A small work by the 15-year-old Jane Austen
, with illustrations by her sister Cassandra
(the dedicatee). Its full title is "The History
from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st. By a partial
& ignorant Historian
". After the dedication is a note "N.B. There will be very few Dates in this History."
Henry IV is depicted as a handsome man in eighteenth century costume. (You can tell all the kings' and queens' characters in the Miss Austens' estimation by how spotty and leering they are.) He ascended the throne "much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2d, to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered."
Henry V looks dashing as an eighteenth-century soldier. In his reign "Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for".
Henry VI was a Lancastrian, and had no sense, "for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, & shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, & not to give information." L'aimable Jane is nothing if not honest.
Edward IV "was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage"; but this is Austenite irony in full gallop, for Cassandra makes him very surly and shifty, and the example of his courage is in marrying one woman while engaged to another. "Having performed all these noble actions", he died.
Edward V lived too short to be depicted.
Richard III has a poor character to most historians of her day, but the shrewd Jane is inclined to forgive him, since he was York.
Henry VII, a scruffy, pinched man, was "as great a Villain as ever lived".
Henry VIII looks like some Mongol potentate to me, with an eastern cap and the small curling moustache you'd expect to see in some Rajasthan miniature sniffing a rose. What was Cassandra thinking? But to resume: "The Crimes & Cruelties of this Prince, were too numerous to be mentioned & nothing can be said in his Vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of Time has been of infinite use to the Landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it".
Edward VI was rather a favourite with Jane. About half this passage concerns itself with the history of another Jane, Lady Jane Grey, "who had been already mentioned as reading Greek. Whether she really understood that language or whether such a Study proceeded only from an excess of Vanity for which I beleive she was always rather remarkable, is uncertain."
Mary had less merit and beauty than her cousins Mary, Queen of Scots and Lady Jane Grey, and was the cause of many misfortunes.
Elizabeth was a hideously ugly, spotty, hook-nosed, sour-faced harridan.. going by the picture. And indeed her character is as black in Jane's words as Cassandra can delineate it. "Destroyer of comfort", "deceitful Betrayer of trust", "Murderess", "wicked", ... yes, Jane was a lover of that paragon, the Queen of Scotland, and harangues Elizabeth for several pages over the murder. Then she outlines other events of the reign, and compares great sailors such as Sir Francis Drake to her own naval brothers.
James I "was of that amiable disposition which inclines to Freindships"*, and was quite a Good King. Jane Austen was quite "partial to the roman catholic religion" so with infinite regret felt they did not behave like gentlemen in this reign (trying to blow up king and parliament).
Charles I was amiable, but: "The Events of this Monarch's reign are too numerous for my pen, and indeed the recital of any Events (except what I make myself) is uninteresting to me"; and her main reason for writing the history was to prove the innocence of the Queen of Scotland.
This monumental study (some fifteen pages) was finished on Saturday Nov: 26th 1791.
* Afterthought. I wonder what this meant: "friendships"? Did Jane know he was homosexual, and was this her way of saying it, and approving of it? I hope so. It would fit my image of her; but I can't think of any example her works or letters where she touches on homosexuality in any guise.