant with Thomas’ child and when her father found out, he shot Thomas in the chest with a squirrel gun. Her father wanted to kill Thomas, but before he could do so, Thomas was sent away to fight in WWI and never saw Zelda again.
In early 1915, Zelda gave birth to their son, who was born with hazel eyes and named him Erasmus. The watch Zelda had stole from Thomas had the words “Saxon Shore” carved on it, so she told Erasmus that his father was the Duke of the Saxon Shore. As a result, Erasmus changed his name to ‘Duke’ and doesn’t like people using him his birth name.
Although Thomas returned from war in 1918, he never tried to contact Zelda and she raised their son alone.
Many years later, Zelda became seriously ill, so Duke rushed her to a hospital in Bridgnorth. However, they wouldn’t give Zelda a bed because she was a Gypsy, therefore she didn’t have any insurance. She died later that night and as a result, Duke killed the man who denied his mother a bed. After her death, Duke went on the road with other Gypsies and began working at a fairground, but he soon became a thief and wanted more to his life than wheels and carousels.
Series 6 • 1934
After the funeral of Thomas’ daughter, Ruby Shelby, he meets with his widowed sister-in-law, Esme Shelby. Esme tells Thomas that Christians say “the Lord gives, the Lord takes away” and that their beliefs are the same, implying that the spirits had just taken his child away, to give him another. Thomas asks Esme who the other child is and she tells him “a daughter lost, a son found” and looks over to a teenage boy, besides two horses. Esme reveals to Thomas that the teenage boy is his estranged firstborn son, who was conceived months before he went away to war. Esme reminds Thomas of who the boys mother is and how he was conceived, claiming to have spoken to her before she died, of unexplained causes. She tells Thomas that the teenage boy goes by the name ‘Duke’ and that he’s a thief, wanting something more to his life, than just fairground wheels and carousels. She then tells Thomas “if the loosing of Ruby has left a hole in your heart, I’ll send him to you” asking Thomas for gold, in exchange for telling Duke he’s his father.
Unlike his siblings, Duke is a full-blooded Romani Gypsy/Irish Traveller, with his siblings being half-blooded, also known as "didicoys".