Eliza de Feuillide, Jane Austen’s Saucy Cousin and Sister in Marriage

Eliza de Feuillide, Jane Austen’s Saucy Cousin and Sister in Marriage

Philadelphia Austen Hancock

What do we know of Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, other than the fact she became Henry Austen’s wife? 

Warren Hastings, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1766-1768

Austen’s sister in marriage was born in Calcutta, India, on 22 December 1761 to her British parents, Philadelphia Austen (sister of Jane Austen’s father, George) and Tyson Saul Hancock, a physician with the East India Company. Eliza Hancock was, therefore, first cousin to the Austen siblings. Philadelphia had traveled to India in January 1752 with the specific purpose of finding a husband. She had no dowry, and so she met and married Hancock within six months of her arrival in the country. The couple had no children through the first 8 years of their marriage. It was only after the couple changed residences and took the acquaintance of Warren Hastings, the future Governor General of India, that Mrs. Hancock found herself with child. Many scholars believe that Hastings was Eliza’s father, but at any rate, he did serve as Eliza’s godfather. He presented her with £10,000 as a trust fund.

Mother and daughter traveled to England in 1768, while Hancock remained in India to finance their future. Unfortunately, Hancock died in 1775. Philadelphia took Eliza to live in Paris in 1777 for it was cheaper to live there than in England. In Paris, Eliza experienced a social coupe of sorts. She was known to have attended parties at the court of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Eliza enjoyed the lifestyle offered to her in Paris. She was known to be a great horsewoman, and she openingly expressed a passion for hot air ballooning in her letters to her cousins. At age 20, Eliza met and married a French Army captain if the Dragoons, Jean-François de Feuillide, who eventually became a French count.

Eliza was traveling to England by ship when she gave birth to Hastings de Feuillide, who was known to have seizures and learning difficulties. This was her second pregnancy, the first ending with a miscarriage. Eliza’s cousin Phylly Walter wrote in a letter, “[Hastings] has had another fit; we all fear very much his faculties are hurt; many people say he has the appearance of a weak head.” (Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen’s Letters, 85) He was slow to learn to walk and to speak. Some wonder of Eliza’s maternal instincts for she once referred to the child as “my wonderful Brat.” More than likely, Eliza experienced the frustration and the feeling of hopelessness when confronted with her son’s seizures.

Eliza, the baby Hastings, and Philadelphia arrived at Steventon to mark Christmastide 1786. An eleven-year-old Jane found much to admire in this sophisticated cousin. It is said that Henry Austen flirted with his cousin, who was ten years his senior. When Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794, Eliza, Hastings, and Philadelphia fled the reign of terror.

Eliza did not play the role of “grieving widow.” Instead, she defied social expectations. She acted as her own woman, despite suffering social disdain. Eliza’s cousin Phylly Walter said of Eliza, “Poor Eliza must be left at last friendless & alone. The gay and dissipated life she has so long had so plentiful a share of has not ensured her friends among the worthy; on the contrary many who otherwise have regarded her have blamed her for her conduct and will now resign her acquaintance. I have always felt concerned and pitied her thoughtlessness.” (Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin,’ London, British Library, 2002)

In “Becoming Jane,” English actress Lucy Cohu plays Eliza de Feuillide, Jane Austen’s cousin



















Eliza regained some of her reputation when she married Henry Austen in 1797.

Jane Austen appeared in awe of Eliza’s worldliness, and they shared a biting insight into the foibles of others. Eliza was known to be a bit outlandish, but she was also noted for her optimism, her caring nature, and her intelligence. Her son Hastings died in 1801, assumably from epilepsy. Eliza passed after a long illness on 25 April 1813.

Many think that the amorous and amoral Lady Susan Vernon is based on something of Eliza Austen. If nothing else, the rambunctious Eliza “introduced” the vicar’s daughter to the “puzzling matter of sexual attraction.” (Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life. New York, Vintage, 1999)


Cousin Eliza, the incurable flirt who inspired Jane Austen from The Telegraph

Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen from Madame Gilfurt

Eliza (nee Hancock, then de Feuillide) Austen: kindly, strong, deep feeling and thoughtful from Reveries Under the Sign of Austen

Philadelphia Hancock-Austen, Eliza Hancock, Eliza de Feuillide

16 Responses to Eliza de Feuillide, Jane Austen’s Saucy Cousin and Sister in Marriage

  1. There are two houses still in London where Eliza and Henry lived. 64 Sloane Street was heightened and refaced in 1897 but retains the internal layout including the octagonal room at the back where Jane attended a party. Eliza died here. Henry & Eliza lived at 24, Great Berkeley Street 1801-4. It has retained its exterior almost intact (fanlight over front door & glazing bards have gone). Now a small & very modest hotel.

  2. I love Eliza as a person and believe absolutely she was Warren Hastings’ child. No child w/Tysoe for seven years and suddenly she’s pregnant after they meet Hastings? Named after his own daughter, who died as an infant? Becomes Eliza’s godfather? Two trusts of 5,000 pounds each set up for her? At least two different people saying that Philly/Phila had thrown herself at him? LeFaye doesn’t want the story to be true, so she has pooh-poohed it, causing most other critics to go along. The only thing strange was Hastings’ reaction when Henry went to see him shortly after Eliza’s death. Hastings didn’t bring up Eliza at all–which is odd whether he was her godfather or her biological father.

  3. Wow! This was interesting. I never knew a think go Eliza Austen. I love reading about Austen’s extended family. Thanks, Regina.

    • I had to brush up on some of the history of Eliza’s entrance into Henry’s life when “Becoming Jane” came out. During the summer, my AP class and I attended a viewing of the film at a local “arts” theatre. Afterwards, before we departed the theatre, my students asked me dozens of questions related to the film (and to the film devices, such as a storm/rain indicates a death, i.e., Cassandra learns of her fiance’s death at a dinner with the rainstorm in the background). Other members of the audience stayed to hear my responses.

  4. I had no idea she was so interesting. I wonder what Henry’s family thought of the union? He married a somewhat scandalous, a little French, widow who was ten years older than he was. Did he remarry after she died and have children? I wonder if she was happy. She had a fun, interesting life, it sounds like. A bit short and stressful as well, though.

    • Eliza died April 25, 1813, and is buried at Hampstead. Henry married Eleanor Jackson in 1820. This information came from when the world was in an uproar about Kelly Clarkson’s bid to purchase Jane Austen’s ring.

      “A note written by Eleanor, which was included with the ring in the sale, delineated some of its history. The ring was Jane Austen’s and, on her death, it became the property of her sister, Cassandra. Three years after Jane died, in 1820, Henry Austen, her brother, married for the second time. Eleanor Jackson was his choice. She was well known to the Austen family, and was a niece of Mr. Papillon, the Rector of Chawton (who was, you will remember, the subject of a joke between Mrs Knight( the adoptive mother of Edward Austen) and Jane Austen. Once she learned of the engagement between Henry and Eleanor, Cassandra gave the ring to Eleanor.

      Deirdre Le Faye in the Jane Austen Society’s Report of 1989 wrote about Eleanor and Henry’s marriage: The last of the nine sisters-in-law was Eleanor Jackson, Henry’s second wife. Jane had always expected that Henry would marry again, and before his bankruptcy in 1816 there had been several ladies in his circle of wealthy London friends to whom he seemed equally attracted and on whom he sought Jane’s sisterly opinions. However, his sudden reduction to near-poverty meant that any thoughts of re-marriage had to be indefinitely postponed, and it was only his succession to the Steventon living in 1819, following James’ (Austen’s jfw) death, which enabled him to support a wife once more. Not much is known about Eleanor, save that she was the niece of the Reverend John Papillon, Rector of Chawton at the time the Austens were living there; her home was in Chelsea, so Henry could have met her in either place. It is not certain whether Jane ever knew her, but it seems probable she is the ”Eleanor” mentioned in Letter no. 75 in January 1813. In 1819 she was referred to in family correspondence as having ‘a very good pair of Eyes” but no other description or picture of her is known. Persumably she was intelligent- one cannot imagine Henry choosing a dull, stupid woman-and they were married in 1820. Despite her ill-health, (by the 1830s she had developed a semi-crippling ailment, probably something rheumatic,) Henry was devoted to Eleanor: ”one dearer to me than life and for whose comfort I am solicitous beyond my own existence “. Cassandra was happy to think that he had found such an excellent wife to support him in his last role in life and an impoverished country clergyman. It is thanks to Eleanor that the miniature of Mrs Hancock, now on display at the Cottage survives; after Henry’s death in 1850 one of Frank’s granddaughters came to live with Eleanor and was in turn bequeathed the little picture. It descended in that branch of the family until Mr Edward Carptenter was able to acquire it on behalf of the Jane Austen Society.” https://austenonly.com/category/eleanor-jackson/

      • Thank you for the clarification 🙂 I read it all wrong the first time. Probably something to do with a puppy who gets up at 5 in the morning and yet me, ever the optimist, not being smart enough to go to bed earlier at night.

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