“He is a gentleman. I am a gentleman’s daughter. So far, we are equal.” – Elizabeth Bennet to Lady Catherine DeBourgh, in Pride and Prejudice
Well… kinda. But the fact is, though Mr. Darcy himself can only claim the distinction of gentleman, because he doesn’t have an actual title, his blood is pretty blue. Probably quite a lot bluer than Elizabeth’s, because he’s the grandson of an earl.
How on earth do I know that, you ask? Because – you’re right – Jane Austen never says it. At least not openly. But very, very slyly, she slides the pieces in.
Let me explain.
Mr. Darcy’s father had no title, or as the eldest (and only) son he would have inherited it, along with the luscious Pemberley. That’s also why his sister Georgianna is Miss Darcy, because for her to be anything else would depend on her father’s rank.
But their mother was Lady Anne, and that’s a title she could only have acquired through her father – a father who ranked pretty high in the aristocracy, at least an earl, or perhaps a duke.
Lady Anne’s sister is Lady Catherine DeBourgh. Her husband was Sir Lewis DeBourgh. The “Sir” marks him as a knight — an elevated gentleman, to be sure, but still a mere gentleman. Technically, his knighthood made his wife Lady DeBourgh, so actually she’s both Lady Catherine and Lady DeBourgh. But the rank she got from birth was higher than the one she achieved through marriage to a knight — which is why she prefers to be called “Lady Catherine” or “Lady Catherine DeBourgh” rather than the simpler “Lady DeBourgh.” (We can safely say that Lady Catherine wouldn’t let anyone forget to properly use the highest title she could claim.)
Lady Catherine’s daughter doesn’t have a title; she’s merely Miss DeBourgh. Her father’s knighthood would give her no special honors, though the same would be true of a baron’s daughter, or a viscount’s.
So how do I know that Grandpapa was an earl, and not a duke?– If he’d been a duke, his daughters would have still been Lady Anne and Lady Catherine, exactly the same.
It’s because of that cousin of Darcy’s, Colonel Fitzwilliam. He’s described as a younger son, indicating that his father is titled but it’s his older brother who will inherit. Eldest sons of earls use a secondary title of their father’s, while younger sons, unlike their sisters, get no special designation. (One of very few examples of women getting more honors than men, in the aristocratic system.)
But if the colonel’s father was a duke, then even as a younger son, he’d be Lord Firstname Fitzwilliam. (Unless I missed it, we’re never told what his first name is.) Add his military rank and he’d be formally known as Colonel Lord Firstname Fitzwilliam.
Despite that being a bit of a mouthful, Lady Catherine would have insisted. But he’s simply called Colonel Fitzwilliam… therefore, Grandpapa can’t have been a duke. He must have been an earl.
We aren’t ever told Grandpapa’s actual title, but we do know his rank and the fact that the family name is Fitzwilliam – because the colonel uses it but also because it’s Mr. Darcy’s first name. And a pretty common choice for a proud mama it was, to pass along her original last name as her eldest (and in this case, only) son’s first name.
So there you have it — the facts about Mr. Darcy’s noble blood. (And yes, it is kinda creepy that Lady Catherine is so dead set on marrying off her daughter to her first cousin… though that was pretty common in the day.)
NOTE: This post has been updated to correct an oversight regarding Sir Lewis DeBourgh’s rank.