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.
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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
N.B. There will be very few Dates in
Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2nd to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered. It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his Wife. Be this as it may, he did not live for ever, but falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales came and took away the crown; whereupon the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear's Plays, & the Prince made a still longer. Things being thus settled between them the King died, & was succeeded by his son Henry who had previously beat Sir William Gascoigne.
Henry the 5th: This Prince after he succeeded to the throne
grew quite reformed and amiable, forsaking all his dissipated Companions, & never thrashing Sir William again. During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. His Majesty then turned his thoughts to France, where he went & fought the famous Battle of Agincourt. He afterwards married the King's daughter Catherine, a very agreeable Woman by Shakespear's account. Inspite of all this however, he died, and was succeeded by his son Henry.
Henry the 6th: I cannot say much for this Monarch's sense. Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him & the Duke of York who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, & shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, & not to give information. This King married Margaret of Anjou, a Woman whose distresses & misfortunes were so great as almost to make me who hate her, pity her. It was in this reign that Joan of Arc lived & made such a row among the English. They should not have burnt her - but they did. There were several Battles between the Yorkists &
Lancastrians, in which the former (as they ought)
usually conquered. At length they were entirely
overcome; The King was murdered - The
Queen was sent home - & Edward the 4th
Ascended the Throne.
Edward the 4th
Ed[ward] the 4th
C[assandra] E[lizabeth] Austen Pinae:
This Monarch was famous only for his
Beauty & his Courage, of which the Picture
we have ^ here given of him, & his undoubted
Behaviour in marrying one Woman while
he was engaged to another, are sufficient
- - -
proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a widow
who, poor woman!, was afterwards confined in
a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity & Avarice
Henry the 7th. One of Edward’s Mistresses
was Jane Shore, who has had a play written
about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not
worth reading. Having performed all these
noble actions, his Majesty died, & was succeeded
by his son.
Edward the 5th
This unfortunate Prince lived so little
a while that nobody had time to draw his
picture. He was murdered by his Uncle’s
Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3[r]d.
Richard the 3rd: The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews & his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive true; & if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown & having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it.
Henry the 7th: This monarch soon after his accession married the Princess Elizabeth of York, by which alliance he plainly proved that he thought his own right inferior to hers, tho' he pretended to the contrary. By this
Marriage he had two sons & two daughters, the elder of which Daughters was married to the King of Scotland & had the happiness of being grandmother to one of the first Characters in the World. But of her, I shall have occasion to speak more at large in future. The Youngest, Mary, married first the King of France & secondly the D. of Suffolk, by whom she had one daughter, afterwards the Mother of Lady Jane Grey, who tho' inferior to her lovely Cousin the Queen of Scots, was yet an amiable young woman & famous for reading Greek while other people were hunting. It was in the reign of Henry the 7th that Perkin Warbeck & Lambert Simnel before mentioned made their appearance, the former of whom was set in the Stocks, took shelter in Beaulieu Abbey, & was beheaded with the Earl of Warwick, & the latter was taken into the King's kitchen. His Majesty died & was succeeded by his son Henry whose only merit was his not being quite so bad as his daughter Elizabeth.
Henry the 8th: It would be an affront to my Readers were I to suppose that they were not as well acquainted with the particulars of the King's reign as I am myself. It will therefore be saving them the task of reading again what they have read before, & myself the
of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom. His Majesty's 5th wife was the Duke of Norfolk's Neice who, tho' universally acquitted of the crimes for which she was beheaded, has been by many people supposed to have led an abandoned Life before her Marriage - of this however I have many doubts, since she was a relation of that noble Duke of Norfolk who was so warm in the Queen of Scotland's cause, & who at last fell a victim to it. The Kings last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it. He was succeeded by his only son Edward.
Edward the 6th: As this prince was only nine years old at the time of his Father's death, he was considered by many people as too young to govern, & the late King happening to be of the same opinion, his mother's Brother the Duke of Somerset was chosen Protector of the realm during
C[assandra] E[lizabeth] Austen Pinae
This woman had the good luck of being
advanced to the throne of England, inspite
of the superior pretensions, Merit, & Beauty
of her Cousins Mary Queen of Scotland & Jane
Grey. Nor can I pity the Kingdom for
the misfortunes they experienced during
her Reign, since they fully deserved them,
for having allowed her to succeed her Brother -
which was a double piece of folly, since they
might have foreseen that as she died without
Children, she would be succeeded by that
- - -
disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Eliz-
-beth. Many were the people who fell Martyrs
to the protestant Religion during her reign;
I suppose not fewer than a dozen. She mar-
ried Philip King of Spain who in her sister’s
reign for famous for building Armadas. She died
without issue, & then the dreadful moment came
in which the destroyer of all comfort, the deceitful
Betrayer of trust reposed in her, & the Murderess of
her Cousin succeeded to the Throne. -
Elizabeth Mary Q[ueen] of Scotts
[portrait roundel] [portrait roundel]
C[assandra] E[lizabeth] Austen Pinae C[assandra] E[lizabeth] Austen Pinae
Mary: This woman had the good luck of being advanced to the throne of England, inspite of the superior pretensions, Merit, & Beauty of her Cousins Mary Queen of Scotland & Jane Grey. Nor can I pity the Kingdom for the misfortunes they experienced during her Reign, since they fully deserved them, for having allowed her to succeed her Brother - which was a double peice of folly, since they might have foreseen that as she died without Children, she would be succeeded by that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth. Many were the people who fell Martyrs to the protestant Religion during her reign; I suppose not fewer than a dozen. She married Philip King of Spain who in her Sister's reign was famous for building Armadas. She died without issue, & then the dreadful moment came in which the destroyer of all comfort, the deceitful Betrayer of trust reposed in her, & the Murderess of her Cousin succeeded to the Throne.
to recount the misfortunes of this noble & gallant Earl. It is sufficient to say that he was beheaded on the 25th of Feb:ry, after having been Lord Leuitenant of Ireland, after having clapped his hands on his sword, and after performing many other services to his Country. Elizabeth did not long survive his loss, & died so miserable that were it not an injury to the memory of Mary I should pity her.
James the 1st: Though this King had some faults, among which & as the most principal, was his allowing his Mother's death, yet considered on the whole I cannot help liking him. He married Anne of Denmark, and had several Children; fortunately for him his eldest son Prince Henry died before his father or he might have experienced the evils which befell his unfortunate Brother.
As I am myself partial to the roman catholic religion, it is with infinite regret that I am obliged to blame the Behaviour of any Member of it: yet Truth being I think very excusable in an Historian, I am necessitated to say that in this reign the roman Catholics of England did not
The principal favourites of his Majesty were Car, who was afterwards created Earl of Somerset and whose name perhaps may have some share in the above-mentioned Sharade, & George Villiers afterwards Duke of Buckingham. On his Majesty's death he was succeeded by his son Charles.
Charles the 1st: This amiable Monarch seems born to have suffered Misfortunes equal to those of his lovely Grandmother; Misfortunes which he could not deserve since he was her descendant. Never certainly were there before so many detestable Characters at one time in England as in this period of its History; never were amiable Men so scarce. The number of them throughout the whole Kingdom amounting only to five, besides the inhabitants of Oxford who were always loyal to their King & faithful to his interests. The names of this noble five who never forgot the duty of the Subject, or swerved from their attachment to his Majesty, were as follows - The king himself, ever stedfast in his own support - Archbishop Laud, Earl of Strafford, Viscount Faulkland & Duke of Ormond,
my intention to give any particular account of the distresses into which this King was involved through the misconduct & Cruelty of his Parliament, I shall satisfy myself with vindicating him from the Reproach of arbitrary & tyrannical Government with which he has often been charged. This, I feel, is not difficult to be done, for with one argument I am certain of satisfying every sensible & well disposed person whose opinions have been properly guided by a good Education -& this Argument is that he was a Stuart. Finis Saturday Nov. 26th 1791
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