What do we Really Know about Colonel Fitzwilliam?

Colonel Fitzwilliam: Canon or fanon?

I am using the term “fanon” to refer to both Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) and adaptations, illustrations, etc. The way people imagine Colonel Fiztwilliam seems to be heavily influenced by adaptations and JAFF, more than any other character except perhaps Mary Bennet.

His first name is Richard

Fanon, not canon.

Colonel Fitzwilliam is never named in the novel. I personally like to imagine his first name is “Darcy” because that would be both hilarious and confusing at family gatherings.

The name “Richard” is commonly used in JAFF, though the earliest Jane Austen fan fiction novel, Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton uses “Robert”, so it must have come into use sometime after that. Jane Austen seemed to have a dislike of the name “Richard”, though she does use it fairly frequently in her novels (there are seven characters in her works named “Richard”, all minor).

Colonel Fitzwilliam is physically attractive

Fanon, not canon.

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

According to Dwiggie Lore, 1995 Colonel Fitzwilliam was dubbed “Colonel Hotpants”. Here is a comparison of the character in the 1995 and 2005 adaptations:

It’s hard to tell exactly what Austen meant by using “not handsome” instead of “plain” which seems to be worse. Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey is described as “not quite handsome” whilst Edward Ferrars is described in Sense & Sensibility as “He was not handsome… his person can hardly be called handsome.” Robert Martin is described as “Oh! not handsome—not at all handsome. I thought him very plain at first.”

Either way, there is nothing wrong with a man not being handsome, at least Colonel Fitzwilliam has the manners of a gentleman! Unlike someone we know…

Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy are best buddies


We don’t see much of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy interacting with each other, but we do know that Darcy does not keep his cousin in his full confidence. After all, the Colonel is only guessing that the man that Darcy saved from an imprudent marriage is Bingley:

I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort

I suspect Darcy told Colonel Fitzwilliam something when he asked him to be a character reference about Wickham to Elizabeth, but it might have been as simple as, “Wickham is living in Miss Bennet’s neighbourhood, can you answer any questions she might have?”. I personally doubt he told his cousin about the failed proposal because it would be embrassing to talk about. Either way, we aren’t told so it’s up to fan fiction authors to imagine one way or the other.

Colonel Fitzwilliam swashes and buckles/is a military hero


We know absolutely nothing about Colonel Fitzwilliam’s military career. Pride & Prejudice is set during the Napoleonic Wars and Colonel Fitzwilliam may have fought in France or in the colonies, but it’s just as likely he’s been stationed at home, especially since he’s from the nobility!

For a historical example, Arthur Wellesley, who would become the Duke of Wellington, did not see active combat until he was one rank short of Colonel, and he went abroad on purpose because he was rejected by a woman he loved. He could have kept his cushy job if he had wanted.

It’s hinted in Northanger Abbey that Captain Tilney is stationed in London and would be subduing riots. It makes a lot of sense not to have an eldest son in the actual line of fire. Similarly, we are told Col. F is “the younger son” of the Earl. If there is only an heir and a spare, they probably want to keep him alive.

Captain Tilney from Northanger Abbey 2007

Colonel Fitzwilliam is a good person


Darcy Sr. did appoint Colonel Fitzwilliam as co-guardian to Georgiana, but we know how flawed his judgement is *cough Wickham cough* so that isn’t quite a recommendation of character. All we really know about Colonel Fitzwilliam is that Elizabeth likes him, and sorry Elizabeth, your judgement isn’t much of a recommendation either! Especially since she compares him with Wickham:

It was plain to them all that Colonel Fitzwilliam came because he had pleasure in their society, a persuasion which of course recommended him still more; and Elizabeth was reminded by her own satisfaction in being with him, as well as by his evident admiration, of her former favourite, George Wickham; and though, in comparing them, she saw there was less captivating softness in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners, she believed he might have the best informed mind.

So yeah, Elizabeth likes him because it’s clear he likes her. Another great example of her being biased. She also clearly likes having someone to talk to who isn’t Lady Catherine.

Colonel Fitzwilliam cannot afford to marry Elizabeth


Unclear, but likely he can. Charlotte certainly thinks he can afford it:

In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was, beyond comparison, the pleasantest man: he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible

When Colonel Fitzwilliam calls himself poor, Elizabeth calls him out on it and he doesn’t refute her:

“He likes to have his own way very well,” replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. “But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.”

“In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose or procuring anything you had a fancy for?”

“These are home questions—and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.”

“Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do.”

Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.”

All of this seems to suggest that Colonel Fiztwilliam could marry Elizabeth, but he wants to maintain his standard of life and that requires a larger fortune. Also, most military men received some sort of allowance from their parents/family and he might have that cut off if he married against his parent’s wishes. (The military didn’t actually pay very well.) All of this considered, he could marry but he doesn’t want to drop his expensive habits.

Now we do know he liked Elizabeth, “Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them: anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had, moreover, caught his fancy very much.” and I do think he did the gentlemanly thing by letting her know that he didn’t want to marry her, but I still think Colonel Fitzwilliam is mercenary.

If his mercenary ambitions are justified or not is for us to decide as the readers. I think Colonel Fitzwilliam is part of the question of where we draw the line between avarice and prudence. The choices of so many of the characters challenge this notion. Was Charlotte merely prudent to accept Mr. Collins, or was that greed? Is Wickham merely trying to secure his future or is he a fortune hunter? Elizabeth’s own opinion of the people around her changes as the novel goes on, and we are left to decide where we draw the line too.

I personally am in favour of matching Colonel Fitzwilliam with Caroline Bingley, she’s got the money and he has the pedigree, it’s a match made in heaven!

Who do you imagine the Colonel marrying?

27 responses to “What do we Really Know about Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

  1. Linny B Avatar
    Linny B

    Colonel Fitzwilliam is such a fan favorite so always enjoyable to read about him.
    Some of the earliest, most interesting and well written JAFF that I read paired the good Colonel with Jane or Mary Bennet. These ladies have much stronger character as well so nicely matched.
    Thank you!

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      Paired with Jane? Poor Bingley!

      He is certainly a fan favourite, it always surprised me how much, since he’s barely in the novel.

  2. Alice Spaulding Taylor McVeigh Avatar

    Hard to argue with so well-written and cogent an article!!! I think I just like the Col. – even if he MIGHT prefer his cushy lifestyle – just because he appreciated Elizabeth.

    And, while Darcy really COULD please himself – Lady C. huffed and puffed, but not blow his house down – it’s still possible that the Colonel couldn’t – that Charlotte was wrong about calculating him as being entirely independent.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      It is certainly possible that Charlotte doesn’t know everything, but we have to work with the clues we have about the Colonel!

      And thank you!

      1. RM Avatar

        It got me thinking now, how Col F links the thought of Darcy being richer and freer to have his way with his better chances of marrying whoever he likes in a convo with Lizzy specifically. Whether they are BFFs or not he clearly knows Darcy as a whole better, and would have gotten the clues of his interest which Darcy himself thought were obvious to others. So it can also sound like a “and so I am not even playing a losing game when he’s the competition other than not being to my advantage otherwise also”.

      2. bdelleman Avatar

        I’ve never been sure if Colonel Fitzwilliam suspected that Darcy likes Elizabeth or not, but I 100% agree that he probably wouldn’t even bother to play if he though Darcy was his competition! If Darcy did tell him that Elizabeth refused his proposal, it would have been a huge shock.

  3. Riana Everly Avatar

    The very fact that we know so little about him makes him a great character for authors to play with. After all, there’s just so much room to have fun! He could be a rival to Darcy, a match for one of the other sisters, a good guy, a bad guy… did he know everything and tell Elizabeth about Darcy’s interference to make her dislike Darcy even more?
    Personally, I like the guy, even if his name isn’t really Richard. But he’s just so full of potential!

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      He is a good blank slate to work with for sure! We know so little about his motivations as you say, there is a possibility that he was messing with Darcy on purpose.

      I am always a little hesitant to match him with a Bennet, he said he wants money after all and they have none.

      1. Riana Everly Avatar

        Ah, but it’s fiction, so we can invent a fortune for him to inherit! 😀

      2. bdelleman Avatar

        True true!

  4. Vesper Avatar

    I admit the ONLY jaff pairings I read are Colonel and Mary Bennet (plus Mary mysteries)

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      Interesting! What do you like about that pairing in particular?

      1. Vesper Avatar

        I feel that MB and the Colonel are the mirror images of D&E, with less known of them, so the stories can be anything, and therefore are for me so much more interesting

  5. Joseph P. Garland Avatar

    My WIP has him injured at Waterloo and having Catherine B fall in love witj and marry him, with a lifestyle not quite as excessive as when he relied on Darcy.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      That sounds dramatic!

  6. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    I would like to see the Colonel paired with someone just not sure with who!lol Maybe Mary Benett? Certainly not Anne De Bourgh!

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      Why not Anne? Rosings sounds like a great house and you’d have such a charming mother in law, lol!

  7. suzanlauder Avatar

    Thanks for this. I tend to write “Richard” as “handsome” but know it’s fanon and cringe when someone tells an author they’re wrong when they call him other than “Richard.” There’s far too much fanon out there!

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I do find it odd when people mention in their reviews that they deducted a star (or whatever) because Colonel Fitzwilliam wasn’t named Richard! If it was in the novel I’d understand, but it’s really just a strong trend in the genre.

      I just do my best not to name him at all, Austen can do it so why not me?

      1. Gianna Thomas Avatar
        Gianna Thomas

        I must confess that I prefer Richard Fitzwilliam. As to who he might marry, pairing him with Miss Bingley would be interesting if she got desperate about Darcy not wanting her, and she was willing to marry an earl’s son. Having him marry Georgiana was kind of robbing the cradle. As to looks, I see Darcy as the handsomest of any man in the book. I’m half in love with him anyway. Thank you for the fanon vs canon. 🙂

      2. bdelleman Avatar

        You’re welcome! I am also not a big fan of Colonel Fitzwilliam marrying Georgiana, for the same reason.

  8. Anya Avatar

    Delightful read! I have always pictured Colonel Fitzwilliam as a George.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I love that name for him!

  9. Sheila Cline Avatar
    Sheila Cline

    I like it best when his name is Richard, and he marries Jane. I can’t really forgive Bingley for listening to his horrible sisters and Darcy and abandoning Jane and I don’t think she should have either. I like it much better when she gets a better partner and Colonel Fitzwilliam is one of my favorite characters, even if it is from fannon.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      Interesting! I’m personally partial to Bingley, I’ll take his modesty over every other man’s audacity and arrogance. But that’s just me 🙂

      It is wonderful that JAFF supplies lots of different storylines, so we can all find our favourite pairings!

  10. Tali Avishay Avatar
    Tali Avishay

    In “Mr. Darcy’s Diary” by Amanda Grange, he ends up with Anne de Burgh – and she turns out to be a much nicer and more interesting character than she is in the book. It makes sense that the domineering Lady Catherine keeps her under her thumb, and when she manages to escape she is more lively. I rather liked this ending!

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      That’s a nice ending for him for sure

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