This is a very interesting book, written by Doctor SusannaWade Martins of the University of East Anglia.
Throughout her career she has studied the Holkham estate in some detail, and therefor it is highly appropriate that she has written the first biography of Thomas Coke-Coke of Norfolk-in over a hundred years.
And it is of interest to anyone who has read Jane Austen’s books and has wondered what exactly did Mr knightly do? How would Elizabeth and Darcy have spent their time at Pemberley? What was Darcy’s life like before he met Elizabeth? What should Henry Crawford have been doing at this estate at Everingham?
I know from my experience in the past ten years with online Austen communities that speculation about these pressing questions continues apace amongst those of us who are interested in these characters and their lives.
Reading this book will , in my opinion give you one of the best impressions of the type of life they might have led, in one single, very readable, affordable volume.
Now, do note, I am certainly not arguing that Coke of Norfolk was the basis for any of Jane Austen’s landowning charcters.What I am saying is that reading this book will give a good over view of the type of life these characters may have led on their estates in the English countryside,and instead of trawling though many varied books to try an understand just what that life was like , you can now purchase this one volume as a starting point and be very well served by it.
Thomas Coke inherited, in 1776, the great Holkham estate with as its magnificent centre piece of this Palladian mansion, designed by Matthew Brettingham
It was in wonderful heart. He continued to improve it and the conditions of his tenant farms, wanting to encourage gentlemen into the profession to raise standards of his tenantry and consequently of his farms and stock. The detail of how this improvement was achieved- by buildings, lease terms etc- is chronicled in a clear and very readable manner by Doctor Matins,
Here he is, above, as depicted by Pompeo Batoni while in Rome.
And then he entered politics. He was a Whig supporter all his life and was vociferously opposed to the war with America ,talking the side of the colonists. He also supported the abolition of the slave trade, the emancipation of Catholics and parliamentary reform.
Here is his political map of Norfolk drawn up for Coke by Humphrey Repton-also from Norfolk- who was a parliamentary agent prior to gaining fame-and mentions in Mansfield Park- as the first “landscape designer’.It was designed and commissioned to show the extent of political interest of both the Tory and Whig parties in Norfolk:
This book covers his personal life as well as his political life and there it is of great interest to those of us who wonder how Darcy and Elizabeth would have organised their domestic life at Pemberley. Family life for the Cokes was concentrated mainly around Holkham and the orgnaisiation of the domestic life of the house was firmly in the hands of many capable women-namely Cokes first wife and his daughter who took over the domestic reigns on her mother’s death. Doctor Martins gives a detailed account of estate life from the point of view of the women in the family and it makes for very interesting reading.
I can highly recommend it for anyone interested in the lives of the upper classes of this period.
For a more detailed examination of the organisation and development of such a large estate, then I can recommend anther book by Doctor Martins:
A Great Estate at Work is a fascinating book, the result of Doctor Martin’s work for her Phd thesis.She was granted access to the Holkham Archive and the result is a fabulously detailed book chronicling the development of the estate from 1776-1860. Obvoiulsy this covers more than the period about which Jane Austen wrote, but it is a great help to read it in order to set in context the improvements of the agrarian revolution and how they panned out later in the 19th century.
In the same vein this book,above, The English Model Farm again by Doctor Martins is rather on the specialised side , but is fascinating, showing how landlord were able to develop the ideal farming conditions, if they were sufficiently interested and motivated during the period 1700-1914. I am afriad it now appears to be out of print,but for anyone seriously interested in the development of farm bulings etc during this period I can highly reccommend it.
For those of you interested in the social effects of the agrarian revolution, for example, the social distress caused by enclosing the land , then I can recommend this book by another member of staff at the University of East Anglia: Professor Tom Wilkinson.
The Transformation of Rural England is a fascinating book for in great detail, it chronicles the impact of the improvements in agriculture and the changes in the usage of the land as a result. In addition it deals with the physical effect on the landscape and the social consequences of these improvements. I highly recommend it,but it is rather technical and detailed, and I would only recommend purchasing it to those of us who are serious students of the subject.
But for a good and comprehensive view of the type of improvements that someone like Mr Knightley might have made and the type of life he and Darcy might have lead I can think of no better introduction than Susanna Wade Martins book on Thomas Coke. And as it is soon to be released in paperback form at a very reasonable price :got to it,say I !