Cassandra Austen

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Cassandra Austen
Silhouette of Cassandra Austen
Born (1773-01-09)9 January 1773
Steventon, Hampshire
Died 22 March 1845(1845-03-22) (aged 72)
Chawton, Hampshire

Cassandra Elizabeth Austen (9 January 1773 – 22 March 1845[1]) was an amateur English watercolourist and the elder sister of Jane Austen.


Austen was born in 1773 at a rectory in Steventon, Hampshire, to the Rev. George Austen (1731–1805), a rector, and his wife Cassandra, née Leigh (1739–1827). There were eight Austen children; as Cassandra and Jane were the only girls they maintained an especially close relationship throughout their lives. Over one hundred letters addressed to Cassandra from Jane have survived. These letters have helped historians to construct details about the life of Jane Austen.

The sisters went to Mrs. Cawley, their uncle's sister, to be educated in 1783. Cawley lived initially in Oxford, and later in Southampton, and, when an epidemic broke out in Southampton, the Austen sisters returned to Steventon. Between 1785 and 1786 the sisters attended the Reading Ladies boarding school in the Abbey gatehouse in Reading, Berkshire. Jane was originally not to go, as she was considered to be too young for schooling, but ended up going along with Cassandra. In their mother's words, "if Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too".[2]

Cassandra Austen's drawing of Mary, Queen of Scots, from her sister Jane's manuscript The History of England


The two Austen girls were also tutored at home in drawing and the piano. In 1791, Cassandra produced a series of circular illustrations of British monarchs for Jane's manuscript The History of England, which are noted to have resembled members of the Austen family more than royalty.[1] Cassandra Austen is also credited with having created two paintings of her sister. One, painted in 1804, is a back view of Jane seated by a tree. The other, an incomplete frontal portrait dated circa 1810,[3] was described by a family member as being "hideously unlike" Jane Austen's real appearance. This sketch is now housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London.[4]

Later life[edit]

George Austen was not wealthy and had supplemented his income as a country parson "by taking in pupils and tutoring them for Oxford".[5] After graduating from Oxford University, in 1794, one former pupil, Thomas Fowle, became engaged to Cassandra Austen.[5] Fowle needed money to marry and went to the Caribbean with a military expedition as chaplain to his cousin, General Lord Craven.[5] There, Fowle died of yellow fever in 1797. Austen inherited £1000 from him, which gave her a little financial independence but, like her sister, she never married.[5]

After the death of her father in 1805, Austen, her sister, and their mother moved to Southampton, where they lived with their brother Frank and his family for five years. They moved again in 1809 to a cottage in the village of Chawton on their brother Edward's Chawton House estate.

When Jane died in 1817, Austen is reported to have destroyed many of her letters, most of them dated after 1795.[1] Austen herself lived alone until her death on 22 March 1845, aged 72. She was buried at St. Nicholas' Church in Chawton, Hampshire.[6][7]

Film reference[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Cassandra Austen". (n.d.) Jane Austen Centre Magazine. Retrieved 31 December 2006.
  2. ^ "Jane Austen's Life and Family". (n.d.) The Jane Austen Information Page. Retrieved December 31, 2006.
  3. ^ Jane Austen (1810) by Cassandra Austen, National Portrait Gallery
  4. ^ "A New Portrait of Jane Austen". (2003). Jane Austen's Regency World. Retrieved December 31, 2006.
  5. ^ a b c d Berkshire Family Historian. Retrieved: 11 October 2007
  6. ^ St Nicholas parish history Retrieved: 11 October 2007
  7. ^ "St Nicholas, Chawton, Hampshire." (2004). Retrieved: 31 December 2006.