St Mary Colechurch, London, England, UK
Katherine Austen (1629 – ca. 1683) was a British diarist and poet best known for Book M, her manuscript collection of meditations, journal entries, and verse. She also, wrote the little-known country-house poem, "On the Situation of Highbury" (1665).
Austen, who lived from 1628 until 1683, resided in London through the tumultuous events of the Civil War and Restoration. She was from a wealthy mercantile family and married Thomas Austen, a man of similar wealth and rank. She and Thomas shared a strong interest in elevating their socioeconomic standing. However, Thomas did not live long enough for them to achieve their goal during his lifetime. When Thomas died in 1658, he left Katherine with three children, the management of their property, a will that restricted her ability to marry for seven years, the awareness of her widowhood as a potential vulnerability, and her continued desire for greater status, wealth, and personal power.
Austen's widowhood is characterized by her administration of the Austen family's legacy and aspirations, her significant other's will having named her 'Executrix and Guardian amid her Widowhood. Apsley's son, Sir Allen, tried to recover Highbury from Katherine's son, Thomas, in 1662, and because Thomas was underage, Katherine acted on his behalf. Apsley's lenders appealed to the House of Commons in February 1664/5, and Katherine kept on being dynamic in guarding her child's advantages, as her original copy records (see her sonnet 'Upon subjects at the Committee of Parliament taking a stab at Highbury', fols. 59v-60r, and others). In addition, Katherine Austen's guardianship saw her worried about the expiry of a lease period that the Crown had forced on Highbury in its underlying transport to ApsleyA petition to Whitehall on 10 April 1666 also calls for the lands to be recovered by the Crown, and it is most likely in response to this that Austen composes the meditation on fols. 112v-113r, dated September 1666.
Austen's widowhood made her worry about the cost of building she was undertaking at 'The Swan' (near Covent Garden) and defending other lawsuits challenging her family's possession of an inn called the Red Lion, on Fleet Street. Book M records the claims of 'Sister Austen' and 'another troublesome man' for the Red Lion, 'Sister Austen' being the spouse of John, the sibling named in Thomas Austen's will, who died in 1659. Katherine Austen writes of her sister-in-law, 'Tis not adequate to appreciate 350 pounds forever', a reference to 'the total of three hundred or three hundred and fifty pounds which he hath of mine in his grasp's left by Thomas to his sibling.
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Her manuscript of 114 folios, Book M (BL, Add. MS 4454), was written over six or seven years during her period of mourning — her "Most saddest Yeares" (60r) — and includes material on her lawsuit, interpretations of dreams (her own and others), historical commentary, prayers, letters, financial materials, and 34 verse meditations in rhyming couplets. The richest source of information about Austen is her manuscript miscellany, "Book M," which includes over thirty occasional and religious lyrics on topics such as child loss, Austen's legacy to her children, a Valentine's Day gift, her prophetic interests, and of course, Highbury. It also contains spiritual meditations, including a short essay on Hildegard of Bingen, notes on sermons, comments on her economic affairs, and correspondence. She wrote the miscellany primarily between 1664 and 1666 and made changes to it until 1682. "Book M" demonstrates her familiarity with the poetry of Richard Corbett and some of John Donne's writings (certainly his sermons, possibly his poetry).
One of her best known poems from the book is the estate poem "On the Situation of Highbury". This poem demonstrates her familiarity with the genre, although her poem is unusual in leaving the estate's "dweller" anonymous. She seems to have made her sonnet in September 1665, when Highbury left rent to another holder and went into Austen's ownership. However sitting tight for the domain to leave lease had been stand out snag to her responsibility for bequest. There had been a different development in Parliament prior that year that would, if effective, have made the home occupied to her. Therefore, while Austen seems to have been positioned to receive the estate in September, she still relates to it as a somewhat uncertain prospect. Strictly speaking, there is neither a host nor a guest in Austen's country-house poem until the very end. Hesitant in her ownership of Highbury, the ambitious widow marshals the traditional topoi of the country-house genre so that her desire for elite status and her assertion of an authoritative voice—both complicated by her awareness of her gender as a potential liability in advancing her socioeconomic desires given her widowed state—become intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Austen the poet reinforces the value of the estate, which is soon to augment her status, by inscribing it within the country-house tradition alongside other celebrated, monumentalized sites; the worthiness of the estate, which will reflect upon Austen as owner, legitimates the authority and propriety of her verse.
Austen's "On the Situation of Highbury" plainly demonstrates her commonality with the custom of nation house verse. Her verse lauds the home's richness and wealth; finds delight and happiness in connection both to that self-creating plenitude and to the stunning prospect of the area accessible from what is probably the site of the house; and comments the paradisal nonappearance of hard work at Highbury.10Austen, notwithstanding, additionally bars topoi normally connected with the class. Most essentially, she doesn't commend the cordiality of the proprietor of the domain and his or her family; she doesn't depict the concordance between the individuals from the inhabitant family and their workers and occupants; and she doesn't give looks of the family's history, its cross-generational presence at the home.11 Likewise, although Austen's representation of the fruitfulness of the land participates in the expected conventions of the genre, she does not convey the typically emblematic, derivative relationship of the estate's Edenic qualities with respect to the resident aristocratic or gentle family. The book also contains an essay on Saint Hildegard of Bingen.
About a year after her husband died. Austen began her career as real-estate investor. the first project extended her interests to the west coast of Wales. Katherine Austen's widowhood would last the rest of her life. In the early 1660s Katherine bought two major London properties owned by Lady Jane Aungier. She was, at least once, tempted by remarriage, but rejected the prospect in part because it would infringe on her economic activities in behalf of her children. Under the doctrine of coverture she retained her widow's status as an independent legal entity if she did not remarry. Although she did not marry she had a suitor, the Scottish doctor Alexander Callendar.
She lived in Hoxton until she died. The date of her death is unknown but her will was proved in 1683. She devoted her widowed years to educating and settling her children, managing her finances and properties, and to study, writing and devotion.
- Anselment, Raymond A. "Katherine Austen and the widow's might." Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies (03/22/2005) 22 Jan. 2007.
- Anselment, Raymond A. 2011. "Feminine Self-Reflection and the Seventeenth-Century Occasional Meditation." Seventeenth Century 26, no. 1: 69-93.MLA International Bibliography, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2016). Ross, Sarah. "Austen , Katherine (b. 1629, d. in or before 1683)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 22 Jan. 2007
- Austen, Katherine (2013). Pamela S Hammons, ed. Book M: A London Widow's Life's Writings. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies and ITER; 1ST edition (2013). p. 216. ISBN 978-0772721501.
- "Todd, B. J. 2013. "Katherine Austen. Katherine Austen's Book M: British Library, Additional Manuscript 4454." Renaissance Quarterly 66, no. 1: 311. British Library Document Supply Centre Inside Serials & Conference Proceedings, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2016).".
- "EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page". eds.a.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- "Perdita Woman: Katherine Austen". University of Warwick. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
- Hammons, Pamela. "Katherine Austen's Country-House Innovations.". Retrieved 18 April 2014.
- "Ross, Sarah. 2004. Austen [née Wilson], Katherine (b. 1629, d. in or before 1683), diarist and poet. n.p.: Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2016).".
- Hammons, Pamela S. "The Other Voice" (PDF). Retrieved 18 April 2014.
- Wiseman, Susan (2002). The Contemplative Woman's Recreation? Katherine Austen and the Estate Poem. From Early modern women and the poem. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 220–243. ISBN 978-07190-9072-1.
- "Todd, Barbara J. 2010. "Property and a Woman's Place in Restoration London." Women's History Review 19, no. 2: 181-200. Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2016).".
- "EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page". eds.b.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- Ross, Sarah. 2004. Austen [née Wilson], Katherine (b. 1629, d. in or before 1683), diarist and poet. n.p.: Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2016).
- Todd, Barbara J. 2010. "Property and a Woman's Place in Restoration London." Women's History Review 19, no. 2: 181-200. Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed 21 March 2016).
- Todd, B. J. 2013. "Katherine Austen. Katherine Austen's Book M: British Library, Additional Manuscript 4454." Renaissance Quarterly 66, no. 1: 311. British Library Document Supply Centre Inside Serials & Conference Proceedings, EBSCOhost (accessed 21 March 2016).