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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Countess Morley as Jane Austen's Secret Agent in the Royal Court

Two days ago, I wrote a post... which I claimed that Countess Morley, with whom Jane Austen briefly corresponded at the time Emma was published, and to whom Jane Austen gave one of the twelve original copies of the novel, was aware of the hidden significance of the allusion in Emma to de Genlis's famous novel about female education, Adelaide & Theodore.

Today I am back with my thoughts about my claim that Countess Morley was a secret agent on behalf of Jane Austen, in the plot by Jane Austen to induce the Prince Regent, who was the secret butt of very strong satire in Emma, to command Jane Austen to dedicated the novel to him. 

The end of Jane Austen’s Letter #128 to sister Cassandra dated 11/26/15, or about a month prior to JA’s exchange of letters with Countess Morley, is as follows:

 “Thank you very much for the sight of dear Charles' [JA's brother] Letter to yourself. - How pleasantly & how naturally he writes! and how perfect a picture of his Disposition and feelings, his style conveys! - Poor dear Fellow! - not a Present! - I have a great mind to send him all the twelve copies which were to have been dispersed among my near Connections - beginning with the P.R. & ending with Countess Morley.”

 In that last sentence, JA is clearly joking as she refers to the Prince Regent and Countess Morley as being among the “near connections”  who were near enough to warrant their receiving one of the twelve precious original copies of Emma that JA, as author, was free to dispose of.

 And yet, is it all just a joke? It does not appear, from what I’ve read so far [although I’m waiting to receive a copy of Chris Viveash’s 1992 Persuasions article about Frances Talbot Parker (aka Lady Boringdon from 1809 onward and Countess Morley from 1815 onward) which I once read, but cannot now find in my files], that any Austen scholar has taken seriously the fact that JA grouped Countess Morley with the P.R. as the sole members of her short list of “near connections” from outside her family.

 I suggested in my previous posts that I suspected Countess Morley of having been a friendly co-conspirator in JA’s daring plot to induce the Prince Regent into commanding that JA dedicate Emma to him. As I’ve thought some more about how that might have come about, I’ve done some more digging on the Internet about Countess Morley and also about her husband, Lord Boringdon/Earl of Morley. Here’s what I’ve found so far--several intriguing factoids which show that Countess Morley had several of her own near connections to the Royal Court, which would have given her plenty of opportunity, being the sharp elf that she clearly was, to discreetly push multiple levers designed to prompt the Prince to issue that command to JA.

ONE: In 1784, 25 years before he married the (future) Countess Morley, in 1809, her future husband Lord Boringdon (who became Earl of Morley in 1815) sold a successful thoroughbred racehorse & sire (named, of course, Saltram) to…..the Prince of Wales. This transaction was apparently a big deal at the time, as it was reported in multiple books.

TWO: Wikipedia:  "Morley took his seat in the House of Lords on his 21st birthday in 1793. He was an active member of the House of Lords, initially supporting government policies until the death of William Pitt the Younger in 1806. After Pitt's death he supported George Canning, with whom he corresponded on political matters for many years. In 1815 he was created Viscount Boringdon, of North Molton in the County of Devon, and Earl of Morley, in the County of Devon." 
From the above, it is clear that Lord Boringon/ Earl of Morley was a political mover and a shaker on the highest level in England, who, especially from 1809 onward after marrying his second wife the (future) Countess Morley, who as we know was socially and artistically ccomplished, they both would have been in the thick of the social circle of the elite closest to the Royal Family.

THREE: As dramatic evidence of how much of an insider Countess Morley was, see the following snippet written by the editor of The Correspondence of George IV: “Theresa Villiers was the trusted confidante of Princess Amelia, who nicknamed her husband “Tant Mieux”. “
 Theresa Villiers was, of course, the very same sister in law of Countess Morley to whom the latter expressed her opinions about Emma, which I discussed in my previous posts! I don't think I need to explain how much of an opening that connection would have provided to Countess Morley.

FOUR: In Privilege and scandal: the remarkable life of Harriet Spencer by Janet Gleeson (2007) at p. 286: “[The King] had become fond of the princess, but he was a man of high moral values and had long deplored the sexual license of his eldest son. It was the princess's wantonness rather than the fact of her adultery that riled him. "Had it been one serious attachment, even with consequences, I would have screened and protected her through everything," the king had
told Lord Boringdon, 'but there have been so many and mix’d with so much levity, that it proves a determined  profligacy of character.”
 I find it very curious that the King himself was quoted as saying something strikingly similar to what JA wrote to Martha Lloyd, about the sexual indiscretions of the King’s daughter in law, the Princess. Like JA, he’s saying that his heart was with the Princess, not his own son, in regard to their bitter disputes, but that the Princess had just gone too far for him to protect her.
 And I find it even more remarkable that Lord Boringdon was the King’s confidant in regard to such delicate, personal information about the Royal Family! It suggests that all JA would have needed in order to know this information long before it was eventually published in any book, was to hear it from her friend Countess Morley (who would surely have been her own beloved husband’s confidante) over a cup of tea.

FIVE: In Pictorial history of England:  “On the 19th of March [1812] Lord Boringdon in the House of Lords moved for an address to the prince regent, beseeching him to form an administration, so composed as to unite the confidence and good will of all classes of his majesty's subjects. This was asking the regent to do what had never been possible, and what was rendered more than ever impossible by the present state of parties: but Lord Boringdon only meant that the regent should form a Grey and Grenville administration.”
 This is clear evidence that Lord Boringdon were engaged at the highest levels of government over significant policy issues, and it seems quite plausible that, even 30 years after their equine transaction, they were surely in private communication and ftf meetings as well.

SIX: In Private Correspondence, 1781-1821, Volume 2   Granville, etc (1917) at P.498:  “a few Days ago the Arrangements respecting your friends, I informed His Royal Highness of your  anxiety to secure at a proper Opportunity a Peerage for Lord Granville Leveson and an Earldom for Lord Boringdon. The Prince Regent has authorized me to assure you that He will not make any Peers, on any other Ground than that of immediate Public Service without Lord Granville Leveson… “

So this letter (I can’t tell for sure from this snippet in Google Books who wrote it to whom) shows that one or more of Lord Boringdon’s highly placed friends was pushing for him to be made an earl, and of course we know that in 1815, this actually occurred.

In interim conclusion, then, I am sure you’ll agree that, in terms of my claims about Countess Morley as secret agent on behalf of JA’s satire of the Prince Regent, these seven factoids collectively demonstrate that she certainly had opportunity to act on JA’s behalf, so as to induce the Prince to command the dedication. And I think JA, in the passage of the letter to CEA that I quoted at the beginning of this post, was winking at just that role of Countess Morley when she grouped her highly-placed “near connection” with the P.R.

I will be back with more intelligence, I am sure, when I receive the Viveash article—I already know from notes I took in 2005 that Viveash claimed that Frances Talbot (still Lady Boringdon) was the subject of one of the famous Rejected Addresses that JA enjoyed, but I will wait to write about that till I have all possible information at my disposal.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Thoughts From The Studio said...

Hello. I am in the fortunate position of being a researcher for the National Trust UK based at Saltram House in Devon home of the Parker family. We have been privileged to have access to many documents and correspondence relating to Frances Talbot and the Parker family which I and my trusty team have painstakingly transcribed over the last several years. In particular a long series of letters between Theresa Villiers and Frances. Not all the letters survive sadly, and there are gaps simply because there was no need to write when they were living next door to each other in London. There is a large amount of detail in the letters which also include letters from John Parker himself. Your blog contains snippets which seem to make a case, sadly however, we have yet to come across anything which might suggest that Frances had any association with JA other than the brief exchange of thanks on receipt of her copy of Emma. As for close association to the King and Royal Family, the Villiers family found themselves in an invidious position because his financial dealings were shady if not fraudulent and Theresa was indeed a member of the ladies in waiting for a while but there is certainly nothing to indicate any position of influence. All British aristocracy would come in contact with the King at some point, John Parker, Lord Boringdon and then Earl Morley was no exception. However, he was never able to be a 'mover and shaker' simply because he was tainted with a scandal which rendered him persona non grata in higher circles hence his marriage to Frances who had no money and no title. We were pleased to welcome JASNA to Saltram House a few years ago and hope we managed to give them a flavour of Parker life.

Arnie Perlstein said...

What a generous, detailed response by you, thanks! If you'd email me at, I have some followup questions for you about Countess Morley!