Colonel Fitzwilliam’s First Name was not Richard

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s First Name was not Richard

Most readers of JAFF know that many writers, including Summer and me, use Richard as Colonel Fitzwilliam’s first name. Jane Austen did not record a name for him in Pride and Prejudice, allowing writers to be free to use whatever name they wish. Even if she didn’t record a name, she may have had one in mind.

Whatever name she had in mind, it wasn’t Richard.

Colonel Fitzwilliam is one of the few characters in Pride and Prejudice who is presented almost completely positively. There are others, such as the Gardiners and Mrs. Reynolds.

He is introduced as following:

Colonel Fitzwilliam, who led the way, was about thirty, not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman.

And later, we read:

Colonel Fitzwilliam … talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertained in that room before.

The only negative thing that can be said about him is that he admits to Elizabeth that he must marry someone with money. This was so normal at the time, that I don’t think it was intended as a criticism. Many readers love Colonel Fitzwilliam and object if he isn’t given perfect happiness.

Having presented such a positive character, l would like to look at the name Richard in Jane Austen’s work. In Pride and Prejudice, Richard is mentioned in one sentence, spoken by Lydia: “…my uncle Phillips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him.“  This occurs when Lydia interrupts Mr. Collins reading Fordyce’s Sermons.

With one line, we can hardly understand the character of Richard. Was he turned away because the Phillips were trying to save money or for some flaw as a servant? There is no hint the Phillips had financial difficulties. On the other hand, Colonel Forster would probably want to hire Richard only if he was a competent servant. Jane Austen did not spend many words on servants, so we will never know if she had an opinion about this Richard. I interpret the passage to indicate that Lydia was interrupting Mr. Collins with something entirely irrelevant. Stretching a bit, I will claim that Richard is irrelevant.

There are a few minor characters named Richard in Jane Austen’s works. Fanny Price has a younger brother named Richard, for example. But there are two mentions of Richard that stand out. In Persuasion, Richard Musgrove is mentioned in a memorable section.

The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross, two years before.

He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him “poor Richard,” been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead.  

Alone this means little but coupling it with the following excerpt from the beginning of Northanger Abbey, I claim that Jane Austen had a prejudice against the name Richard.

 

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard—and he had never been handsome.

Jane Austen apparently didn’t like Richard. Any Richard.

I can guess Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father’s first name. It was probably George. It was likely that Wickham was named after him and Georgiana’s name would then be a combination of her parents’ names.

Is there any first name that you think Jane Austen would have had in mind for Colonel Fitzwilliam? Why do you think so? I refuse to consider Colonel Fitzwilliam Fitzwilliam as a possibility.

39 Responses to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s First Name was not Richard

  1. Fitzwilliam was so named after his mother’s family, so to me it might have been rote that the Col. was named using his mother’s famiky name. Unfortunately we are not given the Earl of Matloch’s wife’s particulars.

  2. About JA not using the name Richard except for a insignificant and /or negative character: I read speculation that this might have been her idea of subtle revenge on Richard Crosby, the publisher who purchased the book that was eventually renamed Northanger Abbey but refused to publish it, and refused to allow anyone else to publish it either. The book was in limbo for 10 years, and JA was very angry at this Crosby, who must have been the stupidest publisher in history not to recognize the quality of Austen’s work!

    My first book is in the planning stage, and I do plan to carry on the Richard tradition. But it doesn’t bother me if another author uses a different name for the dear Colonel.

    • Not sure of the timeline but I believe Jane would have completed writing P&P before her dispute with Richard Crosby started. So she wouldn’t have been prejudiced against the name Richard at that time. Please pardon the pun.

      • Love the pun! ? That may be true for P & P, but how about the naming of the younger Musgrove son in Persuasion, the one who went into the navy, and was apparently so short on positive qualities that only his mother truly mourned him when he died? I could see JA taking great pleasure naming him Richard!

        I wish I could remember where I read this. It may have been in Claire Tomalin’s biography, but I am not at all sure of that.

  3. I like Richard. It’s my husband’s name and my son’s. Also, one of my favorite actors Richard Armitage is named after Richard III because his father was a great admirer of the king.

  4. A fun and interesting post and comments. Altho’ I have nothing against the name Richard per se (my kindergarten “boyfriend” was named Richard, I still have a crush on Richard Greene of Robin Hood fame, and I greatly admire Richard Lionheart), I simply don’t think it fits Colonel Fitzwilliam. Having said as much, this has not and will not prevent me from enjoying JAFF stories that name him Richard. Or pretty much any other name — just so long as he gets lots of face time!

  5. Thank you for posting this! I know it’s common to use Richard but it always concerns me when people start to think things are canon which aren’t actually Jane Austen’s canon. I purposely don’t use Richard both because of that and because I simply don’t like the name. The two Richards it makes me think of are Richard III (perhaps where Austen’s dislike came from?) and Richard Nixon. Particularly the latter gives me no interest in having a character I like carry that name!

    • Having read Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time” and Elizabeth Peters’ “The Murders of Richard III” I do not have a negative image of Richard III. I do have a negative view of Richard Nixon, but that hasn’t made me object to his first name.

      I agree with you that Jane Austen’s canon is not the same as some of the conventions a few readers find in the variations. Fortunately, most readers understand that and will criticize a work based on their tastes rather than a perceived standard.

  6. I’m on an RPG where I play a character who was based on Colonel Fitzwilliam, at least initially. My character’s first name is Robert, which is a good solid unpretentious Regency name. Robert Fitzwilliam is a pretty good option (as well as not being Fitzwilliam Fitzwilliam).

    • But I think of Robert as being the name of Edward Ferrars’ younger brother. That gives it a negative connotation for me. However, I love the line that comes after Elinor talks to him:

      Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.

  7. I have him as Richard in one of my upcoming books, but in another I decided to go firmly against convention and call him Edmund, which is a name that has fallen rather out of favour but was very popular at the time.

  8. I have followed convention with Richard Fitzwilliam, Thomas Bennet, and Frances Bennet. Great post. Richard is a superb martial name. I mean towed Thomas for Me B as in More, Beckett.

    • That is sensible. Most readers have read many books in this sub genre. It is wise to make it easy for them to remember the characters.

      I’m old enough that I can read a book and forget the names of some of the characters. I haven’t reached the point an elderly woman I knew did, of writing down the names of characters with a sentence or two identifying them.

  9. I wish I could remember where I read it… but in a conversation or letter, Jane was supposed to have kalled him Montgomery.
    Wonder if anyone knows more than me?

    I like Richard for the Colonel but I do not mind if he is given other names.

  10. When I first read JAFF, about 9 months ago, I had only read the Jane Austen original works prior to that and so had no preconceived notion of the Colonel’s first name, since Ms. Austen had not given him one. However, 9 months and 400 stories later, I find that I prefer Richard, simply because that has been the most commonly used in JAFF and II don’t dislike the name or have any negative connotations for it in my own life. The JAFF writers often add non-canon characters and it is easier to follow the story threads if there aren’t too many new names introduced. If I see “Richard” on the page, my mind quickly identifies the Colonel, rather than some extraneous Lord, Baron, Servant, etc. I am also more accustomed to Thomas for Mr. Bennet, Frances (Fanny) for Mrs. Bennet, and Madeleine for Mrs. Gardiner, although these change more often than the Colonel’s name in JAFF. some writers add so many characters that it gets pretty confusing to sort out who is who! At any rate, the Colonel is usually a good guy and I like that, since Darcy deserves at least one close friend who has his back and who is at least his equal in character, if not in income. “Bad” Colonel is an uncomfortable read for me.

    • I have trouble keeping track of characters when I’m reading a book with many of them. That’s why I like it when authors remind me of them.

      Although I agree that Mrs. Bennet is often Fanny, I think her name was more likely to have been Jane. There are several instances of Jane Austen’s characters and in her life of naming an eldest daughter after her mother. But using Jane could be confusing to readers.

  11. I am one of the odd ones. In my stories, the good colonel is “Edward,” my father’s name. Despite one Austen fan contacting me and telling me the name was “Richard and you obviously have never read Austen’s original story (add a few expletives that I admit here),” I still choose to use “Edward.” Most of my stories can be connected, and I thought changing the name would be more confusing than keeping “Edward.” In Austen’s “The History of England
    from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st. By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian,” she cites as sources works of fiction such as the plays of Shakespeare and Sheridan, a novel by Charlotte Turner Smith and the opinions of Austen’s family and friends. Along with accounts of English kings and queens which contain little factual information but a great deal of comically exaggerated opining about their characters and behaviour, the work includes material such as charades and puns on names. Keeping in mind that comedy/humor is the only socially accepted form of criticism, read what Austen says of Richard the 3d: “The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews & his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive true; & if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown & having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it.”

    As for me, unconsciously, I often name my villain Richard. In one of my two 2018 Christmas novellas, Richard is the “depraved” brother’s name. I suppose I am as bad as Austen. LOL!

    I thought it only fair to include the lady’s opinion of the various Edwards in her “History.” Austen writes:

    Edward the 4th

    This Monarch was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage, of which the Picture we have here given of him, & his undaunted Behaviour in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another, are sufficient proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a Widow who, poor woman! was afterwards confined in a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity & Avarice Henry the 7th. One of Edward’s Mistresses was Jane Shore, who had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble actions, his Majesty died, & was succeeded by his son.

    Edward the 5th

    This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that nobody had time to draw his picture. He was murdered by his Uncle’s Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3d.

    Edward the 6th

    As this prince was only nine years old at the time of his Father’s death, he was considered by many people as too young to govern, & the late King happening to be of the same opinion, his mother’s Brother the Duke of Somerset was chosen Protector of the realm during his minority. This Man was on the whole of a very amiable Character, & is somewhat of a favourite with me, tho’ I would by no means pretend to affirm that he was equal to those first of Men Robert Earl of Essex, Delamere, or Gilpin. He was beheaded, of which he might with reason have been proud, had he known that such was the death of Mary Queen of Scotland; but as it was impossible that he should be conscious of what had never happened, it does not appear that he felt particularly delighted with the manner of it. After his decease the Duke of Northumberland had the care of the King & the Kingdom, & performed his trust of both so well that the King died & the Kingdom was left to his daughter in law the Lady Jane Grey, who has been already mentioned as reading Greek. Whether she really understood that language or whether such a study proceeded only from an excess of vanity for which I beleive she was always rather remarkable, is uncertain. Whatever might be the cause, she preserved the same appearance of knowledge, & contempt of what was generally esteemed pleasure, during the whole of her Life, for she declared herself displeased with being appointed Queen, and while conducting to the scaffold, she wrote a sentence in latin & another in Greek on seeing the dead Body of her Husband accidentally passing that way.

    • I read this years ago, but it was worth looking at it again. Thank you for posting it. I believe Jane Austen was fifteen when she wrote this.

      I think all of us unconsciously react in different ways to different names.

  12. While I think of him as Richard because so many books have referred to him as that, I’ve also thought she may have given him the name of one of her brothers and could make cases for both Henry and Edward!

  13. I actually don’t have a strong response to his first name. As long as he is the Col Fitzwilliam we know and love, you can make his Christian name anything works for the story. I’ve seen him as Richard, Andrew, Henry, and Robert. I also like that there are a variety of love options for him whilst we all get a little jumpy if there’s not a D&E HEA. LOL I think he would make a nice Jonathan. 🙂

    • Not having a strong response to his first name is a sensible approach. Sort of like saying, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

  14. I like Richard… I have a family member named Richard. It is always disconcerting when I am reading of our dear Colonel and another name is mentioned. So many authors have agreed to adopt that name… that when an author chooses not to… the narrative stops for a second as I try to understand who the author is talking about.

    The name Richard is also the name of kings [Richard l, ll, & lll], Duke of Normandy, Lionheart, etc. Perhaps Austen didn’t like them. I have a feeling that there was someone in her life that was named Richard and she didn’t like him. In her writing… she described Musgrove as a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick. I think that adequately detailed her feelings for that person. In most of the JAFF variations… I adore the good Colonel and love the cousin/brother camaraderie between him and Darcy. It grieves me to read of a ‘bad’ Colonel… and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. This was a delightful post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Our dear Colonel will always be Richard in my mind.

  15. I agree that it is highly unlikely that Richard is the name Jane Austen would have chosen but due to all the stories I’ve read that use this name, he will always be Richard to me.

  16. I like Richard. There are the other patron saints of Britain – David and Andrew – that Austen might have thought of apart from George. I love Colonel stories and my favourite stories are when the Colonel is not intetrested in Elizabeth but has a happy ending with Mary

  17. I’m sorry but I do prefer Colonel Fitzwilliam to be Richard as that was the name most used in the first JAFF I read. I also prefer him to be a true friend to Darcy and am pleased when he gets his own happy ending.

    • I very much like Jane Austen’s Colonel Fitzwilliam also, but writing fan fiction is about changing things. Yes, I now use Richard as his first name, but I once used Henry. (There is no prize for finding out which story that was.)

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