'History of England': Austen juvenilia


Jane Austen’s ‘The History of England’ is a comic account of England from Henry IV to Charles I as told by ‘a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant historian’. The history, written when Austen was only 16, was a parody of published histories and in particular of the four volume The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II (1771) by Oliver Goldsmith. ‘The History of England’ is one of nine compositions included in Volume the Second, one of three volumes of Austen’s juvenilia. 

A history without too many dates 

Written in 1791, ‘The History of England’ is both witty and confusing, as the narrator has a tendency to become rather distracted by his or her opinions of the events and people being described. A note on the bottom of the first page marks out the tone of the tale: ‘N.B. There will be very few Dates in this history’. The roundel, colour illustrations of each of the monarchs except Edward V (‘This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that nobody had time to draw his picture’) were created by Austen’s sister, Cassandra. They are vivid sketches which illustrate the monarchs of England looking rather more like common men and women than they may have liked. Henry VII looks particularly haggard! 

Who was the ‘History of England’ written for? 

Volume the Second was one of three vellum covered notebooks given to Austen by her father, Reverend George Austen. Austen wrote out fair copy (neat and uncorrected) versions of her juvenilia. It is likely that Volume the Second was written to be read out or performed for the amusement of the Austen family and possibly the series of boys who boarded with them at the Rectory in Steventon. Austen’s tales are populated by energetic, spirited heroines who can be seen as precursors for characters such as Emma Woodhouse, Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood.

To see more of the History of England please go to our award winning Turning the Pages™.



                                      The History of England
                                           from the reign of
                                             Henry the 4th
                                            to the death of
                                            Charles the 1st.

                      By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian.

                     To Miss Austen eldest daughter of the Rev[erend]
                     George Austen, this Work is inscribed with
                     all due respect by
                                                     The Author

                     N.B. There will be very few Dates in
                            this History.
Full title:
'History of England' from Volume the Second
Manuscript / Fair copy / Artwork / Image
Jane Austen , Cassandra Austen
Held by:
British Library
Add MS 59874

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