Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A Fitzwilliam Family Tree

For most Jane Austen fans, the relationships between all the characters is quite clear. But for those who are going to read my book and like Pride and Prejudice, but perhaps have not studied in detail every character's family history, the following explanation may be useful. I will also explain a couple of points about people's names, in my book and the original. You may want to get a pen and paper to make a diagram, if you get easily confused by these things.

Let us begin with the patriarch who is not in the book, as he is dead at the time it opens. That is the earl. We don't know what he was the earl of, so I am going to make something up, for ease of explanation. Let us call him Earl of Chawton. This is Mr. Darcy's maternal grandfather. His family name would have been Fitzwilliam, but his title would have been Lord Chawton, and that's what he would have been called - just like in Downton Abbey. The father is Robert Crawley, but he is Earl of Grantham, and is called Lord Grantham.

Now, Lord Chawton would likely have had other, lesser titles as well, but one is always called by one's highest title. His eldest son would have been entitled to bear the next highest title as what is called a courtesy title. For an example of this, see the book and mini-series The Buccaneers - Lord Seadown, first son of Lord Brittlesea.

For my book, I have decided that the next highest title of Lord Chawton is Viscount of Ashwell, or Lord Ashwell.

Now, the late Lord Chawton (Mr. Darcy's grandfather) had three children, two girls and a boy. The two girls were Lady Anne Fitzwilliam (later Lady Anne Darcy, Mr. Darcy's mother) and Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam (later Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy's aunt). We are never given the name of the boy, but he he would have been called Lord Ashwell until his father died and he became Lord Chawton, the Earl.

This Lord Chawton is Colonel Fitzwilliam's father. Colonel Fitzwilliam tells us that he is the second son of an Earl. This implies that there is a first son, who would be called Lord Ashwell, until his father died, after which he would become Lord Chawton. Between friends, Lords are just called by their title alone, i.e. Chawton, or Ashwell, or Grantham.

Lady Anne Fitzwilliam married Mr. Darcy senior. She kept her title as Lady Anne, because her husband did not have a title for her to take. A woman keeps her title, unless her husband has one higher than her own. Because she was of noble lineage, she gave her first born son her family name as a first name, hence Fitzwilliam Darcy. This was quite a common practice among the English upper classes, when the mother was of high rank, in order to keep the name going.

Lady Catherine married Sir Louis De Bourgh. We are not told the exact nature of his status, I don't believe. But we do hear Mr. Collins speak of the noble family of de Bourgh, so it was more than a knighthood. It was less than a Baron, however, because he is not a Lord. I suspect he was a Baronet. We do know that Sir Louis was not of as high a station as Lady Catherine, for she kept her title. Had Sir Louis been higher in rank than her, Lady Catherine would have been called Lady de Bourgh.

In her writing, Jane Austen is inconsistent in her spelling of de Bourgh. She sometimes uses a capital D. Consequently, in my book, I alternate between the two spellings also.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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