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Key Personalities

George IV (1762-1830)

The Prince Regent, George IV, was the eldest son of King George III. The younger George rebelled against his father in every way, by becoming romantically involved with a married actress, Perdita Robinson, and adopting contrary political views. While George III preferred Tory ministers, the Prince became friendly with the Whigs. In 1784, the Prince fell in love with another married woman, Maria Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic. Fitzherbert refused to become his mistress, and eventually George agreed to marry her. The marriage was kept a secret because under the terms of 1772 Royal Marriages Act, it was illegal for a member of the royal family to marry a Roman Catholic.

By the 1780s, the Prince of Wales had become a gambler, a womanizer and a heavy drinker. He was deeply in debt and when Parliament agreed to increase his allowance, George III remarked that it was "a shameful squandering of public money to gratify the passions of an ill-advised young man." By 1795, the Prince had accumulated a debt of ?50,000. In an effort to persuade Parliament to pay off his debts, George agreed to marry his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. The union was short-lived, and the couple became estranged after the birth of a daughter, Princess Charlotte.

In 1811, King George III fell insane. Unable to continue with his royal duties, George IV was appointed regent. Despite the Prince Regent's promises over the years to the Whigs that he would favour their party when he replaced his Tory father, George IV became a strong supporter of the Tory party, adhering to the policies of Lord Liverpool in particular. On the death of his father in 1820, George IV became king. Caroline returned to England to claim her rights as Queen, and appeared at George's coronation. She was turned away from the doors of Westminster Abbey, which resulted in tremendous public sympathy for Caroline and numerous demonstrations against the new King. George IV responded by attempting to persuade Lord Liverpool and his government to officially deprive Caroline of the title of Queen and to declare their marriage "for ever wholly dissolved, annulled and made void." Author Jane Austen condemned the unfaithful King and wrote of Caroline: "Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband... a Man whom she must detest..."

For the rest of his reign, George suffered from poor health, a product of his indulgent lifestyle. By the 1820s, he was extremely overweight and was addicted to both alcohol and laudanum. Like his father, he also showed signs of insanity, evidenced by his telling people that he had been a soldier at the Battle of Waterloo. The king became more and more a recluse at Windsor Castle and eventually died in 1830.


Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, at the rectory in the Steventon, in Hampshire. She was the seventh child of her father, Reverend George Austen (1731-1805) and mother Cassandra (1739-1827). A clergyman, Jane's father had a fairly respectable income of about £600 a year, supplemented by tutoring pupils who came to live with the Austen household. George was an intelligent and sensitive man who encouraged Jane in her love of reading and writing. Jane's fondness of her own father is clearly reflected in the intimate father-daughter relationships in many of her novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Emma. As a young girl, Jane was an avid reader, devouring the books in her father's extensive library; such books provided material for the short satirical sketches she wrote as a girl. Along with her sister, Cassandra, young Jane was schooled by her parents and received a broader education than many women of her time. Jane's childhood was relatively happy and carefree, living among her brothers and the other boys who lodged with the family and whom Mr Austen tutored. In addition, Jane was nearly inseparable from her older sister, Cassandra, who wrote and performed plays with the young author. When Cassandra, age 10, was sent away to school in Oxford, Jane begged to be sent along with her even though she was too young. After a three-year boarding, Jane never lived outside of her family circle again.

At the age of fourteen, Jane completed her first novel, called Love and Friendship. She also wrote, A History of England by a Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Historian (the title of the book that Fanny Price authored in Mansfield Park). As a young woman, Jane enjoyed attending balls and dancing, an activity which features frequently in her novels. She also enjoyed long country walks and visiting her friends in Hampshire. In 1795, Jane's sister, Cassandra, became engaged to Tom Fowle, a local clergyman. Two years later, Tom's patron, Lord Craven, asked Tom to travel to the West Indies as his private chaplain. On that journey, Tom died of yellow fever, and Cassandra continued to devote her life of spinsterhood to her sister. In her early twenties, Jane wrote drafts for Sense and Sensibility (which she called Elinor and Marianne), Pride and Prejudice (which she first titled First Impressions) and Northanger Abbey. Jane's first attempt at getting First Impressions published was unsuccessful; she was firmly turned down, but she was not surprised or disappointed as she did not think the draft was particularly good. In addition, as a minister's daughter, Jane wrote a number of evening prayers for her father's services. Such prayers were meant to be read or spoken aloud by a congregant and followed by the Lord's Prayer, recited by the entire congregation.

In 1801, Jane's parents announced that Reverend Austen would retire and that the family should move from Hampshire to Bath. Reverend Austen gave the Steventon living to his son, James, and left with his wife, Jane and Cassandra, to Bath. The next four years were difficult for Jane, as she disliked the confines of a busy town and missed her country life. Jane's father died in 1805, when the young author was thirty. His passing left Jane, her mother, and dearest sister and friend, Cassandra, in difficult financial straits and forced them to rely on the charity of the Austen sons and move around (much like the Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility). Jane made occasional visits to London to stay with her favorite brother, Henry, a prosperous banker. There is some speculation of Jane's love life during this time. In 1802, it was rumored that she accepted a proposal of marriage from Mr. Harris Bigg-Wither, a wealthy landowner, but that she changed her mind the next morning and was greatly upset by the whole episode. The experience supposedly left much friction between her family and that of Mr. Bigg-Wither, who had been friendly prior to the incident. Another story circulated that while on holiday in the West Country, Jane fell in love with a young man, who died during their acquaintance and left her broken-hearted. This tragedy in Jane’s life most likely inspired the disastrous end to Marianne and Willoughby’s relationship in Sense and Sensibility.

In July, 1809, Jane's brother, Edward, offered his mother and sisters a permanent home on his Chawton estate. Jane was delighted to move back to her beloved Hampshire countryside. Chawton was a small but comfortable house with a lovely garden, and it provided Jane a place to write again. In the seven and a half years that she lived at Chawton, she revised Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. The novels were published in 1811 and 1813, respectively, and their publication sparked in Jane a period of prolific creativity. Mansfield Park was published in 1814, followed by Emma in 1816. During her lifetime, Jane's books were not published with her name, but rather ascribed as being written "By a Lady." By November of 1815, however, Jane discovered she had fans in high places, as her brother Henry had begun sharing her identity with his friends and acquaintances, until even the Prince Regent, who owned enough copies of each of Jane's novels to stock all his residences, knew who she was. The Prince Regent sent Jane, through his chief librarian, royal permission to dedicate any forthcoming novel to His Royal Highness. Although Jane greatly disapproved of the Prince Regent and made up her mind to ignore this permission, several of Jane's relatives told her that this "permission" was in fact a royal command. Accordingly, Emma was duly dedicated to the spoiled, spendthrift Prince.

In the winter of 1816, as she began her final novel, Sanditon, Jane contracted Addisons Disease, a tubercular disease of the kidneys. The illness prevented her from being able to walk long distances, and as such, Jane could only drive out in a small donkey carriage for fresh air. By May of 1817, the author was so ill that she and Cassandra rented rooms in Winchester, in order to be near Jane's physician. In 1817, Jane quietly made her will and left everything, except two small bequests, to her beloved Cassandra. Tragically, there was then no cure for the illness, and Jane died in her sister's arms in the early hours of July 18, 1817. She was forty-one years old. In December of that year, Jane's brother Henry arranged the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which she'd finished in 1816, with the first official acknowledgement of Jane's authorship.

Although she was never married, Jane's novels offer some of literature's most romantic stories. Jane's brilliantly witty, elegantly structured satirical fiction marks the transition in English literature from 18th century neo-classicism to 19th century romanticism. She is remembered today as one of England's greatest writers.


Napoleon I (1769-1821)

Napoleon Bonaparte was a general of the French Revolution, the ruler of France as First Consul of the French Republic from 1799 to 1804, Emperor of the French under the name Napoleon I from 1804 to 1814, and was briefly restored as Emperor in 1815. Over the course of little more than a decade, the armies of France under his command fought almost every European power, often simultaneously, and acquired control of most of continental Europe by conquest or alliance. The disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point. Following the Russian campaign and the defeat at Leipzig in October 1813, Napoleon abdicated in April 1814 after the Allies invaded France. He was exiled to the island of Elba. He staged a comeback known as the Hundred Days (les Cent Jours), but was defeated at Waterloo on 18 June 1815. He spent the remaining six years of his life on the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean under British supervision.

Although Napoleon himself developed few military innovations, apart from the divisional squares employed in Egypt and the placement of artillery into batteries, he used the best tactics from a variety of sources, and the modernized French army reformed by several revolutionary governments, to score several major victories. His campaigns are studied at military academies all over the world and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest commanders ever to have lived. Aside from his military achievements, Napoleon is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic Code.