Jane Austen’s brothers
“A Family of [Eight] children will always be called a fine family, where there are head and arms and legs enough for the number. ”
Jane Austen had six brothers– each with different talents, each contributing to her work in some way.
Often thought by the family to be the “literary one” (see his poem on Sense and Sensibility), one of Austen’s brothers James followed in his father’s footsteps attending Oxford university at the age of 14 in 1779. After his ordination in 1787, he and his brother Henry edited a university magazine called The Loiterer, which ran for sixty issues. (Some issues of The Loiterer are available on-line.) After his marriage, he became his father’s curate at Deane, and after his retirement, He took on the duties of the Steventon as well.
James was not Jane Austen’s favorite brother, though she did call him “good and clever”. He seems to have had a bit of melancholy about him, uncharacteristic of the other Austens. Perhaps it was turning from the excitement of Oxford to the retired life of a country Vicar. Perhaps it was seeing his literary pretensions lived out through his sister or the wealth acceded to by his younger brother. It is true that his life was not untouched by sorrow, as well. His first wife died when their daughter, Anna (1793-1872), was but two years old. Anna was the first niece and a favorite of Jane Austen’s. She also had her father’s creative streak and worked on a a novel, Which is the Heroine, with the help of her aunt, until Jane Austen’s death, at which time Anna burned the work.
James married again and his second wife, Mary Lloyd, was not a favorite of Jane Austen’s, even though she was the sister of her dear friend, Martha Lloyd. James and Mary had two children, James Edward (1798-1874) and Caroline (1805-1880) who also solicited their aunt’s approval on their literary efforts. Caroline later wrote down her memories of her Aunt Jane and James Edward wrote the Memoir.
Not much is known about young George Austen. Though he lived a relatively long life, characteristic of the Leigh side of the family, he spent the whole of it living with a farming family a few miles from Steventon. Some scholars believe he was mentally retarded, others that he was merely deaf, speculation rising from Jane Austen’s comment that she was fluent in “finger speaking”. Regardless of the cause, George was destined to play little part in the Austen’s brothers and family daily lives.
Edward was the only Austen brother not to have a profession. Early in the 1780’s he was adopted by Mr. Austen’s Patron, the rich but childless Thomas and Catherine Knight. Instead of going off to University, He was sent on the “grand tour” of continental Europe in 1786-1788, and eventually inherited their estate of Godmersham, Kent, and took the last name of “Knight”.
As part of his inheritance, Edward also acquired Steventon and an estate in Chawton. It was a cottage attached to the latter that he made available to his widowed mother and sisters, and here that millions of fans tour each year when they visit “Jane Austen’s Home”.
Edward had a large family and lively, cultured wife, Elizabeth. The Austen Aunts, Cassandra and Jane were frequent visitors to Godmersham during the early years, and when Edward’s wife died during her eleventh confinement the aunts became an integral part of the Godmersham and then Chawton, life.
Edward’s oldest daughter, Fanny, was but 16 when her mother died. She was another favorite niece who looked to her aunt for emotional as well as literary guidance. Unfortunately, Jane Austen died before she was able to see her find her own Mr. Darcy. Fanny eventually married a baronet; her son edited the first edition of Jane Austen’s letters.
Henry was Jane Austen’s favorite brother and the sibling most like her in looks and temperament. He was witty and enthusiastic in whatever he did; the eternal optimist, though success did not always find him. He entered Oxford in 1788 in time to co edit the Loiterer with his brother James. He and James also shared a passion for the same woman, their widowed cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. She eventually chose Henry, 10 years her junior, and they were married in 1797.
Thanks in part to Eliza’s influence, Henry forsook his family’s expectations that he join James in the ministry and instead chose the militia. He later tried banking and lived the life of a London Business man until the bank failed, due to economic factors, in 1815. His wife, Eliza had died two years previously allowing him to return to his intended profession, eventually becoming a Calvinist-leaning minister. He served at different times in the curacy of Steventon and Chawton before becoming the Perpetual Curate at Bentley.
Henry was the sibling most influential in allowing Jane Austen to publish her works. Not only was his home available for her to stay in during her trips to London to work with her publisher, these visits also gave her an insight into society life that she would not otherwise have had, furnishing settings, events and characters for her novels to come. It was Henry who saw to the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey after her death, and a Henry who wrote the brief, but loving biographical notice which prefaced these two novels and provided the world with their first glimpse into the life of this author.
Henry went on to marry again, this time Eleanor Jackson, a woman the family considered “an excellent wife”. He spent the rest of his days living the retired life of a country curate.
Francis Austen had, perhaps, the most glorious career of the Austen brothers, serving in the Navy from the age of 12 and eventually achieving Knighthood as Sir Francis Austen and rising to the position of Admiral of the Fleet. Considered by Admiral Nelson to be “an excellent young man”, he narrowly missed involvement in the battle of Trafalgar due to his temporary detachment as captain of a captured French Ship, the Canopus.
It is doubtless this connection which gave Jane Austen such an admiration for the men of the Royal Navy. A look at his career proclaims him not only the inspiration for the young Lieutenant William Price in Mansfield Park, but even more so for the unforgettable Captain Wentworth of Persuasion. Even the high points of their promotions stem from the same Battle, The Action off Santo Domingo.
According to some, Francis’ earlier promotions were due to the patronage of Warren Hastings, a friend of the family and supposed father of his cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. His ports of call ranged to the far corner of the British Empire at the time, spending time in the Far East from age 14 to 18 and later the Indies.
Francis and his wife, Mary had a cordial relationship with the Austen ladies, even including them for some time in their household in Southampton from 1805-1808, after the death of Rev. Austen. This arrangement, happy for all, as Frank was often at sea, also included their close friend, Martha Lloyd, sister to James Austen’s wife Mary. Unfortunately for Francis, His happy home was broken up upon the death of his wife in 1823 after the birth of their 11th child. In 1828 he remarried, completing the family circle by wedding Martha Lloyd (1765-1843). She gained fame in her own right, by collecting the recipes which later were compiled into The Jane Austen Household Book and more lately, The Jane Austen Cookbook.
Francis’ daughter, Catherine married John Hubback and went on to write the first completion of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons. Her son, John Henry Hubback co-authored Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers with his Daughter, Edith Hubback, in 1906.
Charles was Jane’s darling little brother, clearly a favorite with both sisters as a boy. Though his career was nowhere near as distinguished as that of his brother, he also joined the Naval Academy as Midshipman at the age of 12 and rose to become a Rear-Admiral. Much to the regret of his family, he was stationed in the West Indies where he remained for seven years straight, returning at the end of that time with a wife and child.
It was Charles’ gift of Topaz Crosses to his sisters which inspired a similar scene in Mansfield Park. Charles Austen’s ship, Endymion captured many prizes during the war with France, leaving him a comfortable settlement. He died, at age 75, still on Active Duty, during a naval river-war in Burma.
Brian Southam, president of the Jane Austen Society, has written a wonderful book about these two daring brothers, entitled Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers.
Portrait of the Austen Family by Jane Odiwe. Visite her website, Austen Effusions for more original Austen Art and Gift Items.
Portrait of Francis Austen reproduced by kind permission of the owner. No other reproudctions permissable.