Jane Austen & the Wars

Part IX: 1814-1817

Emma and Elba

In late December 1813 a great cold began, continuing through February when a frost fair was held on the Thames. During January 1814 Jane Austen used the forced confinement to begin work on a book containing a heroine “whom no one but myself will much like”. This was to become Emma. It seems she was also correcting proofs of Mansfield Park at this time.

In January the Austrians, Russians and Prussians were on French territory. Over the following two months Frederick William built up his army, and Prussia and Russia signed a new treaty. So too did England and Sweden, including an offer of a million-dollar subsidy and a promise not to oppose the union of Sweden and Norway. Many battles, mostly Allied victories, were fought through February and March.

In Southeast France, Wellington won at Orthez (Feb. 27), and on March 12 captured Bordeaux. The campaign in the south ended with Soult’s final defeat at Toulouse (April 10); that Royalist city invited Wellington in. The last action in the region was a pointless sortie from Bayonne (April 14). In the Lowlands, the French repulsed a British attack upon Bergen-op-zoom (March 8).

On March 21 the Allies (Austria, Prussia and Russia) entered Paris. The Senate declared Napoleon had forfeited the throne. On April 11 Napoleon abdicated unconditionally. In England the news was greeted joyously. In Alton, Hampshire, there was a great illumination and a supper for the poor. In May, Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France, and on the 30th the Treaty of Paris was signed. Napoleon with a small guard and entourage was exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. A great series of celebrations followed, with feasts, services, and other festivities. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Austen’s written comments, if any, have been preserved.


During March, Henry took Jane to London, she returned to Chawton in April. In May Frank returned from the Baltic and signed off the Elephant at Spithead. This left him free to live at home with his growing family. Charles was still at the Nore, aboard the Namur, remaining hopeful of a shore establishment. Mansfield Park was published that month, still without Jane’s name but with reference to her two earlier works. Although not reviewed in the press it sold well and the appearance of a third work by an unknown author set off some literary gossip.

Early in June the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia arrived in England for celebrations during which their every appearance was greeted with huge crowds and wild enthusiasm. Jane wrote to Cassandra (June 13) with a tongue in cheek warning,

“Take care of yourself, and do not be trampled to death in running after the Emperor. The report in Alton yesterday was that they would certainly travel this road either to or from Portsmouth. I long to know what this bow of the Prince's will produce.”
A naval review was scheduled for June 24. Jane wrote (on the 23rd),

“I heard yesterday from Frank. When he began his letter he hoped to be here on Monday, but before it was ended he had been told that the naval review would not take place till Friday, which would probably occasion him some delay, as he cannot get some necessary business of his own attended to while Portsmouth is in such a bustle. I hope Fanny has seen the Emperor, and then I may fairly wish them all away. I go to-morrow, and hope for some delays and adventures.”
In August, Jane again visited Henry in London. For many, Peace had not brought prosperity. The sudden decline in the “war industry”, producing everything from uniforms and weapons to rations, put many out of work. Businesses failed. The price in agricultural goods fell. Thousands of discharged soldiers competed for the few jobs amongst the displaced. Discontent, without a war to provide distraction, grew sharply. The downsizing of the army would have especially hurt an Army Agent like Henry Austen. The regimental payroll handled by Austen & Co. fell from £112,000 in 1813 to £63,000 in 1814.

Early in September Jane returned home. On the 6th Charles’ wife, Fanny died after childbirth. Later that month he resigned command of the Namur, and moved on to the frigate Pheonix (36, 1783 Burlesdon) and service in the Mediterranean.

Amongst the Austens’ neighbours in Chawton were the Hintons, a family with which they had thought were on good terms. In October The Hintons produced a writ against the Leigh estates. They claimed that a deed disentailing the estate at the beginning of the year had been improperly drafted. This would make them, not Edward, the rightful heirs to the property. If successful, this would have halved Edward’s income, as well as turning Jane out of her home.

The post-war economic decline effected the Continent as well. Jane wrote (Sept. 8),

“I have a letter from Mrs. Perigord; she and her mother are in London again. She speaks of France as a scene of general poverty and misery: no money, no trade, nothing to be got but by the innkeepers, and as to her own present prospects she is not much less melancholy than before.”
During November Anna Austen married Ben Lefroy, and Jane again visited Henry in London.

Across the Atlantic the War of 1812 continued with an improved US Army giving a good showing in the Canadas, but resulting in a strategic draw. The British captured and burned Washington and threatened Baltimore, and the war closed with the moot American victory at New Orleans, fought after the Peace Treaty had been signed.

The Ogre Escapes, Recaptured

Europe had a rude awakening in March of 1815 when Napoleon escaped from his exile in Elba and landed in southern France. He entered Paris on the 20th to a joyous welcome from a populace, which had come to despise the brief restoration of the Bourbons. On the 25th a new alliance of Austria, England, Prussia and Russia was formed, which declared war on Bonaparte.

At that time, Jane Austen had completed writing Emma. However, Egerton had just declined a second printing of Mansfield Park, even though it had sold out, and dithered over printing her new work.. This ended their association.

Charles aboard the frigate Phoenix, (along with the Undaunted and Garland), was in the Mediterranean, pursuing the Neapolitan squadron in the Adriatic. (Murat had ruled Naples since 1808.) The Kingdom of the Two Scicilies was attacked, and defeated. King Ferdinand was reinstated, but the port of Brindisi (where two large frigates were lying) held out, blockaded by Pheonix and Garland. After a brief skirmish the fort surrendered. Following the surrender of Naples (May 20), Charles negotiated the return of the two frigates to the flag of King Ferdinand IV, as per the Convention of Casa Lanzi. He then took the Aquilon, Garland and Reynard in search of the frigate Junon and a small French squardron which had been raiding shipping in the Greek Archipeago. He was unsuccessful.

The Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras (June 16), led to the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo (18th). A few minor engagements with his marshals followed, but the Emperor again abdicated on the 22nd. The Allies entered Paris, and Napoleon was again exiled, this time to the remote island of St. Helena. Later that summer, Lord Byron wrote in, The Character of Buonoparte, which Jane copied out and retained,

Farewell to the Land, where the gloom of my glory,
Arose, & o’ershadowed the Earth with her fame…

Post War & Final Years

After the defeat of Napoleon, Charles was employed against pirates operating in the Mediterranean.

The decline in the post-war economy continued. The regimental payroll handled by Austen & Co. fell further to £34,000 in 1815, and was reorganised with some new investments into Austen, Maunde & Tilson. However, financial difficulties continued.

During August, Jane began work on The Elliots (later to be Persuasion). It was rare for Jane Austen to definitely set her story in a specific time frame, but this novel is a notable exception. She places it eight years after “the year six”, allowing the characters Admiral Croft, and Captains Wentworth, Harville and Bentwick to come home from the sea - clearly placing the beginning of it in the summer of 1814.

That fall a new publisher, John Murray, accepted Emma. He offered to buy the copyright, along with that of Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility , for £450. Henry refused, but shortly afterwards took ill, almost to the point of death. Jane settled for publication on commission, with Murray taking 10% of profits. One of the doctors called in to tend to Henry had ties to the Court, which led to an invitation to Carlton House. She visited on November 13, and met Mr. Clarke, the Regent’s Librarian, who convinced her (against her wishes) to dedicate Emma to the Prince. At the end of December, 1815, it was published, advertised as being ‘By the Author of “Pride and Prejudice,” &c.

Henry’s business woes continued. The Alton partnership of Austen, Gray & Vincent was declared bankrupt at the end of 1815. This led to the failure of Austen, Maunde & Tilson of London. His banking business and Army Agency collapsed on March 15, 1816,and he left London. Jane fortunately had put her £600 into the Navy 5% Stock. However, such financial misfortunes did little to upset this tight family. Henry quickly recovered his enthusiasm and returned to his boyhood intention of taking Holy Orders.

Following the defeat of Napoleon, Charles and the Pheonix had been sent to operate against the pirates infesting the Greek Archipelago, In February 1816, while at Smyrna (Asia Minor), he was ordered to Gibraltar to join Lord Exmouth’s expedition to Algiers. A gale sprang up. They tried to seek refuge in the port of Chisme. Despite cutting away her masts and putting out three anchors, she was driven ashore when the wind shifted. The ship was destroyed, although no lives were lost, and the stores were salvaged. (News of Charles’ shipwreck would have reached Chawton at about the same time as that of Henry’s financial difficulties.) On April 22, a court-martial acquitted him, his officers and crew, blaming the disaster on the Greek pilots. However, the mere fact that he had lost a ship under his command slowed the advancement of his career. It also put him ashore, and thus into financial straits.

Likewise, Frank remained on Half-Pay at £200 a year which, along with his invested savings, allowed for reasonable comfort. But it prevented him from keeping his promise of £50 a year towards his mother’s upkeep.

Financial difficulties were not the only concern for the Austens. Early in 1816 Jane began to feel unwell, but without anything specific, no one took any particular notice, and she seems to have taken it as part of turning forty. Letters from this time show Jane extremely busy with her many nephews and nieces. Emma had made her a bit over £221, but Murray claimed he lost money on the latest edition of Mansfield Park, so that in February she only received £38.18s. At this time she was rewriting The Elliots into Persuasion.

Jane planned to recover the manuscript of Susan from the publisher Crosby, and revise it into a new work to be called Catherine. Early in 1816, Henry approached (the now) Crosby & Co., with an offer to buy back the work and resign all rights to the copyright at the original price (£10). The publisher, in financial straits, agreed. When the deal was sealed, Henry informed him that the author was the same as that of Pride and Prejudice. Jane began rewriting the work, which would become Northanger Abbey. The changes would reflect the “period, places, manners, books, and opinions [that] have undergone considerable changes”, since it was first written in 1803.

The summer 1816 proved to be one of the coldest and wettest in decades. In July, Jane completed her first draft of Persuasion, which included what were to become known as the “cancelled chapters”. By the end of August she had rewritten the novel in its final form. In December, Henry was ordained, and obtained the curacy of Chawton, which gave him 52 guineas a year.

In January 1817 Jane began working on Sanditon. Her health showed periods of improvement and decline, but generally went downward. In January she claimed to be feeling better, yet often had to rest upon three chairs pushed together while her mother rested upon the sofa. Despite her illness she completed twelve chapters of her new novel by March. In a sign of the times, one of the characters said that his “Trafalgar house” would be followed by “Waterloo Crescent” because “it is more the thing now.”

On March 18 she ceased working on Persuasion, and suffered a fever and a bilious attack. Mid-April she took to her bed, and made her will on the 27th. Her health continued to decline, although she claimed sometimes to be doing better. Early on the morning of July 18 she died, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral on the 24th.

That December, Northanger Abby and Persuasion were published together, along with a “Biographical Notice” added by Henry.

Postscrpt: Later Naval Careers of the Austen Brothers

In 1826, Charles returned to sea with his appointment to the frigate Aurora on the Jamaica station.. From thence he went on to become flag-captain on the Winchester on the North American and West Indian station. In late 1830, he fell from the mast during a gale, receiving a considerable hurt to his chest, and returned to England for treatment. He fully recovered, and from 1838-41 was aboard the Bellerophon in the Mediterranean, where he campaigned against the Viceroy of Egypt. He received the Companion of the Bath. He became Rear Admiral in 1846 and in February, 1850 was appointed Commander in Chief of the East India and China station. He died of cholera on October 8, 1852.

Francis spent thirty years on shore, but still rose in his profession. His last naval service was commanding the North American and West India station (1844-1848), at the end of which he became a full Admiral. He returned to England and was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet in 1863, and died August 10, 1865.


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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