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Princess Esterhazy: The “Bonne Enfant” of Almack’s


Portrait of Prince and Princess Esterhazy with their children c. 1850

She was born Her Serene Highness, Princess Maria Theresia, Hereditary Princess of Thurn and Taxis on July 6, 1794. Her parents were Karl Alexander, the 5th Prince of Thurn and Taxis, and Duchess Therese of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (a niece of the late English Queen Charlotte). She was their third child, and second daughter. Princess Maria Theresia was born in Regensburg, Bavaria. She maintained an attachment to the city of Regensburg throughout her life.

Princess Maria Theresia was married to Crown Prince Paul Anthony Esterhazy III (date of birth March 11, 1786) of Galantha on June 18, 1812 in Regensburg, not quite 18 years old to his age26. The prince’s father, Prince Nicholas II, travelled extensively and had lived for some time in England. From an ancient Hungarian family, Prince Paul Esterhazy had begun a diplomatic career young, serving under Louis, Prince of Stahremberg, in London. He was apparently liked and respected in English society as well as in diplomatic circles. It seems Princess Esterhazy was already active in London society and established as a Patroness of Almack’s by 1814, so it is obvious that she plunged right in to the social mainstream. After attending the Congress of Vienna in 1814 with Metternich, where Princess Esterhazy was much admired, Prince Paul was appointed to the Prince Regent’s court in 1815 as Austrian ambassador, at the Prince Regent’s request.

The youngest of the Lady Patronesses, Princess Esterhazy was an attractive young woman, based on the descriptions. She was apparently dark, plump, pretty and lively. Countess Lieven (later Princess) described her as “small, round, black, animated and spiteful”. She was very formal, and known to have a distaste for status seekers. Her love of ceremony and etiquette were attributed to her German background. As wife of the Austrian ambassador, Hereditary Princess of Thurn and Taxis in her own right, and connected with English royalty (cousin to Princess Charlotte, niece of the Duchess of Cumberland), Princess Esterhazy was at the top of the social strata from the beginning. Her knowledge protocol and of Austro-Hungarian, German and central European aristocracy would have been invaluable to her as a hostess for her husband.

Princess Esterhazy’s youth, personal attractiveness, and connections put her into a position of influence, had she chosen to use it. Supposedly Countess Lieven felt Princess Esterhazy to be a threat to her own position, at least initially. Information about Princess Esterhazy as a spiteful person appears in Countess Lieven’s letters to Prince Metternich. Countess Lieven was known for her efforts to influence European politics in Russia’s best interests, and apparently feared that the Austrian ambassador’s young wife would attempt to compete with her on the political stage as well as in society. It’s interesting to speculate that her malicious comments about Princess Esterhazy were an underhanded way to undercut Prince Paul’s position as Austrian ambassador. Ironically, there is no reference to Princess Esterhazy having any interest in political maneuvering. According to the Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne, Princess Esterhazy missed her home and was bored in London.

Princess Esterhazy was primarily associated with high society in her capacity as Lady Patroness of Almack’s. She was one of only two foreigners accorded this position (the other being Countess Lieven). As previously mentioned, she was a very high stickler. She was noted for her love of new dances, and was especially fond of waltzing. She was frequently partnered by Baron de Neumann, secretary at the Austrian Embassy.

Prince and Princess Esterhazy had 3 children, two daughters and a son, Nicholas Paul. It is interesting to note that their son was born in Regensburg in 1817, and married Lady Sarah Frederica Villiers, the daughter of Lord and Lady Jersey.

Her father-in-law passed away November 25, 1833, at which point her husband Paul became the 8th Prince Esterhazy of Galantha. Princess Maria Theresia’s full title became Princess Maria Theresia Esterhazy, Princess of Galantha, Princess of Thurn and Taxis. (The questions of lineage and title were apparently contributed to Countess Lieven’s dislike of Princess Esterhazy; her dislike appears to have been returned. When Count Lieven was made a prince in 1826, the now-Princess Lieven told Lord Grey that they were the only ones granted that title. Princess Esterhazy had no hesitation in showing her disdain for the Russian title, which did not endear her to Princess Lieven.) It is worth noting that the only source I found that dwells on Princess Esterhazy’s spiteful nature seems to be Princess Lieven.

Prince Esterhazy served as the Austrian Ambassador from 1815 to 1818, and again from 1830 to 1839. Prince and Princess Esterhazy also ruled Galantha from his father’s death and returned there in 1842. The Prince was active in political affairs for the Austrian empire and for Hungary, serving briefly as minister of foreign affairs to the King of Hungary, trying to mediate between the two governments. He left public life completely when Austrian and Hungarian relations broke down in 1848. I have found little data of Princess Esterhazy’s life after leaving England or during the years in Hungary. Sources indicate that Prince Esterhazy (and, by extension, Princess Esterhazy) had spent beyond his means, and that his last years were made difficult by money problems. He died May 21, 1866 in Regensburg (Maria Theresia’s much loved home city), at which time their son Nicholas became Crown Prince.

Princess Maria Theresia lived until August 18, 1874. She died in Huttledorf, Vienna, Austria. It is known that her son eased the family’s financial straits by selling the family’s famous art collection to the Austro-Hungarian Empire about 1870. Her rooms are the focus of an exhibition at the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria. I requested more information about her from the Esterhazy Palace, but have yet to receive a reply. I will post an update with any additional information about her, when received.

Sources include:
Chancellor, E. Beresford. LIFE IN REGENCY AND EARLY VICTORIAN TIMES An Account of the Days of Brummell and D’orsay 1800 to 1850. London: B. T. Batsford, Ltd. 1926.

Also by Chancellor: Memorials of ST. JAMES’S STREET and Chronicles of Almack’s. New York: Brentano’s, 1922.

Charmley, John. The PRINCESS and the POLITICIANS Sex, Intrigue and Diplomacy, 1812-1840. London: Penguin Group, 2005. [This is actually about Princess Lieven, but talks about her issues with Princess Esterhazy.]

Gronow, Captain Rees Howell. Reminiscences of Captain Gronow. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1862. Reprinted by IndyPublish.com, McLean, VA.

King, David. VIENNA 1814 How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna. New York: Random House, Inc. 2008
.
Kloester, Jennifer. GEORGETTE HEYER’S Regency World. London: William Heinemann, 2005.

Quennell, Peter, ed. THE PRIVATE LETTERS OF PRINCESS LIEVEN TO PRINCE METTERNICH 1820-1826. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1938.

Robinson, Lionel G., ed. LETTERS OF DOROTHEA, PRINCESS LIEVEN, during her Residence in London, 1812-1834. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1902.

Candace Hern’s blog. “Leaders of Society and the Demimonde.” Princess Esterhazy (1794-?) http://www.candacehern.com/regency.htm

Unusual Historicals blog. “Fashionable People of the Regency- – Time for a Reassessment?” by Michelle Styles, posted 7/10/2012. http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/2012/07/fashionable-people-of-regency-time-for.html

GoogleBooks.com. An Irish Beauty of the Regency by Frances Pery Calvert (the Hon. Mrs.) Great Britain: John Lane, 1911. Page 341. http://books.google.com/books?id=_LA_AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA341&lpg=PA341&dq=princess+esterhazy+regency&source=bl&ots=VfO–gHncf&sig=dpn5TZy–v898ruToxfX9z2Q6pY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jw0gUe6vCpT09gTfzYHQCA&ved=0CDIQ6AEwATgU#v=onepage&q=princess%20esterhazy%20regency&f=false

GoogleBooks.com. Memoires of the comtesse de Boigne, Volume 2. (1815-1819). by Louise-Eleonore-Charlotte-Adelaide Osmond Boigne (comtesse de). M. Charles Nicoulaud. London: William Heinemann, 1907. http://books.google.com/books?id=6VUoAAAAYAAJ&q=The+diplomatic+body+paul+esterhazy#v=snippet&q=The%20diplomatic%20body%20paul%20esterhazy&f=false

GluedIdeas.com. From “Chambers Encyclopedia 1880”, Vol. 5 Escitria to Fagging, ESTERHAZY entry. http://gluedideas.com/content-collection/chambers-5/Esterhazy.html

ThePeearage.com. “Maria Theresia Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis.” Person #32081. http://www.thepeerage.com/p32081.htm#i320810; “Pal Antal Furst Esterhazy von Galantha.” Person 320811. http://www.thepeerage.com/p32082.htm#i320811

Wikipedia.com. “Princess Maria Theresia of Thurn and Taxis.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/index.html?curid=25561257
Image: Wikipedia Commons Prince Pal Antal Esterhazy and his Family c 1850 artist unknown http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3a/Prince_P%C3%A1l_Antal_Esterh%C3%A1zy_and_his_Family_c._1850.jpg/595px-Prince_P%C3%A1l_Antal_Esterh%C3%A1zy_and_his_Family_c._1850.jpg

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“Queen Sarah”

Best known as one of the feared Lady Patronesses of Almack’s, she was born Sarah Sophia Fane in March 3, 1785, the eldest daughter of John Fane, the 10th earl of Westmorland, and his wife Anne Child (or Sarah Anne Child), the only child of the banker, Robert Child. Disapproving of the marriage because Anne eloped at age 17 to Gretna Greene in 1782, with John Fane, her father Robert Child changed his will so that his estate would bypass her and go to either her second son or her eldest daughter.   Robert Child died the same year of his daughter’s marriage, so Sarah Sophia was born an heiress.  There is no indication of what Sarah Sophia’s relationship with her parents or siblings was.  Her mother died when Sarah Sophia was eight. 

Sarah Sophia married George Villiers, Viscount Villiers, on May 23, 1804, at home in Berkley Square.  However, there were several hints of an elopement to Gretna Green for her.  Many of the sources I found were careful not to cite the place of marriage.  (This may be a result of confusion with her mother, both being named Sarah.  It is also possible that Sarah Sophia and George did elope but also had a ceremony to satisfy family or convention.)  By all accounts, she held him in great affection.  George became the 5th Earl of Jersey and 8th Viscount Grandison in 1805. Sarah Sophia had inherited the Child fortune and property, including Osterley Park, at birth, and took control when she came of age in 1806. In an age of women as chattels, Sarah was unique in that her inheritance made her the senior partner of Child & Co., a position she held for over 60 years.    She took an active interest in the bank, visiting the premises, checking profit and loss statements, and intervening in employee issues.  The couple had five sons and three daughters, seven of whom survived to adulthood.

Sarah Sophia, also known as Sally, became a leader of the “Ton”, and wielded a great deal of influence in Society. Sarah Sophia was considered a great beauty.  She made a name for herself by being extremely rude and behaving theatrically. She chattered incessantly, acquiring the nickname of “Silence.” Determined to stand apart from her mother-in-law, the scandalous Frances, Lady Jersey, who was mistress of the Prince of Wales, Sarah Sophia made a great show of personal virtue, although she apparently throve on gossip. In spite of her affectations, she appears to have been regarded with affection by many of her peers.   In a letter written in 1816 to her brother, General Alexander Beckendorf, Princess Lieven described Lady Jersey as one of her “most intimate friends.”  (Princess Lieven also said in a later letter to Prince Metternich that “…Lady Jersey has the most dangerous tongue I know.”  Written in 1823, it would appear that there had been a falling out.)  Although she called herself Sally, one of her nicknames in Society was “Queen Sarah.”  When Lady Caroline Lamb published her novel GLENARVON in 1816, Lady Jersey was supposedly the inspiration for the character of Lady Augusta.  As a result, “Queen Sarah” banned Caroline from Almack’s, effectively ending Caroline’s social career. 

Sarah Sophia and her husband entertained at their home in Berkley Square, and Middleton Park in Oxfordshire.  They seem to have spent little time at Osterley Park in Middlesex.  Sarah Sophia is supposed to have introduced the Quadrille to Almack’s in 1815. She was a noted political hostess for her husband, who legally added the name of Child in 1819 to become George Child-Villiers, Earl of Jersey. An avid hunter and racing aficionado, her husband held offices in the households of William IV and of Queen Victoria.  Sarah Sophia was interested in politics, and not shy about expressing her opinions.  She apparently switched from Whig to Tory views by the 1820’s.  She supported Queen Caroline against George IV when he tried to divorce Caroline, wearing a portrait of Caroline in public.   Sarah  Sophia also spoke openly against the Reform Bill of 1832. 

George died October 3, 1859, followed shortly by their eldest son.   Her grandson (her oldest son’s son)   inherited the title.  After her husband’s death, she continued to entertain and take an interest in what was going on around her, especially charitable concerns including the establishment of schools on the family estates to assist tenants and laborers.  She died of a ruptured blood vessel, according to her obituary, at Berkley Square on January 26, 1867, at age 81, outliving her husband and six of her seven children.  Both Lord and Lady Jersey were buried at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire.

Lady Jersey’s fame lived on after her, and she appears in Regency romance novels by many authors, including Georgette Heyer,  frequently as a character.  She will also be seen in my upcoming novel, due out later this year.

[This is an expansion of some information I posted on Goodreads on Oct. 20, 2011 in the Historical Info for Historical Fiction Readers group.]

Gronow, Captain Rees Howell.  Reminiscences of Captain Gronow. Originally published 1862: Smith, Elder & Co., London; republished by IndyPublish.com, McLean, VA.

Quennell, Peter, ed. The Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 1820-1826.  1938: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. NY. (P. 283)

Robinson, Lionel G.  Letters of Dorothea, Princess Lieven, during her Residence in London, 1812-1834. 1902: Longmans, Green, and Co. London. (P. 29)

“Child & Co, Bankers of London.”  http://www.hypatia.demon.co.uk/ost2006/historical_bank.html  

Find A Grave. “Sarah Sophia Fane Child-Villiers.”  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=91951396

“Osterley Park– A Brief History.”   http://www.hypatia.demon.co.uk/ost2006/historical_brief.html  

One London One blog.  “The Death of Lady Jersey in 1867.” By Kristine Hughes and Victoria Hinshaw.  Posted March 3, 2012. http://onelondonone.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-of-lady-jersey-in-1867.html

The Peerage Online.  “Lady Sarah Sophia Fane.”  http://www.thepeerage.com/p2703.htm

RBS Heritage Online. “Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers.” http://heritagearchives.rbs.com/wiki/Sarah_Sophia_Child-Villiers

Regency History.  “Lady Jersey (1785-1867).” By Rachel Knowles, posted Nov. 4, 2011.  http://www.regencyhistory.net/2011/11/lady-jersey-1785-1867.html

A Web of English History.  “Sarah Sophia Child, Lady Jersey, 1785-1867.” Dr. Marjory Bloy.   http://www.historyhome.co.uk/people/jersey.htm       

Image: from Wikimedia Commons- Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (née Fane) (1785-1867) by Alfred Edward Chalon, painted in the first half of the 19th century. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/dc/Sarah_Sophia_Child_Villiers%2C_Countess_of_Jersey_%28n%C3%A9e_Fane%29_%281785-1867%29%2C_by_Alfred_Edward_Chalon.jpg/361px-Sarah_Sophia_Child_Villiers%2C_Countess_of_Jersey_%28n%C3%A9e_Fane%29_%281785-1867%29%2C_by_Alfred_Edward_Chalon.jpg

 

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Christmas Dinner Now and Then

Christmas Time Here's The Gobbler by Sophie Anderson

Christmas Time Here’s The Gobbler by Sophie Anderson

      Now that the decorating is finished, and the gifts are wrapped and shipped, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas dinner (if you haven’t already!)  We will be celebrating with dear friends, and I will be taking a particularly decadent vegetable dish, with parsnips, cream and rosemary.  For many of us, the main course will be the traditional favorites: turkey, ham, roast beef, possibly even roast goose.  Stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer) will also be present in some form.  The desserts are usually fairly traditional as well: various pies and cakes, sometimes a version of the old-fashioned Christmas pudding.   It was the parsnips that got me thinking…

          What would have been served at a Christmas dinner in late 18th century, early 19th century England?  What might Jane Austen have eaten?  As always, when confronted with a culinary question, I turned to old cookbooks.  In my facsimile copy of THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE by Eliza Smith, she helpfully included diagrammed dinner services for summer and winter, showing two courses.  The first winter course includes a giblet pie, roast beef with horseradish and pickles and a boiled pudding; the second features a roasted turkey and an apple pie.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Smith did not include vegetable suggestions. 

          I turned to another old friend: The ART OF COOKERY Made Plain and Easy by Mrs. Glasse (a new edition published in Alexandria in 1805).   While Mrs. Glasse did not lay out the settings, she did include”Bills of Fare” for each month of the year.  December’s menu included three courses, again with no vegetable suggestions, except for mushrooms.  One dish in the third course did catch my eye…  Ragooed Palates.  What, I asked myself, could that be?  Surely not what it seems.

          Yes, dear reader, it is exactly what it says.    The palate is, of course, the roof of the ox’s (or cow’s) mouth.   It was apparently considered a form of offal, like kidneys or tripes, and required extra preparation involving blanching and skinning and so forth.   I also learned that a “ragoo” or “ragout” is, essentially a stew, so possibly Mrs. Glasse’s Stewed Palates may have been served as Ragooed Palates for a December dinner.   Fricassee also seems to be very similar to a stew.  Both involve long cooking and a rich, heavily seasoned gravy.   

           Mrs. Smith’s fricassee of Ox-Palates included stewing beef, salt, pepper, onion, eschalot (shallot?), anchovies,  and horseradish to make the gravy: then she stewed the palates until tender, cutting them up, and putting them aside.  Then she cut up chickens, seasoned them with nutmeg, salt and thyme and fried them with butter.   The palates were peeled and cut up, then were combined with the chicken in half of the gravy and stewed.  While the stew was cooking, the rest of the gravy was put in a pan, thickened with egg yolks, white wine added with butter and cream.  When ready to serve, the gravy in the pan was blended into the stewed palates and chickens.  When dished up, a garnish of pickled grapes was recommended.  When all is said and done, this sounds like it could be delicious!  (Please remember that this is one dish of several in a course.)

         Both cookbooks contain instructions for vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, carrots and (of course!) parsnips.  I feel confident that, season permitting, some sort of vegetable dish would have been included.   However, it is interesting to see how heavily the winter menu relied on meat dishes.  It is also a timely reminder that little was wasted in those days.  Somehow, I can see Jane Austen (or the heroine in my work-in-progress!)  sitting down to a festive Christmas dinner of turkey, possibly some parsnips, a Fricasee of Ox-Palates, and a boiled pudding, with great enjoyment. 

Sources:

Glasse, Mrs.  THE ART OF COOKERY Made Plain And Easy.  A New EDITION, with modern Improvements.  Alexandria: Printed by Cottom and Stewart, 1805.  (First American edition.)  In Facsimile, with historical notes by Karen Hess.  Bedford, MA:  Applewood Books, 1997.  P. 59

Smith, Eliza.  THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion.  The Sixteenth Edition, with Additions.  London.  (Facsimile)  London: Studio Editions Ltd., 1994.  P. 52.

Web Sources:

CooksInfo.com  “Ox Palate.”  http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004826650.0001.000/1:3.5.3.9?rgn=div4;view=fulltext

Eighteenth Century Collections Online.  Mrs. Taylor’s Family Companion… “Of Ragouts”.  http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004826650.0001.000/1:3.9?rgn=div2;view=fulltext;q1

Eighteenth Century Collections Online.  Mrs. Taylor’s Family Companion… “To Stew Ox Palates.”  http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004826650.0001.000/1:3.5.3.9?rgn=div4;view=fulltext

Food Information.  “Ragout.”  http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~sayyid/culinary/dlist.cgi?food=ragout

Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/08/Anderson_Sophie_Christmas_Time_Heres_The_Gobbler.jpg/450px-Anderson_Sophie_Christmas_Time_Heres_The_Gobbler.jpg

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Happy Anniversary, English Historical Fiction Authors!

     This week, the English Historical Fiction Authors’ blog is celebrating its one year anniversary!   Author Debra Brown, who spearheaded this blog, has written a great article providing some highlights, the top ten posts and other items of interest.   (One of my posts is number 3!)  Be sure to take a look at the various posts-there is truly something for everyone, from food to fashion to politics and war.  There is also a great giveaway of books by associated authors to celebrate this milestone.  Please go HERE http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/   and check it out!  You’ll be glad you did!

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Women and Politics In Jane Austen’s Time

     As we are heating up for presidential elections, politics of course is becoming all-consuming.  What were politics like in Jane Austen’s time, and what were women’s concerns?  This is a big subject, and I would like to present some thoughts in a two-part article.  The first will present some thoughts and information about the political situation of the time; the second will address some ideas about politics and Jane Austen’s novels.

PART I

     Politics in Jane Austen’s time have little in common with politics today.  Before 1832, only 5 to 6% of the male population could vote, made up largely of aristocrats who were large property owners.  Parties (and party loyalty) were much more fluid.  Rhetoric was much more uncontrolled.  After the French Revolution, a more cautious spirit pervaded the English political landscape, reigning in ideas of change and individual rights.  Although women had been actively involved with politics in the previous generation (witness the Duchess of Devonshire and her sister soliciting votes for the Whigs, and the political hostess Mrs. Crewe; and women at the lower ends of the social scale participating in mobs and rallies), by the time Jane was a young woman, women were discouraged from concerning themselves directly with political activity.  Does that mean that women, and in particular Jane Austen, were uninformed or uninterested in politics?  For that matter, what were the issues in politics during Jane’s time that might have interested women? 

     A general political overview is helpful.  In Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Whigs succeeded in removing James II (and the exclusion of James VII/II from the throne) and establishing a constitutional monarchy  (William and Mary, followed by Queen Anne; after Anne’s death, Elector of Hanover was invited to rule.)  The Whig party felt that they had saved the realm and expected to be rewarded.  They embraced ideals of the American and French revolutions, but wanted to retain the existing structure.  Whig power declined due to their support of the French Revolution (popular until the Terror and the executions of the King and Queen).   The Tory government was much more conservative, wanted to win the Napoleonic Wars, and concerned with  fiscal responsibility.

     Political parties were not like today.  Membership was fluid: members of all sides switched with various issues.  There was cooperation as well as conflict (see Ministry of All The Talents-both Whigs and Tories –formed by Lord William Grenville, in place 2/1806-3/1807).  Party affiliations were often drawn along the lines of one issue, which resulted in strange partnerships and fluid alliances.  Forming of factions was characteristic of the period.  There were three basic groups active during this time, with movement back and forth at will.

     The Whig party supported a landowner-controlled monarchy (constitutional), and was somewhat reform minded (i.e. favored education as expected gratitude and support, supported some expansion of suffrage but didn’t expect or desire basic social structure/class changes), and sought electoral, parliamentary and philanthropic reforms within their constitutional position.  They resented the king’s control of patronage.  The Whig families controlled polite Society  (The “Upper 400”, the London season).  During Jane Austen’s era, they were the minority party, but still wielded great power on the social level.   They supported Prince of Wales.  George III hated the Whigs.

     The Tory party supported strong monarchy, and the Church of England.  More conservative, the Tories considered moves toward political reform dangerous.   Hard work, and personal worth allowed individual advancement.   The Tories took a more pragmatic, fiscal-minded view, and believed that the king should determine the direction of the state.   Country gentry, tradesmen and official administrative groups were most often allied to Tory goals.

     A third group, the Radicals, were much more independent.   They wanted broad reforms (expanded suffrage, broader religious freedom, etc.)

     Parliament was made up of two houses: the House of Lords consisting of peers of the realm (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and barons), with the bishops and archbishops of the Church of England (Pool, p. 35), and the House of Commons (from the Norman French “Communes” or localities-elected from boroughs (towns) in the shires by electors whose right to vote was determined by sheriffs and the rules varied widely.)  For elections, seats were not linked to population, so representation was uneven, and a disproportionate number of seats were controlled by a few powerful men.  As a result of the Septennial Act of 1716, parliamentary elections were required every 7 years, with by-elections held between the general elections to replace a sitting member who died or resigned.  A very small number  were eligible to vote, and votes were bought and sold (both parties involved with this, even though illegal).  Public opinion had little effect on outcomes.  “Pocket boroughs” were small localities owned by one man who controlled the few resident voters, and were even bought and sold (see Duke of Bedford, Duke of Devonshire).    Both parties (Whigs and Tories) were entrenched in political system of patronage and nepotism.

      Jane Austen is often considered a Tory sympathizer, but did not disclose her personal opinions at length, as far as we know.  (Her brother Henry in 1818 was at pains to state that she was “thoroughly religious and devout” and “her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.” (CAMBRIDGE COMPANION p. 154)  This implies strong Tory leanings.)   Her mother Cassandra Leigh was connected to James Brydges, the 1st Duke of Chandos and Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey, but her immediate family had no money or influence (her father was a clergyman).   Jane’s father’s family was professional (George Austen’s father was a surgeon, his uncle a lawyer).  (George Austen was born in Tonbridge in Kent, one of four children of William Austen, a surgeon, and Rebecca (nee Hampson).) Both parents died before George was nine, and he was raised by his uncle, Francis Austen, a wealthy lawyer, who paid for George’s education at Tonbridge School and St. John’s College, Oxford.  In 1755, he was ordained in Rochester Cathedral.

                Various factors in Jane Austen’s life would have awakened an interest in many issues.  Her father, George Austen, a landless clergyman, had no money or property, leading to inheritance problems for his daughters.   Her cousin Eliza was the daughter of an East India merchant and her father’s sister who was sent out to India to find a husband (again, no money); Eliza’s mother took her to France where she married a minor French aristocrat connection.  During the French Revolution, Eliza’s husband was guillotined, a victim of the Terror.  (Eliza subsequently married Jane’s brother Henry.)  Jane’s  brother, Edward Austen-Knight, was a landowner with money, but had to be adopted to achieve his rank and fortune.    She had two brothers in the Navy, participating in war; for both the rank of admiral was achieved-they rose by merit and hard work.

     There were specific political issues that would be of particular interest to women, including Jane Austen.  First would be war; with husbands, fathers, sons, etc. going to war, there was a loss of protection and income for many (pay was slow to come, if issued at all; prize money could not be counted on).  Secondly were moral issues, such as the questions of slavery, and civil and criminal laws and penalties.  Although the slave trade was abolished in 1807, ownership was still legal.  Aunt Perrot’s trial for theft of a card of lace would have been an immediate concern, especially as possible penalties included being transported to a penal colony.  Thirdly, and for many most importantly, were marital issues; although much was written about love, marriage had more to do with property.  Frequently, family pressure was applied to compel young people to marry appropriately.  Once married, women had little or no control of their assets (in essence, they and anything they owned became the property of their husbands).  Divorce was hugely expensive and time-consuming, involving a  petition to Parliament; women had great difficulty gaining custody of children, or funds. 

     Another issue of huge importance was inheritance law-the issues primogeniture (property and money going to the oldest son), entail (restrictions on the disposal of property), etc. limited women’s ability to inherit.  With few opportunities available to support themselves, women were frequently left at the mercy of the intentions and generosity of male family members to provide support.

     General reform was a major topic of the day on many levels.  Regarding slavery issues, William Wilberforce (and his Anti-Slavery league) was active during her life.  Although the slave trade in the British Empire was abolished in 1807, there was still on-going activity to abolish ownership of slaves.  In education, Hannah Moore (a prolific writer, founder of schools) and Mary Wollstonecraft (who wrote about women’s education) brought issues of education to the forefront,  as availability of education to all was not considered a right, or even desirable.  Election reforms, including suffrage and other rights for Catholics and non-landowners were also major issues.   In the political climate of the time, given the loss of the American colonies and the French Revolution leading to the destruction of French society and the rise of Napoleon, these were sensitive issues, not to be embraced lightly. 

    The fear of revolution in Britain was real, and issues of reform exacerbated these fears.  Indeed, laws were passed to restrict the press from publishing material that could be construed as critical or seditious.

Bibliography:

Washington & Lee University, “The World of Jane Austen” 2009 Alumni College – Dr. Taylor Sanders-  Lectures: ‘The British Empire at Full Attention (or Why were all those men in uniform?)’ on 7/21/09, and  ‘The Court Jester: Was George III Truly Mad?: The Political Scene’ on 7/23/09; Dr. Marc Conner-Lecture ‘The Economies of Jane Austen: Wealth/Religion/Marriage’ on 7/24/09.  (Outlines and my notes)

Austen, Jane.  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  London: 1813.

                          PERSUASION.  London: 1817.                       

Copeland, Edward and McMaster, Juliet, ed.  THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.  “Religion and Politics” by Gary Kelly, PP. 149-169.

Erickson, Carolly.  ROYAL PANOPLY Brief Lives of the English Monarchs.  “Epilogue: Historical Turning Points, ‘England in 1714’”, pp. 350-352.  New York: History Book Club, 2003.

Johnson, Claudia L.  JANE AUSTEN Women, Politics, and the Novel.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. 

LeFaye, Deirdre, ed.  JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Mitchell, Leslie.  THE WHIG WORLD. London and New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2005.

PERSUASIONS, No. 24, 2002.  “Jane Austen and the Enclosure Movement: The Sense and Sensibility of Land Reform,” by Celia Easton.  PP. 71-89.

Pool, Daniel.  WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKENS KNEW From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

ELECTIONEERING (from Robert Southey’s “Letters from England,” written in 1802 [originally published in 1807])

On-Line Research Sources:

Bloy, Dr. Marjory.  A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY – THE AGE OF GEORGE III.  http://www.historyhome.co.uk

FIND A GRAVE http://www.findagrave.com

 THE EFFECTS OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION ON POLITICS , http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/history/A0858818.html    

GEORGIAN BRITAIN: British History Under George I/II/III/IV and William IV http://www.ukstudentlife.com/Britain/History/Georgian.htm 

A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY: THE AGE OF GEORGE III                                                 http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/ministry/ldgrenmi.htm

THE GEORGIAN INDEX http://www.georgianindex.net/Election/election.html 

REGENCY COLLECTION.  “Whig or Tory?”  http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/regency/whig.html

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