Jane Austen’s FamilyThe Austens were a large, clever, affectionate family. Jane herself was one of eight siblings, and aunt to over thirty nieces and nephews. She and Cassandra spent a lot of time with their young relatives, who came to stay with them in Chawton and whom they visited in their own homes. Find out more about her immediate family here..
Rev. George Austen, 1731 – 1805
Jane’s father George Austen studied at St John’s College Oxford and was ordained in 1755. Tall, slim and good-looking with chestnut brown hair and bright hazel eyes, he was known as ‘the handsome Proctor’ during his time at Oxford. He married Cassandra Leigh in April 1764 at which point he took up the duties of Rector of Steventon.
Cassandra Austen, nee Leigh, 1739 – 1827
Jane’s mother Cassandra was the fifth of six children born to the Rev. Thomas Leigh and his wife Jane. Clever and witty, she was already writing verses by the age of six. She was also a very practical woman: a skilled housekeeper, a fine needlewoman and a keen gardener.
James Austen, 1765 – 1819
The eldest of the Austen children, James went to Oxford University at the age of 14 and was ordained in 1787. He was considered to be the poet of the family, and more than 50 of his poems survive. On his father’s retirement in 1801, he took over the living at Steventon and was Rector there until his death in 1819.
George Austen, 1766 – 1838
Little is known about George who suffered from some form of mental disability. Following the custom of the day, George boarded with a family in a nearby village for most of his life along with his Uncle Thomas Leigh, Mrs Austen’s younger brother, who had a similar disability.
Edward Austen, later Knight, 1767 – 1852
At the age of 16, Edward was adopted as the heir to the Knight estates by his distant childless cousin Thomas Knight and his wife Catherine. Edward inherited the Knight estates of Godmersham in Kent and Chawton and Steventon in Hampshire in 1812 (at which point he changed his surname to Knight, according to the terms of the inheritance). He earned £15,000 a year from his investments, making him far richer than Mr Darcy!
Henry Austen, 1771 – 1850
Said to be Jane’s favourite brother, Henry was tall with his father’s bright hazel eyes and possessed of an irrepressible optimism. He served in the Oxfordshire Militia before setting himself up as an army agent and banker. Following the failure of the bank in 1816, he was ordained and remained a clergyman for the rest of his working life.
Cassandra Austen, 1773 – 1845
Jane and Cassandra were best friends all their lives. At the age of 22, Cassandra was engaged to Rev. Tom Fowle, but he sadly died on an expedition to the Caribbean and she never married. She enjoyed reading novels aloud with Jane, drawing and tending her plants and bees. Here in Chawton, Cassandra took care of the household management, allowing Jane time to write. Find out more about Cassandra…
Francis (Frank) Austen, 1774 – 1865
Frank Austen went to Naval College in Portsmouth at the age of 12. Considered by Admiral Nelson to be ‘an excellent young man’, he rose to become Admiral of the Fleet and was knighted in 1837. A skilled wood turner, he believed that Jane had based some aspects of Captain Harville in Persuasion on him.
Charles Austen, 1779 – 1852
Following in the footsteps of his brother Frank, Charles also went to Naval College in Portsmouth at the age of 12, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral. He was described as having a sweet temper and an affectionate disposition, not as serious or ambitious as his brother Frank. Jane referred to him as ‘our own particular little brother’.