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Jane Austen’s Fame and Fortune, Now and Then

Jane Austen


By Caroline Kerr Taylor

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen continues to grow in popularity as an author even as her novels turn 200 years old. After Shakespeare, many would pronounce Austen the most popular and widely acclaimed literary figure in history. Her six novels are some of the most widely read literature in the world often outselling the books of top contemporary authors. According to Nielsen BookScan research, for example, in 2002 U.S. book stores sold 110,000 copies of Pride and Prejudice while John Grisham’s, The Runaway Jury, (a #1 best seller in 1996) sold 73,337 copies. Further, in recent years there have been numerous new editions of her books, various translations, dozens of TV adaptations and feature films, in addition to prequels, sequels and spin-offs, as well as, new biographies and articles on Austen herself.


Austen is unquestionably a literary star today, but how was she received in her own day? Did she enjoy similar adulation? Other 19th century literary stars such as Dickens or Scott did enjoy a great deal of celebrity in their lifetimes. Austen’s reception was more low key. It is important to note that her name was not attached to any of her novels. Sense and Sensibility, her first published novel, was signed “By A Lady”. All her other books were attributed “to the author” of her previously published books. This practice was not uncommon. Even Walter Scott, well known for his poetry, initially did not use his name when he branched out into historical novels.


Jane’s notoriety was gained essentially by word of mouth. While she did not promote herself, her brother, Henry, did. Henry, along with her sister, Cassandra, were her biggest supporters. Cassandra was the first person privy to each novel as it was developed. Henry played several roles. At the time of the publishing of her novels he was a successful London banker. Because her first novel Sense and Sensibility was published on commission Austen needed to come up with the money to have it published. Having no money of her own she depended on Henry’s financial support to bring her books into the reading world. He not only provided financial support where needed but also acted as a liaison with her publishers. In the early 1800’s it was very much a man’s world. Henry assisted his sister by helping her navigate the professional world. He also mixed with influential people who could afford to buy books for pleasure and would share their reading experiences with others. In letters to her family Austen asked them not to share the fact that she was the author of her books, but her brother Henry couldn’t help himself. Bursting with pride Henry often let it slip that his sister Jane was, indeed, the author. Before long the word was circulating at dinner parties, afternoon teas, in letters, etc.


In 2016 Austen’s fourth novel, Emma (released in December 1815 but dated 1816), turns 200 years old. The first editions of her books: Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice and Mansfield Park had sold out. Looking back over Austen’s life she had a lot to celebrate with the publication of this fourth novel. Thomas Egerton, who printed her first three books, was a publisher of military themes primarily. He was not known for novels. After a disagreement over a second edition of Mansfield Park, Austen sought out a new publisher. With the help of Henry she was taken on by prominent London publisher John Murray. It was a significant step forward. Murray’s publishing house included the very popular Lord Byron as well as the famous Walter Scott as clients.

Frances Talbot, by Thomas Phillips, 1802. Frances would later become Countess Morley, receiving a personal copy of Emma as well as mistaken credit for penning Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.
Frances Talbot, by Thomas Phillips, 1802. Frances would later become Countess Morley, receiving a personal copy of Emma, from Jane Austen, as well as mistaken credit for penning Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.

It is interesting that Austen’s novels about everyday country life found her largest admirers from what Claire Tomalin calls the “beau monde” influential people whose tastes and judgments were important. The playwright Richard Sheridan was a fan. The sister of the Duchess of Devonshire enjoyed her novels. Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince Regent, identified with Marianne in Sense & Sensibility. The Countess of Morley in her letter to Austen in December of 1815 writes, “I am already become intimate in the Woodhouse family & feel that they will not amuse or interest me less than the Bennetts, Bertrams, Norriss & all their admirable predecessors. I can give them no higher praise.” Austen’s brother, Charles, wrote from Sicily in May of 1815: “Books became the subject of conversation, and I praised “Waverly” highly, when a young man present observed that nothing had come out for years to be compared with Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility…” The speaker of this praise was the eldest son of Lord Holland.

Jane’s esteem was also growing beyond the boundaries of England. She learned through her brother Henry that Lady Robert Kerr from Scotland had sung her praises and a Mrs. Fletcher, a wife of a judge in Ireland, was eager to learn about her. These accolades would have been thrilling.

The inscription dedicating the novel Emma to the Prince Regent.
The inscription dedicating the novel Emma to the Prince Regent.

The ultimate endorsement took place in l815. First, Austen learned that the Prince Regent (heir to the throne) had read and admired her novels. His librarian, Mr. Clarke, was instructed to invite her to visit the Prince Regent’s Carleton House library. While perusing the library together Mr. Clarke invited Austen to dedicate any future work to the Prince Regent. Truth be told, Jane was not a particular fan of the Prince Regent. She abhorred his decadent lifestyle and the ill-treatment of his wife. However, realizing that this was more than a suggestion but rather a command Jane alerted Murray that Emma would be dedicated by permission to the Prince Regent. Murray was delighted and helped her with the appropriate dedication as well as printing 2,000 copies of Emma which was her largest edition yet.

Second, Sir Walter Scott, the most popular writer of the day, wrote a positive review of Emma in the Quarterly Review. It must have been quite heady for Austen, someone who read and admired Scott’s writing, to be reviewed by the great man himself. Over the years Scott’s regard for Austen continued to grow. Years later he paid her the highest compliment, “That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I have ever met with”. It is interesting to note that in Persuasion the heroine, Anne Elliot, speaks of her admiration for both Byron and Scott.

Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen shared a mutual admiration for the other's work.
Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen shared a mutual admiration for each other’s work.

Besides having a prominent publisher and getting recognition from the “beau monde”, including the Prince Regent, Austen was now earning her own money. As a single woman living in 18th century England, she was entirely dependent on her family for her finances. Women of her class didn’t work outside the home. She had been given a 20£ yearly allowance while her father was living. Her father died in 1805 leaving his wife and daughters with an annual income of 160£. Jane’s brothers contributed as best they could but contributions were limited as they had families of their own. It wasn’t until Edward, one of Jane’s brothers, who had inherited large properties, offered them a cottage on his Chawton estate in l809 that their lives found a degree of stability and comfort. In letters to her oldest niece, Fanny, Austen writes about this difficulty: “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor….”, and “…tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls pewter, too”. Writing to her brother Frank Jane says, “I have written myself into 250£ which only makes me long for more”.

What would Jane have thought to find herself featured on the ten pound note?
What would Jane have thought to find herself recently featured on the ten pound note?

From the accounts rendered at the time of her death it appears that income from the publishing of her first four novels earned her more than 600£. This was not a lot of money but for an unmarried woman in her social standing it was significant. The author Paula Byrne equates the 300£ Austen made from the first edition of Mansfield Park to approximately 20,000£ or 30,000 U.S. dollars in today’s values (600£ would therefore be approximately 40,000£ or 60,000 U.S. dollars). Upon Jane’s death she left the majority of her money and her manuscripts to her sister Cassandra. Murray bought Northanger Abbey and Persuasion from Cassandra for 500£. Jane was already working on another book at the time of her death. Had she lived she would have continued to write and make a comfortable living. In 1832, fifteen years after his sister’s death, Henry negotiated with the publisher, Richard Bentley, for a new edition of Austen’s six novels. Bentley bought the five publishing rights owned by Cassandra for 210£. Bentley had to pay Egerton’s heirs for Pride and Prejudice to complete the collection.

Today Austen is a super star among literary figures. She could not have imagined such acclaim during her lifetime. As an ardent Jane Austen fan it is satisfying to know that during her short life (she died at the age of 41) and limited literary career (six and a half years) she did in fact enjoy a degree of fulfillment, affirmation, and financial success. The clergyman’s daughter from a small country village in Hampshire had done well…quite well indeed.

Caroline Kerr Taylor authored many educational work books as an editor at Creative Teaching Press, Cypress, California. After some years living abroad, in New Zealand, she now lives in Newport Beach, California, and enjoys freelance writing. Her most recent article, “A Visit to Harper Lee’s Monroeville” was published in online magazine, Literary Traveler, October 8, 2012. In New Zealand she had a feature story in NZ House & Garden, May 2009.

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Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks in London

The making of life-size wax figures wearing real clothes grew out of the funeral practices of European royalty. In the Middle Ages it was the habit to carry the corpse, fully dressed, on top of the coffin at royal funerals, but this sometimes had unfortunate consequences in hot weather, and the custom of making an effigy in wax for this role grew, again wearing actual clothes so that only the head and hands needed wax models. After the funeral these were often displayed by the tomb or elsewhere in the church, and became a popular attraction for visitors, which it was often necessary to pay to view.

"Elizabeth of york - funeral effigy" by lisby1 -
“Elizabeth of York”, funeral effigy” by lisby1 –

The museum of Westminster Abbey in London has a collection of British royal wax effigies going back to that of Edward III of England (died 1377), as well as those of figures such as the naval hero Horatio Nelson, and Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond, who also had her parrot stuffed and displayed. From the funeral of Charles II in 1680 they were no longer placed on the coffin but were still made for later display. The effigy of Charles II, open-eyed and standing, was displayed over his tomb until the early 19th century, when all the Westminster effigies were removed from the abbey itself. Nelson’s effigy was a pure tourist attraction, commissioned the year after his death in 1805, and his burial not in the Abbey but in St Paul’s Cathedral after a government decision that major public figures should in future be buried there. Concerned for their revenue from visitors, the Abbey decided it needed a rival attraction for admirers of Nelson.

In European courts including that of France the making of posed wax figures became popular. Antoine Benoist (1632–1717) was a French court painter and sculptor in wax to King Louis XIV. He exhibited forty-three wax figures of the French Royal Circle at his residence in Paris. Thereafter, the king authorized the figurines to be shown throughout France. His work became so highly regarded that James II of England invited him to visit England in 1684. There he executed works of the English king and members of his court. A seated figure of Peter the Great of Russia survives, made by an Italian artist, after the Tsar was impressed by the figures he saw at the Chateau of Versailles. The Danish court painter Johann Salomon Wahl executed figures of the Danish king and queen in about 1740.

The ‘Moving Wax Works of the Royal Court of England’, a museum or exhibition of 140 life-size figures, some apparently with clockwork moving parts, opened by Mrs Mary in Fleet Street in London was doing excellent business in 1711. Philippe Curtius, waxwork modeller to the French court, opened his Cabinet de Cire as a tourist attraction in Paris in 1770, which remained open until 1802. In 1783 this added a Caverne des Grandes Voleurs (“Cave of the Great Thieves”), an early “Chamber of Horrors”. He bequeathed his collection to his protegé Marie Tussaud, who during the French Revolution made death masks of the executed royals. Later she would bring her collection and expertise to London and open one of the most successful waxworks in history.

An advertisement for Madame Tussaud's exhibition.
A french advertisement for Madame Tussaud’s London exhibition.

Tussaud created her first wax sculpture, of Voltaire, in 1777. Other famous people she modelled at that time include Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin.

The wax statue of Voltaire on display at Madame Tussauds, London.
The wax statue of Voltaire on display at Madame Tussauds, London.

In 1802 she went to London, having accepted an invitation from Paul Philidor, a magic lantern and phantasmagoria pioneer, to exhibit her work alongside his show at the Lyceum Theatre, London. She did not fare particularly well financially, with Philidor taking half of her profits. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, she was unable to return to France, so she traveled throughout Great Britain and Ireland exhibiting her collection. From 1831 she took a series of short leases on the upper floor of “Baker Street Bazaar” (on the west side of Baker Street, Dorset Street and King Street). This became Tussaud’s first permanent home in 1836. One of the main attractions of her museum was the Chamber of Horrors.

Chamber of Horrors, 1849 by Richard Doyle (1824–1883)

The name ‘Chamber of Horrors’ is often credited to a contributor to Punch in 1845, but Marie Tussaud appears to have originated it herself, using it in advertising as early as 1843. Visitors were charged an extra sixpence to enter the ‘Separate Room’.

The French Royal family, as modeled by Madame Tussaud.
The French Royal family, as modeled by Madame Tussaud.

This part of the exhibition is in the basement of the building and includes wax heads made from the death masks of victims of the French Revolution including Marat, Robespierre, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were modeled by Marie Tussaud herself at the time of their deaths or execution, and more recent figures of murderers and other notorious criminals.

The oldest display is that of "Sleeping Beauty", Madame DuBarry.
The oldest figure on display is that of the “Sleeping Beauty”, Madame Du Barry.

Other famous people were added to the exhibition, including Horatio Nelson, and Sir Walter Scott. Some of the sculptures done by Marie Tussaud herself still exist. The gallery originally contained some 400 different figures, but fire damage in 1925, coupled with German bombs in 1941, has rendered most of these older models defunct. The casts themselves have survived (allowing the historical waxworks to be remade), and these can be seen in the museum’s history exhibit. The oldest figure on display is that of Madame du Barry. Other faces from the time of Tussaud include Robespierre and George III. In 1842, she made a self portrait which is now on display at the entrance of her museum. She died in her sleep on 15 April 1850.

By 1883 the restricted space and rising cost of the Baker Street site prompted her grandson (Joseph Randall) to commission the building at its current location on Marylebone Road. The new exhibition galleries were opened on 14 July 1884 and were a great success.

Madame Tussauds, London
Madame Tussauds, London

Madame Tussaud’s wax museum has now grown to become a major tourist attraction in London. It has expanded and will expand with branches in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Berlin, Blackpool, Hollywood, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, New York City, Shanghai, Sydney, Vienna, Washington, D.C., Wuhan, Tokyo and a temporary museum in Busan (Korea) with locations coming to Beijing, Prague, Singapore, Orlando and San Francisco. Today’s wax figures at Tussauds include historical and royal figures, film stars, sports stars and famous murderers. Known as “Madame Tussauds” museums (no apostrophe), they are owned by a leisure company called Merlin Entertainments, following the acquisition of The Tussauds Group in May 2007.

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The Stuart Jacobite Kings: A Biography by Kathleen Spaltro

Many who have read Jane Austen’s History of England will have recognized that Jane was an avid supporter of the Royal House of Stuart and the Jacobite cause (the movement took its name from Jacobus, the Latinised form of James.) What most will not realize is that through service to Charles I, her relative,  Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey, was elevated to the nobility (July 1643), becoming afterwards known as Lord Leigh. With this family connection and the recent interest in the Jacobite cause, it seems only reasonable to include this in depth look at the events surrounding the romantic character of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and the rise of the Hanoverian Kings, beginning with George I.


Part One:

Portrait of King James II by Sir Godfrey Kneller.
James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales, The “Old Pretender” (1688-1766; “reigned” in exile as “James III” of Great Britain, 1701-1766) Portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

Call your companions,
Launch your vessel,
And crowd your canvas,
And, ere it vanishes
Over the margin,
After it, follow it,
Follow The Gleam.
–Alfred Lord Tennyson

Shortly after the 1688 birth of James Francis Edward to James II of Great Britain and Queen Mary Beatrice, James II lost his crown to his daughter and her husband. The birth of a Catholic Prince of Wales precipitated the expulsion of his Catholic parents by the “Glorious Revolution” that enthroned the Protestants William III and Mary II. Resisting his overthrow, in 1689-1690 the expelled James II challenged William in Ireland and Scotland, but his challenges failed. After the death of James II in 1701, his son James Francis Edward and, later, his grandsons Charles Edward and Henry all in turn inherited and proclaimed their right to rule Great Britain. For a century, “Jacobites” argued, schemed, conspired, fought, and died on their behalf. Each of these three very different men struggled with his entangling legacy of denied kingship, either allowing the dream of restoration to dominate his life or making another life quite immune from its seductive pull, for the dream could become very nightmarish indeed.

James Francis Edward both felt and resisted the pull of the dream. An introverted and conscientious man, James Francis Edward agreed to three attempts at his restoration: two aborted efforts in 1708 and 1719 that bookended his all-out Scottish campaign in 1715 (called “the Fifteen”). Thirty years later, his more dynamic son Charles Edward (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) enthralled the Scottish clans in “the Forty-five.” All of these major Jacobite rebellions depended for their success on Continental support and British discontent holding steady just when competent generalship was available and the weather agreed with their purpose. Such a happy conjunction of forces, however, never held long enough to effect a Jacobite restoration.

Historic image depicting the Jacobite Uprising of 1715.
Historic image depicting the Jacobite Uprising of 1715.

James Francis Edward felt compelled to assert his right as Prince of Wales to the British throne stolen from his father and made many plans that finally culminated in his three campaigns of 1708, 1715, and 1719. His own withdrawn personality and frequent malarial illnesses proved detrimental to military success. Nicknamed “Old Mr. Melancholy” or “Old Mr. Misfortune” by English satirists, James Francis Edward seemed lethargic, depressed, and uninspiring to his followers in Scotland. As one Jacobite Scot recorded, “we found ourselves not at all animated by his presence; if he was disappointed in us, we were tenfold more so in him. We saw nothing in him that looked like spirit. . . . Some said the circumstances he found us in dejected him; I am sure the figure he made dejected us.” In 1745, the far more athletic and extroverted Bonnie Prince Charlie would spark a very different reaction.

Yet, while Charles Edward proved himself the better leader of men at arms, James Francis Edward would have made the better King and was the better man. The conscientiousness that drove James Francis Edward to assert his father’s right would have driven him also to rule well. In addition, he had none of the religious bigotry that had hardened James II’s subjects against him. In fact, the dying James II advised James Francis Edward to establish liberty of conscience upon his restoration. James Francis Edward himself wrote, “I am a Catholic, but I am a King, and subjects, of whatever religion they may be, have an equal right to be protected. I am a King, but as the Pope himself told me, I am not an Apostle.”

Yet, at the same time, James Francis Edward utterly refused to listen to any persuasion that he should change his own religion in order to become King more easily. (In 1701, the Act of Settlement sought to ensure a Protestant succession and to exclude his claim. Heirs to the throne must themselves be Protestants, and they must not marry Catholics.) In contrast, Charles Edward eventually became an Anglican for such opportunistic reasons. Surely, James Francis Edward revealed himself as the more principled man of the two.

His greater strength of character showed, too, in his reaction to the failure of the Jacobite risings in which he himself took part. While after 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie brooded over defeat and drank himself into a stupefied and miserable middle age, James Francis Edward after 1719 for the most part shelved any ideas about active campaigning and lived a new life in Italy. Born in St. James’s Palace in London, he had lived but a few weeks on his native soil before his parents’ 1688 exile led them to seek refuge with James II’s first cousin, Louis XIV of France. Louis had housed his cousins in St-Germain-en-Laye, twelve miles west of Paris and not far from Versailles. Although Louis recognized James Francis Edward as the rightful King of Great Britain in 1701, the Treaty of Utrecht (1713-1714) forced Louis to expel James Francis Edward from French soil.

After the subsequent failure of the Fifteen, James Francis Edward wandered—to Lorraine, to Avignon (then papal territory), to various places in Italy, then finally to Rome and Urbino. A sympathetic Pope Clement XI gave the exile a pension and allowed him to live in Palazzo Muti in Rome, near Santi Apostoli. Clement also lent Palazzo Savelli at Albano as a summer home. By accepting refuge in Rome, James Francis Edward effectively surrendered any hope of gaining the Protestant support vital to his restoration. After 1719, he still claimed to rule as “James III” and indulged in some intrigue but essentially made another life for himself for the next 45 years. The scene had shifted to Rome internally as well as externally.

His marriage in 1719 to Princess Clementina of Poland, granddaughter of John III Sobieski and goddaughter of Clement XI, produced two sons: Charles Edward, born in 1720, and Henry Benedict, born in 1725. So uninterested was James Francis Edward in further Jacobite risings that Charles Edward told him of the Forty-five in a letter written on the day Charles Edward sailed for Scotland. James Francis Edward reacted with dismay, “Heaven forbid that all the crowns of the world should rob me of my son.”

David Morier's painting Culloden shows the highlanders still wearing the plaids which they normally set aside before battle, where they would fire a volley then run full tilt at the enemy with broadsword and targe in the "Highland charge" wearing only their shirts.
David Morier’s painting Culloden shows the highlanders still wearing the plaids which they normally set aside before battle, where they would fire a volley then run full tilt at the enemy with broadsword and targe in the “Highland charge” wearing only their shirts.

After the disaster of the Forty-five, James Francis Edward showed again how little he thought of Jacobite aspirations when in 1747 he supported his son Henry’s being made a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Alive to the political consequences of this event, enraged by what he saw as his father’s and brother’s betrayal of the Jacobite cause, Charles Edward never saw James Francis Edward again. While Charles Edward wrote to his father from time to time, he maintained a total estrangement from his brother Henry for 18 years.

Henry re-established contact with Charles Edward as their aging father declined, but Charles Edward refused to visit until Pope Clement XIII recognized his rights to the throne as James Francis Edward’s heir. James Francis Edward died in 1766 as Charles Edward preserved a stubborn absence that had lasted 22 years.

After honorably asserting his claim, James Francis Edward sensibly recognized the futility of further assertion. And yet, sensible as his turning away from Jacobitism seems, the romance of his being the “Chevalier de Saint George” or “the King over the Water” still lingers. The rising of 1708 acted against James Francis Edward’s half-sister Queen Anne, who had succeeded William and Mary. Angered by his action into terming James Francis Edward “the Pretender,” Anne nevertheless sought to give the impression at times that she preferred her half-brother to any other successor, especially the detested Hanoverians specified by the 1701 Act of Settlement.

Anne. Queen of Great Britain. Portrait by Michael Dahl, 1705.
Anne. Queen of Great Britain. (6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714) Portrait by Michael Dahl, 1705.

As Anne’s health declined a few years later, the Jacobite James Douglas, 4th Duke of Hamilton, wanted James Francis Edward in Scotland to await the Queen’s death. James Fitzjames, 1st Duke of Berwick (a bastard of James II by Arabella Churchill), planned to have James Francis Edward meet their half-sister Queen Anne in London. Hamilton’s suspicious death in a duel aborted such plans, and the throne passed to the Hanoverian descendants of Elizabeth of Bohemia. The risings of 1715 and 1719 (against George I), and of 1745 (against George II) failed to dislodge them. With Hamilton’s  death in 1712 and Anne’s death in 1714, the opportunity for reconciliation and restoration had died as well. A brilliant rendering of Jacobite intrigue complete with an unflattering, unfair, and unforgettable view of James Francis Edward, Thackeray’s historical novel Henry Esmond portrays this lost moment—and all the Jacobite strivings—in all their comedy, tragedy, romance, and futility.

Part Two:

Charles Edward, “The Young Pretender” (1720-1788) and Henry, Cardinal Duke of York (1725-1807) (“reigned” in exile as “Charles III," 1766-1788 and “Henry IX,” 1788-1807) Portrait by Allan Ramsay, painted in Edinburgh in 1745
Charles Edward, “The Young Pretender” (1720-1788) and Henry, Cardinal Duke of York (1725-1807) (“reigned” in exile as “Charles III,” 1766-1788 and “Henry IX,” 1788-1807) Portrait by Allan Ramsay, painted in Edinburgh in 1745

For who better may
Our high scepter sway,
Than he whose right it is to reign:
Then look for no peace,
For the wars will never cease
Till the King shall enjoy his own again.

So sang Bonnie Prince Charlie to Flora Macdonald during their flight together after the disastrous Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746. First sung in reference to the imprisoned and executed Charles I and his successor in exile, Charles II, “The King Shall Enjoy His Own Again” later became a Jacobite song. It heartened the supporters of the expelled James II, his son James Francis Edward, “the Old Pretender” or “the Chevalier de Saint George,” and his grandson Charles Edward, “the Young Pretender” or “the Young Chevalier.” In 1746, Charles Edward defiantly sang it after the final defeat of Jacobite hopes.

Those hopes had always depended on the lucky conjunction of foreign diplomatic, military, and financial support with British discontent and competent generalship. In 1689-90, 1708, 1715, and 1719, James II and then James Francis Edward had found that conjunction unstable. In the third phase of Jacobite rebellion, this time led in 1745-46 by Charles Edward, equivocal foreign aid, unreliable English support, and questionable military decisions doomed Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to gain Britain for his father and to rule there himself as Regent. Though smashed by the Hanoverians at Culloden and disillusioned about European recognition of his claim, Charles Edward never accepted the defeat of Jacobite hopes. His father and his younger brother, Henry Benedict, more realistically knew that Culloden had rung the death knell. Charles’s obstinately clinging to the dream of a Jacobite restoration, and Henry’s realizing its inherent impracticality set the brothers on very different—indeed, diametrically opposed—paths. While Charles insisted on being a Prince of Great Britain, Henry settled for being a Prince of the Church—by choosing in 1747 the path that led to his becoming a Roman Catholic Cardinal.

Divided in life by these choices, the brothers are buried together with their father James Francis Edward in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican beneath the Monument to the Stuart Kings commissioned by Pope Pius VII, sculpted by Canova, and paid for by George IV. (George VI and his Queen Elizabeth in 1939 had a sarcophagus built over the three tombs.) The grave of the mother of Charles and Henry, James Francis Edward’s wife Clementina, also lies in St. Peter’s, behind the Monument to Queen Clementina. Finally united in death, the members of this fractious family seldom were united during their lives.


On the chapel walls of the Pontifical Scots College are mounted the original tombstones for James III, Charles III, and Henry IX.  Their remains, as well as those of Queen Clementina, lie in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
On the chapel walls of the Pontifical Scots College are mounted the original tombstones for James III, Charles III, and Henry IX. Their remains, as well as those of Queen Clementina, lie in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Tombstone of Charles III.
Tombstone of Charles III.
Tombstone Henry IX
Tombstone of Henry IX

Granddaughter of the Polish King John III Sobieski and goddaughter of Pope Clement XI, the 17-year-old Clementina married James Francis Edward in 1719. Doing a favor for George I, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI had sought to prevent the marriage by arresting Clementina at Innsbruck; from there, she made a daring escape with the help of James Francis Edward’s supporters and then married him by proxy in Bologna. She gave birth to Charles Edward in 1720 and to Henry Benedict in 1725. During these early years of the family’s long sojourn in Palazzo Muti in Rome, husband’s and wife’s initial delight in each other soured with familiarity.

A power struggle evolved over the Protestant members of James Francis Edward’s household. Although the Pope scolded Clementina for her intolerance, she feared their influence over her sons. Failing to sway her husband, Clementina ran away to the Ursuline convent at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. James Francis Edward lost financial and political support because his alleged but unlikely adultery supposedly provoked her flight. Clementina stubbornly stayed in her convent for many months until the Pope told her she might be forbidden the sacraments unless she returned to her husband. In 1727, she finally complied, but a much-changed woman now lived in Palazzo Muti. She had become extremely devout, compulsive in her religious observances, and so stringent in her fasting that she ate alongside the family at a small table holding scanty portions of specially prepared meals. An emaciated 33-year old Clementina died in 1735. Perhaps anorexia served as a defiant, if self-destructive, response to her perceived powerlessness in her household and contributed largely to her death.

The Jacobite Stuarts all lived part of their lives in this Roman building.  Charles and Henry were born here, Charles died here, and their parents, James and Clementina, also died here.
The Jacobite Stuarts all lived part of their lives in this Roman building. Charles and Henry were born here, Charles died here, and their parents, James and Clementina, also died here.

Charles supposedly resembled his mother in temperament, while Henry resembled their father. As the boys grew to manhood without their mother, the athletic Charles trained himself to lead a Jacobite rebellion by hunting, shooting, hiking in bare feet, and reading military manuals. Early in his own life, Henry became extremely observant of his religion, just as their father became after Clementina’s death.

The European political situation seemed to offer Charles an opening. France sought a way to hamper George II from helping Austria during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). A Jacobite rising in Scotland might serve as an effective means.

Promises of French support proved equivocal, however, and James Francis Edward distrusted them out of long experience. Determined to go ahead even without French support, Charles announced his embarking for Scotland in a letter written to his father on the very day he gallantly landed with a tiny force in the Hebrides, on the island of Eriskay, at a place later called “the Prince’s Strand.” With charm, courage, gallantry, and persuasiveness—by sheer force of personality—he stirred the reluctant Highlanders not only to recognize his claim but also to fight for it. Later the Jacobite Lord Balmerino at his own execution testified about Charles: “the incomparable sweetness of his nature, his affability, his compassion, his justice, his temperance, his patience, and his courage are virtues, seldom to be found in one person.” Resentful of the 1707 Union with England that had ended Scotland’s status as a discrete nation with its own Parliament, the clan chiefs sought to restore the Stuarts to a Scottish throne and to achieve Scottish independence.

Charles succeeded with the Highlanders’ help in mastering Scotland, but his desire to invade England met with Highlander misgivings and resistance. Eventually, his officers argued for a retreat to Scotland, where William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland and the son of George II, routed Charles’s troops at Culloden Moor in April, 1746. A hunted fugitive until he escaped to France in September, 1746, Charles received much help from such supporters as Flora Macdonald during his perilous journey to safety.

Portrait of Flora MacDonald by Allan Ramsay.
Portrait of Flora MacDonald by Allan Ramsay.

In France, Charles found that defeat increased equivocation exponentially. Henry (and their father) understood that Jacobite hopes had died at Culloden, but Charles obstinately insisted on living as though those hopes were realizable. He refused to leave France after the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle specified that Pretenders to the British throne could not reside in Britain, France, Holland, Germany, Spain, or Genoa; Louis XV had to expel Charles by force.

After a stay in papal Avignon, Charles went underground for almost 20 years. Wandering through Europe in disguise, he even made secret visits to England in 1750 and later. In London in 1750, he became an Anglican, probably out of political calculation.

Henry heard nothing from Charles and James Francis Edward very little, because Charles had felt enraged by Henry’s becoming a Cardinal in 1747. Although at that time Cardinals need not be priests, Henry chose ordination in 1748. His ecclesiastical career proceeded as he became a Cardinal-Priest in 1752; the Camerlengo in charge of the papal conclave in 1758; Cardinal-Bishop with a see in Frascati in 1761; and Vice-Chancellor of the Church in 1763. Before abolishing the Jesuit order in 1773, Pope Clement XIV put Henry in charge of the Jesuit seminary at Frascati and made him an investigator of the Jesuit seminary in Rome.

Henry Benedict Stuart, "Cardinal Duke of York"
Henry Benedict Stuart, “Cardinal Duke of York”

Addressed as “Your Royal Highness and Eminence,” the Cardinal Duke of York made his home at the Palace of LaRocca in Frascati, with a summer home at Villa Muti outside Frascati. After he became Vice-Chancellor, he lived at Palazzo Cancelleria when in Rome. His large income derived from ecclesiastical offices in Flanders, Spain, Naples, France, and Spanish America, especially Mexico, where he owned land. Henry supported many Jacobites and eased the plight of Frascati’s poor. Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, later remarked of Henry, “to a royal heart he was no pretender. His charities were without bounds: poverty and distress were unknown in his see.”

In Frascati, where Henry was Bishop for 46 years, the sign for the street "Largo Duca di York" refers to Henry Duke of York as being a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.
In Frascati, where Henry was Bishop for 46 years, the sign for the street “Largo Duca di York” refers to Henry Duke of York as being a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.

Realizing the impracticality of a Jacobite restoration, Henry had entered upon a notably successful ecclesiastical career, while his brother, a determined Jacobite to the end, wandered through Europe in disguise. Their aging father, to whom Charles wrote occasionally, served as a tenuous link between the severed brothers. In 1765, Henry notified Charles of James Francis Edward’s decline and approaching death, but Charles refused to visit until the Pope recognized Charles’s royal claims. The father died without seeing again his prodigal son, and Charles returned in 1766 to live in Palazzo Muti in Rome. Although he now assumed the name of “Charles III,” he received little official recognition of his title and reluctantly accepted being called “Count of Albany.” (“Albany” was the traditional title of the second son of the King of Scotland.) Henry gave Charles Henry’s rights to their father’s papal pension.

Although their father’s death had reunited the brothers, many crises strained their relationship. During his wandering years, Charles had lived with Clementina Walkinshaw, who had given birth to his daughter Charlotte. In 1760, Clementina ran away from Charles and took their daughter with her. “You pushed me to the greatest extremity, and even despair,” she wrote to him, “as I was always in perpetual dread of my life from your violent passions.”

Clementina Walkinshaw, Charles's mistress from 1752 until 1760, and mother of his daughter Charlotte Stuart
Clementina Walkinshaw, Charles’s mistress from 1752 until 1760, and mother of his daughter Charlotte Stuart.

James Francis Edward, and later Henry, supported mother and daughter because Charles would not do so. In 1772, Charles married Louise of Stolberg-Gedern, granddaughter of a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. The marriage quickly deteriorated while they lived in Palazzo Guadigni in Florence; as an English observer commented in 1779, “she has paid dearly for the dregs of royalty.” As jealous of Louise as he had been of Clementina, Charles reverted to his pattern of physical abuse in a drunken rage on St. Andrew’s Day in 1780. He apparently also raped his wife because he suspected her of adultery with the Italian poet Count Vittorio Alfieri, whose muse Louise had been.

Charles's estranged wife, Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern,
Charles’s estranged wife, Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern.

In a reprise of the events of 55 years before, Louise ran away to the Convent of the White Nuns in Florence, and she turned the Pope and Henry against Charles. Henry even arranged for her to stay in Rome in the same Ursuline convent where his mother had sought refuge, but Louise eventually preferred to live in Palazzo Cancelleria.

Henry did not become fully reconciled to Charles until after Charles in 1784 legitimized his daughter Charlotte, named her Duchess of Albany, and asked her to care for him in his decrepit middle age. Having developed a habit of drinking six bottles of Cyprus wine after dinner, Charles obviously needed a caretaker. To her credit, Charlotte took good care of her previously neglectful father, though he tried her patience. She exasperatedly noted that he resembled a fifteen-year-old boy.

Charlotte Stuart, Charles's daughter by Clementina Walkinshaw. Portrait by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Charlotte Stuart, Charles’s daughter by Clementina Walkinshaw. Portrait by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Charlotte also effected a reconciliation of Charles with Henry. Charles returned to Rome in 1785 to live once again in Palazzo Muti, this time with Charlotte. When he had lived there with Louise before they moved to Florence, the Romans had called her their “Queen of Hearts.”

Three years later, after Charles died, Henry, tears streaming down his face, conducted a private royal burial in Frascati. (The public royal funeral held for James Francis Edward was not permitted for Charles.) He sent a Memorial to foreign courts asserting his claim to be Henry IX and the right of his named successor Charles Emmanuel IV, King of Sardinia (a descendant of Henrietta Stuart, sister of James II). Other than honorably keeping faith with his dead by asserting their and his claim, Henry made no move to effect a Jacobite restoration after forty years’ realization of its futility.

The 1796 Napoleonic invasion of Italy, with its threat to the Papacy, caused the Cardinal King to donate much of his fortune to preserve the Holy See. Two years later, the fortunes of war caused Henry to flee from his beloved Frascati to Naples, then to Sicily, then to Venice in order to hold a conclave to elect a successor to Pope Pius VI. In the meantime, Henry’s wealth had vanished. His friends sent an appeal to Prime Minister William Pitt, who informed George III. Henry’s Hanoverian cousin sent immediate financial relief and instituted a pension for life in 1800. (Pitt probably never told George III that the British government actually owed over ₤1 million to this heir of James II’s Queen Mary of Modena.) The Cardinal King appreciated this kindness (as well as the friendly and gracious encounters he had had with George III’s son, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, who insisted on addressing the Cardinal as “Your Royal Highness,” a courtesy reciprocated by Henry). In his will, he left to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) the British crown jewels carried by James II and Queen Mary Beatrice in their 1688 flight from England.

A plaque in Italian in the courtyard of Palazzo Balestra, formerly Palazzo Muti, refers to Henry Cardinal Duke of York as Henry IX and to his father as James III, and it notes that Henry's 1807 death extinguished the Stuart dynasty.
A plaque in Italian in the courtyard of Palazzo Balestra, formerly Palazzo Muti, refers to Henry Cardinal Duke of York as Henry IX and to his father as James III, and it notes that Henry’s 1807 death extinguished the Stuart dynasty.

Henry’s 1802 will also left his claim to the King of Sardinia (of the House of Savoy), the claim eventually by a tangled chain being passed to the Dukes of Bavaria. In 1803, as the most senior Cardinal, the Cardinal King became Dean of the College of Cardinals. Four years later, he died on the 46th anniversary of his being made Bishop of Frascati. While Charles had spoiled more than 40 years by making undignified attempts to preserve his royal dignity, Henry merely called himself King non desideriis hominum sed voluntate Dei—“not by the desire of man but by the will of God.” Endearingly, Henry did insist, however, that the stray King Charles spaniel that glued itself to him one day at St. Peter’s had instinctively recognized him as a royal Stuart.

Will ye no come back again?
Will ye no come back again?
Better loed ye canna be;
Will ye no come back again?
Ye trusted in your Hielan men,
They trusted you dear Charlie!
They kent your hiding in the glen,
Death and exile braving.
English bribes were a in vain
Tho puir and puirer we mun be;
Siller canna buy the heart
That aye beats warm for thine an thee.



Kathleen Spaltro, who lives and works in Woodstock, Illinois, in the United States, is a writer, editor, and teacher of literature, history, and film courses.  She specializes in biography and is the co-author of Royals of England: A Guide for Readers, Travelers, and Genealogists. This essay on the Stuart Jacobite Kings comes from her book, composed of more than 40 short biographies of figures from William of Normandy to Victoria.

For Further Reading:
Corp, Edward. The King over the water: portraits of the Stuarts in exile after 1689. Edinburgh: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 2001.

Cruickshanks, Eveline, and Corp, Edward (Eds.). The Stuart court in exile and the Jacobites. Rio Grande, OH: The Hambledon Press, 1995.

Daiches, David. The last Stuart: the life and times of Bonnie Prince Charlie. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.

Fothergill, Brian. The Cardinal King. London: Faber and Faber, 1958.

Lees-Milne, James. The last Stuarts: British royalty in exile. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984.

Marshall, Rosalind K. Bonnie Prince Charlie. Edinburgh: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1988.

Miller, Peggy. James. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971

Nicholson, Robin. Bonnie Prince Charlie and the making of a myth: a study in portraiture, 1720-1892. Lewisburg : Bucknell University Press, 2002.

Sinclair-Stevenson, Christopher. Inglorious rebellion: the Jacobite risings of 1708, 1715, and 1719. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971.

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John William Polidori : Author of The Vampyre

John William Polidori : Author of The Vampyre

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer


and physician, and Bath native. He is known for his associations with the Romantic movement and credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the 1819 short story, The Vampyre, the first published modern vampire story. Although originally and erroneously accredited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the story is Polidori’s.

Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at recently established Ampleforth College from 1804, and in 1810 went up to the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote a thesis on sleepwalking and received his degree as a doctor of medicine on 1 August 1815 at the age of 19.

In 1816 Dr. Polidori entered Lord Byron’s service as his personal physician, and accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori’s nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited. At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion (Mary’s stepsister) Claire Clairmont.

One night in June, after the company had read aloud from Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German horror tales, William Beckford’s Vathek and indulged in quantities of laudanum, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley,produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Shelley wrote “A Fragment of a Ghost Story” and wrote down five ghost stories recounted by Matthew Gregory (“Monk”) Lewis, published posthumously as the Journal at Geneva (including ghost stories) Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment”, and in “two or three idle mornings” produced “The Vampyre“.

Dismissed on bad terms, by Byron, Polidori travelled in Italy and then returned to England. His story, “The Vampyre” was first published on 1 April 1819 by Henry Colburn in the New Monthly Magazine with the false attribution “A Tale by Lord Byron”, much to both his and Byron’s chagrin. Byron even released his own “Fragment of a Novel” in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, “The Vampyre” continued to be attributed to him. The name of the work’s protagonist, “Lord Ruthven”, added to this assumption, for that name was originally used in Lady Caroline Lamb’s novel Glenarvon (from the same publisher), in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was also named Lord Ruthven. Despite repeated denials by Byron and Polidori, the authorship often went unclarified.


The tale was first published in book form by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones in London, Paternoster-Row, in 1819 in octavo as The Vampyre; A Tale in 84 pages. The notation on the cover noted that it was: “Entered at Stationers’ Hall, March 27, 1819”. Later printings removed Byron’s name and added Polidori’s name to the title page.

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The Moonlight Sonata

One of the most recognizable pieces of music from Jane Austen’s era is surely, The Moonlight Sonata. A supremely romantic piece, it’s emotional depth and complexity would no doubt have appealed to Austen’s most musical heroine, Marianne Dashwood.

Miniature from Beethoven's belongings, possibly Julie Guicciardi.
Miniature from Beethoven’s belongings, possibly Julie Guicciardi.

The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia”, Op. 27, No. 2, popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata, is a piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1801 and dedicated in 1802 to his pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi,  it is one of Beethoven’s most popular compositions for the piano.

Dedication page to "Moonlight Sonata".
Dedication page to “Moonlight Sonata”.

The first edition of the score is headed Sonata quasi una fantasia, a title this work shares with its companion piece, Op. 27, No. 1. Grove Music Online translates the Italian title as “sonata in the manner of a fantasy”. (Directly translated “sonata almost a fantasy”).

The name “Moonlight Sonata” has its origins in remarks by the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab. In 1832, five years after Beethoven’s death, Rellstab likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne. Within ten years, the name “Moonlight Sonata” (“Mondscheinsonate” in German) was being used in German and English publications. Later in the nineteenth century, the sonata was universally known by that name.

Many critics have objected to the subjective, Romantic nature of the title “Moonlight”, which has at times been called “a misleading approach to a movement with almost the character of a funeral march” and “absurd”.  Other critics have approved of the sobriquet, finding it evocative or in line with their own associations with the work. Gramophone founder Compton Mackenzie found the title “harmless”, remarking that “it is silly for austere critics to work themselves up into a state of almost hysterical rage with poor Rellstab”, and adding, “what these austere critics fail to grasp is that unless the general public had responded to the suggestion of moonlight in this music Rellstab’s remark would long ago have been forgotten.”

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Ludwig van Beethoven, Immortally Beloved Composer

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Ludwig van Beethoven, (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works and songs.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was taught by his father Johann van Beethoven and Christian Gottlob Neefe. During his first 22 years in Bonn, Beethoven intended to study with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and befriended Joseph Haydn. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and began studying with Haydn, quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He lived in Vienna until his death. In about 1800 his hearing began to deteriorate, and by the last decade of his life he was almost totally deaf. He gave up conducting and performing in public but continued to compose; many of his most admired works come from this period.

Jane Austen and Ludwig van Beethoven shared not only the same birthdate (December 16, if not the year, she was born December 16, 1775) but also a similar publication timeline. Both were demonstrating their respective creative powers at an early age, and though Beethoven outlived Austen by 10 years, their works , produced contemporaneously, are both now regarded as pure genius. We will never know if Beethoven had a chance to read Austen’s works. She was not granted the immense public acclaim he enjoyed, during her life, however, we know that several pieces (Scotch and Irish airs, in particular) in her private music collection were arranged by Beethoven and his mentor, Joseph Haydn. Continue reading Ludwig van Beethoven, Immortally Beloved Composer

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Bilbocatch: Old Fashioned Ball and Cup Fun

We do not want amusement: bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable; spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums, and cards, with watching the flow and ebb of the river, and now and then a stroll out, keep us well employed; and we mean to avail ourselves of our kind papa’s consideration, by not returning to Winchester till quite the evening of Wednesday.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 29, 1809

This Bilbocatch, which belonged to Jane Austen, is on display at Chawton Cottage.
This Bilbocatch, which belonged to Jane Austen, is on display at Chawton Cottage.

Jane Austen loved spending time with her many nieces and nephews. At the time this letter was written, two of Edward’s sons were staying with her in Southampton after the death of their mother. Riddles, paper ships and cards are easy enough to decipher, but what was the “Bilbocatch” game that Jane Austen referred to?

Bilbocatch, from "The Girl's Own Book" by Lydia Marie Child (1838)
Bilbocatch, from “The Girl’s Own Book” by Lydia Marie Child (1838)

Commonly known as Cup-And-Ball, Bilbocatch refers to “a traditional childs toy. It is a wooden cup with a handle, and a small ball attached to the cup by a string. It is popular in Spanish-speaking countries, where it is called “boliche”. The name varies across many countries — in El Salvador and Guatemala it is called “capirucho”; in Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico it is called “balero”; in Spain it is “boliche”; in Brazil it is called “bilboquê”; in Chile it is “emboque”; in Colombia it is called “coca” or “ticayo”; and in Venezuela the game is called “perinola”.A variant game, Kendama, known in England as Ring and Pin, is very popular in Japan.
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Jane Austen’s Final Days in Winchester

Your kind Letter my dearest Anne found me in bed, for in spite of my hopes & promises when I wrote to you I have since been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me within a few days afterwards – the most severe I ever had – & coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. I have kept my bed since 13. of April, with only removals to a Sopha. Now, I am getting well again, & indeed have been gradually tho’ slowly recovering my strength for the last three weeks. I can sit up in my bed & employ myself, as I am proving to you at this present moment, & really am equal to being out of bed, but that the posture is thought good for me. How to do justice to the kindness of all my family during this illness, is quite beyond me!…… I have so many alleviations & comforts to bless the Almighty for! – My head was always clear, & I had scarcely any pain; my cheif sufferings were from feverish nights, weakness and Languor…as our Alton Apothy did not pretend to be able to cope with it, better advice was called in. Our nearest very good, is at Winchester, where there is a Hospital & capital Surgeons, & one of them attended me, & his applications gradually removed the Evil.– The consequence is, that instead of going to Town to put myself into the hands of some Physician as I should otherwise have done, I am going to Winchester instead, for some weeks to see what Mr Lyford can do further towards re-establishing my in tolerable health In short, if I live to be an old Woman I must expect to wish I has died now, blessed in the tenderness of such a Family, & before I had survived either them or their affection, – You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure. – But the Providence of God has restored me – & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I sh’d have been now! – Sick or Well, beleive me ever your attached friend. J. Austen
Jane Austen to Anne Sharp
May 22, 1817

Jane Austen's Final Days in Winchester
Jane Austen’s home in Winchester.

It is known that Jane Austen spent her final weeks of life in the college town of Winchester, seeking the aid of a Doctor Giles Lyford. During her time there, she lived in a few rooms of a modest brick home, nearby the Cathedral where she would soon be buried, “A building that she admired so much.” Much of what we know about her final days has been gleaned from the few letters the survive from this time, including one to her dear friend Anne Sharp (previously quoted) and another to her young nephew, James Edward Austen (the same nephew who would later write her first biography)

I know no better way, my dearest Edward, of thanking you for your most affectionate concern for me during my illness than by telling you myself, as soon as possible, that I continue to get better. I will not boast of my handwriting; neither that nor my face have yet recovered their proper beauty, but in other respects I am gaining strength very fast. I am now out of bed from 9 in the morning to 10 at night: upon the sopha, ’tis true, but I eat my meals with aunt Cass in a rational way, and can employ myself, and walk from one room to another. Mr. Lyford says he will cure me, and if he fails, I shall draw up a memorial and lay it before the Dean and Chapter, and have no doubt of redress from that pious, learned, and disinterested body. Our lodgings are very comfortable. We have a neat little drawing-room with a bow window overlooking Dr. Gabell’s garden. Thanks to the kindness of your father and mother in sending me their carriage, my journey hither on Saturday was performed with very little fatigue, and had it been a fine day, I think I should have felt none; but it distressed me to see uncle Henry and Wm. Knight, who kindly attended us on horseback, riding in the rain almost all the way. We expect a visit from them to-morrow, and hope they will stay the night; and on Thursday, which is Confirmation and a holiday, we are to get Charles out to breakfast. We have had but one visit yet from him, poor fellow, as he is in sick-room, but he hopes to be out to-night. We see Mrs. Heathcote every day, and William is to call upon us soon. God bless you, my dear Edward. If ever you are ill, may you be as tenderly nursed as I have been. May the same blessed alleviations of anxious, sympathising friends be yours: and may you possess, as I dare say you will, the greatest blessing of all in the consciousness of not being unworthy of their love. I could not feel this.

Your very affecte Aunt,
(May 27, 1817)


The following excerpts are quoted from a small booklet, Jane Austen in Winchester, written by Frederick Bussby and published by the Friends of Winchester Cathedral in 1969.

Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral.

Jane Austen in Winchester
Her Grave
One of the vergers in Winchester Cathedral in the middle of the nineteenth century was very puzzled why so many people enquired for the grave of Jane Austen. Was there, he asked, “anything particular about the lady?” If we read the inscription on her tomb in the eighth bay of the north aisle of the nave we read much about her virtues and her good qualities, but we learn nothing about the creative genius which has made her known throughout the world, and which has held captive innumerable admirers. Today probably more people seek the tomb of Jane Austen in the Cathedral than that of any person associated with Winchester. Then, it was one monument among many which extolled the merits of the departed; today it is the goal of many a pilgrimage for lovers of English literature. The inscription on her grave reads as follows:

In Memory of
youngest daughter of the late
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County
She departed this Life on the 18th of July 1817,
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian.


The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.


Their grief is in proportion to their affection,
they know their loss to be irreparable,
but in their deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm though humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her

Jane Austen’s Final Days in Winchester
The question naturally arises, “Why is it that she has come to be so closely associated with Winchster, especially as she lived almost the whole of her life elsewhere?” Born in 1775, she grew up to enjoy ill health, like many of her contemporaries. Like them, she tried the benefits that might be derived from a visit to Bath. But in 1817, she resolved to put herself under the a Winchester doctor, Giles King Lyford, then surgeon in ordinary at the County Hospital , situated in Parchment Street in the centre of the city. She therefore left Chawton for the last time one wet Saturday at the end of May. Edward Knight placed his carriage at her disposal. Travelling with her in the carriage was her sister, Cassandra, and accompanying them on horseback was her brother Henry and her nephew William Knight. With the help of the Heathcote family she had fixed up to stay at Mrs David’s in College Street. The house, now belonging to Winchester College, is marked by an oval plaque in grey slate with white lettering, proved by the generosity of Mrs. Jack Read in 1956. The Inscription runs as follows:

The commemorative plaque on the home Jane Austen died in.

Memorials to the David family used to be visible in the churchyard of the Cathedral opposite the east end of the Morely College, but these have now disappeared. The commemorated Matthew David, who died on August 13, 1833, aged 71; and Mary David, aged 85, who died on October 28, 1813. Was this Matthew David the husband of Jane’s new landlady? In her new home she had a “neat little drawing room with a bow window” Here Mr. Lyford attended her and here she spent most of the time on a sofa, only occasionally being able to move round her new home and only once being able to go out in a sedan chair. Her hopes of an excursion in a wheel chair were never fulfilled. But although she had great confidence in Mr. Lyford, she also consulted that “learned and pious body, the Dean and Chapter”, about a grave in the cathedral, a building which, as we know from her sister Cassandra, she greatly admired. The precise nature of this fatal illness has been the study of Sir Zachary Cope, who has studied the observations in Jane’s letters and concludes that she suffered from Addison’s disease. Those with medical interests can find the full details in the Journal of the British Medical Association for July 18, 1964.

We are also curious as to whether during Jane Austen’s final days in Winchester, was she still able to continue her writing. We know that she was deriving interest from money received from her previous novels. Thus from Hoare’s the Bankers on July 9 she received 15, interest on the “600 Navy per cents”. But she seems not to have written any more fiction. She did, however, very shortly before she died, write a poem to mark St Swithun’s Day, July 15, a day still observed in Winchester. She gave her poem the title Venta, the old name for Winchester and she composed it on July 15, the actual St Swithun’s Day, three days before she died.

Written in Winchester on Tuesday the 15th of July 1817

When Winchester races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of St. Swithin
And that William of Wykham’s approval was faint.

The races however were fix’d and determined
The company met & the weather was charming
The Lords & the Ladies were sattin’d & ermin’d
And nobody saw any future alarming.

But when the old Saint was inform’d of these doings
He made but one spring from his shrine to the roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And thus he address’d them all standing aloof.

Oh subject rebellious, Oh Venta depraved!
When once we are buried you think we are dead
But behold me Immortal. — By vice you’re enslaved
You have sinn’d and must suffer. — Then further he said

These races & revels & dissolute measures
With which you’re debasing a neighbourly Plain
Let them stand — you shall meet with a curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.

Ye cannot but know my command in July.
Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers,
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers.


The events of the last two days of her life we can piece together from the letter and short biography left by Cassandra and Henry Austen. Says Henry: “She retained her faculties, her memory, her fancy, her temper, her affections, warm, clear and unimpaired, to the last. Neither her love of God, nor of her fellow creatures flagged for a moment. She made a point of receiving the sacrament before excessive bodily weakness might have rendered her perception unequal to her wished. She wrote whilst she could hold a pen, and with a pencil when a pen became too laborious. The day before her death she composed some stanzas replete with fancy and vigour (Venta, already quoted). Her last voluntary speech conveyed thanks to her medical attendant; and to the final question asked of her, purporting to know her wants, she replied, “I want nothing but death.”

Cassandra’s account of Jane’s last hours corroborates the more reserved account of her brother. Writing only three days after Jane’s death, she is naturally emotionally involved in the events she describes. She tells of her gratitude that she could be with her sister to the last. She gives poignant details of how she nursed her. She tells of some of her last words, “God grant me patience, Pray for me, oh Pray for me.” She describes that long last night as her dying sister rested her head on the pillow in her lap. And so she breathed her last, and on her face a “sweet serene air”. With overflowing sisterly love she writes: “I have lost such a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed—she was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow.”

Her Funeral
On the following Thursday, July 24, the funeral took place in the Cathedral. The service was taken by the Reverend Thomas Watkins, Precentor of the Cathedral and Chaplain of Winchester College, where he had probably come to know members of the Austen family. The service took place in the morning of that day before Morning Prayer.

Winchester Cathedral

Commenting on the occasion, Jane’s brother observed that “in the whole catalogue of the mighty dead (the Cathedral) does not contain the ashes of a brighter genius or sincerer Christian”. Looking back on her life, he adds that “one trait only remains to be touched on. It makes all others unimportant. She was thoroughly religious and devout; fearful of giving offence to God and incapable of feeling it towards any fellow creature. On serious subjects she was well-instructed, both by reading and meditation, and her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.”

The Cathedral Burial Register records her death [and burial as July 16, however] it will be noted that there is a discrepancy in the Register over the date of burial. The entry seems to have been made by two different hands. The name, abode and July are in one hand and the remaining details in a second hand. Perhaps the Clerk wrote the first three items and that the Precentor wrote the remainder, perhaps some weeks after the funeral when precise dates had slipped from his memory. But whatever the explanation, the discrepancy is certainly there.

It was not until many years later that a full-dress biography of Jane Austen appeared. It was written by the Rev. J. E. Austen-Leigh. One result was that from the profits of his book a memorial brass tablet was placed on the north wall of the nave, near her grave, in 1872. It was the work of the well-known architect Wyatt, who had been employed by Austen-Leigh because of his work in his own parish church of Bray. By this time, the “something special” about Jane Austen was well known and the mural table records this as follows:

A tribute to Jane Austen in the Cathedral.

Jane Austen
known to many by her
writings, endeared to
her family by the
varied charms of her
Character and ennobled
by Christian faith
and piety, was born
at Steventon in the
County of Hands Dec.
xvi mdcclxxv, and buried
in this Cathedral
July xxiv mdcccxvii
“She openeth her
mouth in wisdom
and in her tongue is
the law of kindness.”
Prov xxxi. v. xxvi

Over the table is a memorial window bidding us, in Latin, to remember in the Lord, Jane Austen who died on July 18, 1817. It was erected in 1900 by public subscription and was designed by C.E. Kempe. It consists of two rows of three figures. In the head of the window is Saint Augustine whose name, in its abbreviated form, is Austin. The top central figure is David playing his harp.

Jane Austen’s memorial windown in Winchester Cathedral.

The central figure in the bottom row is St. John holding a book displaying on an open page the first words of his Gospel, again in Latin. The other two figures in the window represent the sons of Korah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:19. Korah and his sons are traditionally associated with Psalms 42 to 49, Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88. The figures carry scrolls on which are quotations form these psalms indicated the religious side of Jane’s character.


Additional details from Cassandra’s letters to her niece, Fanny Austen-Knight, serve to fill out the final details of Jane’s final days and hours.

Winchester, Sunday, July 20, 1817
My Dearest Fanny,
Doubly dear to me now for her dear sake whom we have lost. She did love you most sincerely, and never shall I forget the proofs of love you gave her during her illness in writing those kind, amusing letters at a time when I know your feelings would have dictated so different a style. Take the only reward I can give you in the assurance that your benevolent purpose was answered; you did contribute to her enjoyment.

Even your last letter afforded pleasure. I merely cut the seal and gave it to her; she opened it and read it herself, afterwards she gave it to me to read, and then talked to me a little and not uncheerfully of its contents, but there was then a languor about her which prevented her taking the same interest in anything she had been used to do.

Since Tuesday evening, when her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more and much more comfortably; indeed, during the last eight-and-forty hours she was more asleep than awake. Her looks altered and she fell away, but I perceived no material diminution of strength, and, though I was then hopeless of a recovery, I had no suspicion how rapidly my loss was approaching.

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well — not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings; I am perfectly conscious of the extent of my irreparable loss, but I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time, with rest and change of air, will remove. I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.

She felt herself to be dying about half-an-hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious. During that half-hour was her struggle, poor soul! She said she could not tell us what she suffered, though she complained of little fixed pain. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death, and some of her words were: “God grant me patience, pray for me, oh, pray for me!” Her voice was affected, but as long as she spoke she was intelligible.

I hope I do not break your heart, my dearest Fanny, by these particulars; I mean to afford you gratification whilst I am relieving my own feelings. I could not write so to anybody else; indeed you are the only person I have written to at all, excepting your grandmamma — it was to her, not your Uncle Charles, I wrote on Friday.

Immediately after dinner on Thursday I went into the town to do an errand which your dear aunt was anxious about. I returned about a quarter before six and found her recovering from faintness and oppression; she got so well as to be able to give me a minute account of her seizure, and when the clock struck six she was talking quietly to me.

I cannot say how soon afterwards she was seized again with the same faintness, which was followed by the sufferings she could not describe; but Mr. Lyford had been sent for, had applied something to give her ease, and she was in a state of quiet insensibility by seven o’clock at the latest. From that time till half-past four, when she ceased to breathe, she scarcely moved a limb, so that we have every reason to think, with gratitude to the Almighty, that her sufferings were over. A slight motion of the head with every breath remained till almost the last. I sat close to her with a pillow in my lap to assist in supporting her head, which was almost off the bed, for six hours; fatigue made me then resign my place to Mrs. J. A. for two hours and a-half, when I took it again, and in about an hour more she breathed her last.

I was able to close her eyes myself, and it was a great gratification to me to render her those last services. There was nothing convulsed which gave the idea of pain in her look; on the contrary, but for the continual motion of the head she gave one the idea of a beautiful statue, and even now, in her coffin, there is such a sweet, serene air over her countenance as is quite pleasant to contemplate.

This day, my dearest Fanny, you have had the melancholy intelligence, and I know you suffer severely, but I likewise know that you will apply to the fountain-head for consolation, and that our merciful God is never deaf to such prayers as you will offer.

The last sad ceremony is to take place on Thursday morning; her dear remains are to be deposited in the cathedral. It is a satisfaction to me to think that they are to lie in a building she admired so much; her precious soul, I presume to hope, reposes in a far superior mansion. May mine one day be re-united to it!

Your dear papa, your Uncle Henry, and Frank and Edwd. Austen, instead of his father, will attend. I hope they will none of them suffer lastingly from their pious exertions. The ceremony must be over before ten o’clock, as the cathedral service begins at that hour, so that we shall be at home early in the day, for there will be nothing to keep us here afterwards.

Your Uncle James came to us yesterday, and is gone home to-day. Uncle H. goes to Chawton to-morrow morning; he has given every necessary direction here, and I think his company there will do good. He returns to us again on Tuesday evening.

I did not think to have written a long letter when I began, but I have found the employment draw me on, and I hope I shall have been giving you more pleasure than pain. Remember me kindly to Mrs. J. Bridges (I am so glad she is with you now), and give my best love to Lizzie and all the others.

I am, my dearest Fanny,
Most affectionately yours,

Chawton: Tuesday, July 29, 1817
My Dearest Fanny,
I have just read your letter for the third time, and thank you most sincerely for every kind expression to myself, and still more warmly for your praises of her who I believe was better known to you than to any human being besides myself. Nothing of the sort could have been more gratifying to me than the manner in which you write of her, and if the dear angel is conscious of what passes here, and is not above all earthly feelings, she may perhaps receive pleasure in being so mourned. Had she been the survivor I can fancy her speaking of you in almost the same terms. There are certainly many points of strong resemblance in your characters; in your intimate acquaintance with each other, and your mutual strong affection, you were counterparts.

Thursday was not so dreadful a day to me as you imagined. There was so much necessary to be done that there was no time for additional misery. Everything was conducted with the greatest tranquillity, and but that I was determined I would see the last, and therefore was upon the listen, I should not have known when they left the house. I watched the little mournful procession the length of the street; and when it turned from my sight, and I had lost her for ever, even then I was not overpowered, nor so much agitated as I am now in writing of it. Never was human being more sincerely mourned by those who attended her remains than was this dear creature. May the sorrow with which she is parted with on earth be a prognostic of the joy with which she is hailed in heaven!

I continue very tolerably well — much better than any one could have supposed possible, because I certainly have had considerable fatigue of body as well as anguish of mind for months back; but I really am well, and I hope I am properly grateful to the Almighty for having been so supported. Your grandmamma, too, is much better than when I came home.

I did not think your dear papa appeared well, and I understand that he seemed much more comfortable after his return from Winchester than he had done before. I need not tell you that he was a great comfort to me; indeed, I can never say enough of the kindness I have received from him and from every other friend.

I get out of doors a good deal and am able to employ myself. Of course those employments suit me best which leave me most at leisure to think of her I have lost, and I do think of her in every variety of circumstance. In our happy hours of confidential intercourse, in the cheerful family party which she so ornamented, in her sick room, on her death-bed, and as (I hope) an inhabitant of heaven. Oh, if I may one day be re-united to her there! I know the time must come when my mind will be less engrossed by her idea, but I do not like to think of it. If I think of her less as on earth, God grant that I may never cease to reflect on her as inhabiting heaven, and never cease my humble endeavours (when it shall please God) to join her there.

This pendant is set with what is supposed to have been Jane Austen’s hair. A lock of which was set for Fanny Austen, and another sent to Jane’s dear friend, Anne Sharp.

In looking at a few of the precious papers which are now my property I have found some memorandums, amongst which she desires that one of her gold chains may be given to her god-daughter Louisa, and a lock of her hair be set for you. You can need no assurance, my dearest Fanny, that every request of your beloved aunt will be sacred with me. Be so good as to say whether you prefer a brooch or ring. God bless you, my dearest Fanny.

Believe me, most affectionately yours,