On his way home from haggling, a peddler named John Durbeyfield meets Parson Tringham, who surprises Durbeyfield by addressing him as “Sir John.” The parson then reveals his recent discovery that the Durbeyfields are descended from the ancient, knightly d'Urberville family, which has since fallen from prominence and gone extinct. Durbeyfield is flattered and amazed by this information. After the parson leaves, Durbeyfield boasts to a boy from town about his lineage and sends for a carriage to take him the rest of the way home.
This offhand revelation about the d'Urberville name is the impetus for the rest of action of the book. Durbeyfield's excitement and feeling of entitlement over a name with no real wealth or power behind it begins Hardy's satire of English Victorian society, starting with the emphasis on ancient names, but also commenting on how the mighty have fallen in modern times.