Who is Lady Catherine de Bourgh? Top 5 Questions Answered
by Ellie Dashwood on Aug 06, 2021
Today, we’ll address a Pride and Prejudice issue of great importance: Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Of course, we’re talking about the Jane Austen villain who has made an infamous name for herself in the realm of classic literature characters.
But many questions spring up around this obstinate opposer of Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance. Such as:
- How is Lady Catherine related to Mr. Darcy?
- Is she richer than Darcy?
- Who is she to Mr. Collins?
- What exactly is her title?
- Could Mr. Darcy inherit a title from her and become a Lord?
So many great questions. And in this post, we’ll answer them all.
First up, the most basic: Why is she in Mr. Darcy’s life?
What is the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine?
Lady Catherine is Mr. Darcy’s aunt by blood. She is the sister of Lady Anne Darcy, who is Mr. Darcy’s mom.
Lady Catherine and Lady Anne had a father who was an earl (we’ll talk about that in a minute). When their father died, their brother inherited the earldom. So now they have a brother who is an earl.
That brother, the earl, had sons. One of those sons is Colonel Fitzwilliam, who hangs out with Darcy and flirts with Elizabeth Bennet.
So both Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam share Lady Catherine as their aunt.
There were two nephews of Lady Catherine to require them, for Mr. Darcy had brought with him a Colonel Fitzwilliam, the younger son of his uncle Lord ——, and, to the great surprise of all the party, when Mr. Collins returned, the gentlemen accompanied him.Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
So basically, Anne de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy, and Colonel Fitzwilliam are all biological first cousins.
This is important to note. Because not everyone referred to as a “cousin” in Jane Austen’s books is a first cousin. I explain more about that in my video on Five Pride and Prejudice Words to Know.
But in the case of these three, they truly live up to that term of cousins.
So does that mean that throughout Pride and Prejudice many people want Mr. Darcy to marry his first cousin Anne? Yes. Yes, it does.
Is Lady Catherine richer than Darcy?
In short, probably not.
We never hear an actual annual income mentioned for the de Bourgh family in Pride and Prejudice. However, from how Jane Austen describes them in the book, they have money and are part of the upper class of society.
But why is Lady Catherine de Bourgh rich? After all, it seems like she does nothing but sit around and nitpick people all day. The answer has everything to do with the way nineteenth-century, upper-class income functioned. If you want to learn more about that then definitely check out this whole video series on Regency Era economics.
So if the de Bourghs do have money, then how do we know they have less than Darcy?
Because of something that Mr. Bennet writes in a letter to Mr. Collins.
First, Mr. Collins lets Mr. Bennet know that Lady Catherine feels upset about her nephew, Mr. Darcy, marrying Elizabeth Bennet.
In response, Mr. Bennet gives Mr. Collins some interesting advice.
“I must trouble you once more for congratulations. Elizabeth will soon be the wife of Mr. Darcy. Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.
“Yours sincerely, etc.”– Mr. Bennet writing to Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Did you notice how Mr. Bennet says that Mr. Darcy “has more to give” than Lady Catherine?
This is one of the most direct indicators in the book that Darcy has more land and money than his aunt. Of course, the general description of Darcy and his wealth also tends to point in that same direction. You can watch a whole exploration of Mr. Darcy’s finances here.
Who is Lady Catherine to Mr. Collins?
Put simply: She hired him to be the clergyman at the church he currently preaches at. She also has the power to increase his income if she wants to. So he *really* wants her to like him (and give him more money).
So Lady Catherine owns a lot of land, enough land to own whole towns and villages. And those towns and villages she owns have parishes and churches that need a clergyman to preach at them.
The clergyman makes money from the tithes of the people who live in his parish. This income from tithes is called his “living” (as in the money he lives off). He also gets to a house to live in.
Now, how does a clergyman get hired to a particular parish?
Often, the major landowner of the parish gets to choose which clergyman to hire. So basically, since the Hunsford parish is on Lady Catherine’s land she gets to pick her clergyman.
And she picked Mr. Collins. Her choosing him is something called “patronage.”
To learn more about that, let’s look at this excerpt from the very first letter Mr. Collins sends the Bennet family:
My mind, however, is now made upon the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England.– Mr Collins’ letter in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
So here we see him saying that Lady Catherine hired him for this “valuable” parish. That means he’s making good money off the tithes.
Now, let’s look at when he says “it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her ladyship.”
Why does he endeavor so earnestly to ingratiate himself to her?
First, he feels grateful she hired him. (Now why she chose him is a whole other topic for discussion.)
But second, because clergymen during this era could hold more than one parish. So if Lady Catherine liked Mr. Collins she could appoint him to preside over another parish she owns too. If that happened, Mr. Collins would have two “livings” coming from tithes. Then he’d have more money.
That is why Mr. Collins and Charlotte spend so much time befriending Lady Catherine. Elizabeth identifies this as their motivation for visiting the de Bourghs at Rosings in this passage :
Very few days passed in which Mr. Collins did not walk to Rosings, and not many in which his wife did not think it necessary to go likewise; and till Elizabeth recollected that there might be other family livings to be disposed of, she could not understand the sacrifice of so many hours.Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
So here, we see them visiting Rosings hoping that Lady Catherine will give them another parish “living” and make them richer.