Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy’

Sir Thomas More will be familiar to many of us from Robert Bolt’s stage play and 1966 film, A Man For All Seasons, and from Hilary Mantel’s more recent book, Wolf Hall. For those persons who confine their reading to the six novels of a certain Georgian lady and don’t recognize his name, he was Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532, under King Henry VIII. He steadfastly refused to condone Henry’s desire to break from the Catholic Church to facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon; Henry’s solution was to order his execution.


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Neither the historical record nor the dramatisations document his descendant lines to any extent, but Sir Thomas and his wife Jane Colt established a fertile line of progeny. A genealogist and descendant, the late Martin Wood, in his book The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More) [1] thought that the tally so far could number one hundred thousand. What has never been on the public record is a direct family connection between Sir Thomas and Jane Austen. The link is in the maternal line of Mrs. Austen, Cassandra Leigh, through her maternal great-grandmother, Anne Dawtrey.

George Austen and Cassandra Leigh both had some knowledge of their fathers’ ancestries but, I suspect, little of their mothers’. Cassandra was proud of her paternal lineage – her great-grandfather was the 8th Lord Chandos, her great-uncle was the first Duke of Chandos, and her distant cousin Edward Leigh was Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh. Her mother Jane Leigh (née Walker) lived with the Austens at Steventon for the last four years of her life, and the first four of their marriage. Of the Austens’ parents she was the one best known to them, and it seems safe to assume that she’d have talked about her forebears. However the current record of Cassandra’s maternal family extends back only to her great-grandmother, and it’s likely that she knew nothing of earlier generations.

Until recently I had not given Anne Dawtrey any attention – her son-in-law (and Cassandra’s maternal grandfather) John Walker, ‘Doctor of Physick at the University of Oxford,’ had both dominated and frustrated my attention. I have to report that he continues to elude not just me, but several archivists at the University of Oxford as well.

The only detail recorded for Anne, confirmed by the licence allegation for her marriage to James Perrott (dated 23 November, 1667) [2], was that she was of Petworth in Sussex. When I got round to looking, the Dawtreys revealed themselves to have been a long-established Petworth family, with additional estates in Essex and Suffolk. They were wealthy enough to leave Last Wills and Testaments that are preserved at The National Archives [3]; and bore Arms (that is, heraldic Arms), so their pedigree is recorded in the Sussex County Visitations [4]. Working through those and other sources, I was able to establish that Anne’s great-great grandfather was William Dawtrey, who had been elected MP for Sussex in 1563 and died in 1591, and that his wife was Margaret. 

Margaret’s surname had been recorded as Rogers in the Visitations; it was only on finding William’s biography in the website of The History of Parliament [5] that I learnt that she was in fact a Roper, and that she was the daughter of William Roper of Eltham, Kent. It didn’t take long to discover that this was the William Roper who had married Margaret More, the devoted daughter of Sir Thomas More. (William Roper was Sir Thomas’s first biographer; Margaret More, besides supporting her fsther during his trial, retrieved his head from the executioner; it is now interred in the Roper vault under the Chapel of St. Nicholas in St. Dunstan’s, Canterbury.)

Anne Dawtrey was a 4th-great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas; Jane Austen was an 8th-great-granddaughter. While researching Jane’s maternal pedigrees I have found many very interesting ancestors, but none so surprising as Sir Thomas. The chance that she knew this is negligible! If these details have any bearing on Jane Austen herself, it’s in the way that they illustrate that her descent was through some of the most interesting people in British history.

In the preceding paragraph I wrote “none so surprising as Sir Thomas.” But here’s another detail that comes close. Sir Thomas More’s parents, Sir John More (a Judge of the Common Pleas and of the King’s Bench) and Alice Graunger, had four surviving children, of whom he was the second eldest. His youngest sibling, Elizabeth, married John Rastell, and they too established a successful line of progeny.  One of their great-grandsons was amongst the worthiest of Jane Austen’s distant cousins, the great English poet John Donne.

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About the author:

Ronald Dunning is the creator of the Ancestry.com “Jane Austen Family Tree,” which is undergoing an update as his research continues. He learned through his grandmother that her family was in some way related to Jane Austen. After moving from Canada to England in 1972, he pursued this intriguing information and discovered that Frank Austen [Jane’s brother] was her great-great-grandfather. Find more information in Deb Barnum’s 2012 interview with Mr. Dunning for Jane Austen in Vermont, An Interview with Ron Dunning on his Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The New and Improved Jane Austen Family Tree!


[1] The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More. Martin Wood. Gracewing, Leominster, 2008. ISBN 978 0 85244 681 2

[2] Marriage Allegations in the Registry of the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Harleian Society Vol. XXIII, 1886. p.142

[3] Probate Records:

William Roper, PROB 11/60/365 (in which he names his ‘daughter Dawtrey’)

William Dawtrey (d.1591) PROB 11/78/329

Sir Henry Dawtrey (d. 1646) PROB 11/196/139

William Dawtrey (d.ca 1679) PROB 11/361/238

[4] Visitations of Sussex for 1530 and 1633-4; Harleian Society, London, Vol.LIII, 1905; p.32

[5] History of Parliament Online: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/dawtrey-william-1591

Read other articles by Mr. Dunning

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Inquiring readers, One of the benefits of overseeing a long-lasting blog is the number of Jane Austen aficionados one meets via email and online. Ronald Dunning, a descendant of Jane Austen’s brother, Francis, recently emailed me to discuss his new genealogy site and Jane Austen family website. After I visited the sites and read Deb Barnum’s excellent post on the topic at Jane Austen in Vermont, I invited Mr. Dunning to explain how he managed to fill in so many members on his family tree. When all was said and done, what excited me most was when I saw the resemblance between Mr. Dunning and his illustrious ancestor. The Austens do indeed live on. Enjoy!

Sir Francis William Austen, Admiral of the Fleet, and descendant Ronald Dunning

Hi Vic! I’m a 4th-great-grandson of Frank Austen, and a committed genealogist. I’ve been working for quite a few years on an extended and inclusive genealogy of the Austen family, which can be seen at RootsWeb: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~janeausten. It’s an ongoing project, subject to addition and revision, but has reached an advanced state of maturity. Various writers on the Austen family in England and the US have used it, and I’ve even found it cited as a reference source for biographies at Wikipedia.

Joan Corder

I’ve just posted a new website dedicated to Jane Austen’s Family, which was announced to the public at last week’s JAS AGM. The address is www.janeaustensfamily.co.uk. The first content is Joan Corder’s “Akin to Jane” – a 1953 manuscript listing as many descendants of George and Cassandra Austen as the author could find. Joan recorded something like 320 descendants of George and Cassandra Austen, which is very good going for 1953. The biographical detail in the manuscript makes it invaluable. She could never find a publisher and the book exists only in a couple of manuscript copies, one of which is at the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton. When I first began working on the site, I wasn’t sure whether it would interest anyone – I was simply driven on by my obsession with family history – but it’s been well received, to my delight. The Museum is pleased that they can now retire Joan Corder’s fragile original.

Joan’s page on Jane Austen in Akin to Jane Austen. The fragile original has been replaced with interactive online pages.

With the benefit of modern genealogical facilities, I’ve increased the tally from 320 to over 1200 – all of whom are to be found on my RootsWeb site. I have to admit that I have included very little anecdotal information, it is mainly genealogy; and all details except the surname are withheld for anyone born after 1915, though I have them on my computer database.

Austen (l) and Austen-Leigh (r) family coat of arms.

You asked for an anecdotal example for Jane Austen’s World readers that would flesh out the details of my research. I immediately thought of James Brydges, 8th Baron Chandos of Sudeley and Elizabeth Barnard – Cassandra Leigh’s great-grandparents. Cassandra was of course Jane Austen’s mother.

Hearing Miss Barnard was engaged to a party with a fashionable conjuror, who showed the ladies their future husbands in a glass, he by a proper application to the cunning man beforehand, and by a proper position at the time, was exhibited in the glass to Miss Barnard: clapping her hands she cried, ‘Then Mr. Bridges is my destination, and such he shall be.’”

This lovely anecdote was recorded in a footnote, in The Complete Peerage,under the entry for James Brydges, the 8th Lord Chandos of Sudeley. The lady in question, Elizabeth Barnard, did become his wife. Elizabeth’s father Sir Henry Barnard was a “Turkey merchant,” a trader whose business interest was in importing from Constantinople. Her husband James Brydges was himself the Ambassador of the “Turkey Company” (properly the Levant Company) in Constantinople from 1680 to 1686.

Sir James Brydges (1642–1714), 8th Baron Chandos, Turkey Company Ambassador to Constantinople

Elizabeth gave birth to twenty-two children. We are familiar with the mortal threat to women’s lives from childrearing – three of Jane Austens’ sisters-in-law suffered that fate. Elizabeth survived her twenty-two deliveries and lived to the age of 77. Not all of her children fared so well – only fifteen were baptized, and of those, three sons and five daughters survived infancy. This was far from unusual – Antonia Fraser, in her study of 17th-century woman, The Weaker Sex, stated that it was normal for only a third of children born to a large family to survive. Their eldest child, Mary Bridges, was one of the survivors. The link to Jane Austen can now be traced within a few generations. Mary married Theophilus Leigh; they were Cassandra Leigh’s paternal grandparents and the parents of Theophilus Leigh, who served as Master of Balliol College in Oxford from 1726 until his death in 1785. Theophilus Jr.’s brother Thomas Leigh married Jane Walker, and they were Cassandra Leigh’s parents. Cassandra, who married George Austen, gave birth to eight children, including Jane Austen in 1775. (And she too survived to a ripe old age, outliving her daughter Jane by 10 years.)

Click on image for details. Image @A Reading Affair

I hope you enjoyed this small sampling of the information that my sites offer about Jane Austen’s family. Deb Barnum from Jane Austen in Vermont has interviewed me, and written a very thorough review and detailed explanation of how to find information on the sites.

More on the topic:

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Loyal Readers:

How good are you at solving historical puzzles? Mr. Forrest sent me this query and I told him I would write a post about this interesting riddle that he would like to solve. This is what he wrote (Thank you all in advance for helping!):

My uncle has a portrait (attached) which has been passed down the family line. We think it is one of three portraits referred to in a will – the options being

  1. Charles Macintosh (a Scottish inventor of the Macintosh coat)
  2. Dr John Forrest (a Physician who served much of his time in the army) (more details on my website here: http://rootsunearthed.com/index.php5?title=John_FORREST_(1804-1865) ), or
  3. John Graham Rodger (a merchant who later became a magistrate i.e. Justice of the Peace)

I have found on the internet other portraits of Charles Macintosh and am sure the portrait is not of him. This leaves the possibility of either the Physician or a Magistrate.

I wonder if your experience of the 19th century and clothing could identify anything that may point to Physician or Magistrate?

Or possibly you know someone else who could assist?

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