Laurel at Austenprose has begun her mammoth Pride and Prejudice without Zombies Group Read, and has asked me to join in by contributing a couple of pieces on early 19th Century Tourism. So next week (the 25th June) I will be posting about Tourism and Pride and Prejudice in a rather general but hopefully interesting way, and then the following Friday (the 2nd July) I will be posting about William Gilpin and Jane Austen with r particular reference to his influence on her writing of Pride and Prejudice.
So to ease us in to this theme, I’m going to be posting about a couple of grand houses with Jane Austen connections over the next week. And both are still open to the public as they were in the early 19th century ( though now it is done on a rather more egalitarian and commercial basis) . In a few days I will be writing about Chatsworth but today I am writing about a much less well known but, in my opinion, equally spectacular country house, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire.
Grimsthorpe is an ancient building, and has had a long association with the Bertie and Willoughby families. In 1516 it was given to William Willoughby, the 11th Baron Willoughby d’Eresby by Henry VIII on the occasion of his marriage to Maria de Salinas who was lady in Waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. In the early 18th century, the castle’s appearance was altered and it was given a fabulous baroque north front by Robert Bertie the 4th Earl of Lindsay who had become the first Duke of Ancaster in 1715.
The new front was commissioned to reflect his new ducal status. He employed Vanbrugh the playwright/architect of amongst other housesCastle Howard and Blenheim, to undertake this work, which as you can see is fantastically overblown. I adore this style of architecture, even though it was short-lived in popularity. Indeed, by the time the front was finished in 1726 it was already out of fashion….
What is Jane Austen’s association with this beautiful place? The connection is made though her eldest brother James,
who while living in Overton,near to Steventon as curate to that parish, made the acquaintance of General Edward Matthew and his wife who also lived there. The General’s wife was Lady Jane Bertie the daughter of the 2nd Duke and Duchess of Ancaster of Grimsthorpe.
(The 2nd Duke of Ancaster)
The Matthews had three daughters and James married Anne the eldest, who was over 30 years of age when they married.
As Deirdre le Faye shrewdly notes:
Anne Matthew must have seen in James Austen her last chance of matrimony, and he had a weakness for elegant aristocratic young women. The General and Lady Jane “could not have considered the young curate a good match for their daughter though as his uncle Mr Leigh Perrot had no children and he was his father’s eldest son, it was possible that he might some day have a comfortable income.” But for Anne’s sake they gave their consent to the marriage and made her an allowance of £100 a year.
(See: Jane Austen: A Family Record, pp71-2)
The sole issue from this marriage was, of course, Jane Austen’s niece, Anna Austen who was born on 15th April 1793,
and who arrived with a great deal of help from her indomitable grandmother Mrs Austen :
Mrs Austen rose from her bed in the middle of the night and walked by the light of a lantern a mile and a half of a muddy country lane to attend her [daughter in-law] and to usher into the world a new grand child.
Sometimes I can’t but admire Mrs Austen however exasperated I might be by her in general…..
Anna’s godparents were the 5th Duke and Duchess of Ancaster.
(The 5th Duchess)
Anna Austen remembered meeting the 5th Duke and Duchess , while visiting the Austens in Bath in February 1803:
I remember the last Duke and Duchess of Ancaster and being presented to the former (who was my God Father) in the Pump Room at Bath being then about 10 years of age. My Grandmother Austen with whom I was staying took upon herself the introduction, after which I was invited once or twice to spend the day in Great Pultney Street where the Duke had a house…This Duke and Duchess had had one child a Daughter who married a handsome agreeable but dissipated Irish Peer and died early leaving one Son. This child was brought up by the Ancasters . He was rather younger than myself but I well recollect spending a day with them at Bath and giving him his first lesson in dancing
(See A Family Record page 138)
Ah, that Mrs Austen…… back to Grimsthorpe…
The castle maintains its fabulously irregular Tudor South front,
which overlooks the topiary gardens
and the East front
which in turn overlooks very formal gardens
and a formal potager.
The west front over looks the lake
which was the place where in 1778,the English Mozart, Thomas Linley
met his untimely death while he was staying at Grimsthorpe with the 3rd Duke and Duchess of Ancaster ( who were of course Anna Austen’s aunt and uncle).
The Bath Chronicle of 13th August reported the accidental death as follows:
Mr Linley and Mr Olivarez an Italian Master and anther person agreed to go on the lake in a sailing boat which Mr Linley said he could manage but a sudden squall of wind sprung up an overset the boat; however they all hung by the masts and rigging for some time till Mr Linley said he found it was in vain to wait for assistance and therefore though he had his boots and his great coat on, he was determined to swim to shore for which purpose he quitted his hold but he had not swam above 100 yards before he sunk. Her Grace the Duchess of Ancaster saw the whole from her dressing room window and immediately despatched several servants off to take another boat to their assistance but which unfortunately came only time enough to take up Mr Olivarez, his companion not being able to find the body of Mr Linley for more than 40 minutes.
The church where poor old Thomas Linley is buried was the parish church used by the Ancasters, in the neighbouring village of Edenham. You can just see its tower though the trees in this picture taken from the south front of the castle.
The parish church of St Michaels and all Angels, is open to the public too
and contains many fine monuments to the Ancasters.
This is a picture of the 3rd Duchess. Poor lady, witnessing such a scene.
Here she is in masquerade dress, standing before the rotunda at Ranelagh, the great pleasure garden in London.
Back to Grimsthorpe.
The interiors of the castle are wonderfully intimate , on a very humane scale, unusual in this type of house. One of my favourite rooms is the magnificent chapel, begun by Vanburgh but thought to have been completed by his assistant, Nicholas Hawksmoor.
It is a pale, peaceful confection of a room, still used for services, and is such as would not have satisfied Fanny Price in Mansfield Park at all…
They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. “I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’”
“You forget, Fanny, how lately all this has been built, and for how confined a purpose, compared with the old chapels of castles and monasteries. It was only for the private use of the family. They have been buried, I suppose, in the parish church. There you must look for the banners and the achievements.”
“It was foolish of me not to think of all that; but I am disappointed.”
(Mansfield Park, Chapter 9)
Crimson cushions abound, however……
One feature of the interiors is that there are number of thrones kept in the castle, once used by various monarchs in the House of Lords. They are kept by the family as one of the “perks” of being hereditary Lord Chamberlain. This is George IV’s throne which he used at his Coronation Banquet.
So, there we have it: a marvellous and relatively unknown country house with some interesting Jane Austen connections. I do hope you have enjoyed this short tour and that if you are in the vicinity you are able to tour this fascinating house and estate.