Jane Austen’s Visit To Her Ancestral Home and How It Inspired Her To Write By Jane Lark Everyone knows Jane Austen had a family home at Chawton, few people know she was the descendent of an aristocratic family who had an amazing stately home called Stoneleigh Abbey, near Warwick. Jane’s mother had in fact married beneath her when she married a vicar and although she was happily married she regularly bragged about her aristocratic relations, and had brought Jane and her siblings up on tales of her ancestral family achievements. One of Jane’s ancestors had been the Lord Major of London in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was a family joke that Jane’s mother had an aristocratic nose that she was very proud of. So can you imagine, after Jane had experienced the worst time of her life; through the period of her father’s illness and death, as her mother ran out of money, sending them firstly into cheap lodgings in Bath, and then to hit the height of humbleness and accept that they must live on the benefit of relations; how Jane felt to have an opportunity to visit the luxury of her ancestral home. It happened unexpectedly.
The first stop after they left Bath was to be with Jane’s mother’s cousin, another reverend. But literally on their arrival at his vicarage, he received a message to advise that he had inherited the ancestral home of the Leigh family, Stoneleigh Abbey, however as there was more than one cousin who could have inherited he was advised to hurry there to claim his inheritance. What then did he do with Jane and her mother? He took them with him. The occasion was so poignant for Jane and her mother, after their horrendous period of endurance in Bath (which Jane hated so much it had stopped her writing) they recorded everything. So we know exactly how they felt as they arrived, driving past alms cottages, Jane even describes it in Pride and Prejudice, and in Mansfield Park, and even perhaps it appears in Northhanger Abbey. Stoneleigh is really unusual. It has a Medieval Abbey, a Jacobean Manor and Georgian House as one property, but they are all still very distinct. When Jane arrived she saw the old Jacobean entrance first… And the old abbey is on the back of the Georgian side, separated by a courtyard. The family lived in the modern Georgian wing, but Jane and her mother regularly spent hours with the servants in the old side too, they record spending hours in the kitchens. Were these hours and explorations the foundations for Northhanger Abbey?
Jane visited Stoneleigh in August 1806. She hadn’t written for a long time at the point they arrived here, but her manuscript for Pride and Prejudice would have been in her bags. As a writer I can just imagine her walking into the house and her imagination starting to spin. So many inspirations seem to have flowed from the time Jane spent at Stoneleigh Abbey. Just after they arrived, another of Jane’s relatives, who was much higher in status than the reverend, arrived with his mother-in-law to make an equal claim on Stoneleigh Abbey, and his mother-in-law Lady Saye& Sele, was very outspoken about him being the rightful inheritor. Her complaints were denied but Jane’s mother wrote in a letter… ‘Poor Lady Saye & Sele to be sure is rather tormenting, tho’ sometimes amusing, and affords Jane many a good laugh—but she fatigues me sadly on the whole.’
It’s believed that she inspired Jane to add Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s character in Pride and Prejudice. There is even a wilderness walk at Stoneleigh, and of course in the final scene with Lady Catherine, she comments on the pretty wilderness, suggesting the character Elizabeth walks there with her. Again referencing Pride and Prejudice, descriptions of Elizabeth’s trip with her aunt when they visit the area of Mr Darcy’s property, describes Stoneleigh. The visit made such an impact on Jane though, that when she wrote Mansfield Park years later between 2011-14 she recalled her experience vividly. Much of what she describes Fanny thinking and feeling is obviously her own view, and the descriptions still apply to what you can see at Stoneleigh today, down to the red cushions in the chapel. Two people I know said they didn’t like Mansfield park as much as Jane’s other work, and I wondered then is that maybe because it was more of an indulgence to share an experience for Jane, than her usual mastery with fiction. But the most delicious and final inspiration she gleaned at Stoneleigh Abbey was the idea for Persuasion. She stole the story from a relative’s real story, Elizabeth Wentworth (I know, see, she even pinched the surname for Captain Wentworth). But Jane’s relation wanted to marry an Army man, who her family refused because he was penniless. Unlike Persuasion, Jane’s relative actually did marry him in secret before he went off to war, but when he came back, like Captain Wentworth, he’d been promoted and was rich. So Elizabeth conspired with her sister to reintroduce him to her mother as a potential suitor, and once her mother decided he was acceptable they pretended to marry then. Sometimes the real stories are even better than the made up.
Thank you for letting me share this here, I loved discovering this as I can so relate to Jane’s way of thinking as a writer. If you want to know more, then the full stories are on my history blog scroll down the posts and you’ll find all my previous Jane Austen posts . And if you are in the UK, visit
Stoneleigh Abbey on a Wednesday and sign up for the Jane Austen tour.
Oh and I forgot one fact. They also have a copy of Fordyces Sermons there…
This post is part of Jane Lark's blog tour for her latest release: Illicit Love! Jane Lark is celebrating her first instalment in the Marlow Intrigues series with a HUGE giveaway - including a one night stay in London's Regency Hotel, Amazon gift voucher, signed copies of Illicit Love and plenty of swag!
Illicit Love - What they say
'Ellen Harding longs to be free of the life she is trapped in - her husband died at the battle of Waterloo and her family disowned her and now she lives under the reign of a cruel protector. When her eyes are drawn to a beautiful man for no other reason than his looks, she imagines escaping her chains for a night by giving her body to him – to a man of her choosing – even if only to infuriate her captor. But Edward Marlow is kind and gentle when he touches her and her subconscious whispers that this man could save her. Yet how can he help her when she has secrets which prevent her ever being free. She has too many battles to fight. Edward is restless, lonely and a little angry with his lot in life – it is his only excuse for being drawn to another man’s mistress. The woman’s dark hair and pale eyes are striking and he cannot take his gaze off of her while she watches him over the top of a fan with an illicit intent in her eyes. But once he’s known her he cannot forget her - and once he’s seen how brutal her protector is, how can leave her with the man? But she will not run anymore than she will speak of her past, so how can he help her…'
What they say: 'Rupert Stanforth, Earl of Morton, is missing his cousin’s company. He has too many burdens weighing down his shoulders, including the task of finding his sister, Rowena, a husband. Meredith Divine has one friend in all the world, Lady Rowena Stanforth. She clings to their friendship as though it is a rope, when she is drowning in a lake of social isolation. Even Rowena’s elder brother cannot stand Meredith. Everyone judges her poorly, simply because her father is in trade. But despite Lord Morton’s constant rejection, Meredith’s heart still favors Rowena’s proud, judgmental brother. Lord Morton would break the friendship his sister has with Miss Divine if he could, but the more he disparages Miss Divine, the more Rowena favors the girl. He’s ceased his complaints, in the hope the friendship would wither and die, believing the girl would make a wrong step soon. He just did not anticipate what that step might be...'
Want To Win A Night In London's Regency Hotel?
The Regency Hotel has been kind enough to support the Illicit Love blog tour by donating a one night stay for two lucky winners this August! Located in the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, you could find yourself relaxing in one of hotel's plush new bedrooms or sampling the delights of their incredible traditional afternoon teas.
Readers have plenty of chances to win
Either entry via the Rafflecopter below AND/OR add your review of Illicit Love to Amazon and Goodreads and email the review link to Charlotte@BestChickLit.com.
The winner will be emailed a voucher, which can be redeemed for stays during August 2013 only. Giveaway closes 19th July 2013.
About the Author
Jane is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories. She began her first historical novel at sixteen, but a life full of adversity derailed her as she lives with the restrictions of Ankylosing Spondylitis. When she finally completed a novel it was because she was determined not to reach forty still saying, I want to write. You might think that Jane was inspired to write by Jane Austen, especially as she lives near Bath in the United Kingdom, but you would be wrong. Jane's favourite author is Anya Seton, and the book that drew her into the bliss of falling into historical imagination was 'Katherine' a story crafted from reality. Jane has drawn on this inspiration to discover other real-life love stories, reading memoirs and letters to capture elements of the past, and she uses them to create more realistic plots. 'Basically I love history and I am sucker for a love story. I love the feeling of falling in love; it's wonderful being able to do it time and time again in fiction.' Jane is also a Chartered Member of the Institute of Personnel and Development in the United Kingdom, and uses this specialist understanding of people to bring her characters to life. Check out
Win £30 (or $40) Amazon Gift Voucher!Jane's musical inspirations HERE and HERE. Entry via the Rafflecopter below AND/OR add your review of Illicit Love to Amazon and Goodreads and email the review link to Charlotte@BestChickLit.com. Giveaway closes 19th July 2013 and is open to UK and USA residents only.
Win One Of Three Swag Packs With Signed Paperback Copy of Illicit Love Entry via the Rafflecopter below AND/OR add your review of Illicit Love to Amazon and Goodreads and email the review link to Charlotte@BestChickLit.com. Giveaway closes 19th July.
Get In Touch With Jane: