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Article: God Save the...Prince Regent? Jane Austen and the Royal Family

The Royal Family at the Christening of Charles III

God Save the...Prince Regent? Jane Austen and the Royal Family

The Christening of the now King Charles III

In the years leading up to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the question of the necessity of a regency period began to dance on the lips of those in the know. It was suggested that the Queen, who had wound down her schedule of public appearances, might hand the throne to the then Prince Charles for safe keeping in her old age. To her credit, that was never necessary, with the Queen putting in her final public appearances just days before her death. With no Regency necessary, Charles will officially become king on Saturday 6th May, 2023, with the Royal Household bustling with preparations. So for now, we won't know what it's like to live through a period of Regency. Jane Austen, however, did. 

Jane Austen officially only lived through the reign of one king - George III. However, when King George III fell ill, his son, George, Prince of Wales, officially took up the mantle of Prince Regent, being granted the ability to exercise the full powers of the crown. To Jane, this must have felt a turbulent time in which to live. Born the same year as the outbreak of the American Revolution, and growing up with the Napoleonic Wars raging across the channel, a destabilised Royal leadership may have felt like par for the course, or may have felt like an additional stress on an already unsettled world. Either way, Austen was fortunate enough to enjoy a modicum of Royal attention in her time.

In November of 1815, Jane was invited to view the library at the Prince's residence, Carlton House, an invitation that some suspect was a pretence for warming Jane to the idea of dedicating her next novel, Emma, to the Prince Regent. Though it was worded in terms of a request, Jane being "at liberty to dedicate any future work to the Prince," she was able to read between the lines, and dutifully enclosed the following dedication within the pages of Emma : 

“To His Royal Highness the Prince Regent,

this work is, by His Royal Highness's permission, most respectfully dedicated, by His Royal Highness's dutiful and obedient humble servant,

The Author.”

Now, I don't know about you, but do I detect a hint of cynicism? I can't exactly imagine our Jane being thrilled about being forced to dedicate her work to the Prince Regent, but maybe I'm reading too much into it. It does appear that Prince George was a genuine fan, however, and I think most authors could quietly be pretty smug about that kind of endorsement.

Nowadays, Royal patronage doesn't take quite the same form, but they do still involve themselves with arts and literature. For example, Camilla, the new Queen Consort, has launched her own reading charity called The Queen's Reading Room, which aims to create opportunities for adults and children to build relationships with literature. This raises an interesting question - who would you dedicate your own novel to? Would it be a famous person? A politician? Or perhaps a friend or parent? Let us know in the comments. 

Ellen White is editor of the Jane Austen Centre blog. She would love to hear from you! Check out our Submission Guidelines and get in touch. 

1 comment

I would dedicate to family. My 94 yr old father who instilled a love of wordplay and reading. We still work crossword puzzles together 2x a week. Also my children and grandchildren who bring pride and joy every day.

Catherine Caviness

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