Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Today is Jane Austen’s birthday, 243 years ago!  To quote her father in his letter to his sister Mrs. Walter on Dec 17, 1775:

You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassey certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion. She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy. Your sister thank God is pure well after it, and sends her love to you and my brother… (Austen Papers, 32-3)

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In celebration of Austen’s birthday, we at the North American Friends of Chawton House Library announce the launching of the new website at https://www.nafch.org/. Please visit, read about our endeavors on the behalf of Chawton House, and by all means Donate – what better way to honor Jane Austen on her birthday than to give a little something in support of the “Great House” she visited often:

‘Let me thank you again and again’

Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (1813)

2018, Jane Austen in Vermont

 

Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The Knight Family Name ~ by Ronald Dunning

UPDATE:  new images have been added!*

Gentle Readers:  I welcome again Ron Dunning on a bit of Jane Austen ancestry – the Knight name of Chawton and Godmersham.  We know that Thomas Knight and his wife adopted Edward Austen as a child, and passed on to him the landed estates they had inherited, both Chawton and Godmersham.  The name of the family eventually became Austen-Knight, but Ron shows us here how far back this connection went – one wonders how much Jane Austen would have actually known of this…**

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Knight of Chawton and Godmersham

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight - wikipedia

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight – wikipedia

We all know the story of how, in 1779, the 12-year-old Edward Austen charmed Thomas Knight [our Thomas henceforth] of Godmersham, and his newly-married wife Catherine [Knatchbull], when they stopped at Steventon on their bridal tour – so much so that they asked his parents to allow them to take him with them for the rest of the trip. The Knights grew increasingly fond of him, with his sunny and uncomplicated nature, and followed on by inviting him to visit them in Godmersham. When, after a few years, it became apparent that they were unlikely to have any children of their own to inherit their property and fortune, they arranged with the Austens to adopt him, and to give him their surname. There was a family connection – our Thomas Knight and Edward’s father George Austen were second cousins, both descended from John Austen and Jane Atkins.

Thomas Knight, the younger, by Francis Cote – CHL  ~  Catherine Knatchbull Knight, print of portrait by George Romney

Godmersham 1779 - wikipedia

Godmersham 1779 – wikipedia

Transfers of property, fortunes, and surnames were already well established in the Knight Family and make it all very difficult to follow. So I have created the chart below to make it easier for me, and I hope that it helps others too.

So, looking at the chart [see below]:

Chawton House

Chawton House

Beginning on the left, the Knight family had been in possession of the manor of Chawton for some generations. It was inherited  by Dorothy Knight when the male line failed. According to the law of the time, her property, including the title to the estate, became the possession of her husband, Richard Martin. When they produced no children, it passed to Richard’s brother Christopher; when he too died, having remained unmarried, it was inherited by their sister Elizabeth and her two successive husbands. [Note that this line had all changed their name from Martin to Knight, before reaching our Thomas.]

Elizabeth left no children, and the property passed to a second cousin, Thomas Brodnax of Godmersham. In 1727, this Thomas changed his name by Act of Parliament to May, when he inherited property at Rawmere in Sussex from his mother’s childless cousin, Sir Thomas May. Then in 1736, on inheriting the Chawton estate, he changed his name again, to Knight.

Thomas Knight (a.k.a.Brodnax, May) – by Michael Dahl – CHL  ~  Jane Monk, by Michael Dahl

This Thomas Knight and his wife Jane Monk, who was an Austen descendant, produced at least ten children, of whom five were

Edward Austen Knight - austenonly

Edward Austen Knight – austenonly

boys. Only one, our Thomas (the second son of that name), survived childhood. Thomas enjoyed a long life of sixty years, and married Catherine Knatchbull [see portraits above]. When it became clear that they too would remain childless, they chose to adopt the young and affable Edward Austen, whose family were collateral descendants of Thomas’s great-great-grandparents, John and Jane [Atkins] Austen. On his death in 1794, Thomas Knight bequeathed Godmersham to Catherine, and all other properties to Edward; Catherine later moved to Canterbury and gave Edward the Godmersham estate at that time.

Confused? I too struggle to keep it all straight, so hopefully this chart helps.  There is one detail missing, which will necessitate some further research; that is the family connection between the Martin and the Brodnax families, who were said to be second cousins. Once the research is done I’ll amend the chart, but it won’t make any difference to the sequence of surnames and ownership as they are illustrated here.

It’s some time since I last added anything to the Jane Austen’s Family website. It struck me as a good idea to include a pedigree section; this is now the first chart:

knight-estates

 

It can be found at this link: http://www.janeaustensfamily.co.uk/pedigrees/knight/knight.index.html

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Thank you Ron! – if anyone has any questions [are you all sitting out there scratching your heads??], please ask Ron – he would be happy to answer anything you might put to him…!

Without all these family dynamics and the extensive trading of names and the adoption of Edward Austen, Jane Austen might never have had the chance to live and write at Chawton Cottage  [now the Jane Austen House and Museum]– and where would we all be without those six novels??

Chawton Cottage - astoft.co. uk

Chawton Cottage – astoft.co. uk

* The portraits of the Thomas Knights, Jane Monk, and Catherine Knight are all from Ancestry.com, with thanks to Ron for accessing these. You can read about the portrait artist Michael Dahl here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Dahl

** Ron has answered my question about whether Jane Austen knew about all these family connections:

Everyone – the Knights, Mr and Mrs Austen, Edward – knew incontrovertibly about the peregrinations at least back to the common descent from John and Jane Austen and, no doubt about the Mays too.  It’s inconceivable that they wouldn’t have discussed it all in front of Jane.

Do you have any questions for Ron?

c2014, Jane Austen in Vermont

Some Book Reviews of Note ~ All Things Austen

[These are some book notes and other Austen-related tidbits that I have picked up over the past few weeks ~ more book thoughts for holiday gift giving to be posted shortly, but this is a start]

samuel-johnson-coverTwo new books about Samuel Johnson are reviewed by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker in his article “Man of Fetters: Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale” ~ Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson [Harvard, 2008] and Jeffery Meyers, Samuel Johnson: The Struggle [Basic, 2008]

 

 

Reginald Hill, The Price of Butcher’s Meat [Harper, 2008] … NYTimes Book Review with Marilyn Stazio; Hill does Jane Austen in this story, a la Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon with a story about Sandytown- in Yorkshire, and with all the usual suspects and detectives.

reginaldhill-cover

Mrs. Beeton’s The Art of Cookery, noted on Regency Reader; another Mrs. Beeton read is the biography The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton, the First Domestic Goddess, by Kathryn Hughes [Knopf, 2006] and now available in paperback.  This study of Beeton also reveals much about the homelife of the Victorians.

beeton-cover

 

“Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: an intimate history of domestic life in Bloomsbury”  by Alison Light  [Bloomsbury Press, 2008].  Review at the NY Times by Claire Messud.

“Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners”(Random House; $30), by Laura Claridge, is the first full-length biography of the author to appear. (Post’s son, Ned, published an affectionate, ghostwritten memoir, “Truly Emily Post,” back in 1961.)  Here is a review in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert.

 

madame-de-stael-coverMadame de Stael:  the first Modern Womanby Francine de Plessix Gray [Atlas, 2008].  Reviewed at Slate. by Stacey Schiff.

 

 

 

 

And this Our Life: Chronicles of the Darcy Family Book 1, by C. Allyn Pierson, and published by iuniverse, another sequel to Pride & Prejudice starting where P&P leaves off with Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s engagement and their first year of marriage.  See this article at the Wall Street Journal online.

A found diary of a Victorian woman has recently been published:  Ellen Tollet of Betley Hall by Mavis Smith.  Tollet was an upper class woman who lived in North Staffordshire in the 1800s, and the diary runs from 1835-1890.  Mavis Smith found the 160-year old manuscript hidden in the Shropshire library archives;  click here for more information and how to obtain a copy [Waterstones, Amazon.uk and local museums]

A new book on the cultural history of Reading, England gives a nod to Jane Austen as she went to school there.  See this article in the BBC Berkshire site.

The University of Manchester Library announces the acquisition of the Gaskell – Green letters (link is to Rare Book Review), adding to their already extensive Elizabeth Gaskell collection.  “The Gaskell – Green family (Gaskell’s friend Mary Green and Mary’s daughter Isabella) letters offer fascinating insight into Cheshire town daily life, the place where Gaskell had grown up in the first half of the nineteenth century, and which she later immortalised in her novel Cranford.”

The short story competition sponsored by the Chawton House Library will have Sarah Waters, author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith(faboulous read by the way!), as the chair of the judging panel. “The competition is aimed at raising the profile of the library, which is home to a collection of books by early English women writers. The library is part of Chawton House, home to Jane Austen’s brother Edward.  The shortlisted stories will be published as an anthology, Dancing with Mr Darcy, by independent publishers Honno in October 2009. First prize is £1000 plus a week’s writer’s retreat at Chawton House.”

chawton-house-library

Chawton House

 [See this article at Bookseller.com as well as the Chawton House Library site for information on the competition.]

 Here are a few blogs of note, lately discovered:

  •  Idolising Jane authored by Old Fogey, asks some telling questions about Austen…see the blogfor some thoughtful posts [and with thanks to Ms. Place at Jane Austen Today]

 

  • Catherine Delors, historical novelist and author of Mistress of the Revolution, authors a wonderful blog titled Versailles and More, a visual feast of life during the French Revolution and 18th century France.  Today, Ms. Delors offers a post on Saint Nicholas, the True Santa Claus.