Jane Austen, Medievalist

Never subscribe to The New Yorker.

No one alive has ever managed to read an issue through before the next one arrived, and consequently all New Yorker subscribers have a secret cache 300 old New Yorker‘s stuffed in a closet that they really intend to get around to reading, surely one day, but not today, and oh crap, is that a new New Yorker already? I guess it’s a cache of 301.

Nonetheless, I discovered in the New Yorker today that Jane Austen, at the tender age of 16, wrote a parody of the stuffy old windbag school of history titled, The History of England from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st. Since my wife–and every other person I know with two X chromosomes and a DVD player–is addicted to the BBC adaptation of Ms. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I thought I’d check it out.

Because she starts fairly late, only a few of her portraits fit with this blog’s theme. Here are two:


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.


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 agreable Woman by Shakespear’s account. Inspite of all this however, he died, and was succeeded by his son Henry.

The rest are available in a 1993 printing with a foreword by A.S. Byatt.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • highlyeccentric

    you’ve misspelt Austen in the title…

  • Got Medieval

    Me fail English? That’s unpossible.

  • Isaac

    Also, as long as we’re correcting Carl, you should never form the plural with an apostrophe, should you? Or is there some sort of screwy exception for italicized things?

    But what I was really going to complain about was the lack of a spoiler warning before you gave away the endings of Henry IV Part II and Henry V. Nice going. Now those plays are totally ruined for me.

  • Got Medieval

    According to The Chicago Manual of Style, you’re right. I’m supposed to use a roman s after italicized titles and no apostrophe: new New Yorkers. However, The Chicago Manual of Style can bite me. Indeed, any convention that requires I distinguish the relative titltiness of two sequential letters can bite me. I prefer the elegant separative ability of the humble apostrophe.

    This is the curse of RSS. Any crap caught after I hit “post” is forever preserved in amber and then later used to create dinosaurs that attack me and thereby teach me the folly of my blind faith in science.

  • Isaac

    I also meant to say: I totally agree with you about subscribing to The New Yorker. I subscribed for a while, a few years back, then realized that for three months straight I hadn’t read anything but the cartoons and the poems. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my Harper’ses, and those only come once a month.

  • nessreader

    Austen on history, Catherine speaking in Northanger Abbey: History, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in…. I read it a little as a duty; but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.
    – Jane Austen

    ..and then she goes on to say how bizarre she doesn’t like history, because she’s quite sure most of it is made up.

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