As “a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit and brilliancy,” lucky, confident, full of life and ardour, Captain Wentworth, the hero of Persuasion, arouses Lady Russell’s anxiety. In 1806 he had “nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in that profession.” To her, he is simply “a stranger without alliance or fortune.” His “confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Anne,” but his “sanguine temper, and fearlessness of mind, operated very differently” on Lady Russell. She “saw in it but an aggravation of the evil. It only added a dangerous character to himself. He was brilliant, he was headstrong.” Having “little taste for wit; and of any thing approaching to imprudence a horror,” she “deprecated the connexion in every light” (26–27).
For Lady Russell, “brilliant” means not just talented, but also showy and flashy. She is not completely wrong. Captain Wentworth may well be a “genius,” with exceptional naval skills, but after Anne refuses him, he is “totally unconvinced and unbending,” feels himself “ill-used by so forced a relinquishment,” and storms away to sea (28–29). In only a tiny sloop, he engages recklessly with a bigger and better-armed French frigate, chases privateers in the West Indies, and later accuses the Admiralty of sending thousands of men to the bottom “in a ship not fit to be employed” (65).
For Captain Wentworth, Jane Austen called upon a slew of charismatic men––Lord Byron, his Corsair, her sailor brothers Francis and Charles, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Captain James Cook, and General Alexandre d’Arblay.1 Here I shall argue that the names Wentworth, Strafford, and Croft as well as the places Lyme and Taunton, suggest that Austen also had the brilliant, dangerous, and headstrong Duke of Monmouth in mind, and that the combined star-power of all these sources complicates the character of Captain Wentworth.
In Austen’s time, Wentworths were everywhere, including in her own early writings (Barchas 32–33, 54–55). Susan Allen Ford finds suggestive parallels between the “almost impossibly synthetic” Persuasion and Columella (1775), by Richard Graves, who jokes about “Wentworth, a barber at Oxford” as an example of how the names of old and powerful families are disseminated through the lower classes (238–39). When Charles Austen and his wife Fanny Palmer lived in Halifax, the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia was Sir John Wentworth (Kindred 39, 235 n13), and on January 15, 1815, only seven months before Austen began writing Persuasion, the talk of the town was that Anne Isabella Noel Byron, 11th Baroness Wentworth, had separated from her husband, Lord Byron.2
In his dismissiveness, Sir Walter, however, harks back to the time of Charles I when he observes, “‘Mr. Wentworth, the curate of Monkford. You misled me by the term gentleman. I thought you were speaking of some man of property: Mr. Wentworth was nobody, I remember; quite unconnected; nothing to do with the Strafford family’” (23). As Sir Walter eventually allows, Wentworth is indeed a “well-sounding name” (248), for it conjures up the rich and influential family of Wentworth Woodhouse, from the first earl of Strafford (1693–1741) to the third and last earl (1732–1799), who had died at Wentworth Castle. Like Austen’s hero, he was named Frederick Wentworth (Barchas 29, 44–45).3
Thomas Wentworth, Baron Wentworth of Wentworth Woodhouse and first earl of Strafford, was a principal martyr of the Royalist cause––in 1791, the young Austen listed Strafford among the “noble five” supporters of Charles 1 in her “History of England” (Juvenilia 187–88). Caroline Austen called her aunt “a most loyal adherent of Charles the 1st” (Memoir 173), and Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh said that the Leighs were “noted for inflexible loyalty to the House of Stuart through every change of fortune that befell its monarchs” (14–15). In 1642, Lady Elizabeth, widow of a Sir William Leigh of Longborough, a “staunch asylum to every friend of the royalist cause,” had celebrated the Royalist victory at Edgehill with bonfires (A. Leigh 278; M. Leigh History 15), and when Coventry closed its gates against Charles I, Sir Thomas Leigh, great-grandson of the original Sir Thomas, Lord Mayor of London, sheltered him for three days at Stoneleigh Abbey. After the Civil War, Parliament fined Sir Thomas almost £5000, though sparing him further penalty because he had neither borne arms nor helped the king with men or money (Huxley 7–9). In 1745, says Austen-Leigh, apartments were prepared at Stoneleigh for Charles Edward Stuart, and “very fortunate beyond a doubt was it for the Leighs that he retreated without reaching the midland counties.” She adds that in 1827, a fine van Dyke portrait of Charles I, presumably his gift to the newly enobled Baron Leigh, was discovered under a flower-piece (15–17). Austen’s great-grandfather, Theophilus Leigh (1643–1725), who in 1689 married Mary Brydges, sister of the first Duke of Chandos (Le Faye, Chronology 7), was also “always a strict adherent to the house of Stewart,” says Mary Leigh, and though “not a member of the 2nd. Charles’ Court,” he was “much acquainted with many of those gay people who surrounded that joyous careless monarch” (40, 27–28), including perhaps his son, the Duke of Monmouth.
The name Wentworth invokes Monmouth’s mistress, Lady Henrietta Wentworth, who funded his Protestant rebellion against the Catholic James II. In an overt allusion to the proud, rebellious Monmouth and Lady Henrietta Wentworth, Mary Musgrove imagines Captain Wentworth marrying her sister Henrietta. As she exclaims, “‘If he should rise to any very great honours! If he should should ever be made a Baronet! “Lady Wentworth” sounds very well. That would be a noble thing, indeed, for Henrietta!’” she exclaims. “‘Sir Frederick and Lady Wentworth!’” (75).
Lady Henrietta Wentworth (1660–1686) was daughter to the fifth Baron Wentworth (Clifton). In 1680, she became mistress to the Duke of Monmouth (1649–1685), the illegitimate but “dearest and most entirely beloved son” of Charles II by Lucy Walter (T. Harris). On June 11, 1685, after Lady Henrietta pledged her jewelry, cash, and credit as security for his rebellion against James II and attempt to claim the throne, he and his forces landed at Lyme Regis. (The beach at Lyme where he landed is still called after him.) In Taunton, on June 18, 1685, enthusiastic crowds greeted “the brave and lovely hero, who was destined to be the deliverer of his country” (Roberts, Monmouth 1: 301–03), and at Taunton market cross, he was declared “our lawful and rightful sovereign and king, by the name of James the Second” (T. Harris). But Monmouth was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor on July 6, 1685, and revenge was swift and vicious. In a hideously botched execution at Tower Hill, on July 15, 1685, Monmouth was beheaded. His last, romantic act was to declare love and loyalty to Lady Henrietta Wentworth.4
A significant section of Persuasion, of course, is set at Lyme, which was famed primarily for its association with Monmouth and Lady Henrietta Wentworth. When Austen visited there in 1803–1804,5 she would have heard a great deal about Monmouth, for even in 1823, says antiquarian George Roberts, “the aged now speak of him with extreme veneration, and pity for the dreadful end of the ‘martyrs.’” As he rightly predicted, “Many centuries will probably elapse before tradition will be silent at Lyme on the circumstances of this expedition, and the severe and undiscriminating severity with which adherents were visited” (Lyme-Regis 112). As late as 1834, the old lace-makers in Broad Street, where the Austens had lodged, were still rehearsing “elegies on their darling Monmouth” (Harris, Revolution 154; Barchas 228–29). In Lyme, says Roberts, Monmouth had resided at the George Inn, “where the room he slept in to this day remains, and is not unfrequently visited by the curious.” If Austen were one of them, she would have seen there an “excellent carving in oak,” said to have “ornamented the head of the bed in which he slept” (Lyme-Regis 112).
After the defeat of Monmouth, reprisals took place at both Lyme and Taunton, a town mentioned six times in Persuasion and nowhere else in Austen’s published or unpublished work.6 At the Bloody Assizes in Taunton, Judge Jeffreys sentenced most of the 1381 suspected rebels to death. About two hundred were executed, and many others transported to the West Indies (Halliday). Twelve “Worthy Protestants” were hanged on the beach at Lyme, “near the same place where they had landed, when they came ashore with the Duke of M[onmouth],” as John Tutchin wrote in New Martyrology, or The Bloody Assizes (1693), a collection of their final speeches and prayers (title-page, 444, 449). Further executions took place in Taunton, where enthusiastic crowds had hailed Monmouth as deliverer and king. At Taunton, too, Austen’s unlikeable aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot had been tried for stealing a card of lace (Nokes 199–213, 280, 288–90), but whenever Austen remembered Taunton, Monmouth was probably in her mind.
At Taunton, Mr. Shepherd falls into company with Admiral Croft, who “had come down to Taunton in order to look at some advertised places” (21); Mrs. Croft is also “at Taunton with the admiral” (22), who remains at Taunton (24) and thinks that they and Sir Walter should soon come to a deal, “in spite of what they told us at Taunton” (32); near Taunton, Charles Hayter stands to inherit a farm, “some of the best land in the country” (76).
Sir Walter’s disdain for Admiral Croft points in another way to Monmouth, whose original name was James Crofts. When young, he was fostered by William, Lord Crofts, a gentleman of the king’s bedchamber. He added the name “Scott” upon marrying Lady Anne Scott, fourth Countess of Buccleugh. Lady Henrietta was said to have borne him a son called James Wentworth Smyth Stuart. In 1697, Monmouth’s daughter by Eleanor Needham, Lady Henrietta Crofts, married the second duke of Bolton (T. Harris; Kilburn), whose heirs, the Powletts, occupied Hackwood Park, near Steventon. In Persuasion, Austen would bestow Monmouth’s foster-name on the most charming married couple in her fiction––the Crofts. If portraits of Lady Henrietta Wentworth and Lady Henrietta Crofts hung at Hackwood House, she would have seen them.7
Austen’s friend Mrs. Lefroy often visited the Duchess of Bolton and attended numerous balls at magnificent Hackwood House (Harris, Satire 175). James Austen fell briefly in love with Lady Catherine Powlett, daughter of Harry, the sixth duke (Le Faye, Family Record 54), and Jane danced with William Orde, relative of the Powletts and the third Lord Bolton (24–26 December 1798), and with Charles Powlett, the third Duke of Bolton’s grandson.8 But she resisted Charles’s kiss (14–15 January 1796), remarked that all the neighbors “live in hopes of his being soon ruined” (1–2 December 1798), and called his new wife “silly & cross as well as extravagant” (18–19 December 1798). Even more tartly, she said that Mrs. Powlett was “at once expensively & nakedly dress’d” (8–9 January 1801). Perhaps Austen considered the Boltons unworthy of their grand lineage, for she mocked Lord Bolton’s devotion to his “pigstyes” (1–2 December 1798), avoided dancing with his eldest son, “who danced too ill to be endured” (8–9 January 1799), and observed that Lady Bolton was “much improved by a wig” (1 November 1800).
Austen’s interest in and loyalty to the Stuarts, including Monmouth, appears early, first in the young Jane’s vehement notes in her brother James Austen’s copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England (1771), showing as Austen-Leigh suggests that, “every story or relic connected with these historic memories of the Stuarts must have been deeply interesting” (15). Praising the “fortitude of the Stuarts when oppressed and accused!” Jane Austen called them “A Family, who were always illused, Betrayed or Neglected Whose Virtues are seldom allowed while their Errors are never forgotten” (J 322, 337). In similar annotations upon Elegant Extracts, by Vicesimus Knox, as well as comments in Goldsmith’s History, she defended Mary, Queen of Scots, and attacked Elizabeth (J 353–55). Under Monmouth’s medallion in Goldsmith’s History, she had written “Poor Man” (Krueger 247), and next to the account of his beheading, she had scribbled “Sweet Man!” (J 329). Her remarks on Judge Jeffreys are fortunately illegible (J 329–30). A “partial, prejudiced, and ignorant Historian,” she called herself on the title-page of her own History of England (176); partial and prejudiced, perhaps, but ignorant she was not.
Even though Caroline Austen assumes that her aunt was a Tory (173), Austen’s fondness for the Stuarts does not make her one any more than her jokey comment, “I am myself partial to the roman catholic religion” (J 186), makes her a convert. It seems more likely that her prejudice was not political but personal, because she may have known that she herself was related to the Wentworths––twice over––through her mother Cassandra Austen, née Leigh. According to John McAleer, both Mrs. Austen and the first earl of Strafford, were descended from Joan Beaufort (1379?–1440), grand-daughter of Edward III, and Ralph Nevill, first earl of Westmorland.9 In the second line, says McAleer, Strafford’s grand-daughter Eleanor Wentworth-Woodhouse had married Thomas, the second Lord Leigh, making them the great-grandparents of Jane Austen's lunatic cousin Edward, the fifth Lord Leigh.
Austen kept up a steady correspondence, now lost, with Lord Leigh’s sister, her mother’s cousin, the “lively, ingenious, and accomplished” Mary Leigh of Adlestrop (1731–1797), as her husband Thomas described her in her proud history of the Leigh family, after her death. An abridger of histories, author of “some novels, highly moral & entertaining,” he said, Mary composed a Leigh pedigree in comic verse in 1777, then dedicated a prose version to James Henry Leigh, heir to Stoneleigh, in 1788. “Possessing great natural endowments, improved by much cultivation,” for she “read much from her early youth,” said Thomas, the affectionate, agreeable, and cheerful Mary must have been the most “entertaining of companions” to the young Jane Austen (M. Leigh 99). In July 1784, the nine-year-old Jane and the eleven-year-old Cassandra had evidently stayed with Mary and the Reverend Thomas Leigh in the Adlestrop rectory, just before Mary completed her family history. Further visits took place in midsummer 1799 and 5–14 August 1806 (Le Faye, Family Record 86, 115, 155–56). In Mary’s will, Cassandra and Jane each received a “Single Brilliant Centre Ring,” value five guineas (Le Faye, Chronology 332).10 From Mary, the family historian, Austen probably acquired her passionate devotion to the Stuarts, including Monmouth.
When Austen stayed with Mary Leigh at Adlestrop, Mary surely showed a letter sent in 1732 to Jane’s great-uncle, Theophilus Leigh, Master of Balliol (1693–1784), from Thomas Wentworth (1693–1741), grand-nephew to the first earl of Strafford. In 1711, he had been created Viscount Wentworth of Wentworth-Woodhouse and first earl of Strafford of the second creation (Frey and Frey).11 His wife was Lady Anne Wentworth (Barchas 227), just as Anne Elliot will become Lady Wentworth if Captain Wentworth is knighted. In her cancelled chapters, Austen suggests that he might well be (Harris, Revolution 67).
The plot of Persuasion derives likewise from family history, closely following the story of Elizabeth Wentworth, née Lord, of Stoneleigh Abbey––the sister-in-law of Mrs. Austen’s uncle William. When she visited her mother’s cousin Mary Leigh in Adlestrop, Austen could have heard about or even seen at nearby Stoneleigh Abbey a portrait of Elizabeth Lord, whose relationship with an earlier Captain Wentworth anticipates that of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. From Mary Leigh, Austen would have learned that in 1720, the wealthy Mrs. Lord had withdrawn consent to her daughter Elizabeth’s marriage with Captain Wentworth “upon pecuniary consideration” (M. Leigh 70), just as Sir Walter and Lady Russell, in spite of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s “exquisite felicity,” oppose her marrying a man with “no fortune” (P 26–27). Just before he embarked with his regiment to France, the lovers married in secret. In his absence, Elizabeth Lord “refused many good offers”—as Anne Elliot refuses Charles Musgrove and fends off William Walter Elliot while Captain Wentworth is away. After the first Captain Wentworth returned under an assumed name, his “sense and politeness” charmed Mrs. Lord into forgiving her daughter and granting her half her fortune (M. Leigh History 69–70). Elizabeth Wentworth subsequently proved a “great benefactress” to the Leighs, says Mary Leigh (71). In Austen’s more satiric version, Captain Wentworth returns, and Sir Walter is “very much struck by his personal claims” (P 248). Preparing his pen “with a very good grace,” he inserts Wentworth’s name into “the volume of honour,” even though he can give his daughter “but a small part of the share of ten thousand pounds which must be hers hereafter” (249, 248).
Referencing the history of her own noble relations, Austen scatters a handful of star-dust on Captain Wentworth, endowing him with the brilliance and dangerous glamour of the headstrong Monmouth. These associations with Byron, the Corsair, Frank and Charles Austen, Nelson, Napoleon, Cook, d’Arblay, and the proud, reckless, ambitious Duke of Monmouth make Captain Wentworth by far the most intricate and intriguing of Austen’s heroes. To the very end, he is hard to pin down, complaining in his love-letter that he is “‘half agony, half hope,’” and reproaching Anne even as he offers her “‘a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago.’” That “almost” shows him too proud to admit that his heart can break, and those highly particularized “eight years and a half” blame her for his “agony.” Although he is right to admit he has been unjust, weak, and resentful, he is quite wrong to claim he was “‘never inconstant.’” Those “‘precious feelings,’” which he declares to be “‘most fervent, most undeviating,’” are all well and good, but he still acts like a man used to command. Firing first person pronouns, imperatives, accusations, monosyllables, short sentences, and questions at Anne like bullets, he demands an answer as though his life depended upon it: “‘A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening, or never’” (237–38). The “dangerous impetuosity” that scared Lady Russell (249) exhilarates Anne Elliot, just as Monmouth’s ardent energy may have exhilarated Jane Austen.
Such was the combined star-power of all these associations, especially the Duke of Monmouth and Lady Henrietta Wentworth, that Captain Wentworth’s glamour threatens to overwhelm Anne’s “elegance of mind and sweetness of character” (5). In her last, revised chapters, however, Austen restored the balance, making his character even more complex and intriguing.12 I hope that the relationship between Captain and Mrs. Wentworth will be plain sailing in both the literal and metaphorical senses, but his somewhat mixed proposal suggests that his intricate, even problematic personality will continue to challenge as well as fascinate the woman who loves him so well.
4Given these links between Monmouth and Austen, the odd little scene in Sense and Sensibility where Robert Ferrars orders a toothpick-case (220) may be a fond remembrance of Monmouth. A man of many mistresses, at the end he declared his love for Lady Henrietta and sent her a ring from his finger and “something like a Toothpick–Case” (Roberts, Monmouth 2: 144–45).