One of the family anecdotes that I have always known is that one of my Morland ancestors married Jane Austen’s cousin. As a child and a teenager I was quite unimpressed by this, but now that I am beginning to piece together the family history for myself I have found this aspect of my research absolutely fascinating. There are more connections with Jane Austen’s family than I originally thought.
The heroine of Northanger Abbey is called Catherine Morland, so I wondered whether, if one of our female Morland ancestors was known to Jane Austen, she might have been the inspiration for this character?
The family connections with the Austens are all based around the generation of Morlands that are contemporary with Jane Austen (1775-1817). Margaretta Morland (1777-1825) married Jane Austen’s second cousin, Col. Thomas Austen (1775-1859). In order to find out how closely connected the Morland family was to Jane Austen and her family, there are two connections I had to investigate: first, how closely connected were Jane Austen’s branch of her family with Thomas Austen’s branch of the family? And second, how closely connected were the Morlands with Thomas Austen’s branch of the family? But the very first connection to understand is: how exactly was Thomas Austen related to Jane Austen?
Col. Thomas Austen and Jane Austen were second cousins; their grandfathers were brothers. Col. Thomas Austen’s grandfather was old Francis Austen, who was a wealthy man living in Sevenoaks. Jane Austen’s grandfather was William Austen, younger brother to old Francis Austen, who died young, at the age of just 36. My next question was: how close were these two branches of the Austen family? Second cousins may have a lot to do with each other, or not very much. What sort of second cousins were these?
When William Austen died, his son George, Jane Austen’s father, was just six years old. It seems that the wealthy older brother, Francis, stepped in and took on the financial responsibilities for his young nephew, George. He paid to put him through Tonbridge School, and when he graduated from Oxford, Francis found two livings for him. You could say that he acted in loco parentis to George Austen. This makes the two branches of the Austen family really quite close to each other.
Jane Austen and her elder sister Cassandra stayed with old Francis Austen in Sevenoaks when aged 12 and 15 respectively. He was their wealthy great uncle, and it was during this stay that old Francis Austen supposedly commissioned a portrait of Jane Austen.
The portrait, known as the Rice portrait, is supposedly of Jane Austen aged about 12. There is some dispute over whether it really is of Jane Austen, although from my brief foray into the debate, I would say that consensus if beginning to form on the side that it is of Jane Austen. There is a recent article in the Times Literary Supplement endorsing its authenticity. (Claudia L. Johnson, ‘Jane Austen to the Life?’, Times Literary Supplement, 28 August 2013)
If the story of its provenance is genuine, then it was first owned by old Francis Austen, who commissioned it. It then passed to his son, Francis Motley Austen, and then to his son, Col. Thomas Austen, husband of Margaretta Morland. So the two branches of the Austen family were close enough that Thomas’s family had a portrait of Jane in their house for several generations.
The sixth owner of the portrait was the Revd. John Morland Rice, the fourth son of Elizabeth Austen and Edward Royd Rice. He was given the name ‘Morland’ after his mother’s “dear friend from girlhood,” Margaretta Morland. He received the portrait in 1883. Since his ownership, it has passed down through the Rice family, hence its current name. So here is a link between the Morland family and one of the very few (if authentic) likenesses of Jane Austen in existence.
The next question to ask was: how close were the Morlands to the Austens? Did they know each other at all, or was Margaretta the only connection between the Morlands and the Austens? One question that niggles away at the back of my mind is ‘Could Jane ever have visited Court Lodge?’.
To recap, old Francis Austen was the wealthy great uncle of Jane Austen, who sponsored her father’s education and found him two livings, so was very supportive of Jane’s family. His eldest son was Francis Motley Austen, and his son was Col. Thomas Austen, and it was he who married Margaretta Morland. What I now want to establish is how well the Morlands knew this branch of the Austen family. And my research has thrown up some interesting connections.
Old Francis Austen had three sons. Francis Motley Austen (FMA) was the eldest. I came across a book entitled A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family, by Deirdre Le Faye. This book appears to recount every event for which there is some documentary evidence, that concerns any of the Austen family. Searching this book, I came across the following entry:
1783, May 28, Wednesday. Court Lodge, Lamberhurst, Kent: Francis Motley Austen orders a Thanet-style hat from Messrs. Lock of No. 6 St James’s Street, London.
(Deirdre Le Faye, A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family, 1600-2000. Revised Edition. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) p. 92.)
I was intrigued. I delved further, and here are just some of the things I discovered:
- Throughout the 1780s and 1790s a succession of children of Francis Motley Austen and his wife Elizabeth were born and christened in Lamberhurst.
- In 1796 Francis Motley Austen moved from Lamberhurst to Kippington in Sevenoaks.
- On February 5th 1812 at Kippington, Francis Motley Austen made his will.
Francis Motley Austen, and his growing family, clearly lived in Lamberhurst until 1796, when they moved to Kippington. Where in Lamberhurst they lived, I’ve yet to discover. However, the entry about FMA making his will is most revealing. The date on which he makes his will at Kippington is 16 years after he has moved away from Lamberhurst. In it he leaves legacies to his younger children which are to be held in trust for them. One of the trustees is William Alexander Morland. He also leaves a token legacy of 100 guineas to his “good friend” William Alexander Morland. William Alexander Morland, remember, is the elder brother of Margaretta Morland, who married FMA’s son.
So it seems that Francis Motley Austen lived in Lamberhurst and was good friends with the then head of the Morland family, William Alexander Morland, since at least 1783 when he ordered a hat while at Court Lodge. They also remained good friends until well after he had moved to Kippington.
In 1806, FMA’s eldest son made his will, and William Alexander Morland was one of the witnesses to this will.
There are, intriguingly, many other connections between the Morlands of this generation and the Austens, but I will save those stories for another time.
I think there are good grounds for seeing this as a very close family connection. The well-to-do families of this generation kept very close to one another. Marriages were, if not arranged, then at least orchestrated by the older generations. Marriage was most often not exclusively for love, but also for expedience, as Jane Austen’s novels show us.
I think there are good reasons for thinking that William Alexander, as head of the Morland family, and good friends with Francis Motley Austen, might have encouraged the marriage between his younger sister and Francis Motley Austen’s son.
There remains much more research for me to carry out on the connections between the Austens and the Morlands. I would like to find out where in Lamberhurst Francis Motley Austen and his family lived. It may be that the house he lived in no longer exists, or it may be one of the substantial houses in the village. He was a wealthy man, so it would have been a substantial house.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out for certain whether Jane Austen ever visited Court Lodge. Although the Chequers Inn in Lamberhurst boasts on its website that Jane Austen is known to have visited there. If that’s right then I think it would be extremely likely that she did visit Court Lodge.
I think it is at least plausible to think that Jane Austen did visit Court Lodge. But whether she did or not, this has all been a very exciting discovery for Court Lodge.
After seeing the comment below about the plaque to Anna Eleanora Smith (née Morland) in the church at Sydling St. Nicholas I thought I’d post this photo of Anna Eleanora that hangs in Court Lodge: