The History of England, by Jane Austen, at the British Library

Jane Austen The History of England Elizabeth I

Jane Austen The History of England Elizabeth I

Jane Austen The History of England Mary Queen of Scots

Jane Austen The History of England Mary Queen of Scots

Like the rest of her Juvenilia, this short work sparkles with wit and unconventionality. You may now view the whole manuscript on the site of the British Library. All the more precious and interesting because of the illustrations by Jane’s elder sister Cassandra Elizabeth.

Much has been written on those, with Jane herself often being recognized in the lovely medallion portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, whom she greatly admired.

Some also recognize Mrs. Austen mère in the less flattering image of Queen Elizabeth I in an anachronistic 18th century dress.

As often with Jane and her family, these remains mysterious and open to various and sometimes diverging interpretations… Enjoy!

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19 Comments to “The History of England, by Jane Austen, at the British Library”

  1. Christy Somer says:

    Yes~~~indeed~~~and My third most beloved of JA’s canon~~~Mansfield Park and Emma being my other favorite reading treasures~~~~~~~;-)

  2. Catherine Delors says:

    So far, Christy, my twin projects, the Gothic and Eliza (de Feuillide) are not scheduled to intersect, or collide… but one never knows. The meeting point would be Northanger Abbey, wouldn’t it?

  3. Christy Somer says:

    “…I better get going on my two projects, the Gothic and Eliza.”

    ~~~A most intriguing pair of creature’d worlds Catherine ~~~~;-)

    Will be looking forward to reading more of Your revelations as You traverse this union between such eminently alluring *forces* of nature~~~~~


  4. Catherine Delors says:

    I would love to, and still may. My plans have been severely disrupted by the ash cloud, and May is still unclear. I will certainly let you know as soon as things settle a bit.

  5. Catherine, are you thinking of attending my session in NYC on May 1?

  6. Catherine Delors says:

    Jane rising from the dead? That’s an idea, Arnie! Have you been reading too many mash-ups?
    Diana, I was thinking of the JASNA-NY meeting sometime in May, focusing on the shadow stories. Portland is awfully far away for me, but with such a line-up, I must say it is VERY tempting. New York 2012? Sure, count me in! This makes me mad my little research trip to France had to be postponed indefinitely. I better get going on my two projects, the Gothic and Eliza.

  7. Well, the Portland AGM isn’t until October, Catherine, so maybe the volcano will have calmed down by then. (So far it doesn’t seem to be inspiring any Frankensteins, just a rather dubious sounding Jane Eyre vampire book.) Arnie and Ellen are speaking in Portland, and I’m on a panel, but apart from that, it looks like one of the best ever line-ups of speakers at an AGM. And it’s always great fun to be in Portland and visit Powells Books. However, if you can’t make it, I’m counting on seeing you at the JASNA AGM in New York (Brooklyn specifically) in 2012, where the theme will be Sex, Money and Power. That’ll be truly fabulous, and maybe your Eliza book (perfect for that conference) and my Small Book That You Remember We Discussed will be out by then, to benefit by their appearance at the AGM. Wouldn’t that be marvelous?

  8. […] and Janeite Catherine Delors features Jane Austen’s juvenilia The History of England and directs us to the original manuscript viewable online at The British Museum […]

  9. Indeed, I’d have expected JA to rise from the dead before I’d have expected a blurb from DLF. But I imagine she’s already working on the review of my book, even before I finish writing it, now that she knows I am a troublemaker. ;)

  10. Catherine Delors says:

    All right, Arnie, now you know not to ask Deidre for a blurb! Sorry I will miss your presentation of the Shadow Stories, but with transatlantic air disruption being what it is, any chance of a trip to NY, or anywhere else for that matter, in the near future has evaporated much faster than the ash cloud…

  11. Catherine, we take every “little snippet of news” seriously, because we are obsessive Janeites, and not ashamed to proclaim it widely! ;)

    I’d say that Le Faye’s harsh criticism of Upfal’s book (you should have heard her at the Chawton House conference at the special session in which Annette’s book made its official debut) is the single bit of evidence strongly SUPPORTING Upfal’s thesis! Le Faye is that most paradoxical of figures–a person more responsible than anyone for getting an enormous amount of biographical data about JA and her family out to the public–and yet, feeling herself justified to SMASH DOWN any attempts to dig into the sensitive areas that she herself played such a major role in exposing.

    As she said to me after my session, when I privately asked her what she had thought of my talk on Jane Fairfax’s pregnancy (delivered in her inimitable Julia Child-ish voice): “I didn’t believe a WORD of it!”

    In this regard, read also Le Faye’s heinously SAVAGE criticism of Nokes’s biography.

    There are many reasons for seeing MQOS as Jane Austen, which go far beyond the History of England, and Le Faye knows it, and wants to squelch it–but I think she is realizing now that the genie is finally out of the bottle, and cannot be stuffed back in ever again.

  12. Catherine Delors says:

    Diane, your first comment arrived just as I was finishing my response to Arnie!
    As for Jane’s nose, the only attested portrait we have of Jane is the one by Cassandra, and it shows a definitely aquiline nose, less pronounced than her mother’s in the silhouette, but certainly very different from the Mary QOS drawing. This, in itself, does not prevent that sketch from being a -veiled, literally- reference to Jane, especially in light of the latter’s sympathy for that historical character. The Jane-as-MQOS theory has more merit as Mrs. Austen-as-Elizabeth.
    Indeed the headdress in the Elizabeth image might have been copied from any fashion plate, or engraving of any royal or aristocratic portrait. What makes in my opinion the connection between that sketch and Mrs. Austen shaky is the latter’s lack of interest in finery. This is, after all, the bride who got married in a riding habit. So if the sketch were intended as a jab at Mrs. Austen, why would its most prominent feature be something that had no relation to her? It could be, however, a reference to other, wealthier female relatives. Has this been considered? Would Aunt Leigh-Perrot fit the bill? She was rich enough to afford ostrich feathers and follow the latest fashions, though I admit the nose doesn’t fit either, if we are to trust the silhouette we have of that lady.
    Now, even if I find the Upfal/Alexander theory shaky, it should be encouraged as a basis for discussion, such as this one, and an invitation to further research this fascinating manuscript. If this is how the authors meant it, so much the better, and they have my full support.
    And, by the way, thanks to both Arnie and you for joining the discussion! I didn’t except my little snippet of news to stir such interest. :)

  13. Catherine, might not the feathery headdress have been painted from imagination? I wouldn’t have thought the Austen family members Cassandra supposedly painted, would have posed in costume! I agree with you about Mrs. Austen resembling Mrs. Norris in her capacity, but not in her temper. The author of Mrs. Austen’s witty engaging verses, could not be less like Mrs. Norris. Also I’d like to say to both you and Arnie that I have always felt that the story of Jane lying across the three chairs was evidence of her very great affection and respect for her mother. Of course the way the story is “couched” slants it tenderly, but I would not inversely infer a fraught relationship from it. The story was sentimentally told, meant to show Jane Austen’s sensitivity and consideration; it may well be that the mother was difficult, but if ever there were daughters who would by their forties have learned to deal with such a mother with exquisite tact and understanding, it would be Jane and Cassandra.

  14. Catherine Delors says:

    Penny, unfortunately the ash cloud is still steadfastly upon us, and likely to remain so for the near future. So my visit to Bordeaux has been postponed indefinitely.
    Arnie, I too think the likeness between Jane and Mary QOS is strong. The nose is wrong, but there’s something in the roundness of the face, and it is singularly engaging. So far I have no problem with Upfal/Alexander. Where I am less convinced is when they move on the Mrs. Austen/Elizabeth connection, and then draw so much from it. For one thing such a headdress of feathers would have been extremely costly in the 18th century, and from what we know of Mrs. Austen she had neither taste for such finery nor the means to afford it.
    Again I don’t deny the hostility between Jane and her mother. I see the latter, not as the enforcer of male literary privilege (on the contrary, it seems to me that Jane was encouraged to read and write whatever she liked at home) but as a redoubtably domineering matriarch. To me Mrs. Austen is Mrs. Norris, but put in Mrs. Price’s situation. To quote Mansfield Park:
    “Of her two sisters, Mrs. Price very much more resembled Lady Bertram than Mrs. Norris. She was a manager by necessity, without any of Mrs. Norris’s inclination for it, or any of her activity. Her disposition was naturally easy and indolent, like Lady Bertram’s; and a situation of similar affluence and do–nothingness would have been much more suited to her capacity than the exertions and self–denials of the one which her imprudent marriage had placed her in. She might have made just as good a woman of consequence as Lady Bertram, but Mrs. Norris would have been a more respectable mother of nine children on a small income.”
    Mrs. Austen was a mother of eight children, all of whom reached adulthood, on a small income, and in addition managed a group of male boarders. She did it with far more success, energy and respectability than Mrs. Price. I believe Jane recognized those qualities in her mother, though she also gave Mrs. Austen the less endearing characteristics of Mrs. Norris. The sofa story you cite, along with whatever survives from the Austen letters, to me are far more telling of the mother-daughter relationship than the inferences drawn here from The History of England.
    Yet these are a start and should prompt other researchers (you, for instance :)?) to delve further. I believe there’s far more to learn from this manuscript without going out on a limb. This is why it I am so happy it has been made available online.

  15. Catherine, the silhouette of Mrs. Austen shows very clearly the large hooked “Leigh” nose of which she was so proud, and which is extremely like that of Queen Elizabeth in Cassandra’s image. Cassandra’s portrait of Jane, however, is nearly full face, or only slightly off center, and what you can see of the nose does not evidence such a proud hook, though aquilinity may indeed be deduced. The two silhouettes that are supposed to be JA, aren’t hooked either, especially not the first, whose provenance is better:

    So I don’t see evidence that Jane Austen’s nose was like her mother’s. But perhaps more to the point, have you read the highly critical review Deirdre LeFaye has written of Annette Upfal’s book in the new JAS News Letter? I can’t judge what she says about the portraits Austen might have seen, but the review seems otherwise rather unnecessarily harsh. She writes that Upfal’s theories are “unsubstantiated, and stated as facts,” but I don’t think Upfal claims to be doing anything more than imaginatively theorizing. Her other arguments, saying that there’s no evidence in the Austen Papers that Jane and Cassandra didn’t get on with their mother, and that if they did, George Austen would have “taken steps to prevent it,” seem to me wide of the mark, in regard to Upfal’s book. I hope that such an influential negative review will not harm the reputation and sales of this charming, speculative book.

  16. Catherine, with all due respect to you, I think the connection of Jane Austen to Mary Queen of Scots is very very strong, Upfal’s identification is icing on the cake, as far as I am concerned. The History of England is the History of the Austen family, and Jane already knew, at age 16, that she was the tragic heroine of the piece, and that she, too, would die before her time.

    The story about the dying Jane sitting on three chairs so that the mother could have the sofa says it all.

    I also love the Nokes bio, it is the best one so far….

    Cheers, ARNIE

  17. Penny says:


    thank you again for another interesting post.
    I imagine that by the time you read this, the air quality
    over the EU should have lifted and you are on your way to
    the continent for your research.

  18. Catherine Delors says:

    Many thanks for the link, Arnie! I will add it to the post itself. I so regret not to have attended the Chawton Conference last year… But I had other commitments, and it couldn’t be helped.

    I too feel The History to be personal to Jane, though I don’t necessarily agree with the Upfal/Alexander conclusions. Or at least IMO they do not put the mystery to rest and leave much unexplained. For instance, Jane, from Cassandra’s famous portrait of her sister, had an aquiline nose, very similar in fact to her mother’s, as seen in the silhouette of Mrs. Austen. Why then would the noses of Mary QOS and Elizabeth be so different in History? Also Mary is wearing a ruff and a white widow’s veil, as in many of the attested portraits of the Queen, so her dress is far less anachronistic than Elizabeth’s, which is clearly late 18th century. And why would Mrs. Austen, who was to fond of turning out verses herself, have considered that Jane was usurping the “male privilege” of writing? I think one can’t have it both ways: Mrs. Austen-the-ardent-defender-of-male-privilege and Mrs. Austen-the-overbearing-witch.

    This is not to say that I am a proponent of the idyllic version of the Steventon childhood set forth by JEAL in his Memoir. Conflict between Jane and her mother would have been more than likely, especially given the strong personality of the latter. It would have been normal for a teenage girl, and an exceptionally bright one at that, to revolt against her mother. What I have yet to see clearly elucidated is whether such conflict was healthy or crossed into the pathological.

    One of the merits of the Nokes novelized biography, of which I am not a fan otherwise, is an intuitive reading of the Austens. Nokes sets up Mrs. Austen as one of the point-of-view characters of the story. She appears more sympathetic than usually presented.

    As for the Upfal/Alexander article, if anything, in my eyes it deepens, rather than elucidates, the Austen mystery. But that is the case of much Austen scholarship, isn’t it? :)

  19. Catherine,

    The History of England is not as mysterious as it was, as evidenced by the following remarkable article by Annette Upfal and Christine Alexander (with both of whom I became friends at the Chawton House Conference on New Directions in Austen Studies last July) which just appeared in Persuasions Online, and as to which you did mention one of the key findings, i.e., that Mrs. Austen is Queen Elizabeth 1:

    I had always felt that the History of England was PERSONAL to Jane Austen, and I thought it was obvious that she herself was Mary Queen of Scots, but Upfal’s groundbreaking work blows the roof off the entire subject–now it’s clear that the entire History is an Austen family history!

    Cheers, ARNIE

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