Jane Austen’s Parents: A Perfect Match

The Reverend George Austen belonged to the professional class. From the Weald of Kent, Austen’s ancestors had found success in the manufacture of woollen broadcloth. The Austens owned Broadford and Grovehurst in Horsmonden. However, the “family fortune” was not distributed equally among the Austens.  Jane’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Austen, was left penniless. Elizabeth took a position as housekeeper at Sevenoaks School so that her younger sons might receive a free education. Each son was then apprenticed to a profession. Francis became a solicitor in Sevenoaks and William a physician. Unfortunately, William died shortly after achieving this position. He left behind two children: Philadelphia and George. Francis say to his nephew’s education at Tonbridge School and St John’s College Oxford. George Austen was ordained and soon assumed the position of Usher (second master) at St John’s and served as the curate in a nearby parish. At the age of eight and twenty, George Austen became the proctor at St John’s.

In contrast to the Austens, Cassandra née Leigh came from the landed gentry and held aristocratic connections. Reports say that Thomas Leigh, the lord mayor of London, received his knighthood from Elizabeth I. Another of the Leighs, Thomas’s grandson, became Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire at Charles I’s hands. The Leighs of Adlestrop (in Gloucestershire) held connections to the Duke of Chandos, whose second wife Cassandra Willoughby, lent her name to one of Jane Austen’s most notorious characters. 

Cassandra Leigh had grown to womanhood in her father’s rectory of Harpsden in Oxfordshire, but the Leighs moved to Bath in 1760. Upon a visit with relations in Oxford, Cassandra was introduced to George Austen by a mutual friend, Thomas Powys. When the couple married in April 1764, it was Powys who conducted the ceremony. A distant relative, Thomas Knight, who owned estates at Godmersham in Kent, and at Steventon and Chawton in Hampshire, presented George Ausen with the living of Steventon in 1761. Doubly blessed, Uncle Francis Austen purchased the adjoining living of Deane for his nephew. George and Cassandra began their married life with two incomes.

Matched in character and intellect, the Austens raised eight children. To supplement his income, George Austen not only managed the two parishes, but he took in pupils and worked farm land, which he rented from Thomas Knight. By all accounts George and Cassandra Austen had a happy marriage. His annual income from the combined tithes of Steventon and the neighboring village of Deane was around 210 pounds. It was a modest income for such a large family, but one cannot count “riches” in the form of money. “Riches” also means love and respect and self-confidence. In that manner, the Austens excelled. 

 

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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