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Catherine Anne Hubback (1818 -1877)

“Now that you are become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence & must excite great Interest whatever you do. I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible…”
Jane Austen to her niece, Caroline Austen
October 30, 1815

Catherine Anne Hubback

Catherine Anne Hubback (nee AUSTEN) was the daughter of Sir Francis William Austen (1774 -1865), Admiral of the Fleet, and niece of  author Jane Austen (1775 -1817)

Catherine Anne Hubback was the eighth child and fourth daughter off the eleven children born to Sir Francis Austen and his first wife, Mary Gibson. Catherine never knew her “Aunt Jane” as she died the year before Catherine Anne was born, but she grew knowing her celebrated  aunt’s work through her Aunt Cassandra, Jane Austen’s sister who was a frequent visitor

Catherine met John Hubback (1811 -1885) , a barrister from a North country mercantile family at her father’s house, Portsdown Lodge, near Portsmouth. They were married in 1842 and had four children. The eldest, Mary, lived only long enough to be christened in 1843. They then had three sons, John Henry (1844 -1939), Edward Thomas (1846 -1924), and Charles Austen (1847 – 1924), perpetuating the great literary family name.  The couple lived at Malvern, then Wales, and later Birkenhead.  In 1847  John Hubback suffered a complete mental breakdown brought on by intense overwork and was committed to Brislington House Asylum in 1850 where he was to spend the rest of his life until his death in 1885. Catherine returned to her father’s house and to distract herself from perpetual anxiety, and in the hope of earning money to support herself and  three children, she started writing. In 1850 she published a version of Jane Austen’s  unfinished novel of 1803 -05, “The Watsons” , as “The Younger Sister”.  Catherine dedicated the novel to the memory of Jane Austen and wrote “ Though too young to have known her personally, was from early childhood taught to esteem her virtues and admire her talents”

Over the next thirteen years, nine more novels were published and Catherine Anne Hubback became a minor  novelist, much admired by “middle class young ladies”, among them the grandmother of American novelist Henry James. In the mid Victorian era some perverse judgements were made. “The Rival Suitors”, published in 1857 was called by one reviewer, “The best of all Mrs Hubback’s novels, and one which proves her to be nearly allied by genius as she is by blood to the first of English female novelists, Miss Austen”. Catherine clearly capitalised on her relationship with the famous aunt she never knew. She wrote to her son, John in 1871, “ I mean in future to have my name printed as Mrs C. Austen Hubback and make believe the A stands for that. I have written it at length so nobody knows and Austen is a good nom de plume”.

Catherine Hubback was a most ardent, spirited, and imaginative woman, “vivid”, was how her son John described her. In 1871 aged 53, she followed John to America where he had emigrated and become a prosperous grain merchant.

Catherine Anne Hubback died aged 59 on 25th February 1877 at Gainsville, Virginia at the home of her third son, Charley, who had also emigrated to the USA.

John Hubback died aged 74 at Brislington House Asylum on 24th February 1885 and is buried in St Luke’s Churchyard, Brislington, His gravestone in front of the West door reads:





Jonathan Rowe wrote this piece as part of a talk on “Brislington’s Literary Associations” which was recently given for the Brislington Conservation & History Society in conjunction with an exhibition, currently showing at Wick Road Library in Brislington. One of our Society members is the grandmother of two of Jane Austen great nieces ( X 6!) descended from Edward Knight.

The Duchess of Cambridge is Jane Austen’s 11th cousin, six times removed!

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A New Jane Austen Portrait by Melissa Dring

New Portrait of Jane Austen

A New Jane Austen Portrait

Jane Austen portrait
New portrait of Jane Austen

Just how do you begin a new portrait of the author so many years after her death? What did Jane Austen really look like?

Forensic artist Melissa Dring takes up a commission by David Baldock to use contemporary eye-witness accounts of Miss Austen’s features and character to produce an authentic Jane Austen portrait for the the many visitors interested in what the renowned author really looked like.

Melissa uses here experience of working with the police in facial reconstruction to put together an image that she says is as close as it can be to a definitive likeness. Her work has been internationally recognised and Melissa is in demand as a keynote speaker.

Creating the new Jane Austen portrait from forensic sources.

We know you want to see how she did it so follow the link below to a fascinating article which was first published in ‘Jane Austen’s Regency World’ magazine in early 2003.

New Portrait of Jane Austen

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Warren Hastings: First Governor of India

Warren Hastings

Warren Hastings: First Governor of India

Lady Robert is delighted with P. and P., and really was so, as I understand, before she knew who wrote it, for, of course, she knows now. He told her with as much satisfaction as if it were my wish. He did not tell me this, but he told Fanny. And Mr. Hastings! I am quite delighted with what such a man writes about it. Henry sent him the books after his return from Daylesford, but you will hear the letter too.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Sept. 15, 1813

Warren Hastings (December 6, 1732 – August 22, 1818) was the first governor-general of British India, from 1773 to 1785. He was famously impeached in 1787 for corruption, and acquitted in 1795. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1814.

Hastings was born at Churchill, Oxfordshire. He attended Westminster School before joining the British East India Company in 1750 as a clerk. In 1757 he was made the British Resident (administrative in charge) of Murshidabad. He was appointed to the Calcutta council in 1761, but was back in England in 1764. He returned to India in 1769 as a member of the Madras council and was made governor of Bengal in 1772. In 1773, he was appointed the first Governor-General of India.

In late 1752 or early 1753 George Austen’s sister, Philadelphia Austen was taken from her post, apprenticing to a Milliner, and sent off to India to “find a husband”. Both George and Philadelphia had been orphaned early in life and educated at the expense of an Uncle. Already in her twenties and without prospects in England, this trip was her last chance to marry. Six months after her arrival she married an elderly surgeon, Tysoe Hancock, who was a friend to Warren Hastings. Eight years later, a daughter was born to Philadelpia. Was she the product of a long and loveless marriage or was she, as some gossips of the time claimed, Warren Hasting’s “natural child”? We may never know for certain, but we do know that years later, Eliza named her only son Hastings and was left a financial legacy in Mr. Hasting’s will. The Austen family always felt a kinship to Mr. Hastings and Jane Austen sent him a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

During Hastings’ time as governor, a great deal of precedent was established pertaining to the methods which the British Raj would use in its rule over India. Hastings had a great respect for the ancient scripture of Hinduism and fatefully set the British position on governance as one of looking back to the earliest precedents possible. This allowed Brahmin advisors to mold the law, as no Englishman understood Sanskrit until Sir William Jones; it also accentuated the caste system and other religious frameworks which had, at least in recent centuries, been somewhat incompletely applied. Thus, British influence on the ever-changing social structure of India can in large part be characterized as, for better or for worse, a solidification of the privileges of the caste system through the influence of the exclusively high-caste scholars by whom the British were advised in the formation of their laws. These laws also accepted the binary division of the people of Bengal and, by extension, India in general as either Muslim or Hindu (to be governed by their own laws).

In 1781 Hastings founded Madrasa ‘Aliya, meaning the higher madrasa, in Calcutta showing his relations with the Muslim population. In addition, in 1784 Hastings supported the foundation of the Bengal Asiatik Society by the Orientalist Scholar William Jones, which became a storehouse for information and data pertaining to India.

As Hastings had few Englishmen to carry out administrative work, and still fewer with the ability to converse in local tongues, he was forced to farm out revenue collection to locals with no ideological friendship for Company rule. Moreover, he was ideologically committed at the beginning of his rule to the administation being carried out by ‘natives’. He believed that European revenue collectors would “open the door to every kind of rapine and extortion” as there was “a fierceness in the European manners, especially among the lower sort, which is incompatible with the gentle temper of the Bengalee”.

British desire to assert themselves as the sole sovereign led to conflicts within this ‘dual government’ of Britons and Indians. Moreover, the unsustainable levels of revenue extraction and exportation of Bengali silver back to Britain led to the famine of 1769-70, in which it is estimated that a third of the population died, led to the British characterising the collectors as tyrants and blaming them for the ruin of the province.

Some Englishmen continued to be seduced by the opportunities to acquire massive wealth in India and as a result became involved in corruption and bribery, and Hastings could do little or nothing to stop it. Indeed, it was argued, unsuccessfully, at his subsequent impeachment trial, that he participated in the widespread exploitation of these newly conquered lands.

Hastings resigned in 1784 and returned to England. He was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors by Edmund Burke, and Sir Philip Francis whom he had wounded in a duel in India. He was impeached in 1787 but the trial, which began in 1788, ended with his acquittal in 1795. Hastings spent most of his fortune on his defence, although the East India Company did contribute towards the end of the trial.

The city of Hastings, New Zealand and the Melbourne outer suburb of Hastings, Victoria, Australia were both named after him.

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Who Was Jane Austen?

Jane Austen (1775-1817), English novelist, was born on the 16th of December 1775 at the parsonage of Steventon, in Hampshire, a village of which her father, the Rev. George Austen, was rector. She was the seventh of eight children. Her mother was Cassandra Leigh, niece of Theophilus Leigh, a dry humorist, and for fifty years master of Balliol, Oxford. The life of no woman of genius could have been more uneventful than Miss Austen’s. She did not marry, and she never left home except on short visits, chiefly to Bath. Her first sixteen years were spent in the rectory at Steventon, where she began early to trifle with her pen, always jestingly, for family entertainment. In 1801 the Austens moved to Bath, where Mr Austen died in 1805, leaving only Mrs Austen, Jane and her sister Cassandra, to whom she was always deeply attached, to keep up the home; his sons were out in the world, the two in the navy, Francis William and Charles, subsequently rising to admiral’s rank. In 1805 the Austen ladies moved to Southampton, and in 1809 to Chawton, near Alton, in Hampshire, and there Jane Austen remained till 1817, the year of her death, which occurred at Winchester, on July 18th, as a memorial window in the cathedral testifies.

During her placid life Miss Austen never allowed her literary work to interfere with her domestic duties: sewing much and admirably, keeping house, writing many letters and reading aloud. Though, however, her days were quiet and her area circumscribed, she saw enough of middle-class provincial society to find a basis on which her dramatic and humorous faculties might build, and such was her power of searching observation and her sympathetic imagination that there are not in English fiction more faithful representations of the life she knew than we possess in her novels. She had no predecessors in this genre. Miss Austen’s “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory” on which she worked “with so fine a brush”–her own phrases–was her own invention.

Her best-known, if not her best work, Pride and Prejudice, was also her first. It was written between October 1796 and August 1797, although, such was the blindness of publishers, not issued until 1813, two years after Sense and Sensibility, which was written, on an old scenario called “Eleanor and Marianne,” in 1797 and 1798. Miss Austen’s inability to find a publisher for these stories, and for Northanger Abbey, written in 1798 (although it is true that she sold that MS. in 1803 for £10 to a Bath bookseller, only, however, to see it locked away in a safe for some years, to be gladly resold to her later), seems to have damped her ardour; for there is no evidence that between 1798 and 1809 she wrote anything but the fragment called “The Watsons,” after which year she began to revise her early work for the press. Her other three books belong to a later date–Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion being written between 1811 and 1816. The years of publication were Sense and Sensibility, 1811; Pride and Prejudice, 1813; Mansfield Park, 1814; and Emma, 1816–all in their author’s lifetime. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously in 1818. All were anonymous, agreeably to their author’s retiring disposition. (E.V.L.)

You can buy Jane Austen Biographies at our giftshop, click here.

From the Jane Austen E-Texts. More information can be found at Jane Austen Information Page

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James Brydges: Cassanda Austen’s Princely Uncle

James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, MP, PC (6 January 1673 – 9 August 1744) was the first of fourteen children by Sir James Brydges, 3rd Baronet of Wilton Castle, Sheriff of Herefordshire, 8th Baron Chandos; and Elizabeth Barnard. Three days after his father’s death on 16 October 1714, when he became 9th Baron Chandos, he was created 1st Viscount Wilton and 1st Earl of Carnarvon; he became 1st Duke of Chandos and 1st Marquess of Carnarvon in 1719. He was a Member of Parliament for Hereford from 1698 to 1714.

The rise and fall of Henry James Brydges, first duke of Chandos, provides as worthy a subject as any for a film or television drama. Within the space of ten years, from say 1710 to 1720, he rose to fame and riches, only to descend into relative obscurity following the loss of his wealth which was equally as dramatic as the gaining of it. Along the way he created one of baroque London’s most palatial mansions, and was responsible for bequeathing to posterity the inestimable gift of Handel’s Chandos Anthems.

Born in 1673 the son of a Herefordshire squire, in 1696 he married his cousin, Mary Lake (c.1666-1712), who brought to the marriage the manor known as Canons as part of her dowry. Two years after his marriage to Mary Lake, Brydges became Member of Parliament for Hereford. He rose by force of personality, administrative ability and the favour of the Duke of Marlborough to become Paymaster of the Forces Abroad during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Paymaster was able to speculate with the monies he received, and by the time he left the post in 1713 Brydges had accumulated a fortune estimated at £600,000, a sum having in the year 1713 the same purchasing power as £58 million, or $95 million today.

One of the improvements Chandos made to the estate was the expansion of the gardens and addition of several Water features. Chandos had a passion for exotic plants and was one of the first to grow coffee and pineapples in England. He was aided in his attempts by Sir Matthew Decker, a Dutchman living in England and a director of the East India Company. Decker is credited as the first man to grow pineapples on English soil.

Many readers of Jane Austen’s life and letters will recall the name Brydges as it appears frequently in print. Austen’s own mother, another Cassandra (named, perhaps, for her illustrious ancestor), was a great-neice of the Duke and maintained a relationship with many of the Brydges family, including Brookes Brydges, who, perhaps, had an interest in Jane. By this time, Cassandra had become a family name, bestowed on Austen’s own elder sister, a cousin and three of her nieces. These Brydges were not related to Austen’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Bridges Austen Knight of Goodnestone.

On August 4th, the same year that Lord Brydges was made a Duke, he secured the services of who joined the Chapelmaster Dr. Pepusch as composer-in-residence. The Duke maintained an excellent musical establishment of up to thirty first-class players among whom were named Francesco Scarlatti, brother of Alessandro, and Johann Christoph Bach, cousin of J.S.

The Church of St. Lawrence on the Canons Estate had been almost entirely rebuilt in 1715 by Brydges. Only the tower of the original medieval church remained. A lavish patron of the arts, Brydges employed the fashionable artists of his day to decorate his great mansion of Canons, and those same artists – Antonio Bellucci, Louis Laguerre, Francesco Sleter – created the dramatic interior of the church. Walls and ceiling were covered with paintings of biblical scenes, some brilliantly coloured, others in sepia and grisaille. “Trompe – l’oeil” was used to considerable effect. The splendid woodwork included an organ case carved by Grinling Gibbons, and Handel would certainly have played on this organ.

The Chandos Anthems would have been performed in this church, and it seems likely that the Duke, excited by the progression of the interior frescoes, would have called upon Handel to provide suitable music for church performance, for Handel began work almost immediately on the Chandos Anthems. Less than two months later, on September 25th Brydges wrote to Dr Arbuthnot, Court Physician and well known patron of the arts: Mr. Handle has made me two new anthems very noble ones & Most think they far exceed the two first. He is at work for 2 more and some Overtures to be plaid before the lesson.

The first two to which James Brydges refers are O Sing unto the Lord a New Song and As Pants the Hart. The second pair consisted of Let God Arise and My Song shall be Alway . The next pair (about which “he is at work”) were probably Have Mercy Upon Me and O be Joyful in the Lord. It is likely that In the Lord put I my Trust and I will Magnify Thee were completed before that winter. Of the eleven in total, the remaining anthems were probably written during 1718.

In certain respects the life-style of “Princely Chandos” was, as contemporaries recognized, as grand as that of a German electoral prince. In 1720 however, the year in which the rebuilding of the palace was completed, the almost miraculous rise in the fortunes of Chandos (as Brydges was styled from April 1717) crashed abruptly in what became known as the South Sea Bubble financial disaster.

When the South Sea Company had been set up in 1711, it was granted a monopoly on trade with all Spanish territories, South America and the west coast of North America. In 1720, the government encouraged investors to trade government stocks for South Sea Company shares and as these boomed, more and more people speculated in them, forcing the share price higher. In much the same way as many internet stocks today, the price was “talked up” based on nebulous, largely unfounded future prospects, and the price of nominal £100 shares rose to almost £1,000. In July 1720, with company shares at a vastly inflated, unrealistic and unsustainable level, confidence collapsed, and with it the share price. Investors lost considerable amounts and some even committed suicide. Chandos himself suffered major losses, signaling the end of his princely lifestyle. Needless to say, Handel left to seek his fortune elsewhere.

Chandos himself survived, though in greatly reduced circumstances. His wife Cassandra died in 1735, and a year later he married a 43 year-old widow (Lydia, Lady Davall) who revived the family fortunes by bringing with her a dowry estimated at around £40,000. Chandos died in 1744, and his third wife Lydia died in 1750.

Chandos was buried at St Lawrence, Whitchurch, next to his first two wives. His third wife, who survived him, moved to Shaw House, Berkshire.

He was succeeded by his son, Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos, who found the estate so encumbered by debt that a demolition sale of Cannons was held in 1747, which dispersed furnishings and structural elements. The Palace was demolished in 1747. The original colonnade now stands in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, and the gates at New College, Oxford. The estate itself and the materials remaining on site were bought by William Hallett, a prosperous cabinet-maker turned gentleman, who built a country house (the ‘old house’ of what is now North London Collegiate School) on a relatively modest scale in 1760. The Canons church of St Lawrence however, remains today, its frescoes fully restored. And the musical legacy of Handel at Canons is ours to enjoy.

The second Duke’s history has even more the makings of a romance novel. On December 5, 1744 the widowed Duke married his second wife, Anne Wells, daughter of John Wells of Newbury and a chambermaid at the Pelican Inn, Newbury. The circumstances of Henry’s marriage to Anne were unconventional and described by a witness as follows:

The Duke of Chandos and a companion dined at the Pelican, Newbury, on the way to London. A stir in the Inn yard led to their being told that a man was going to sell his wife, and they are leading her up with a halter around her neck. They went to see. The Duke was smitten with her beauty and patient acquiescence in a process which would (as then supposed) free her from a harsh and ill-conditioned husband. He bought her, and subsequently married her (at Keith’s Chapel) Christmas Day, 1744.

Anne died in 1759 and Brydges, like his father, married for a third time before his death in 1771.

In another twist of fate, binding Jane Austen even more closely to the Brydges family, Chandos House in London was chosen as one of the locations for Ang Lee’s 1995 film, Sense and Sensibility.

Michael Sartorius is the curator of The material on his page has been accumulated over 30 years in the music/recording business. It is quoted here with permission.

Further information about the cultivation of the Pineapple in England can be found in Susan Campbell’s A History of Kitchen Gardening

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Eliza de Feuillide: Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’

Eliza Hancock was born 22nd December 1761 in Calcutta, India, to her mother Philadelphia Austen and her father Tysoe Saul Hancock, a physician with the East India Company. Philadelphia was George Austen’s sister, making Eliza Jane’s first cousin.

Philadelphia Austen had traveled to India in January 1752 without a dowry and in search of a husband. She met and married Tysoe six months after her arrival. By 1759, they were still childless and it was assumed that this indicated that they had a bad marriage. It was around this time that they moved house, met and befriended Warren Hastings; it was rumored that Philadelphia had been Hasting’s mistress. Eliza, or as she was known in childhood, Betsy, was born two years later and the true identity of her father is still questioned. Regardless of his possible paternity, Hasting’s became Eliza’s godfather, giving her £10,000 in trust, and later took the position of Governor General of India.

In 1768, Eliza and her mother traveled to England whilst her father remained in India. He chose to stay in India in order to finance their lifestyle at the expense of being with his wife and daughter. He died in 1775 and in 1777, Philadelphia took Eliza to live in Paris, France where it was cheaper. They enjoyed a fortunate lifestyle here, often attending royal events and at age 20, Eliza married a French Army captain called Jean-François Capot de Feuillide who became a French count. In 1786, a very pregnant Eliza set out for England to visit the Austen’s but did not make it past Calais before giving birth to a boy, Hastings de Feuillide, who was thought to have learning difficulties. Eliza and Philadelphia continued with the baby and arrived in Steventon just before Christmas 1786. At this time it is thought that Eliza made quite an impression on the young Jane who had just turned 11 years old; she aided Jane to feel comfortable and more confident around strangers. During this visit, Eliza and Jane’s beloved brother Henry became very close and flirted constantly despite Henry being 10 years her junior. Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794 during the reign of terror and Eliza, Hastings and Philadelphia returned to live in England at this time.

After settling in London, Eliza married Henry Austen in 1797. During this time Eliza and Jane communicated a lot through letters; they were both well-educated, intelligent and witty and took great delight in observing others and describing how they perceived the world. Eliza had traveled the world and this allowed a maturity in knowledge that no doubt intrigued Jane. From reading Eliza’s existing letters (mainly written to her cousin, Phylly Walter whom she was extremely close to), many historians have been unsure on how to judge the character of Eliza; at times she seems incredibly self- centred and confident but there is certainly also a very caring nature. She once described herself as an ‘outlandish cousin’ which serves to give us an impression of the character of Eliza. She suffered many disappointments and heartaches in life and yet remained very optimistic. Humour was very characteristic of her letters; she once wrote to her cousin Phylly: ‘where the Princess of Wales & myself took an Airing—We were however so unsociable as to go in different Carriages.’

It has also been assumed that she persuaded Henry to go into banking, although she did not live to see this venture become a complete failure. Hastings died in 1801 from what is speculated to have been epilepsy. Twelve years later, 25 April 1813, Eliza died after suffering a long illness. It is known that Jane visited Sloane Street (Eliza and Henry’s home) regularly and helped to nurse her during her final years. Eliza is buried with her mother and son in a cemetery in Hampstead, North London.

Deirdre Le Faye has done a fantastic job in editing Jane Austen’s Letters. Her book is called the 3rd or New Edition as R.W Chapman edited Jane’s letters to provide us with the 1st and 2nd Editions. Through Le Faye’s analysis of Jane Austen and her letters, it has been considered that perhaps Jane may have based the character Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park on Eliza. This notion is based on many facts; including that both Eliza and Mary enjoyed amateur acting throughout life, played the harp and enjoyed life in London in comparison to the country. Jon Spence agreed with this position and developed it further through stating that ‘at last Jane was able to convey her ambiguous feelings about Eliza de Feuillide and the unsettling experience of knowing her.’

We actually have a cross stitch pattern remembering Eliza de Feuillide, have a look here.

This Biography of Eliza de Feuillide was written by Rachel Kingston for the Becoming Jane Fansite. It is adapted here with the author’s permission.

Pic 1: Eliza de Feuillide (and Henry Austen), taken from Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane Austen (2003)

Pic 2: Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters), Eliza (Lucy Cohu), Jane (Anne Hathaway) and Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin)in Becoming Jane.

Pic 3: Eliza (Lucy Cohu) and Henry (Joe Anderson) in Becoming Jane, taken from Jane Austen’s Regency World, issue 26.

Pic 4: There are many books which deal with Jane Austen’s relationship to Eliza, including Dearest Cousin Jane (Jill Pitkeathley), Jane and the Barque of Frailty (Stephanie Barron) and Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’: The Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide (Deirdre Le Faye)

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Madame LaTournelle and the Abbey School

Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School — not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems — and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity — but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies.

Jane Austen’s neice, Fanny Catherine Lefroy, speaks of a school at Reading, to which, at an earlier date, her aunts Cassandra and Jane were sent. The school adjoined the remains of the ancient Abbey of Reading, and was called the Abbey School.

“This school at Reading,” writes Miss Lefroy, “was rather a free and easy one judging by Mrs. Sherwood’s account of it when she was there some years later (than the Austens), and when several French émigrés were among its masters. In Cassandra and Jane’s days the girls do not seem to have been kept very strictly, as they and their cousin, Jane Cooper, were allowed to accept an invitation to dine at an inn with their respective brothers, Edward Austen and Edward Cooper.”

We seem to see the merry faces of the five young people and to hear their eager chatter as they sat at table in the old-fashioned inn parlour enjoying their holiday feast! Jane was very young at that time, for she was sent to school

“not because she was thought old enough to profit much by the instruction there imparted, but because she would have been miserable (at home) without her sister; her mother observing that ‘if Cassandra were going to have her head cut off, Jane would insist on sharing her fate.'”

Did the Abbey School, we wonder, serve as a model for Mrs. Goddard’s school in Emma? Mrs. Goddard “was a plain motherly kind of woman,” we are told, whose school was “not a seminary, or an establishment, or anything which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems, and where young ladies, for enormous pay, might be screwed out of health and into vanity; but a real honest old-fashioned boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education without any danger of coming back prodigies.” Mrs. Goddard “had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands.”

Mrs. Sherwood (then Miss Butt), who went to the Reading school in 1790, a few years after Jane Austen had left it, tells us that “the greater part of the house was encompassed by a beautiful old-fashioned garden, where the young ladies were allowed to wander under tall trees in hot summer evenings.” Around two parts of this garden was an artificial embankment, from the top of which she says, “we looked down upon certain magnificent ruins, as I suppose, of the church begun by Henry I., and consecrated by Becket in 1125.” The abbey itself consisted partly of the remains of an ancient building, once the abode of the Benedictine monks, and “the third in size and wealth of all English abbeys,” and partly of additions made to the structure in more modern times. Mrs. Sherwood speaks of “an antique gateway with rooms above its arch, and with vast staircases on either side, whose balustrades had originally been gilt.” This gateway “stood without the garden walls, looking upon the Forbury, or open green, which belonged to the town, and where Dr. Valpy’s boys played after school hours.” We have been fortunate in discovering an old print of this same “antique gateway,” which also shows a part of the school-house itself. Beyond the Forbury there “rose the tower of the fine old church of Saint Nicholas,” while, near at hand, was “the jutting corner of Friar Street” and the “old irregular shops of the marketplace.”

The abbey, with its past history and its relics of ancient grandeur, must have been a delightful abode to the child Jane Austen, and may it not have suggested to her mind in later life some of the features of Northanger Abbey?

The school was run by a Mrs. Latournelle (her given name was Sarah Hackitt), an Englishwoman, but widow of a Frenchman. She had first entered employment as a French teacher, however, Dierdre LaFaye, in her recent book Jane Austen, A Family Record, notes that, “She could not speak a word of French, but wherenver she had the opportunity of holding forth, she spoke of plays and play-acting, and green-room anecdotes,and the private life of actors . . . She was only fit for the giving out of the clothes for the wash, making tea, ordering dinner and, in fact doing the work of the housekeeper.” Little else is known of her.

Mrs. Sherwood tells us that Mrs. Latournelle “was a person of the old school – a stout person hardly under seventy, but very active, although she had a cork leg. She had never been seen or known to have changed the fashion of her dress. Her white muslin handkerchief was always pinned with the same number of pins, her muslin apron always hung in the same form; she always wore the same short sleeves, cuffs, and ruffles, with a breast bow to answer the bow in her cap, both being flat with two notched ends.”

“Mrs. Latournelle received me,” she writes, upon her first arrival at school, “in a wainscoted parlour, the wainscot a little tarnished, while the room was hung round with chenille pieces representing tombs and weeping willows. A screen in cloth-work stood in a corner, and there were several miniatures over the lofty mantel-piece.”

Mrs. Sherwood describes her sojourn at this school as a “very happy one,” remarking that “from the ease and liveliness of the mode of life” it “had been particularly delightful” to her. Before she left, the school had passed into the hands of a Monsieur and Madame St. Quintin (the former being a French émigré), while Mrs. Latournelle acted chiefly as their housekeeper. A few years later Monsieur and Madame St. Quintin removed to London and started a boarding-school in Hans Place. Thither Miss Mitford went as a pupil in 1798. Many of the traditions of the Reading school were continued in London. Mrs. Sherwood speaks of the theatrical entertainments with which the school terms closed in her day, and possibly these were introduced even earlier. The Austens, as a family, were fond of acting and excelled in it; and though Cassandra and Jane, when they were at school, would have been too young to take the direction of such matters, they would gladly have taken part in them. We read in Miss Mitford’s Life: “Before the pupils went home at Easter or Christmas there was either a ballet, when the sides of the school-room were fitted up with bowers, in which the little girls, who had to dance, were seated, and whence they issued at a signal from Monsieur Duval, the dancing-master, attired as sylphs or shepherdesses, to skip or glide through the mazy movements, to the music of his kit; or there was a dramatic performance, as when the same room was converted into a theatre for the representation of Hannah More’s ‘Search after Happiness’; and an elocution-master attended the rehearsals and instructed the actors in their parts.”

On one occasion Miss Mitford had to recite the prologue, but before doing this it was considered necessary by the dancing-master that she should perform an elaborate curtsey – a curtsey that should comprehend in its respectful sinking, turning in a semicircle and rising again, the whole audience. This manoeuvre was practised at the last dress rehearsal again and again under Monsieur Duval’s vociferous instructions, the pupil secretly longing to effect her escape, when suddenly there appeared on the stage the professor of elocution, “a sour pedant of Oxford growth,” who denounced the curtsey as ridiculous. Whereupon a scene ensued between the gentlemen much like that in the “Bourgeois Gentilhomme” between the Maître de Philosophic and the Maître de Danse – which happily ended in a verdict that the elaborate curtsey should be abolished and that three short bends of the body should be given in its place.

From: Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends (John Lane The Bodley Head, 1923) by Constance Hill.

More information about the Austen’s time at the Abbey School can be found in Jane Austen: A Family Record by Dierdre LeFaye and William Austen-Leigh (Cambridge University Press; 2003).

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A Closer Look at Catherine Knight

I am very much obliged to Mrs. Knight for such a proof of the interest she takes in me, and she may depend upon it that I will marry Mr. Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or my own. I owe her much more than such a trifling sacrifice.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
December 9, 1808


Catherine Knatchbull Knight, the wife of Thomas Knight, is best known to Janeites as the adoptive mother of Jane Austen’s brother Edward; Edward’s inheritance of the Knight estates brought him, among other properties, the ownership of Chawton Cottage, which he was able to offer to his mother and sisters as a home, and in which Jane wrote and revised her novels for publication. Most biographies do not see her as a great influence on Jane Austen’s life and writing, though she clearly took an interest in the Austen ladies and also in Jane Austen’s published writing.

Mrs. Knight’s relationship to the Austen sisters makes an appearance in a letter written by Lady Knatchbull, née Fanny Knight, Edward’s eldest daughter and Jane Austen’s favorite niece, to her younger sister:

Yes my love it is very true that Aunt Jane from various circumstances was not so refined as she ought to have been from her talent, and if she had lived fifty years later she would have been in many respects more suitable to our more refined tastes. They were not rich & the people around with whom they chiefly mixed, were not at all high bred, or in short anything more than mediocre & they of course tho’ superior in mental powers & cultivation were on the same level as far as refinement goes–but I think in later life their intercourse with Mrs. Knight (who was very fond & kind to them) improved them both & Aunt Jane was too clever not to put aside all possible signs of ‘common-ness’ (if such an expression is allowable) & teach herself to be more refined at least in intercourse with people in general. Both the aunts (Cassandra and Jane) were brought up in the most complete ignorance of the World & its ways (I mean as to fashion etc.) & if it had not been for Papa’s marriage which brought them into Kent, & the kindness of Mrs. Knight, who used often to have one or other of the sisters staying with her, they would have been, tho’ not less clever and agreeable in themselves, very much below par as to good society and its ways. If you hate all this I beg yr’ pardon, but I felt it at my pen’s end & it chose to come along & speak the truth.

Leaving aside Janeites’ opinions of Lady Knatchbull’s state of mind when that letter was written, one can pull out the comments about Mrs. Knight—that she was fond of and kind to Jane and Cassandra Austen. The mentions of Mrs. Knight in Jane’s letters bear that out, and also indicate that the fondness was returned, and her kindness much appreciated.

Catherine Knatchbull married Thomas Knight II in 1779, around the time that her portrait was painted by George Romney, showing her as a beautiful and elegant woman. Two years later, her husband inherited his father’s estates, including property and houses at Godmersham, Chawton, and Steventon. Her father, the Rev. Wadham Knatchbull, was a younger son of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 4th Baronet. (Fanny Knight, Catherine’s adopted granddaughter, married Sir Edward Knatchbull, 9th Baronet, Catherine’s cousin and great- grandson of the 4th Bt.; their son, elevated to the peerage as Lord Brabourne, edited the first edition of Jane Austen’s letters, most of which were inherited by his mother and discovered after her death.) As part of their wedding tour, the Knights visited Steventon, where they first made the acquaintance of young Edward Austen. Edward was invited to visit the Knights during his holidays, and in 1783, when it became clear that the Knights would be childless, they formally adopted the sixteen-year-old Edward as their heir, as shown in the silhouette at left (click for a larger version). According to Deirdre Le Faye, Mr. Knight is leaning on his sister’s Jane’s chair, and Mrs. Knight is the lady on the other side of the table, turned to see Mr. Austen presenting Edward. Edward remained at Steventon until 1786; the Knights then sent Edward on the Grand Tour, and he went to live with the Knights in 1790.

Mr. Knight died in 1794; three years later, Mrs. Knight turned over control of the estate to Edward, leaving only an income of £2,000 for herself and a small house called White Friars in nearby Canterbury, where she would live. When this scheme was first proposed to Edward, he protested that she could not give up so much, and refused to allow her to reduce her circumstances “to enrich us.” Mrs. Knight’s response was all generosity.

If anything were wanted, my dearest Edward, to confirm my resolution concerning the plan I propose executing, your letter would have that effect; it is impossible for any person to express their gratitude and affection in terms more pleasing and gratifying than you have chosen, and from the bottom of my heart I believe you to be perfectly sincere when you assure me that your happiness is best secured by seeing me in the full enjoyment of every thing that can contribute to my ease and comfort, and that happiness, my dear Edward, will be yours by acceding to my wishes.

From the time that my partiality for you induced Mr. Knight to treat you as our adopted child I have felt for you the tenderness of a mother, and never have you appeared more deserving of affection than at this time; to reward your merit, therefore, and to place you in a situation where your many excellent qualities will be called forth and rendered useful to the neighbourhood, is the fondest wish of my heart. Many circumstances attached to large landed possessions, highly gratifying to a man, are entirely lost on me at present; but when I see you in the enjoyment of them, I shall, if possible, feel my gratitutde to my beloved husband redoubled, for having placed in my hands the power of bestowing happiness on one so very dear to me.

While such an extent of generosity could not be duplicated for every member of the Austen family, Mrs. Knight, as Fanny wrote, took a kind interest in the Austen ladies, especially after Mr. Austen’s death; but as early as 1791, Mrs. Knight seemed to be showing an interest in Jane’s intellect at least, if not also in her juvenile writing. In her parodic History of England, Jane defends Mary, Queen of Scots:

Oh! what must this bewitching Princess whose only freind was then the Duke of Norfolk, and whose only ones are now Mr. Whitaker, Mrs. Lefroy, Mrs. Knight, and myself. . . .

Mr. Whitaker was the author of a book that attempts to vindicate Mary, Queen of Scots, and Mrs. Lefroy was a neighbor who was also a sort of mentor to Jane. To have Mrs. Knight mentioned in this context means that she had taken sufficient notice of young Jane Austen to have discussed history with her; kind notice indeed for an older lady to take of even a precocious young cousin.

Jane Austen’s letters show the continuing attention she and Cassandra received from Mrs. Knight over the next few years. From the letter of January 7, 1807:

We are extremely glad to hear that Elizabeth is so much better, and hope you will be sensible of still further amendment in her when you return from Canterbury. Of your visit there I must now speak “incessantly”; it surprises, but pleases me more, and I consider it as a very just and honourable distinction of you, and not less to the credit of Mrs. Knight. I have no doubt of your spending your time with her most pleasantly in quiet and rational conversation, and am so far from thinking her expectations of you will be deceived, that my only fear is of your being so agreeable, so much to her taste, as to make her wish to keep you with her for ever. If that should be the case, we must remove to Canterbury, which I should not like so well as Southampton.

This kindness, it seemed, extended not only to notice and visits of her younger cousins, but also to financial assistance. It seems, indeed, that “Mrs. K.” was an early patron of Jane Austen. From the letter of June 20, 1808:

…we proceeded to the White Friars, where Mrs. K. was alone in her Drawing room, as gentle & kind & friendly as usual.—She enquired after every body, especially my Mother & yourself… This morning brought me a letter from Mrs. Knight, containing the usual Fee, & all the usual Kindness. She asks me to spend a day or two with her this week, to meet Mrs. C. Knatchbull, who with her Husband comes to the W. Friars to day—& I beleive I shall go.—I have consulted Edward—& think it will be arranged for Mrs. J. A.’s going with me one morning, my staying the night, & Edward’s driving me home the next Evening.—Her very agreable present will make my circumstances quite easy. I shall reserve half for my Pelisse. . . . Mrs. Knight finished her letter with, “Give my best love to Cassandra when you write to her.” I shall like spending a day at the White Friars very much. . . . I sent my answer by them to Mrs. Knight, my double acceptance of her note & her invitation, which I wrote without much effort; for I was rich—& the Rich are always respectable, whatever be their stile of writing.

From the letter of June 26, 1808:

And now I beleive I have made all the needful replys & communications; & may disport myself as I can on my Canterbury visit.—It was a very agreable visit. There was everything to make it so; Kindness, conversation, & variety, without care or cost. . .We found Mrs. Knight up and better; but early as it was—only 12 o’clock—we had scarcely taken off our bonnets before company came—Ly. Knatchbull and her mother; and after them succeeded Mrs. White, Mrs. Hughes and her two children, Mr. Moore, Harriot and Louisa, and John Bridges, with such short intervals between any as to make it a matter of wonder to me that Mrs. K. and I should ever have been ten minutes alone or have had any leisure for comfortable talk, yet we had time to say a little of everything. . . .Mrs. K. has promised to call in Castle Square; it will be about the end of July. She seems to have a prospect, however, of being in that county again in the spring for a longer period, and will spend a day with us if she is. You and I need not tell each other how glad we shall be to receive attention from, or pay it to anyone connected with, Mrs. Knight. I cannot help regretting that now, when I feel enough her equal to relish her society, I see so little of the latter.

So clearly Jane Austen felt that time spent with Mrs. Knight was more than just a duty to a kind and generous relative, but something beneficial in itself, and something to be enjoyed.

After the Austen ladies removed to Chawton Cottage, Mrs. Knight’s interest continued. In October 1809, she wrote to Fanny Knight,

I heard of the Chawton Party looking very comfortable at Breakfast, from a gentleman who was travelling by their door in a Post-chaise about ten days ago. Your account of the whole family gives me the sincerest Pleasure, and I beg you will assure them all how much I feel interested in their happiness.

Apparently Mrs. Knight felt enough interest in Jane’s happiness to suggest a bit of matchmaking with the Chawton rector. From the letter of December 9, 1808:

I am very much obliged to Mrs. Knight for such a proof of the interest she takes in me, and she may depend upon it that I will marry Mr. Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or my own. I owe her much more than such a trifling sacrifice.

Mrs. Knight continued to show interest in Jane’s writing career, and unlike some of the younger members of the family was admitted to the secret of her authorship, as she asked Cassandra about the progress of the publication of Sense and Sensibility. From the letter of April 26, 1811:

No, indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your inquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to W.(illoughby)’s first appearance. Mrs. K. regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. . . . I am very much gratified by Mrs. K.’s interest in it; & whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on any thing else.

While the source material is scanty, one can build a portrait of this kind, elegant woman and her interest in the well-being and intellectual life of Jane Austen and her sister and mother.

Margaret C. Sullivan is the Editrix of AustenBlog and the author of The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World. (Quirk Books, 2007). She wishes that she, too, could have her portrait painted by George Romney.

Austen-Leigh, William and Austen-Leigh, Richard Arthur, Revised and Enlarged by Deirdre Le Faye. Jane Austen: A Family Record. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1989.

Fergus, Jan. Jane Austen: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen’s Family Through Five Generations. London: Robert Hale, 1984.

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen (The British Library Writers’ Lives). New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Le Faye, Deirdre, Ed. Jane Austen’s Letters (Third Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.