Jane Austen & the Wars

Part VIII: 1811-1813

A Published Author

As the year 1811 opened, Wellington remained behind the Lines of Torres Vedras, resting, refitting and training his army and that of Portugal. Messena’s troops stayed a short distance away, suffering from starvation. Elsewhere the French made some gains. They captured Tortosa (Jan. 2), and Barossa (March 11). In England, the Speech from the Throne (February 12) praised Wellington and reaffirmed the nation’s resolve to persist in the Peninsula. That same day, the scandal surrounding Mrs. Jordan, mistress of the Duke of Clarence and the sale of commissions erupted. The following day news of the capture of Mauritius arrived.

In February, Jane Austen was planning what would become Mansfield Park. During March she stayed with Henry in London, correcting proofs of Sense & Sensibility. Although she was active socially her “child”, that is her novel, was often in her mind. On April 18, Jane wrote Cassandra that Frank was to receive the Caledonia (120, 1808 Plymouth), assigned to patrol the Basque Roads and French coast.

“Saturday. -- Frank is superseded in the Caledonia. Henry brought us this news yesterday from Mr. Daysh, and he heard at the same time that Charles may be in England in the course of a month. Sir Edward Pollen succeeds Lord Gambier in his command, and some captain of his succeeds Frank; and I believe the order is already gone out. Henry means to inquire farther to-day. He wrote to Mary on the occasion. This is something to think of. Henry is convinced that he will have the offer of something else, but does not think it will be at all incumbent on him to accept it; and then follows, what will he do? and where will he live?”

And on April 25 she recounted a meeting with an intoxicated naval captain,

“This said Captain Simpson told us, on the authority of some other Captain just arrived from Halifax, that Charles was bringing the Cleopatra home, and that she was probably by this time in the Channel; but, as Captain S. was certainly in liquor, we must not quite depend on it. It must give one a sort of expectation, however, and will prevent my writing to him any more. I would rather he should not reach England till I am at home, and the Steventon party gone.”

In the spring, Wellington took to the offensive. A clash at Subugal in central Portugal (April 3) provided an early victory. At Fuentes d’Onoro (May 5) Messena’s starving army was beaten. However, Beresford had to raise his siege of Badajoz when Soult’s army approached, but he met and defeated that force at Albuera, (May 16). Badajoz was again besieged until June 10, the French holding out as the Allies lacked proper siege guns or engineers. Lesser engagements continued through the summer and fall of 1811. At home, the Duke of York reassumed the office of Commander-in-Chief (May 25), an opposition vote against this was defeated 296 votes to 47, a mark of the growing certainty the government was on the correct course. It was likely news of these bloody battles that prompted Jane to write with her mixture of feelings and honesty (May 31), “How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!”

In May, Jane returned to Chawton. She may have attended the parade of the local Volunteers on Selborne-Common. On May 13, Frank left the Caledonia, and on July 9 joined the 74-gun Elephant (1786, Bursledon) at Portsmouth. This vessel had been Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of the Nile, and also receives mention in Mansfield Park. For the next year, Frank served with Admiral Younge’s fleet in the North Sea blockading Vice-Admiral Missiessy’s newly built fleet in the Scheldt. Frank’s wife Mary moved to Deal to be near to him.

August brought the return of Charles and his family to England. After an absence of seven years his family found him in good health and unchanged in mind, although Jane worried about their finances now that he was no longer receiving full pay. In November, he received an assignment. He joined the Namur (90, 1756 Chatham), which had been the flagship of Sir Thomas Williams fleet. It was then being used as a receiving ship posted at the Nore. Sailors would spend time aboard her while waiting to be assigned to their next vessel. Charles was responsible for the manning of all ships fitting out in the Thames and the Medway. He, his wife and two young daughters (age three and one) lived aboard, which saved them money, and found it “tolerably comfortable.”

In October advertisements for Sense & Sensibility “By A Lady” appeared. Sales were slow at first. Over the winter, Jane revised the epistolary First Impressions into Pride and Prejudice. The name was changed because another novel with the same name had recently been published.


By January 1812, Austen was halfway though her first draft of Mansfield Park. Jane was to spend most of the year at home in Chawton. The first public notice of Sense and Sensibility appeared in February, it was well received, noted for its realism and lightness. Word of mouth also seemed to have helped sales.

Meanwhile, Britain was gravely effected by the continuing strain of the war. The manufacturing districts were still in distress. A rash of frame breaking and other activity had escalated over the winter. Food riots occurred in Manchester and Yorkshire in March and April. It is reported that as many as 12,000 regular troops were employed in suppressing Luddite activity. This was to be a problem continuing into 1814-1816 in the Midlands and Nottinghamshire, but well away from Chawton.

Tensions grew with the United States over the imposition of impressment, searches of neutral vessels, and accusations that British Indian Agents were inciting the natives.

After a two-month siege the French captured Valencia (January. 9), while the Allies took Cuidad Rodrigo (January 19). The British seized Badajoz on April 6, after a siege begun March 17, in a bloody assault following a tough and spirited defence. The town was sacked, and a shameful riot of killing, looting and rape inflicted upon the Spanish inhabitants followed.

In April 1812 the Treaty of St. Petersburg was signed. Russia promised Sweden the annexation of Norway (part of Denmark’s territory). In May, Russia made peace with Turkey.

On May 11, Prime Minister Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of Parliament. There were some that cheered on hearing the news. On the 22nd the government fell, and on June 8, Robert Jenkinson (Lord Liverpool) accepted the task of forming a new Government. On June 23 the British formally revoked the Orders in Council, to great celebration. However, news arrived that on June 18, the United States had declared war. Despite having gained this concession, America was determined to continue hostilities. The Anglo-American War 1812 opened with a string of land victories for the British, but some embarrassing losses to American frigates in single-ship actions.

In Spain, after a ten-day siege, Salamanca was captured in another costly assault (June 27). There followed several weeks of cautious manoeuvring by both armies. Wellington’s excellent use of ground to conceal his troops convinced Marmont to overextend his army, leading to a French defeat at the Battle of Salamanca (July.22). Wellington, however, was unable to follow up this victory.

In June of 1812 Napoleon, at the head of 600,000 soldiers (a mixture of French and "allies" compelled to provide men and material), launched his attack upon Russia. As he advanced, the Russian armies retreated. Although his losses due to disease, desertion and other causes were in the thousands, England only received vague reports (delayed many weeks) of Napoleon’s incredible advance.

In Spain, Joseph Bonaparte abandoned Madrid (August 12) and fell back to the Ebro River. The allies captured Seville (August 28), and lifted the two-and-a-half year siege of Cadiz (which had survived in large part thanks to the support of the Royal Navy). However, the siege of Burgos (September 19-October 21) was a waste of time and resources. Wellington withdrew over the River Duero. In mid-November, He was again compelled to retreat to Portugal in the face of a superior French concentration.

On October 14, Mrs. Thomas Knight II died. Edward, as the named heir, officially changed his and his children’s’ names to Knight, much to his wife’s disgust.

In the Fall of 1812 Frank in the Elephant (74), was assigned duty cruising off the Azores along with the Phoebe (36) and Hermes (20). On December 27, they were off Flushing, west of the Azores. At two in the afternoon they spotted a strange sail and gave chase. It was the American. privateer, Swordfish, sixteen days out of Boston, under the command of John Evans. She was only six months old, copper fastened, and armed with twelve six-pound guns. At sunset they were two miles distant. The Americans threw ten of their guns overboard in a fruitless effort to outrun the British in a race that covered over one hundred miles. Early the next morning the pursuers fired several shots, the American hoisted two lights and hove to, and were boarded at two o’clock. Frank returned to England with the prize. After that, he did duty-blockading Flushing. His next assignment was in the Baltic where convoys of two or three hundred small vessels were not uncommon. The danger there was from small sail and oar powered boats making dashes out to attack stragglers, or single ships.

In Russia, La Grande Armee continued to advance. The two armies met in the massive Battle of Borodino (September 7), an extremely bloody affair. Napoleon was left in possession of the field, but the Russians, despite heavy casualties, withdrew in good order and passed through Moscow. The French entered the capital on the 14th. The following day, fires broke out, which lasted five days. On October 19, unable to advance farther, or bring the Russians into a battle, Napoleon began his imfamous long retreat.

Over the winter Jane continued converting First Impressions into Pride & Prejudice. In November Jane mentioned in a letter that Pride and Prejudice had been sold to Egerton for £110. She would have preferred £150, but felt avoiding further negotiations would be less trouble for Henry. On January 28, 1813, advertisements appeared for Pride & Prejudice, written “by the author of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Reviews were very positive, and the novel became fashionable. At this time, Jane was halfway through writing Mansfield Park.


During the last few weeks of 1812, General Yorck, commanding the Prussian contingent of the French army signed an armistice with the Russians. Six weeks later the Prussian king, surrendering to popular opinion, signed an alliance with the Tsar. In an effort to make up for losses in the east a large part of the French army in Spain was withdrawn to Germany. Wellington’s strength grew and the guerrilla war continued. On March 17 Joseph quit Madrid. On April 13 the Anglo-Spanish army in Spain defeated the French at Castala. The French were surprised by the Spanish performance On March 4 Cossack troops entered Berlin. Twelve days later Prussia declared war on France. On the 25th the Russian and Prussian rulers exhorted all of Germany to rise. Despite all his setbacks Napoleon was able to call up a half million more conscripts, although many were only sixteen years old. At the Battle of Lutzen (May 2), the French defeated their Russo-Prussian enemy with heavy casualties, but the Allies withdrew in good order. Napoleon occupied Dresden. At Bautzen and Wurshen (May 20-21) the Allies (largely due to the Tsar’s meddling) were forced back with losses, but were not closely pursued.

Wellington scored a major victory at Vittoria on June 21, causing great excitement in England.. However, over 55,000 French evaded capture as their escape route was not blocked in time. As a result the French were soon able to replace their lost cannons, and took to the field once more. They were defeated again at Sorauren (July 28-30). Joseph fled to France, followed by his army.

In England there were further occurrences of machine breaking through the summer, with food riots in Loughborough in May, and Sheffield in August.

On April 22 Jane went to attend the dying Eliza de Feuillide, who expired on the 25th. She returned to Chawton on May 1. At mid-month she and Henry went to London for a fortnight. In July, while Jane was coming out of mourning Eliza, she learned Sense & Sensibility had sold out. This gave her a profit of about £140, quite reasonable for the period. Likewise, Pride and Prejudice was a clear hit. Mansfield Park was nearing completion and ideas for her next work were forming. Her letters and family recollections show she was quite cheerful over the following two years. Henry continued to do very well financially, he even had himself appointed Receiver-General of Oxfordshire. Egerton expressed interest in Mansfield Park, although he wanted to revert to the commission arrangement.

Crown Prince Bernadotte of Sweden’s attachment to the Emperor continued to cool from neutrality to finally allying himself with the Austrians and Russians. It was proposed that a contingent of 12,000 Swedish troops be carried across the Baltic to fight the French. Jane’s brother Frank and the Elephant were ordered to convoy the transports to the Pomeranian coast. On July 3rd Jane wrote to him,

“It must be a real enjoyment to you, since you are obliged to leave England, to be where you are, seeing something of a new country and one that has been so distinguished as Sweden. You must have great pleasure in it. I hope you must have gone to Carlscroon. Your profession has its douceurs to recompense for some of its privations; to an enquiring and observing mind like yours, such douceurs must be considerable. Gustavus Vasa, and Charles 12th , and Christiana and Linnacus – do their ghosts rise up before you? I have a great respect for former Sweden. So zealous as it was for Protestantism! And I have always fancied it more like England than many countries, and according to the map, many of the names have a strong resemblance to the English.”

In Spain, the Allied victories at Roncesvalles and Maya (July 25) were followed by another at Sorauren (July 28-30). Soult’s impulsiveness again led to a defeat at Ridassoa (August 31). To the east, Suchet was driven out of Valencia into Barcelona.

On August 12, Austria declared war on France. France now faced three armies in the field backed by British money. Napoleon began the campaign by attacking the Prussians under Blucher, who retired. At the Battle of Katzbach (August 26), Blucher defeated part of the French army, while on same day Napoleon won the Battle of Dresden. The Battle of Kulm (August 30) put a stop to Napoleon’s pursuit. Nollendorf was another loss for a French marshal. On September 9, Russia, Prussia and Austria signed the Treaty of Teplitz, forming a firm union with a guarantee of borders. In October the Russians, Austrians, Prussians and Swedes met the French at Leipzig. The nine-hour battle on the 19th ended with the French pushed back with a loss of 30,000 men,

At the end of September, Egerton advised Austen that a second edition of Sense & Sensibility should be printed. She made a few slight changes, and submitted them along with a revised Pride & Prejudice. In a letter of October 11, she mentions another author’s work which was gaining popularity, Southey's Life of Nelson. She commented that she was tired of books about Nelson “being that I never read any. I will read this, however, if Frank is mentioned in it.”

Across the Atlantic the war with America continued with a mixture of American and British victories, but no real strategic successes.

At the end of October the Anglo-Spanish army captured Pampeluna. Wellington crossed into France, beat Soult on the Nivelle River (November 10), and invested Bayonne in December. He was careful to bring very few Spanish soldiers into France, rightfully fearful of them seeking revenge. By this, and paying cash for supplies, he avoided overtly antagonising the local French populace. England again found cause for celebration. Jane wrote (November 6),

”You, and Mrs. H., and Catherine, and Alethea going about together in Henry's carriage seeing sights -- I am not used to the idea of it yet. All that you are to see of Streatham, seen already! Your Streatham and my Bookham may go hang. The prospect of being taken down to Chawton by Henry perfects the plan to me. I was in hopes of your seeing some illuminations, and you have seen them. "I thought you would come, and you did come." I am sorry he is not to come from the Baltic sooner. Poor Mary!”

On the far side of the Continent, Napoleon crossed the Beresina in late November. In the middle of the month the Dutch revolted against his rule. Napoleon arrived in Paris on December 18, and by the end of the month the Allies were across the Rhine.

In England Charles, and his family, spent part of the summer ashore at Sheerness, but returned to the Namur during the winter. Frank continued to do duty in the Baltic.


Further details on the Royal Navy ships mentioned in this series can be found at Ships of the Old Navy.

If you are interested in commenting or discussing anything in this series the Dregston Chronicle Board has graciously been made available.

The author may be contacted at: jeverett@sympatico.ca


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