On the 13th November, 1815 Jane Austen visited Carlton House, the London home of the Prince Regent. A random sequence of events surrounding the treatment of Henry Austen for an illness had revealed her existence in London to the Prince. As he was an admirer of her works an invitation to dedicate her next book-Emma- to the Prince was issued as a consequence. Jane Austen’s extant correspondence on this point with John Murray , her worldly-wise publisher, amply illustrates the delicate path she had to tread.
The reason for her discomfiture was that she could not in any way be described as an admirer of the Prince or his political opinions and only two years earlier had written of his treatment of his wife with distaste:
Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband.
(See :Letter from Jane Austen to Martha Lloyd, 16 February 1813)
The situation was further complicated by the kind attentions of the Prince’s Librarian and Chaplain, James Stanier Clarke. The correspondence between the Reverend Clarke and Jane Austen make for an uneasy reading experience: Jane Austen’s increasing frustration with the florid language and direction of Mr Clarke is palpable.
James Stanier Clarke is probably best remembered now for his attentions to Jane Austen but he was an interesting character in his own right, being not only a courtier, but the founder with John McArthur of The Naval Chronicle , a monthly publication established in 1799, which included details of naval engagements, battles, prizes and included a Gazette which gave information about Naval Officers’ social lives. Here is a link to an edition of the Chronicle held at the Library of Kings College, London’s.
He was commanded by the Prince to give Jane Austen a tour around the library at Carlton House,and I thought you might like to see some details of that place, for it was demolished in 1827,and nothing of it remains on the site where it stood in London.
This is a detail from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809) which shows the position of the palace:
You can see it was on a piece of land standing between Pall Mall and The Mall, not far from the then centre of Court Life,St James’s Palace.
Here is a clever adaptation of Richard Horwood’s map of London (1799) showing the details of the palace building and its grounds, coloured in red:
And this map shows the modern-day London-and the ghost of the building is again indicated in red.
The problem for the Prince was that he was an inveterate collector of objets d’art and was limited as to space at Carlton House by the confined site: additions to the buildings eventually became impossible, which is why it was demolished after he had moved to the more spacious surroundings of the Queen’s House ( now known as Buckingham Palace) which was situated at the western end of the Mall, together with his home at the Brighton Pavillion and the royal residence of Windsor Castle. Here is the ground floor plan of the palace as designed by Henry Holland:
In 1814 the Prince waned to demolish it completely and rebuild but lack of funds prevented him from doing so.
Here is a print of the entrance front of the palace:
This part of the palace fronted Pall Mall-where, of course, Edward Ferrars of Sense and Sensibility lived after the news of his engagement to Lucy Steele became public knowledge.
The gardens were designed and landscaped by Humphrey Repton( another of Jane Austen’s targets in Mansfield Park, probably for both his association with the Prince, and for his professional tendency to “improve” ancient landscapes) -this is his trade card, showing him surveying and overseeing improvements to a landscape:
And here is a view from the palace, overlooking St James’s Park as envisaged by Humphrey Repton : note you can just see the towers of Westminster Abbey peeping above the trees.
The interiors were sumptuous and splendid.
The entrance hall gave no real hint of the magnificence to come, in my opinion: note the representation of the Prince of Wales wearing the Garter badge, to the right of this print:
From this point, Jane Austen must have been led through the series of grand and opulent rooms: I can’t help but think they might have been too over-the -top for her taste, for she was surely not a fan of anything that smacked of being gaudy or uselessly fine…..if the comments of her creation, Elizabeth Bennet are considered.
Here are some prints by C Wild of some of the rooms she may have seen. First, The Grand Staircase:
The Golden Drawing-room:
The Circular Room:
The Throne Room:
The Blue Velvet Room:
The Gothic Dining Room:
And the Conservatory….
This is the room which was satirised by James Gillray in one of his cartoons,when it was used to host a fete for 2000 people on the 19th June 1811:
The part of the spectacle which so enraged Gillray was a conceit of a “stream”, made into a central plateau which ran down the centre of the dining table. In its turn the table ran the length of the conservatory. The plateau was raised to a height of 6 inches. At its head a large silver fountain supplied water by means of cascades into a circular “lake” bordered by a low colonnade. Between each arch of the colonnade stood small vases burning perfumes.
The “lake” flowed into a stream which ran the whole length of the 200 foot long table. The “banks” of the stream were bounded by moss, water plants and flowers whilst small fish were tobe seen swimming in the stream. Lord Colchester who attended the party noted that all the grown up children at the fete were delighted by this table decoration .
The rooms of the palace were also stuffed full of treasures, most of which survive in the Royal collection today. Chinoiserie was a favourite style of the Prince Regent and so many pieces including this pot pourri vase by Serves:
and this “Drummer Boy”clock, were on show.
He also had many pieces of armour displayed in a special armoury, and this small sword was made for him by one Thomas Grey, jeweller of Sackville Street , London. Yes, Mr Grey, the same jeweler who made a toothpick case for the revolting Robert Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, actually existed and had his premises at 41 Sackville Street, a street just off Piccadilly.
Jane Austen was certainly unimpressed by the unwanted advices regarding literary composition that James Stanier Clarke decided to bestow upon her. Some people have suggested that he was “smitten” with Jane Austen, but I prefer to think that he was a courtier,and was used to laying flattery on thickly with a trowel. However, he does appear to have been blind to the hints Jane Austen threw out that she was not impressed with his suggestions for future works: her frustration took its revenge in her Plan of a Novel According to Hints from Various Quarters(1816)
Her thoughts on this visit have not survived, and neither has the palace. There may be one tiny relict however, : here is a link to the Friendship book of the Reverend Stanier Clarke which contains what some think maybe a portrait of Jane Austen, made when she visited Carlton House. I am no art historian/expert so I shall merely link this interesting survivor of James Stanier Clarke’s life and leave it to yourselves to determine if that smartly dressed woman really is Jane Austen as she appeared on the 13th November 1815…….