Posts Tagged ‘De Bourgh’

When I have finished reading a novel, I always write down all family  names which occur in it because I would like to ask the author how and  why she or he has chosen these names. There occur 35 family names in Pride and Prejudice, but I can no longer ask Jane Austen those questions. I can only guess what she had in mind. Here is what my guesses, fortified by a little research on the Internet, produced.

The name which struck me first was DeBourgh, because the word Bourgh as in Cherbourgh is the French equivalent of the English Burgh as in Edinburgh. If the name DeBourgh refers to a French ancestry of the husband of the Lady DeBourgh it cannot mean “we are aristocrats from a Bourgh” (Burgh) because in French, they would have been named “DuBourgh”. More likely is the interpretation “we are aristocrats from a French town of Bourgh”, hence “DeBourgh”.

Photo of a fort or castle along a river at Bourg-sur-Gironde in the south of France.

Bourg-sur-Gironde, Image from Wikipedia.

Does a French town named Bourgh, or Bourg exist? Yes, it does! It is “Bourg sur Gironde” on the river Garonne and is located approximately 10 miles North of Bordeaux [1]. Hence my guess is that the town was originally named Bourgh and that the DeBourghs were a noble French family of which some members had moved to England.

Next it occurred to me that the 35 family names could logically be arranged in two groups. Group 1 contains the names of the aristocrats. DeBourgh, Darcy, and Fitzwilliam. Group 2 contains the names of the commoners [2]. I guess that Jane Austen had made those choices deliberately. The only French-sounding names were assigned by her to two of the noble families of the novel! Could Darcy, like DeBourgh, also be of French origin? Then there had to be a town named Arcy in France. Well, there is! The town of Arcy is located WSW of Paris near Versailles. In French, De-Arcy which means from Arcy would have been shortened to D’Arcy.

If the families DeBourgh and D’Arcy (later changed to Darcy) had come from France when and how had the first DeBourgh or Darcy emigrated? I had to go to the Internet to try my luck. I found the following in an article by Sharon Latham. According to her there had existed a French nobleman Richard D’arcy who had joined William the Conqueror’s army, had sailed with William to England, and had fought for him at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Under the existing economic system William became the owner of every square inch of land of England when he became King of England. It was in his interest, and it was common practice at the time, to make nobles his vassals by loaning them tracts of land. Apparently, William bequeathed large tracts of land to Sir Richard D’Arcy, among others in Dorset where Jane Austen located Pemberton. Eventually the most powerful nobles ignored their vassalage and declared that they owned their lands outright.

Today many Darcy’s live in Ireland. It is not fully clear to me why, how, and when they moved there but, in 1320, King Edward II sent Sir John D’Arcy as Lord Justice and General Governor to Ireland.

A second item on the Internet (in “Jane Austen in Vermont”) mentions a connection between the families of DeBourgh and Darcy. In 1329 there was a marriage of a John Darcy 1st Lord of Knaith with Joan De Burgh (the o was apparently dropped) whose father was Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster.

I am sure that there are numerous additional Internet and other studies on DeBourgh and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice done by real experts. I was satisfied that the two studies which I had consulted produced a sufficiently rational explanation for Jane Austin’s choice of two French-sounding names for the two noble families of her novel to set them apart from the commoners. Whether she knew the histories of these families, which existed in England at her time, I leave to the experts to debate.


[1] There is also a French town named “Le Bourg” 50 miles North of Toulouse. The reason why I have chosen Bourg sur Gironde for my guesses is its location in Aquitaine. After Eleanor of Aquitaine died the region was ruled by English Kings for about 300 years.

[2] Mr. Bennett is a “gentleman” but not an earl.

Genealogical Charts of the Characters in Pride and Prejudice, The Republic of Pemberley. Scroll down the page to find the charts.



Dr. Heymann, Image courtesy Rice University

About the author, Dr Dieter Heymann:

Dr. Heymann was born in Germany and received his M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Amsterdam, Nederland. Today he is Professor Emeritus, Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. Research areas: cosmochemistry, conditions in the early solar system, origin of elements, causes of elemental and isotopic inhomogeneities in the solar nebula. 

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