Jane Austen and ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jane Austen and the Black Hole. Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The editing of Jane Austen's maternal connections - the Leighs and Brydges

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.

- Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice (1813)1

“My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.” [Anne Elliot ] “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education, it is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company, on the contrary, it will do very well. My cousin, Anne shakes her head. She is not satisfied. She is fastidious.” [Mr. Elliot ]

- Anne and Mr. Elliot in Persuasion (1818a)2

“I wish him happy with all my heart, & hope his choice may turn out according to his own expectations, & beyond those of his Family - and I dare say it will. Marriage is a great improver - & in a similar situation Harriet may be as amiable as Eleanor. - As to Money, that will come You may be sure, because they cannot do without it.”

- Jane Austen letter to Cassandra (1808) concerning the coming marriage of Edward Bridges with Harriet Foote (her sister Eleanor having also married a Bridges) 3

The “Austenizing” of Jane Austen’s life

Jane Austen's art in each of her novels is concerned with the rarefied social interactions of a limited set of people essentially belonging to a single social class, the key young participants being potentially marriageable subject to age, inclination and financial constraints. The essential beauty of each creation lies in the sum of the delicious descriptions of people, their interactions and their elegant conversations. These highly moralistic "games" require no paraphernalia of additional social complexity or the drama of physical violence. There was no need for the awfulness of the real world to intrude into Jane Austen's novels for these realities would have simply detracted from the medium, the ménage and the message.

The artist can be highly selective in choosing the elements of creation without compromising truth or beauty. However the historian, like the scientist, is bound by the data - to operate otherwise is not merely "unethical", it is utterly pointless and counterproductive. Nevertheless "bias" inevitably intrudes into both historical analysis and science. When the "bias" in the latter leads to cavalier disregard of the data, the process has become fraudulent fantasy. The boundary between illegitimate and legitimate selectivity is more hazy in the area of historical analysis because of differential, culturally-biased weightings given to the data and to the historical models accomodating them. Nevertheless in some instances, to be detailed later in this book, the neglected historical reality is of such quantitative and qualitative importance that the illegitimacy should be palpably evident.

While the world of Jane Austen's novels was a highly selective, tranquil and comfortable slice of the society in which she lived, the treatment of her own life and connections by her numerous biographers is remarkably uneven in content. While the former can be seen as stylishly focussed art, the latter is a good example of the way in which historical realities are deleted, softened and prettified to satisfy a racial and cultural mythology of social "naiceness". This "Austenizing" or deleting and sweetening of the lives of the Austens can be seen as vastly less serious than the extraordinary sanitizing of British colonial enormities by historians, but it is nevertheless qualitatively of the same nature.

The Jane Austen novels have spawned a substantial Jane Austen-based academic industry that provides a rich body of data on the sensitivities of those engaged in historical reportage and analysis relating to Jane Austen. In detailing the forebears, life and connections of Jane Austen we will keep a quantitative tally of the deficiencies of such reportage. Of the large number of books dealing with the life of Jane Austen, 4 easily the most comprehensive and sensible is P. Honan’s Jane Austen. Her Life (1987)5 and for much of what is asserted in the following few chapters about Jane Austen and her connections the reader can regard this excellent work as a “default” reference.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was born in her parents' home, the rectory of the village of Steventon in Hampshire, England on 16th December 1775. She was the 7th of 8 children born to her mother Cassandra (1739-1827) and her father the Reverend George Austen (1731-1805), the rector of Steventon from 1761 and who had married Cassandra (née Leigh) in 1764. The other siblings were, in order of birth, (the later Reverend) James (1765-1819), George (1766-1838) (a disabled person, put out to evidently excellent care), Edward (1767-1852) (who changed his surname to Knight in 1812), the (later Reverend) Henry Thomas (1771-1850), Cassandra Elizabeth (1773-1845) (Jane Austen’s dear sister), the (later Admiral Sir) Francis William (1774-1865) and (the later Admiral) Charles John (1779-1852).

At the outset of this disquisition we will see that even this simple historical reality of immediate family members and relationships is subject to “Austenizing” (in this instance by Austen descendants themselves) arising from English manners and sensibilities. Thus James Edward Austen-Leigh (1798-1874), the son of the Reverend James Austen, completely deletes disabled George from Jane Austen's family in his biography of his Aunt Jane, A Memoir of Jane Austen (1870).6 Similarly, Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh (1838-1922), in her Personal Aspects of Jane Austen (1920), also deletes poor George 7 and other works on Jane Austen perpetuate the absence. Of a selection of 30 works dealing with Jane Austen’s life (albeit with markedly different degrees of detail and emphasis), a total of 7 do not mention brother George, namely Austen-Leigh (1870), Austen-Leigh (1920), Johnson (1926), Johnson (1927), Lascelles (1939), Nicolson (1991) and Smith (1890).8

Maybe, like starving Indians, Irish, Scots or even starving Englishmen, the disabled were not "naice" subjects for the polite society addressed by some of these authors. Perhaps the “family” authors did not want an "unfortunate" aspect of their lovely family to be exposed to the public, or, for all we know, they were themselves the victims of prior "Austenizing" by their senior relatives.

It gets worse. Before considering Jane's own life and work, it is useful and entertaining to look at her forbears, the ancestors of her father George Austen and her mother Cassandra Leigh. We are indebted to the scholarship of Halperin (1984), Hodge (1972), Honan (1987), Lane (1984, 1986, 1996), Smithers (1981) and Tucker (1983) in particular 9 and others 10 for a wealth of information relating to Jane Austen’s connections. Ladies first...

The family of Jane Austen’s mother, Cassandra Leigh

An early distinguished ancestor of the Leighs was Sir Thomas Leigh (1504?-1571), a Lord Mayor of London and Jane Austens’s great great great great grandfather. His union with Alice Barker (the niece of Sir Rowland Hill) produced via Sir Thomas Leigh (Baronet, died 1626) a line of Leighs of Stoneleigh (of which more later) and via Rowland Leigh the Leighs of Adelstrop. The latter, with inputs from the Brydges and Perrot families, finally led to Jane Austen’s mother Cassandra Leigh. The family lineages involved are simply presented below in quasi-Biblical fashion with spaces between generations and asterisks (*) marking siblings (JA refers to Jane Austen).

The Leighs of Adelstrop:

Rowland Leigh (JA great great great grandfather) married the daughter of the Earl of Berkeley & begat

Sir William Leigh (died 1632; JA great great grandfather) who married Elizabeth Whorwood & begat

Theophilus Leigh of Adelstrop (died 1724; JA great grandfather) who, in marrying again, married Mary Brydges (sister of James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, of which much more later) & begat

*William Leigh (died 1757; JA great uncle) &

*Theophilus Leigh (died 1785; Master of Balliol, 1724-1785; JA great uncle) &

*Thomas Leigh (Rector of Harpsden, died 1763; JA grandfather).

William Leigh (died 1757; JA great uncle) married Mary Lord & begat

* Rev. Thomas Leigh who married Mary &

*James Leigh (1724-1784) who married Lady Caroline Brydges (daughter of Henry Brydges (1708-1781), the 2nd Duke of Chandos, and who thus shared a common great-grandfather with her husband in James Brydges, 8th Baron Chandos) & begat

James Henry Leigh (1765-1823) who married the Hon. Julia Twistleton (daughter of 13th Baron Lord Saye and Sele and sister of Mary Cassandra Twistleton, who was observed by Jane Austen at Bath and was regarded as an "adultress" ) & begat

Chandos Leigh (1791-1850) (1st Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh).

Theophilus Leigh (died 1785; JA great uncle) begat

Cassandra Leigh (1744-1826) (youngest daughter of the Master of Balliol, friend of the novelist Fanny Burney and cousin of Cassandra Austen née Leigh) who thence married Reverend Samuel Cooke (1741-1820) (of Cotsford, Oxfordshire and Vicar of Great Bookham, Surrey) & begat

*Reverend Theophilus Leigh Cooke (1776-1846) &

*Reverend George Leigh Cooke (1780-1853) &

*Mary Cooke

Thomas Leigh (died 1763; JA grandfather) married Jane Walker (of the Perrot line) & begat

* Thomas Leigh (disabled; JA uncle) &

*James Leigh (later Leigh-Perrot, JA uncle) &

*Jane Leigh (JA aunt) &

*Cassandra Leigh, Jane Austen’s mother

The Chandos line:

James Brydges (d. 1714) (8th Baron Chandos; JA great great uncle) begat

*Katherine, Anne, Emma, Elizabeth, Henry &

*Mary Brydges (q.v., who subsequently married Theophilus Leigh) &

*James Brydges (1673-1744) (1st Duke of Chandos) who married twice, latterly (1713) without issue to his beautiful cousin Cassandra Willoughby (daughter of Francis Willoughby & Emma Barnard, sister of 1st Baron Middleton and step-daughter of Sir Josiah Child, a governor of the East India Company) but firstly to Mary Lake (d.1712) who begat

*9 children of which only 2 survived, namely the elder

*John (1705-1727) (Lord Caernarvon, who had daughters Catherine & Jane) & the younger

*Henry Brydges (1708-1781) (2nd Duke of Chandos) who begat

*Lady Caroline Brydges (q.v., who married her relation James Leigh) &

*James Brydges (1731-1789) (3rd Duke of Chandos)

Two further members of this line were the siblings

*Sir Edgerton Brydges (1762-1837) (a writer unappreciated by Jane Austen and who unsuccessfully claimed the Chandos barony which thence ceased; he fled England in debt and died abroad) &

*Anne Brydges (born 1749) (a good friend and confidant of Jane Austen) who married the Reverend Isaac George Lefroy (Rector of Ashe; his elder brother Anthony Lefroy, commander of the 9th Light Dragoons, had a son Tom Lefroy who touched Jane Austen's heart) & begat

*3 children &

*Ben Lefroy (1791) who married Anna Austen (1793-1872) (daughter of James Austen) & begat

*6 children &

*Fanny C. Lefroy (1820-1885) who wrote The Family History.

The Perrot line:

James Perrot (d.1724) (of Northleigh, Oxfordshire; JA great great grandfather) married Anne Dawtrey & begat

Jane Perrot (JA great grandmother) who married Dr John Walker (JA great grandfather) and thence begat

Jane Walker (1704-1768, Cassandra Leigh's mother, JA grandmother).

The Leighs of Stoneleigh:

Sir Thomas Leigh (Baron of Stoneleigh) (d.1626; JA great great great great uncle) begat

Thomas, 1st Lord Leigh (1643) who begat

Thomas Leigh (1652-1710) (2nd Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh) who married Eleanor Watson (daughter of the 2nd Baron Rockingham) and then Lady Anne Wentworth (daughter of the 1st Earl of Strafford, Charles I's minister beheaded in 1641) & begat

Edward Leigh (1684-1738) (3rd Lord Leigh) who begat

Thomas Leigh (1713-1749) (4th Lord Leigh) who married Maria Rebecca Craven (sister of the 5th Lord Craven) & begat

*Edward Leigh (1742-1786) (5th Lord Leigh, died unmarried 1786) &

*Mary Leigh (successor to Stoneleigh who died unmarried 1806 & thence

the property and title fell to Chandos Leigh (q.v.), 1st Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh).

The Cravens and Lloyds

The Cravens and Lloyds come into the picture in that they were connected with a 16th Century Lord Mayor of London, had high Tory Royalist connections and ultimately connected themselves through friendship and marriage to the Austen family and the Leigh family of Stoneleigh. We can begin this lineage with 2 brothers Sir William Craven and Henry Craven.

Sir William Craven (1548?-1618) (Lord Mayor of London) begat

William Craven (1606-1697) (1st Earl of Craven; Royalist leader linked as lover and even husband to Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, daughter of James I and grandmother of George I).

Henry Craven (1543-1603) (brother to Sir William Craven) gave rise to

*William Craven (1668-1711) (2nd Lord Craven) &

*Charles Craven (1682-1754) (Governor of South Carolina) &

*John Craven.

William Craven begat

William Craven (1700-1739) (3rd Lord Craven) who married Anne Tylney

Charles Craven begat

Martha Craven (died 1825) who married Reverend N. Lloyd and begat

*Mary Lloyd (1771-1843) (who married James Austen as his 2nd wife in 1797) &

*Martha Lloyd (1765-1843) (who married Francis Austen as his 2nd wife in 1828)

John Craven begat

*William Craven (1705-1769) &

*Maria Rebecca (q.v.) (who married Thomas Leigh, 4th Lord Leigh) &

*John who begat

William Craven (1738-1791) (5th Lord Craven) who married Lady Elizabeth Berkeley (1750-1828) (later Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach; playwright) & begat

William Craven (1770-1825) who married Louisa Brunton (1785?-1820) (famous actress).

The Leigh-Perrots - Cassandra's siblings and their connections:

The Leigh/Brydges line represented by Rev.Thomas Leigh (Jane Austen’s maternal grandfather) now joins with the Perrot/Walker line represented by Jane Walker (granddaughter of James Perrot and Jane Austen’s maternal grandmother) to yield Jane Austen’s mother Cassandra Leigh.

Rev. Thomas Leigh (JA grandfather) married Jane Walker (JA grandmother) & begat

*Cassandra Leigh (1739-1827; JA mother) who married George Austen (1731-1805; JA father) &

*Thomas Leigh Junior (died 1821; disabled; JA uncle; in care, possibly with George Austen) &

*James Leigh (later Leigh-Perrot; JA uncle) (died 1817) who married Jane Cholmeley (1744 -1836) (JA aunt; the niece of Sir Montague Cholmeley of Lincolnshire; she was accused of theft entailing possible capital punishment or transportation) &

*Jane Leigh (JA aunt) who married Reverend Dr Edward Cooper (1728-1792) and begat

*Reverend Edward Cooper (1770-1835; JA cousin) (curate of Harpsden; rector of Hamstall-Ridware, Staffordshire; married Caroline Isabella Lybbe Powys who died in 1838) &

*Jane Cooper (later Lady Jane; JA cousin) (who was a great friend of Jane Austen and died tragically from a carriage accident in 1798; she married Thomas Williams, RN, who was knighted in 1796, became an admiral and was Charles Austen's captain in several ships)

A brief overview of Cassandra Leigh’s connections

Inspection of Cassandra's relatives and connections makes it clear that the Austens were not a simple clerical family of modest means cast adrift from the powerful establishment in an isolated rustic oasis. Cassandra's "mob" (to use a rather fluid Australian term) included Lord Mayors of London, a Minister of Charles I, a notoriously wealthy Paymaster to Marlborough's forces, earls, barons, dukes and their grand ladies, a Governor of South Carolina, an admiral, a military commander, a famous Master of Balliol College at Oxford, a celebrated woman writer and a famous actress as well as a number of humble clergymen. We will see later that the Reverend George Austen's "mob" was similarly blessed with English establishment notables. These connections traversed the spectrum of acceptable society from modest clergymen to grand people having direct dealings with royalty. Thus Sir Thomas Leigh entertained Charles I at Stoneleigh Abbey and the king's sister, Elizabeth Stuart (later Queen of Bohemia, grandmother of George I and reputed lover of Willliam, 1st Earl of Craven) was brought up at nearby Coombe Abbey.

Since not too many could share in the post-Reformation cake and be accomodated in the clerically comfortable to the ducally opulent layers of the Establishment, it is not surprising that multiple family re-connections should occur. Thus the Cravens are linked to the Stoneleigh Leighs (and hence the Austens) by the union of Maria Craven with Thomas, 4th Lord Leigh and we see that the Craven descendants Mary Lloyd and Martha Lloyd became the second wives of widowed James Austen and Francis Austen, respectively. The death in 1806 of Mary Leigh, life tenant of Stoneleigh Abbey, meant that Chandos Leigh (like Jane Austen a great grandchild of Theophilus Leigh of Adelstrop, and whose other early ancestor Sir Thomas Leigh, Lord Mayor of London, was also a shared ancestor with the Stoneleigh Leighs and his “cousins” Cassandra Leigh and her daughter Jane Austen) ultimately became the legal owner of this grand establishment (cf. Mansfield Park).

Consanguinity was certainly the “go” among the Chandos mob and indeed among the English ruling class in general. Cassandra Leigh’s cousin James Leigh was the great-nephew of James Brydges (1st Duke of Chandos) and married Lady Caroline Brydges, the daughter of Henry Brydges (the 2nd Duke of Chandos) and hence the granddaughter of James Brydges - this couple thus shared a common great-grandfather. At a more intimate level, after the death of his first wife Mary, James Brydges (1st Duke of Chandos and corrupt Paymaster to the Forces) married his beautiful cousin Cassandra Willoughby in 1713, but they had no children. A further such marriage in the family was opposed and thereby prevented: Martha Bourchier (daughter of James Brydges' sister Katherine) fell in love with Alexander Jacobs (son of James Brydges' sister Elizabeth). Alexander went overseas with his regiment and Martha was entered into an unsatisfactory marriage with Henry Perrot, an intimate of Brydges (cf. Brandon in Sense and Sensibility). 11

It should be noted that while first cousin marriage is prohibited in some religious and legal systems, it is possible in others. Thus in traditional Chinese custom such a union might be possible but a non-consanguinous union involving partners having the same family name would be prohibited. In hindsight this prohibition can be justified in terms of minimizing the deleterious effects of inbreeding.12 The Australian aboriginal "skin name" system of tribal sub-group identification and constraints on in-law connections was able to minimize in-breeding in the context of relatively small tribal groups. 13 However one presumes that such regulations may actually have stemmed from innate or societal incest taboos. In some American states first cousin marriage was prohibited and in some others it was permitted provided there was no issue. Thus Albert Einstein's allegedly "lost son" in Czechoslovakia may have ended up there due to the kindly fostering out of the product of his second marriage to the widowed daughter of his father’s cousin.14 The Reformation in England led to a slightly more liberal interpretation of religious injunctions but the taboos specified in Leviticus Chapters 18 and 20 basically remained in place and some non-consanguinous unions between people related only through marriage were prohibited. In Jane Austen’s times first cousins were permitted to marry, although there was some social discouragement.15 As we will see later, such consanguinous unions recur in the Austen family and in Jane Austen's novels.

All families will have "skeletons in the cupboard" and the Cassandra “mob” are no exception. Of interest to me in this disquisition is how some of the more interesting members of this tribe are treated by the numerous biographers of Jane Austen or by historians in general where this is appropriate. We have already seen how poor George Austen Junior has been erased from history by some of his sister's more delicate biographers. Accordingly, for various reasons, we will examine a limited set of such people encountered so far who have been treated unevenly by historians, namely James Brydges, Edgerton Brydges, James Leigh-Perrot, Jane Leigh-Perrot and Mary Cassandra Twistleton.

James Brydges, Paymaster to the Forces and First Duke of Chandos

James Brydges (1674-1744), the great-uncle of Cassandra Leigh (Jane Austen’s mother) and great-great-uncle of Jane Austen, was born into the prosperous Chandos family which had estates in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Having secured presentations to King William III and to the Prince of Denmark, he was nevertheless unsuccessful in attempts to gain a potentially lucrative post in the Excise Department. He was subsequently elected to Parliament in 1698 (not without some opposition from Sir Thomas Southwell), noting that the electoral process was notoriously corrupt and particularly so in Herefordshire. His assiduous lobbying paid off with his appointment as a commissioner of the Admiralty in 1703. With the commencement of the War of the Spanish Succession against the Spanish and French (1701-1713), Brydges saw further opportunities and, through his friendship with the Duke of Marlborough, took up the position of Paymaster to the Queen's Forces Abroad. His subsequent generous gift of a valuable ring to the Duchess had to be declined. While not in a position to determine policy, Brydges was able to make a large fortune. He had excellent connections: his aunt Beata Danvers was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne (who had assumed the Crown in 1702) and Brydges was friendly with the treasurer Godolphin and the great general Marlborough.

James Brydges made not a small fortune - he made a gigantic fortune. Handling over 15 million pounds of funds in his period as Paymaster he was able to exploit his position by borrowing from such funds and investing them for short-term profit (deriving from interest on such capital and from differential exchange rates for foreign currencies) until the funds actually had to be paid. Through his connection with Marlborough (who did quite nicely himself out of war and its attendant profitable possibilities) and with Marlborough's aide Lord Cadogan, Brydges was well placed for insider-trading based on knowledge of future alarms, battles or peace initiatives crucial for investment outcomes. Nevertheless Brydges was careful to avoid explicit criminality and the closest he came to this (depending upon your judgement) was through supplying inferior equipment to his poor countrymen who were later defeated on the Spanish Peninsular.

It has been estimated that Brydges was worth several hundred pounds a year when he commenced as Paymaster in 1705 but when he retired from the position in 1713 his fortune was worth 600,000-700,000 pounds. With increasing unpopularity of the war (especially its attendant taxation burden) and increasing Tory power in Parliament and in the Court, the gravy train was set to come to a close.

When the Tories led by Harley and St John mounted the Peculation Charges in Parliament against the Whig administration involving lost funds asserted to amount to 35 million pounds, Brydges encountered a rather tricky phase of his life. He corresponded with Harley (a distant relative) and secured special treatment involving his separation from Marlborough and the others. This in turn enabled him to stay in office and brave the storm (his resignation could well have implied guilt). While the Duchess of Marlborough's influence at Court was supplanted by that of Mrs Abigail Masham (also a distant relative of Harley), Brydges curried favour with Mrs Masham (giving her a lavish gift of plate) and his cause was no doubt assisted by his aunt Beata Danvers.

In the event he survived while not discarding his obligation to the disgraced Marlborough. However with coming of peace in 1713 (the year of the Treaty of Utrecht), Brydges felt able to resign as Paymaster. With Anne seriously ill, the Tory leaders Oxford and Bolingbroke favoured a Stuart succession involving the return of James (Anne's half brother) while the Whigs favoured Sophia of Hanover or her son George. Brydges with continuing excellent judgement distanced himself from the Tories and plumped for the Hanoverian camp. On George's accession to the throne in 1715 and the re-instatement of Marlborough as Captain General of the Army, Brydges made generous gifts of jewellery or money to the King's mistresses Melusina von Schulenberg (later the Duchess of Kendal) and Sophia Kielmansegge (later the Countess of Darlington) and to the King’s close advisers Baron von Bernstorff and Baron von Bothmer. He subsequently secured some modest bureacratic sinecures and set about alternative business ventures.

Capital-rich Brydges was in a splendid position to invest in the great entrepreneurial adventures of his day. Brydges was connected with the Turkey Company through his grandfather Sir Henry Barnard and his brother-in-law Alexander Jacob. Sir Josiah Child (1630-1699), a Director and subsequently Governor of the East India Company, was the step-father of Brydges’ second wife Cassandra Willoughby (Brydges' beautiful cousin whom he married in 1713 after the death of his first wife Mary). Child conducted his business affairs with great vigour and ruthlessness (to the extent of securing all of the revenues of the Willoughby estate after marrying Cassandra's mother and only surrendering them to the legitimate heirs after extensive legal action). Brydges was associated with the slave trade through the Royal African Company and, through Sir Hans Sloane FRS, had an interest in African medicinal plants. Unsuccessful ventures for Brydges included the Mississippi Company of John Law (which eventually collapsed) and the notorious South Sea Company. When the South Sea Bubble burst, Brydges lost 50,000 pounds, Cassandra lost 11,000 pounds and her mother also lost substantially.

The immense wealth of James Brydges is reflected in fine buildings designed and built at his behest by architect-surveyor John Wood in Bath (a key location in Jane Austen’s life and literary work). His Edgeware palace Canons was remarkable at the time for its magnificence and appointments. An indication of the lavishness of his lifestyle is given by his maintenance of a 27-member orchestra at an annual charge of 1,000 pounds (about 100,000 pounds in today's money). George Frederick Handel wrote 12 anthems as well as other choral works and overtures for James Brydges. While not having any children by Brydges, Cassandra was kept very busy helping to run this great establishment and helping her step-children and ultimately their children.

Of particular interest to us here is the manner of wealth generation involved, the impact of the Brydges on the Leighs and hence the Austens, the continuing connections between these families and the surprising total or near total deletion of this immensely wealthy operator from a substantial number of standard, and indeed specialist, historical texts, including Jane Austen biographies. Thus, while a number of detailed accounts of James Brydges and his connections have been published,16 Brydges receives minimal or no mention in a number of English histories dealing with his period. 17 Of our selection of 30 works dealing with Jane Austen’s life 8 only 11 mention James Brydges and of these only 4 allude to his pecuniary adventures, namely Honan (1987), Lane (1984), Tucker (1983) and Watkins (1990).

Sir Edgerton Brydges

Sir Edgerton Brydges is a minor player in this story. He was connected to Jane Austen through the Brydges line. His sister Anne Lefroy was a good “older” friend to Jane Austen and her nephew Tom Lefroy was perhaps Jane’s first love. Edgerton Brydges was a novelist but Jane Austen did not approve of his literary style. Jane Austen commented thus on one of his works:

“We have got “Fitz-Albini”; my father bought it against my private wishes, for it does not quite satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Edgerton’s works of which his family are ashamed. That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us finished the first volume. My father is disappointed - I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Edgerton’s. There is very little story, and what there is is told in a strange, unconnected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated. We have not been able to recognize any of them hitherto, except Dr and Mrs Hey and Mr Oxenden, who is not very tenderly treated.” 18

Conversely, Sir Edgerton Brydges never suspected that she was an author.19 Edgerton Brydges (1762-1837) pursued an unsuccessful claim for the restoration of the Chandos aristocratic position which had finally lapsed. The last direct descendant to inherit what was left of the massive estates was Lady Anna Eliza Brydges (1780-1836). Her father, James Brydges the Third Duke of Chandos (1731-1789), had died prematurely (after his wife had pulled away a chair on which he was about to sit) and her mother had gone mad. The Lady Anna Eliza Brydges / Richard (“Temple”) Grenville match had been arranged in principle in 1786 in Bath when the girl was merely 6 but was later opposed by Lady Caroline Brydges (her aunt and also a guardian), giving rise to all kinds of romantic subterfuge between the pair. However the union eventually took place in 1796 but later soured because of the profligacy and habitual adultery of Richard Grenville, Duke of Buckingham, who adopted the title of Duke of Chandos and Buckingham. Their eldest son, the Marquess of Chandos, was also a spendthrift. The Grenville family eventually disposed of most of the Chandos and Buckingham fortune during the 19th Century.20 Sir Edgerton Brydges scores 13 mentions out of 30 possible 8 in our “quiz” but only 2 works, namely Honan (1987) and Halperin (1984), refer to his quixotic bid for aristocratic restoration. The “De Bourgh” of Jane Austen’s unpleasant aristocratic dowager Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice is evidently a joke at Sir Edgerton Brydge’s expense, this having been an alternative name for his tribe in the dim past.

James and Jane Leigh-Perrot

James and Jane Leigh-Perrot were much humbler people than the Brydges but were comfortably well off gentry nevertheless and of course had a lot to do with Jane. James Leigh, Jane's maternal uncle, adopted the name Perrot after his maternal great-aunt persuaded her brother to will estates at Northleigh to his great-nephew. He duly received this property in 1751 and as a condition of the settlement changed his name to Leigh-Perrot. James sold the estates to the Duke of Marlborough and thence lived at his home Scarlets at Hare Hatch (near Reading) and at Bath. His wife Jane (or Jenny) Cholmeley was born in Barbados, her father having married into the Willoughby family (q.v.). Jane's "Aunt Perrot" was very proud of the ancient and noble lineage of the Perrots (pre-conquest, over with the Conqueror and one supposedly the natural-born son of Henry VIII as well as family connections that variously founded Trinity College and St. John's College).

Wills can have a somewhat corrosive effect on happy families. After his death in March 1817, James' will was not happily received and had long-reaching effects. James had no children and essentially left everything to his wife with a conditional generous future provision for his nephew James Austen and 1,000 pounds to each of the Austen children who survived their Aunt Perrot. Jane Austen's terminal illness was exacerbated by knowledge of the will, for she was very conscious of the financial problems and constraints of her siblings. Indeed Jane Austen died about 4 months later. Her reaction to the will was rather severe:

“A few days ago my complaint appeared removed, but I am ashamed to say that the shock of my Uncle’s Will brought on a relapse, & I was so ill on friday & thought myself so likely to be worse that I could not but press for Cassandra’s returning with Frank after the funeral last night, which she of course did, & either her return, or my having seen Mr Curtis, or my Disorder’s chusing to go away, have made me better this morning.” 24

Jane Leigh-Perrot lived on to a ripe old age of 92. Shortly after her husband’s death she settled a generous income on her great-nephew James Edward Austen who later assumed the name Austen-Leigh (after the fashion of his benefactor Great-Uncle James Leigh-Perrot and indeed of his Uncle Edward Knight née Austen). James Edward Austen-Leigh inherited Scarlets and indeed most of the Leigh-Perrot wealth and is the author of the particularly gentle and circumspect A Memoir of Jane Austen (1870). The Will from which he benefited so greatly, but which had such a negative impact on his family and on the last months of Jane Austen's life, was deleted (together with so much else) from his biography 25 and indeed from 13 out of our sample of 30 Jane Austen biographies.

Jane Leigh-Perrot was fortunate to have lived so long or to have lived so long in England. In 1799, about 6 months after a visit of Jane Austen to her relations in Bath, her Aunt Jane was involved in a serious charge. Jane Leigh-Perrot had purchased a card of black lace for about 1 pound at the millinery shop of Miss Elizabeth Gregory. However she was subsequently accosted by Miss Gregory in the street and a card of white lace was found, together with the black lace, in the parcel that had been wrapped up in the shop. James Leigh-Perrot gave their address to the milliner's shop assistant, Charles Filby, on his request. Some days later an anonymous letter concerning lace stolen from a shop was received by the unfortunate couple. Subsequently she had to appear before the Mayor and Magistrate of Bath who remanded her in prison for trial.

She was in remand in Ilchester for 7 months facing a possible death sentence (since the alleged shoplifting involved goods worth more than 5 shillings) or transportation to Botany Bay in New South Wales (since the allegedly stolen goods were worth more than 12 pence). Her own counsel Joseph Jeckyll apparently considered her a kleptomaniac. A trip to London in the company of her gaoler Edward Scadding failed to secure bail and she returned to gaol in Ilchester. At her trial at Taunton she read a statement in her own defence, her position being strengthened by her social position, excellent references from men of substance and evidence that Charles Filby had been bankrupted and had made a similar wrapping-up error in the past. Jane Leigh-Perrot was acquitted by the jury but the matter inevitably gave rise to speculations: had the acquittal been purchased or had she been subject to a process of blackmail?

An interesting East Indies connection makes its appearance in this affair of Jane Leigh-Perrot. One of the men of substance who acted as a rather crucial character witness for her was George Vansittart, MP for Reading in Berkshire. His brother was Henry Vansittart, former Governor of the Presidency of Fort William (Calcutta) from 1760-1764 during a period of some of the worst mercantile excesses of the Company men in Bengal. He was very helpful to the cause of Mohammed Reza Khan, the chief minister of the "native" government of Bengal during the period of the so-called "Dual Government" instituted by Robert Clive after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the person responsible for collecting taxes for the Company at the time of the Great Bengal Famine. Henry Vansittart retired to England a wealthy man and indeed used his wealth to become an MP after the fashion of many Company men. He was recalled to duty when news of the Bengal disasters reached London and was sent out to Calcutta with 2 other newly appointed Commissioners in 1770 on the Aurora. The Aurora was lost at sea with all aboard.26

George Vansittart was a Company man in Bengal at the time and indeed during the Great Bengal Famine was a Supervisor involved in overseeing tax-collection. He was a very good friend of Warren Hastings (first Governor-General of Bengal and an important friend of Jane Austen’s parents). After his service for the Company he retired to England and took over his late brother's seat in Parliament. He would have known the Leigh-Perrots since the Leigh-Perrot estate Scarlets was in Berkshire. It is not unlikely that he would have been aware of Jane Leigh-Perrot's relationship to George Austen given that the latter and George Vansittart had a common friend in Warren Hastings. It is also likely that Hastings was friendly with the Leigh family in Gloucestershire.27

James Austen was very solicitous to his Aunt and Uncle during the Trial. Mrs Austen suggested that Jane and Cassandra should keep Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot company during her remand (an offer that was not taken up). James Austen’s son James Edward Austen-Leigh deleted these unpleasant happenings from his A Memoir of Jane Austen (1870) as have other Austenizing biographers. Thus with respect to our selection of 30 Jane Austen histories, 8 James Leigh-Perrot scores 27/30 for being mentioned but only 17/30 describe The Will. Jane Leigh-Perrot scores 25/30 for being mentioned and 20/30 for reportage of her close shave with the noose or Botany Bay, Australia.

Mary Cassandra Twistleton

Our last example of the sanitizing of this part of Jane Austen's life relates to Lord and Lady Saye and Sele and their daughters, Julia Twistleton, who married James Henry Leigh of the Adelstrop Leigh family, and Mary Cassandra Twistleton. Lord Saye and Sele was unbalanced and disposed of himself in a desperate and bizarre fashion using a razor and a sword. Jane observed Mary Cassandra, who appeared "quietly and contentedly silly", and her lively friends at Bath. She wrote of this in correspondence with her sister Cassandra and commented on the supposed married lover, a middle-aged Mr Evelyn whom she had met, travelled out with and found pleasant and harmless:

“I then got Mr Evelyn to talk to, & Miss Twistleton to look at; and I am proud to say that I have a very good eye at an Adultress, for tho’ repeatedly assured that another in the same party was the She, I fixed upon the right one from the first. - A resemblance to Mrs Leigh was my guide. She is not so pretty as I expected; her face has the same defect of blandness as her sister’s, & her features not so handsome; - she was highly rouged, & looked rather quietly and contentedly silly than anything else. - Mrs Badcock & two young Women were of the same party, except when Mrs Badcock thought herself obliged to leave them, to run round the room after her drunken Husband. His avoidance, & her pursuit, with the probable intoxication of both, was an amusing scene. - The Evelyns returned our visit on Saturday; - we were very happy to meet, & all that; they are going tomorrow into Gloucestershire, to the Dolphins for ten days.” 28

“ Mrs Evelyn called very civilly on Sunday, to tell us that Mr Evelyn had seen the Mr Philips the proprietor of No 12 G.P.B. and that Mr Philips was very willing to raise the kitchen floor; ...I assure you inspite of what I might chuse to insinuate in a former letter, that I have seen very little of Mr Evelyn since coming here; I met him this morning for only the 4th time, & as to my anecdote about Sidney Gardens, I made the most of my Story because it came in to advantage, but in fact he only asked me whether I were to be at Sidney Gardens in the evening or not. - There is now something like an engagement between us & the Phaeton, which to confess my frailty I have a great desire to go out in; - whether it will come to anything must remain with him. - I really beleive [sic] he is very harmless; people do not seem to be afraid of him here, and he gets Groundsel for his birds & all that.” 29

This sort of slippage from virtue appears in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park in which Maria Rushworth née Bertram runs away from her boring rich husband with interesting Henry Crawford. However what was good enough for a hygienic Jane Austen novel was possibly not sufficiently "naice" for a number of her biographers. Thus Mary Cassandra Twistleton scores only 5/30 for being named and for speculation about her allegedly adulterous conduct.

The reader will now have begun to get a feel for the range of Jane Austen’s connections and the surprising variations in the historiography applied to them. These connections on her mother’s side ranged from high nobility to humble clergymen and already we see the importance of wealth generation in India for some of these people (Sir Josiah Child, Cassandra Brydges née Willoughby, James Brydges, George and Henry Vansittart and Warren Hastings). Those who had returned wealthy from India (Bombay, Madras or Bengal) were referred to as nabobs (derived from nawab, the name for a Mughal prince). 30 They excited some envy at home as well as moralistic concern over the nature of their wealth acquisition. The rapacity of these colonial overlords was to seriously exacerbate the first and most appalling of 2 centuries of famines in British India, the Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770. 31

2008 Postcript

Some further books on Jane Austen became available. 32 Mary Cassandra Twistleton was indeed an “adulteress”. 33 Jane Austen visited Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806 (cf Mansfield Park). 34


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