"Your kind recommendation": the Prince Regent's copy of Emma

25 Mar 2016

The Prince Regent's copy of Emma, 1816

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016




"A heroine whom no one but myself will much like" "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich" Jane Austen began creating her favourite novel in January 1814, and it was published in December 1815. The Royal Collection's first edition of Emma, housed today in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, is rather better bound than its other early copies of Jane Austen's works, with a telltale Prince of Wales feathers badge on the spine and a bookplate from the Prince Regent's library at Carlton House on the inside. Carlton House, the principal London residence of the Prince Regent (later George IV) was situated at the bottom of the Mall, the road leading down to Trafalgar Square from Buckingham Palace. Sadly it is no longer with us, though Regency Londoners might today recognize its portico in front of the National Gallery. The story of how this particular copy ended up in today's Royal Library is one that Miss Austen herself should have written at least part of, but sadly her own account is lost to us, or she reserved it to herself for private diversion.


In October 1815 Henry Austen lay ill in bed in London, attended by his sister and by Dr Matthew Baillie, coincidentally one of the Prince Regent's doctors. He recognized her as the author of Pride and Prejudice, and congratulated her on her work, saying "that the Prince was a great admirer of her novels; that he read them often, and kept a set in every one of his residences … and that the Prince had desired Mr. Clarke [James Stanier Clarke], the librarian of Carlton House, to wait upon her"[i]. Stanier Clarke duly waited on her, and invited her, by royal command, to Carlton House.



 Charles Wild, Carlton House: Crimson Drawing Room, 1816

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016



William Westall, Carlton House: North front, c.1819

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016


The visit was paid on 13 November; we may imagine the grand tour that Miss Austen received (since she left us no word of it), and at some point during the visit she was invited to dedicate one of her future works to the Prince Regent. On 15 November she wrote to thank Stanier Clarke for his attentions and to confirm what had been offered: "I intreat you to have the goodness to inform me how such a Permission is to be understood, & whether it is incumbent on me to shew my sense of the Honour, by inscribing the Work now in the Press, to H.R.H. – I shd be equally concerned to appear either Presumptuous or Ungrateful"[ii]. The "Work now in the Press" was Emma, and on 11 December Miss Austen wrote to her publishers John Murray to make directions for the dedication "The Title page must be Emma, Dedicated by Permission to H.R.H. The Prince Regent. – And it is my particular wish that one Set should be completed & sent to H.R.H. two or three days before the Work is generally public."[iii] Dedicating anything to the Prince Regent went rather against the grain, since she disapproved of his treatment of his wife, Caroline of Brunswick: "[If] I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved tolerably by her at first"[iv]. But it was made plain to her that the invitation was essentially a royal command and so the plain dedication was written. John Murray clearly did not consider this either fulsome enough nor in sufficient conformity to usual publishing practice, and he wrote a rather longer version, and placed it after the title page. Miss Austen responded gratefully "As to my direction about the title-page, it was arising from my ignorance only, and from my having never noticed the proper place for a dedication … Any deviation from what is usually done in such cases is the last thing I should wish for."[v]


 The three-volume work was bound for presentation in red morocco (goatskin) with gold tooling (a surviving bill for the work states that it cost 24 shillings – just over a pound in pre-decimal money) and sent to the Prince Regent via his librarian before Christmas 1815. On 27 March 1816 Stanier Clarke wrote again "I have to return you the thanks of His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, for the handsome copy you sent him of your last excellent novel"[vi] and encouraged her to keep writing, with the possibly rather alarming final hint "Perhaps when you again appear in print you may chuse to dedicate your volumes to Prince Leopold [future husband of the Regent's daughter Princess Charlotte] : any historical romance, illustrative of the history of the august House of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting"[vii]. The Prince Regent's copy of Emma was placed in his main library at Carlton House, stamped with his feathers badge and a Carlton House bookplate inserted, and presumably remained there until the library was packed up and put into store after the demolition of Carlton House in 1825. At some later stage Emma, along with other works, both fiction and non-fiction, was transferred to the Servant's Library at Windsor Castle (the numbers at the base of the spines of the volumes are remains of some acquisition or cataloguing system). They were retrieved from there in about 1930 and have been in the main Royal Library at Windsor Castle ever since.


The dedication page in volume one of Emma, 1816

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016


 The Royal Library, Windsor Castle

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016


The Prince Regent's copy of Emma has been generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection to Jane Austen's House Museum and can be seen on display there until 10 July 2016.


Emma Stuart, Senior Curator of Books and Manuscripts, Royal Collection Trust

Explore the Royal Collection at www.royalcollection.org.uk






[i] J.E. Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (London: Richard Bentley, 1870), p. 147


[ii] R.W. Chapman, ed., Jane Austen's Letters to her sister Cassandra and others. Volume II, 1811-1817 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), p. 113 (429)


[iii] Chapman, p. 121 (446)


[iv] Saul David, Prince of Pleasure: the Prince of Wales and the Making of the Regency (London: Little, Brown & Co., 1998), p. 341


[v] Chapman, p. 121 (447)


[vi] Chapman, p. 126a (451)


[vii] Ibid


Please reload

You might also like...

Wrapping up our NLHF Bicentenary Collecting Project

November 28, 2019

Please reload

Recent Blog Posts
Please reload

Jane Austen's House Museum
An independent museum established in 1947
Sandford Award winner logo white 2.png
Subscribe to our mailing list:
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black Google Places Icon
Chawton, Hampshire
GU34 1SD
Tel: 01420 83262


Charity Number: 1156458   |  © 2014 Jane Austen's House Museum

*Tickets are valid for one year from date of purchase, excluding special event days. On your return

 please present your ticket along with a form of ID.