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Jane Austen & Thomas Lefroy – An Affair That Never Blossomed.

In 1795, Mr Thomas Lefroy, a Judge in the North Riding of Co. Tipperary, enjoyed a whirlwind romance with none other than the famous English novelist Jane Austen.

Jane Austen is best remembered primarily for her famous novels, e.g. “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility”, latter which commented on the British middle and upper classes, at the end of the 18th century.
Judge Lefroy served with distinction on the Munster Court circuit for many years and took ‘Silk’ in 1816.
[Note: A Silk lawyer is the colloquial name given to a Queen’s Counsel (QC), who is selected by an independent panel committee, due to their experience, knowledge and skill.]

In 1849, it was the very same Thomas Lefroy, (then Lord Chief Justice of Ireland), who elevated MP (Athlone) and Judge William Nicholas Keogh to Queen’s Counsel. Same Judge Keogh would anger nationalist opinion in Ireland with regard to his conduct in the trial of the Cormack brothers at Nenagh assizes, in March 1857, which was considered a most brutal denial of natural justice.
Later, Judge Keogh’s deteriorating mental health would see him cut his own throat, at a sanatorium in Bingen-on-the-Rhine, Germany, on Monday September 30th 1878, before being buried in Bonn, on the banks of the River Rhine, in Westphalia, Germany.

Novelist Jane Austen

Jane Austen was born on December 16th 1775, in the village of Steventon near Basingstoke, in Hampshire, England, where her father, Rev. George Austen, was then Rector. The family would continue to reside there for the next 25 years until her father retired.
It was here that Jane Austen drafted her first two novels which were eventually published as “Pride and Prejudice” (1813) and “Sense and Sensibility” (Published in 1811 but begun between 1793 and 1795).
Later would come “Mansfield Park” (1814), followed by “Persuasion”; “Northanger Abbey” and “Emma” (1815) latter novel dedicated to the Prince Regent, (later who would become King George IV), an admirer of her work.

[Note: This was the same Prince Regent who had visited the Mathew household in Tipperary and during his visit impregnated Lady Elisha (Elizabeth) Mathew, before heading back to England].

Sadly, the Steventon rectory house itself was demolished soon after the Austen family moved to Bath in Somerset, England in 1801.

After the death of Jane’s father George, in 1805 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother moved several times eventually settling in Chawton, near Steventon.

All of Jane Austen’s novels were published anonymously. ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was published as “By a lady” and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was published as “The author of Sense and Sensibility”

In 1816, Jane began to suffer from ill-health, leading her to travel to Winchester to receive treatment, and it was here she sadly died on July 18th, 1817. There are many theories as to as the primary cause of her death; Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency); Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; tuberculosis passed on through exposure to cattle or unpasteurized milk, latter an illness far more common in Jane Austen’s time than it is in more modern times.

Two more novels, ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ were now published posthumously and a final novel ‘Sandition’ had been left incomplete. In 2011, this unfinished novel was sold to a ‘The Bodelian Libraries’ on Oxford, at a purchase price of £993,250 (including sales tax).

A grave slab on the floor of Winchester Cathedral where she was buried, mention her birthplace, Steventon. The inscription reads:

“In Memory of Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Revd George Austen, formerly Rector of Steventon in this County. She departed this life on the 18th of July 1817, aged 41, after a long illness supported with the patience and the hopes of a Christian.
The benevolence of her heart, the sweetness of her temper, and the extraordinary endowments of her mind obtained the regard of all who knew her and the warmest love of her intimate connections.
Their grief is in proportion to their affection. They know their loss to be irreparable, but in their deepest affliction they are consoled by a firm though humble hope that her charity, devotion, faith and purity have rendered her soul acceptable in the sight of her Redeemer”.

Note: Her tombstone makes no mention of her writing as same, during her lifetime, since as already stated, they were published anonymously. However, later commemorations, on a brass plaque and a stained-glass window, do make brief references to her writing.

Inscription on the brass wall plaque reads:

“Jane Austen known to many by her writings, endeared to her family by the varied charms of her Character and ennobled by Christian Faith and Piety, was born at Steventon in the county of Hants (abbreviation of Hampshire) Dec. xvi mdcclxxv, and buried in this Cathedral July xxiv mdcccxvii – She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue is the law of kindness Prov xxxi. v. xxvi”.

Thomas Lefroy

The Lefroy Family had initially fled from Flanders to England, in around 1580. Anthony Peter Lefroy, Thomas Lefroy’s father having entered the English army as an Ensign, was posted to Co. Limerick, Ireland. While still a very junior officer he met and married, in 1765, Ann Gardner of Doonass in Co. Clare. Five girls were born to them before, in 1776, a son arrived and was baptised Thomas Langlois Lefroy.

Thomas Lefroy, would serve as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of Dublin University in 1830–1841. [Same constituency today currently elects three senators to Seanad Éireann].
He would become a member of the Privy Council of Ireland (1835-1869); Lord Chief Justice of Ireland (1852-1866) and had a noted outstanding academic record at Trinity College Dublin, (1790-1793), winning three gold medals. Having become exhausted from his studies, on advice, he took time away to relax over Christmas (1796), at the Rectory of his Uncle Rev. George Lefroy in Hampshire, some two miles distant from the Rectory home of Miss Jane Austen.

Thomas Lefroy began a flirtation with Miss Jane Austen, who wrote two letters to her sister Cassandra mentioning “Tom Lefroy”.

In a letter dated Saturday January 9th 1796, Jane Austen makes mention:- “You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my ‘Irish friend’ and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.
I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all.
He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs. Lefroy a few days ago.”

In further correspondence, Jane Austen writes:- “After I had written the above, we received a visit from Mr. Tom Lefroy and his cousin George. The latter is really very well-behaved now; and as for the other, he has but one fault, which time will, I trust, entirely remove; it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light. He is a very great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore wears the same coloured clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded”.

[Tom Jones above – Refers to a comic novel by English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding]

In a letter begun on Thursday January 14th 1796 and completed on the following morning, Lefroy gets yet another mention:
“At length the day is come on, which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this, it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea”.

Jane Austen’s surviving correspondence contains only one other possible mention of Tom Lefroy. In the letter to her sister, November 1798, Jane writes that Tom’s aunt Mrs. Lefroy had been to visit, but had not said anything about her nephew.

Jane Austen writes:- “I was too proud to make any enquiries; but on my father’s afterwards asking where he was, I learnt that he was gone back to London in his way to Ireland, where he is called to the Bar and means to practise.”

His great-uncle, Benjamin Langlois, would now sponsor his legal studies at Lincoln’s Inn, London.

In 1797, Thomas returned to Ireland to be called to the Irish Bar, where he would request permission to ask for the hand of Miss Mary Paul, from her father Jeffry Paul. This was duly granted and they both became engaged.

With the outbreak of the 1798 Rebellion the position of the Paul family at Silverspring in Co. Wexford became, to say the least, perilous. Jeffry Paul decided to send his family to Wales, while he himself joined the Yeomanry and fought at New Ross and Wexford.
Silverspring, their home became occupied by the insurgents and was destroyed.
Jeffry Paul wrote to his wife in 1798, “The house, I am told, is standing, but every article of furniture, beds, wine, etc., taken away or destroyed, mostly by the women of the neighbourhood.”

Now having no home with which to return, the Paul family stayed temporarily in Wales and it was at Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales, in the year 1799, that Thomas and Mary were eventually married.

So what if Thomas Lefroy had married Jane Austen? If Jane had come to Tipperary as the wife of an ambitious Munster Court circuit Judge, would we have lost a romantic novelist? We will never, ever, know.

“Men make plans and God laughs”.

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