In my search for a little history surrounding Jane Austen, I came across something that I found especially interesting. When Jane was 15 years old, she created her own history book titled The History of England a parody of a popular textbook like book by Oliver Goldsmith called History of England. Austen wrote her parody in November of 1791, and her sister, Cassandra, provided illustrations of England’s monarchs. Austen’s history books spans from the reign of Henry IV to the death of Charles I. On the first page of the book, Jane calls herself “a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian,” and mentions that her history book will not contain very many dates. Throughout her book, Jane adds her own opinions on historic events and writes with the same wit we see in her novels. She also cites events in Shakespeare plays as facts and inserts her own family members into history.
She states that Joan of Arc should never have been burnt, and that Anne Boleyn was innocent of her crimes. She has an admiration for Mary and a disdain for Elizabeth I, calling her “a disgrace to humanity and a pest of society.” Austen also says that [Elizabeth] “died so miserable that were it not an injury to the memory of Mary I should pity her.” Austen expresses that while she is partial to the Roman Catholic Church, as a historian she must say that during the reign of James I, “the roman Catholics of England did not behave like Gentlemen to the protestants.”
I had no idea about this early work of Jane Austen. I think it is extremely interesting to read Austen’s thoughts on the history of her own country that are not so clearly presented in her novels. The History of England is extremely funny and shows that from a very early age Austen was very well educated and interested in expressing herself through her writing. Her writing here shows that she was a very informed 15 years old, and had strong opinions that she was able to express through wit.
I found a website that contains images of Jane Austen’s The History of England as well as the full text and all illustrations. It is definitely worth a look!
Jane Austen’s The History of England