Book Giveaway Winner! ~ Linda Slothouber’s Jane Austen, Edward Knight, and Chawton

BookCover-Slothouber…and the winner is Nancy who wrote:

Quite fascinating. I am particularly interested in your comment that Edward had more land and less money than many thought then and today. I know there are those who revile Edward today for not doing more for his mother and sisters instead of praising him for what he did do. . I’d love to have a copy of that book as much for what it says about general conditions and Edward’s in particular. –  I have the impression that Mr. Knightley also had more land than cash on hand and that his brother John received an allowance or something from their estate.

Nancy, please contact me as soon as possible with your contact details, and Linda will get the book sent off to you right away.

Thanks all for your terrific comments, and to Linda for her generosity for the guest post and responding to all your questions. Those of you who didn’t win, I encourage you to do it the old-fashioned way and buy the book – it is worth every penny and more of the $11.95!

And apologies for delay in announcing the giveaway – the Holiday caught me up short!

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont

Guest Post & Book Giveaway! ~ “Edward Austen Knight as Landlord” ~ with Linda Slothouber on her Jane Austen, Edward Knight & Chawton

BookCover-SlothouberGentle Readers: Today I welcome Linda Slothouber, author of Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community (Woodpigeon Publishing, 2015), the result of her research at Chawton House Library in 2013. As the recipient of a grant through JASNA’s International Visitor Program, Linda’s project was to research the management of the Chawton estate in Hampshire during Edward Knight’s [nee Austen] ownership and this recently published book presents her findings. It is a most interesting and informative read, giving insights into the life and character of Jane Austen’s brother, thereby showing us how knowledgeable Jane Austen was in creating her own Heroes as landlords [think Mr. Knightley and Mr. Darcy! Henry Crawford, not so much…] – she had a fine model in her very own brother! I cannot improve upon what Deirdre Le Faye has written, that this book is “an essential addition to the Austenian bookshelf.”

I asked Linda how she chose this topic, what prompted her to apply for the JASNA grant, and here is her response: “Having written about other businesses in Jane Austen’s time, such as Wedgwood and Richard Arkwright’s cotton-spinning empire, I was very interested in how the business of estate management worked, both in the real world and in Jane Austen’s fiction.  I made some preliminary inquiries and found out from Chawton House Library about the Knight Archive and other potential resources.  My original intention, when I applied to JASNA’s International Visitor Program, was to write a much shorter book, but each question I answered spawned two more, and I discovered some stories and information I just couldn’t bear to leave out.” She tells us more about it all in her post below.

Linda has generously offered us a copy of her book for a giveaway, so please leave any comments and questions for her after this post in order to be entered into the random drawing [details below].


Edward Knight, Landlord
by Linda Slothouber

The number of books, websites, magazines, and television programs that aim to explain the world in which Jane Austen lived must number well into the hundreds.   Many of them give a broad view of historical events and cultural conditions, compressing decades of time and significant regional diversities into a notional Georgian/Regency England.

In researching my book, Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce and Community, I wanted to complement the more general histories by looking closely at specific people in a specific place.  My goal was to answer my own questions about the structure and economy of the English estate by looking at the experience of the estate-owner who would have been most familiar to Jane Austen:  her brother, Edward.  Adopted by rich relations, Edward inherited Godmersham Park in Kent; property in Chawton, Steventon, and elsewhere in Hampshire; and property in three other counties, changing his surname to Knight as a condition of the inheritance.  (Ronald Dunning gives more background on the Knight family here.)

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight – wikipedia

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight – wikipedia

I knew that the landed gentry made their money from renting and using their inherited lands, but how exactly did that happen?  How involved were landowners in estate management?  Jane Austen’s brother was an excellent case study.  I also wanted to explore how Chawton actually functioned as a community and get a better look at the people who lived in the cottages and farmhouses.  Who were the people that Jane Austen would have encountered during her years in Chawton?  When Chawton Great House was vacant or in the hands of tenants, what effect did that have on the estate and the village?

A View of Chawton @1740 by Mellichamp. Chawton House Library (BBC – Your Paintings)

My research into these questions was possible because of the availability of the Knight Archive, a treasure trove of several centuries’ worth of papers.  In 1961, 1986, and at various points in the 1990s, the Knight family gathered up record books, official documents, and random bits of paper from Chawton House and turned them over to the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester.  The HRO’s archivists created an index, but, because many entries refer to bundles of documents, the index can’t comprehensively describe everything in the archive.  The experience of going through one bundle after another, carefully unfolding 200-year-old papers to discover what each one contained, is something I will never forget!  Among the fascinating odds and ends I came across were the bills for Elizabeth Austen’s funeral and for the care of Jane and Edward’s brother George in his last weeks, the seating plan for the church in Chawton, and the list of poor old ladies to whom flannel petticoats were given after Edward Knight’s death.

Most of the documents in the Knight Archive concern the management of the Chawton estate and other Knight holdings.  While there are significant gaps, what has survived provides important insight into the Knights’ estate operations in Hampshire over a long period of time.  I read estate papers written by Elizabeth Knight and her steward in the early 1700s, and then turned to an estate wages book from the early 1900s, when Montagu Knight was the squire; some of the activities done on the estate remained remarkably constant, and some of the same surnames appeared on the lists of workers in both centuries.  As the focus of my research fell exactly between these two points, the range of documents provided an invaluable context for understanding Edward Knight’s period of ownership.

Excerpt from Edward Knight’s 1807 bank ledger, showing several deposits of estate income made by his steward, Bridger Seward, and forwarded through Henry Austen’s bank in Alton. (Courtesy of Barclays Group Archives)

The period between 1808 and 1819, encompassing the years when Jane Austen lived in Chawton, is, by chance, particularly well documented.  An estate accounts book has survived and is supported by bundles of vouchers documenting specific purchases and jobs done on the estate.  To pursue some questions, such as how much money Edward Knight earned from all his property in a typical year, I had to do some detective work, comparing the data found in the Knight Archive with that from other sources, including the Godmersham Heritage Centre, Barclays Group Archives (which holds Knight’s banking ledgers), and previously published sources such as Deirdre Le Faye’s Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family.

So what did I learn?  It turns out Edward Knight had more land, and less money, than has commonly been believed.  I estimate that his contemporaries would have spoken of him as having “7,000 or 8,000 pounds a year,” not the £15,000 his near-contemporary Mary Russell Mitford stated (admittedly based on hearsay) as his income.  Knight had to contend with a lawsuit that threatened his ownership of his Hampshire property – that much is well-known – but his wealth was also affected by changes in the national economy that affected land values and farming income, presenting problems that plagued him throughout the 1820s and seem to have had an effect on his health, as well.

Edward Austen Knight - CHL

Edward Austen Knight – CHL

Knight felt deeply his responsibilities to his family, to the community, and to his own posterity – his son and the future heirs of the Knight estates.  Throughout his life, he provided financial assistance to many members of his family, though his female relations received far less direct financial support than his brothers did, or received assistance in ways that were not recorded in bank ledgers.  As for the community, Knight’s support for education, health care, and housing for the poor made Chawton more stable and less miserable than many other villages at the time.  It may be tempting to criticize some of his actions and omissions from our 21st-century vantage point, but L.P. Hartley’s maxim holds true:  “The past is another country:  they do things differently there.”

Learning about Edward Knight’s history and experience in estate management is valuable in its own right, but adding to the body of knowledge about Jane Austen is always a goal.  By discovering more about the people she knew during her eight years in Chawton and comparing the facts of their lives with what she wrote about them, we may come a tiny step closer to understanding her views and feelings.

One individual she knew well is William Triggs, Edward Knight’s gamekeeper at Chawton.  Triggs was by far the most well-paid of the Chawton estate servants; his salary of £52 was nearly half that of the estate steward.  His primary responsibility was to protect game on the estate for Edward Knight’s sons and guests to shoot when they came to stay. Since this didn’t happen often, some of his time was spent overseeing hay-making and other projects on the land, paying workers, and selling hay and potatoes on behalf of the estate (all tasks a bailiff might have done, but Knight didn’t employ one at Chawton at the time).  He was trusted with the money required to carry out these tasks and he earned a commission on sales.  He had guns and dogs and a horse that was purchased with estate funds, as was his hat, which cost a guinea (four times the cost of a common laborer’s hat).  Gamekeepers at the time were often resented by villagers for their high-handed ways and for siding with landowners, and this may have been the case with Triggs.  I found only one record in Knight’s estate accounts of poachers being conveyed to jail, but I did find a mention of a charge of assault brought against Triggs, which was settled by the estate paying the large sum of 9 pounds to the victim.

Jane Austen mentioned Triggs several times in her letters.  She found in him a worthy subject of long-running jokes shared with several members of her family.   She ended one letter, written from Godmersham Park to Cassandra back in Chawton, “With love to you all, including Triggs.”  In another letter, she wrote of seeing Triggs scurry down the lane, laden with birdcages and luggage, to meet the coach—not the kindest observation surely, but it seems to me she took some delight in seeing Triggs lose his swagger and struggle with lowly tasks.  In 1817, an interesting meeting took place:  “Tell William [Edward Knight’s son] that Triggs is as beautiful & condescending as ever, & was so good as to dine with us today,” wrote Jane.  We must imagine Triggs, the servant who perhaps acted above his station, sitting down to dine with the Austen women, who were related to the squire at the Great House but living in much humbler circumstances.  How did Jane Austen feel about being condescended to by her brother’s employee?  She tried to make conversation with him, but was it the sort of conversation Mr. Bennet had with Mr. Collins at dinner?  Did she speak aloud, teasingly, what she later wrote in her letter, that Triggs must have looked “very handsome” in his green coat at a recent funeral procession?  By discovering more about the dinner guest at the cottage table, it becomes easier to at least formulate such questions, even if the answers remain elusive.

A final word:  Even a scrap of paper of no obvious significance, which might easily have gone in the fire 200 years CEA-3-JAHouseMuseumago, has its magic today:  the words, the spelling, the quality of signatures (or X’s marked down by the unlettered), and the amount of paper allocated to a particular purpose all tell us something.  If such ephemera is worth saving and studying, then how much more essential is it to preserve a unique document that is central to Jane Austen’s life story?  Right now, Jane Austen’s House Museum is engaged in a campaign to collect £10,000 to purchase the letter that Cassandra Austen wrote to her niece Fanny immediately after Jane Austen’s death.  To secure the letter, this sum must be collected within less than three months.  Please read about the letter and consider contributing to the fundraising campaign.   [ The letter is CEA / 3, dated July 29, 1817 – Le Faye, 4th ed., p. 363 – you can read the text here]


About the Author:  A 20-year career in management and technology consulting, degrees in English and Administration, and a stint as JASNA’s International Visitor to Chawton in 2013 created the foundation for Linda to write her 2015 book, Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community.  The book is available from Amazon, Woodpigeon Publishing, and Jane Austen Books in the U.S., and is available in the shop at Chawton House Library.  Linda blogs about new findings and supplemental research at [Please note that Linda will be donating all profits from U.S. sales to the JASNA 2016 AGM.  For those of you attending JASNA-Vermont’s 7 June 2015 meeting, I will have copies for sale.]


Book Giveaway:


Thanks you so much Linda for your guest post on Edward Knight! Readers, please leave a comment or question for Linda in order to be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce and Community. Deadline is next Friday May 22, 2015 at 11:59 pm. Winner will be announced on May 23. Limited to domestic mailings, sorry to say, but don’t let that keep you from commenting!

Chawton House Library today - cTony Grant

Chawton House Library today – cTony Grant

[Tony Grant and I visited CHL last May on a very rainy day –
his picture was better than mine so I use it here with thanks!]

c2105 Jane Austen in Vermont

Guest Post ~ Brian Austen on “A Genealogical Interest in Jane and the Many Other Austens”

Several months ago I posted an interview with Ron Dunning about his Jane Austen Family Tree website

Dunning - jane-austen-frontispiece-1870

I have recently heard from another Austen who lives in Australia. Brian Austen has been long at work on his own Austen Families, and while it does not yet appear that there is a relation to Jane Austen, his efforts have put him in touch with many of her descendants, including Ron Dunning! –  Brian has been compiling his own family tree with global connections to both the Austen and Austin families [see website links below].  He has graciously written a few words on his findings, and I welcome him here today to share his story with you.

A Genealogical Interest in Jane and
the Many Other Austens

By chance and while googling for Ron Dunning’s website address, I came across the Jane Austen website with your interview with Ron Dunning on his wonderful genealogical contribution on Jane’s family. As I said in my comments* I have met Ron and emailed him on a number of occasions to solicit his help, answer a query of his or to give him a lead.

Quite some years ago I began to research my own Austen family history. Not much was known. My father thought that his father was born on the boat coming to Tasmania but that was all. However the Tasmanian archives did have a record of his passenger record, albeit spelt as IN.

Nevertheless I was underway. I was given copies of some family letters written during WW2 so I had various family stories, and some names and relationships. So armed I wrote to several Austens listed in the Kent (UK) telephone directory. I since found out that this did cause quite some consternation as none of the recipients knew of Australian connections! – but a couple were familiar with some of the people I had mentioned. I had pretty much scored a bulls eye, and across different branches of the family, branches that no longer had contact. So I managed to unite families in Kent and across the world.

Gradually I pieced together a part of the family history. But I realised that the task might be made a lot easier if I searched for others who had researched the family. I decided to track down genealogical histories of Austen families and although this was before the tremendous surge in the popularity of family history, I soon had a mushrooming pile of Austen information. Unfortunately none of it related to my family.

But it did two things. It demonstrated that although the name was relatively uncommon in Tasmania, it was much more common in England, very common in fact and we shared the same name and spelling as England’s famous Jane. If only we were related to her! And I did learn that part of the family folklore is that yes, we are related, although no one knew how.

I also learnt that I enjoyed the collecting and examining of other people’s family histories. Occasionally I would find connections between families who were overjoyed at being given links to lost family members. I exchanged emails, research and information with many Austens across the world and was even invited to family gatherings and reunions. This was great fun. I joined the Austins Families Association of America and attended Conventions. I joined other Genealogical groups and went on holidays meeting fraternal Austen researchers. And it hasn’t stopped.

Gradually I built my own tree by broadening the number of branches, rather than by extending very far back in time: [see the website Austens of St Peters and Tasmania ]. But it has been very satisfying to find new “cousins” and add to the store of family stories such as “Rediffusion” (early days of cable television in England) and a connection with the breaking of the German Enigma Code. But no connection with Jane, unfortunately. And I am not alone.

Most of the Austen families with whom I have been in contact claim an unknown family connection to Jane Austen; the rest just hope to be related. Naturally (before I found Ron – actually he found me) I developed a Jane Austen tree, which although being incomplete was nevertheless quite good which all too often gave me the information to be able to disappoint a lot of people, including myself. But the search for links goes on for even though Jane’s immediate family has now been well documented (thanks to Ron and others), there are still enough gaps in the families of her ancestors to be encouraged while her distant past remains unproven….

[For some recent considerations see “Untangling the Austens” by Pam Griffiths: – the document is here: ].

To that end my great hope is to be able to convince a genuine, documented family descendant of one of Jane’s brothers to provide a properly conducted DNA sample. We are still looking and are still hopeful for there are some descendants somewhere in the world yet to locate.

So after twenty years what have I found? Mainly that despite an expanding collection of Austen families, I have just scratched the surface. And I really have not done very much at all with our sister families, the INs. I do have to learn how to improve my website presentation, ( ) and I need to recruit extra hands to the task. But it keeps me off the street, and it is fun, especially meeting new family and contacts.

by Brian Austen, Hobart, Australia

Brian Austen


Thank you Brian for sharing your family histories and the joys of genealogy!  When you first contacted me, I related to you my own story of recently receiving a call from a young man in Australia who has been looking for my family for 10 years – his great-grandmother was my grandfather’s sister – we were the side of the English family who came to America in 1912 – there were five siblings – two stayed in the UK, two went to Australia, and my father and his family all came to America, losing touch through the years – now this young man, eager to find us has gotten us all together, cousins appearing everywhere! – so I understand the great joy that these connections can generate!  I have no Austens in my family [none that I know of anyway!], but it is the global aspect of bringing veritable strangers together that is the most intriguing and heartening, as you so rightly say! Perhaps you and I are even related somewhere there in Australia!

*Brian’s comment on the JAIV Ron Dunning Interview:  In the course of my attempt at collecting Austen family histories I have exchanged many emails with Ron and met him in London. I regard his work as a role model, a fine example for all of us who are trying to research and present our family histories. Thank you for this interview and transcript; I shall add a link to it from my page on Jane Austen’s family.

Brian Austen Hobart Australia

If anyone would like to comment or ask Brian a question, please to so below.

c2012 Jane Austen in Vermont