In July 2012, when Frank Austen descendant Ron Dunning unveiled his comprehensive online Austen genealogy….
…I posted a reply in Austen L and in my blog…
…in which I pointed out that I had previously (while researching a historical source for Pride & Prejudice) been led by Google to an entry in Ron’s genealogy site, while still in its “beta” stage. The entry I was led to was amazing to me, because it reflected the marriage of a real life DE BURGH to a real life DARCY in Ireland early in the 14th century!
As I recounted in my 2012 blog post, it took me a minute to grasp the full significance of this, which is that if Ron’s genealogy was factually correct, then Jane Austen must have been aware--somehow, some way--of the genealogical linkage to herself of that couple who married 4 ½ centuries before her birth! And her lineage connection was the perfect complement to the literary allusion by Jane Austen which, as I said, I had already detected and which had led me to cross paths with Ron’s website in the first place.
Skip ahead now to a few hours ago, when I revisited this topic, as I was getting ready to post about Janine Barchas’s remarkable new book, Matters of Fact in Jane Austen. Imagine my happy surprise when I learned from Googling that Ron had actually, in March 2013, published an oblique answer to my above-described July 2012 post—here is the link to Ron’s guest post at Austen-L’s Deb Barnum’s website:
The part that was Ron’s answer to my July 2012 post was as follows:
“I’m against making any assumption based on slim evidence, but I’m about to make two; first of all, concerning a great coincidence about which Jane can’t have known anything. In 1329 a marriage took place between John Darcy, 1st Lord Darcy of Knaith, and Joan de Burgh. (The spelling doesn’t matter – even up to the 18th century spellings hadn’t been fully standardised.) Joan’s father Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, was a direct ancestor of Mrs Austen through her brother John. Last summer when my Akin to Jane [ www.janeaustensfamily.co.uk ] website was launched, one or two people, with admirable perseverance, trawled through my separate family tree [http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~janeausten] and on discovering this marriage, insisted that Jane must have known. I was never in any doubt that she couldn’t possibly have known. This was also the opinion of the only other person who has studied the Austen pedigree extensively, Anielka Briggs.” END QUOTE
And now I have the opportunity to make the following belated reply to Ron:
First, I thank Ron for answering the question I wanted to know the answer to, and couldn’t quite figure out from his website, which was, “How exactly was Jane Austen descended from that 1329 marriage of a Darcy and a de Burgh?”--- From the quoted passage, above, if I understand him correctly, Ron claims that Jane Austen’s mother was descended from the 14th century Joan de Burgh’s brother John.
Second, Ron seemed emphatic in the rest of his post in asserting that Jane Austen just couldn’t have known about that 1329 marriage, because, basically, the peerage books JA had access to did not have any de Bourghs in them, and the lineage included several “invisible” matrilineal links.
While I already had my independent reasons for being sure that JA was aware of that marriage, imagine my pleased surprise when I learned from Janine Barchas’s Matters of Fact in JA, of a specific source from whom Jane Austen might have learnt of her lineal relation back to that significantly-named 14th century couple. Read on to find out who it was who told Jane Austen about her de Burgh ancestry.
Who Told Jane Austen About Her de Burgh Ancestry?
A week and a half ago, I had the pleasure of hearing the fantastic plenary address given by Janine Barchas at the recently concluded JASNA AGM in Minneapolis, in which Janine spoke about a variety of astonishing historical allusions in Jane Austen’s novels--which were only a taste of the numerous such connections that she drew in her recent critically acclaimed book.
The highlight of Janine’s address was the following cluster of genealogical facts, which are unpacked in more detail in her book, and which I will briefly quote here:
“The history of [the great estate] of Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire…dates back to at least the 13th century, when Robert Wentworth married a rich heiress named Emma Wodehouse. Their Yorkshire family so prospered that in 1611 its senior line achieved a baronetcy under James I, while the sister of the first baronet married the heir of the wealthy D’Arcy family. The eldest son of that same first baronet was Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, the ill fated minister of Charles I. …When Thomas Wentworth was executed,… the Wentworth Woodhouse estate was confiscated. With the Restoration, however, it was returned to his eldest son, William Wentworth,…[who] died without issue in 1695, [then it all went] to the children of his sister Anne Wentworth, wife to the head of the Watson family. In Dec. 1750, when Charles Watson, heir to these princely estates, succeeded his father as second Marquess of Rockingham, he became one of wealthiest peers in England. Charles Watson-Wentworth…was twice P.M. but died childless in 1782—[that led to a reversion to the Fitzwilliams during JA’s childhood. –Donald Greene noticed all this in 1953, but did not realize what he had found.] …Egerton Brydges himself claimed that his ‘male stock’ was ‘baronial from the Conquest; ascending…to Johannes De Burgo (Monoculu), found also of the House of De Burgh.’ Thus, Austen’s own relations claimed a kind of de Bourgh pedigree.” END QUOTE from Barchas
Did you notice that last part, about Egerton Brydges claiming descent from “the House of De Burgh”? What I infer from that juicy factoid is that JA could easily have heard about her own ancestry from a 14th century de Burgh through the Steventon gossip network! I.e., her very close older friend, Madam Lefroy, was the beloved elder sister of Egerton Brydges, a man who obviously knew that de Burgh lineage very well indeed in order to be able to claim his own descent from same! And from his lips to his sister’s ears, to Jane Austen’s ears, would have been a very short and predictable journey for information about Jane Austen’s own lineage from that same “House of de Burgh”!
But that’s only half of the Jane Austen ancestral gold I’ve mined today. Read on for the other half.
Who Told ME About Jane Austen’s Wentworth/Darcy Lineage?
Let’s now return to the rest of Janine Barchas’s above-quoted cluster of extraordinary historical name allusions in Jane Austen’s novels. At the AGM, as Janine stated in response to the repeated gasps from the audience which each succeeding factoid elicited, she did not make any of this up! There really were 16th century intermarried Wentworths, Darcys, Wodehouses, and Watsons to whom JA clearly had alluded in (at least) four of her fictional works.
During the Q&A, knowing what I already knew before about the 14th century Darcy-de Burgh marriage in Jane Austen’s lineage, as well as other relevant historical allusions I had found in JA’s novels, I posed the following logical question to Janine:
Was Janine’s wealthy D’Arcy heir who married a Wentworth heiress in Yorkshire in the 16th century also part of the Austen family tree? Janine did not know the answer, but I knew just where to look for it.
And today, I was indeed able to answer that question myself—and I was able to do it in the blink of an eye, using… of course, Ron Dunning’s Austen genealogy!
It’s surprising that Ron himself did not connect these dots, given that he has been aware of Barchas’s book for a while. In his March 2013 post, he wrote:
“Janine Barchas, in her Matters of Fact in Jane Austen, speculates that she, in choosing the names of Darcy, Wentworth, Woodhouse, FitzWilliam, Tilney, etc., was alluding “to actual high-profile politicians and contemporary celebrities as well as to famous historical figures and landed estates.” In the words of Juliet McMaster in the blurb, she was “a confirmed name dropper who subtly manipulates the celebrity culture of her day.” END QUOTE
And yet even as Ron mentioned these names, he did not point to his own genealogy, which showed that JA was not merely a name dropper for celebrities, she was also, in this later historical marriage as with the 1329 marriage of a de Burgh and Darcy, a name dropper for celebrities…who also happened to be part of her family lineage!
In short, Ron’s website is where I found the following entry for the very same Michael Darcy who, per Barchas, had married Margaret Wentworth circa 1578:
But I do have one more question I would love to know the answer to, and Ron’s the one who would know it. It’s the exact same question I had about that 1329 marriage, which Barchas’s book answered for me.
I.e., how exactly does Jane Austen’s lineage trace back to Michael Darcy & Margaret Wentworth?
Janine’s explanation for JA having alluded to this dense cluster of rich Yorkshire aristocrats was that Jane Austen was an acute observer and scholar of celebrity culture, and so her attention was drawn to those families by who they were in English society and history.
I hope you’ll agree that in my post today, I’ve added to those very strong motivations the additional personal motivation that JA was also family to them!
Note the contrast of personalities. Egerton Brydges indulged his personal genealogical obsession in a very overt manner—because he really believed he had greater value as a human being because of the accident of his birth into a particular lineage. Whereas Jane Austen, who knew Brydges’s belief system to be absurd, and knew that personal worth was a matter of the content of a person’s character, could playfully parody his obsession by playfully hiding her own aristocratic lineage in plain sight in her novels!
And the proof’s in the pudding. Jane Austen will be famous forever because of her genius at fiction writing, whereas Egerton Brydges is only remembered today as a bit player on the grand stage of Jane Austen’s biography.
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