Historical Events during Austen’s Life, by Gianna Thomas

Historical Events during Austen’s Life, by Gianna Thomas

I had thought about doing this post for a while because I knew that life worldwide during Jane Austen’s time was very turbulent in many respects. And I wondered how that might have impacted her way of living, her thinking, her desires, and her accomplishments.

When I actually started looking at the various years, I found similarities, some radical differences (natural disasters for one), discoveries, and some enlightening events as well. Since I couldn’t list every significant historical event from 1775-1817, I had to be very nit picky, carefully choosing what to include, what to leave out, and what to totally ignore. You will find that I have a couple of quirky events as well.


1775 – The American Revolution began in April. Jane Austen was born 16 December.

1776 – First volume of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is published. Declaration of Independence is created in America.

1777 – France declares war against Britain.

1778 – Britain declares war on France. James Cook stumbles upon the Hawaiian Islands.

1779 – Spain declares war on Great Britain. Benedict Arnold court-martialed for improper conduct and later joins the British forces.

1780 – William Herschel discovers first binary star Xi Ursae Majoris. Great hurricane hits Caribbean and kills 20-30,000: Atlantic’s deadliest recorded hurricane. Britain declares war on Holland.

1781 – William Herschel sees what he thinks is a “comet” but is actually the discovery of the planet Uranus. Siege of Yorktown ends major British land operations in North America.

1782 – James Watt secures patent for a rotary motion for the steam engine. Britain signs agreement recognizing US independence.

1783 – Treaty of Paris signed in Paris ends the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain and United States of America. John Austin, a footpad turned murderer, is the last to be publicly hanged at London’s Tyburn gallows. Although a little macabre, no relation to our Austen…thank goodness. Theatre Royal opens in Covent Garden, London. 

1784 – US Revolutionary War officially ends with the US Congress of the Confederation ratifying the Treaty of Paris. British parliament accepts East India Company Act 1784, bringing the East India Company’s rule in India under control of the British Government. Aged 15, Napoléon Bonaparte was admitted to the elite École Militaire in Paris. It was the start of a soldierly career that came to see him acknowledged as a military genius and one of the finest commanders in world history. He fought 60 battles, losing only eight.

1785 – Benjamin Franklin announces his invention of bifocals. Caroline Herschel becomes first woman to discover a comet.

1786 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Marriage of Figaro” premieres in Vienna with Mozart himself directing. A landslide dam on the Dadu River, caused by earthquake ten days earlier, collapses killing 100,000 in the Sichuan province of China.

1787 – Arthur Phillip sets sail with eleven ships of criminals headed to Botany Bay, Australia. US Constitution drawn up.

1788 – Austria declares war on Russia. British Parliament accepts abolition of slave trade.

1789 – Louis XVI of France calls for a meeting of the Estates-General, a major event in the French Revolution. First Electoral college chooses George Washington as President and John Adams as Vice-President of the United States. French Revolution begins with the fall of the Bastille. Bourbon Whiskey first distilled from corn by Elijah Craig in Bourbon, Kentucky. Benjamin Franklin writes “Nothing…certain but death and taxes.”

1790 – The modern shoelace with an aglet patented in England by Harvey Kennedy.  French Revolution: The National Assembly issues a decree abolishing the titles, orders, and other privileges of the French nobility.

1791 – French Revolution: The new French Constitution, declaring France a constitutional monarchy, is passed by the National Assembly.

1792 – France declares war on Austria starting the French Revolutionary Wars.  Guillotine first used in France, executes highwayman Nicolas Pelletier. Toilet that flushes itself at regular intervals is patented. Revolutionaries imprison French royals, including Marie Antoinette. The French Blue gem (later the Hope Diamond) is stolen with other French crown jewels from Royal storehouse in Paris. French monarchy abolished. France’s King Louis XVI goes on trial accused of high treason and crimes against the state.

1793 – Louis XVI of France is executed by the guillotine in Paris, following his conviction for high treason. France declares war on Great Britain and Netherlands. France becomes first country to use the metric system. French Revolution: the “Reign of Terror” begins. Marie Antoinette guillotined at age 37.

1794 – Dr Jesse Bennet of Edom, Virginia, performs first successful Cesarean section operation in the US on his wife. Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin machine revolutionizing the cotton industry in the southern US states. Influential Gothic romance “The Mysteries of Udolpho” is published by Ann Ratcliffe in London. French Revolutionary figure Maximilien Robespierre and twenty-two other leaders of “the Terror” guillotined to thunderous cheers in Paris.

1795 – Treaty of Basel – Prussia ends war with France. Ludwig van Beethoven (24) has his debut performance as a pianist in Vienna. France adopts the metre as the basic measure of length. Spain and France sign peace treaty. “Lyrical Ballads” published by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth – First work of English Romantic movement. Belgium is conquered by France.

1796 – Napoleon Bonaparte is appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French Army in Italy. English country doctor Edward Jenner administers the first inoculation against smallpox, using cowpox pus, in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Spain declares war on England.

1797 – First Coalition: Napoleon conquers Venice. Nore Mutiny: British Royal Navy sailors mutiny on the Thames, England, and blockade London.

1798 – Republic of Switzerland forms. Irish Rebellion of 1798 led by United Irishmen against British rule begins. Napoleon’s fleet reaches and captures Alexandria, Egypt.

1799 – British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger introduces income tax to raise funds for war again Napoleon. Napoleon captures city of Jaffa, Palestine, after five-day siege, defeating the Ottoman Empire. Austria declares war on France. The Rosetta Stone is found in the Egyptian village of Rosetta during Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign.

1800 – Dutch East Indies Company dissolves. King George III survives second assassination attempt.  It becomes illegal for women in Paris to wear trousers without a Police permit (annulled 2013). Washington, D.C., established as the capital of the United States of America.

1801 – The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland formed. Pope Pius VII and Napoleon sign concord.

1802 – Great Britain and the French Republic sign the Treaty of Amiens. Britain sells Suriname to the Netherlands.

1803 – Chancellor Robert Livingston and James Monroe sign Louisiana Purchase Treaty in Paris at a cost of 15 million dollars, doubles the size of the USA. Peace of Amiens between French Republic and Great Britain ends. Britain declares war on France.

1804 – London’s Drury Lane Theatre burns to the ground. Napoleon proclaimed Emperor of France by French Senate. Alicia Thornton becomes first female jockey in England riding at Knavesmire in Yorkshire. Britain mobilizes to protect against French invasion.

1805 – Napoleon is crowned king of Italy. Battle of Trafalgar is where French and Spanish fleet is defeated, and Admiral Horatio Nelson is killed.

1806 – Holy Roman Empire ends. Prussia declares war on France. Decree of Berlin – Emperor Napoleon I bans all trade with Britain.

1807 – London’s Pall Mall is first street lit by gaslight. British Parliament abolishes slave trade throughout British Empire.

1808 – Napoleon’s brother Joseph takes throne of Spain. Covent Garden Theatre Royal destroyed by fire.

1809 – First run of 2,000 guineas horse race is at Newmarket, England. Royal Opera House in London opens. Wearing masks at balls forbidden in Boston.

1810 – Ludwig van Beethoven composes his famous piano piece “Für Elise” (Moonlight Sonata).

1811 – Prince George, later King George IV, is appointed Prince-Regent when his father George III is declared insane. First known purchase of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” was by the Prince Regent two days before it was advertised, and he became a fan of her works.

1812 – Swedish Pomerania (Germany) seized by Napoleon. Poet Lord Byron (6th Baron Byron) makes his maiden speech in House of Lords. Waltz introduced into English ballrooms. Some observers consider it disgusting and immoral. British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval assassinated in lobby of House of Commons. War of 1812 begins as US declares war against Britain. Napoleon’s forces invade Russia.

1813 – Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is published. Ludwig van Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A major premieres in Vienna with him conducting.

1814 – “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen is published in London. A Beer Flood occurs in London killing nine. First plastic surgery is performed (England). The Times of London first printed by automatic, steam powered presses. Napoleon exiled to Elba.

1815 – France, the United Kingdom, and Austria form an alliance against Russia and Prussia. Napoleon and supporters leave Elba to re-conquer France. Battle of Waterloo. British and Prussian forces are victorious. First flat horse race held at English racetrack Cheltenham on Nottingham Hill. Napoleon Bonaparte arrives on island of St Helena to begin his exile. “Emma” written by Jane Austen is published in London.

1816 – “Year without a summer” occurred worldwide after Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia.

1817 – 18 July, Jane Austen, English novelist, dies at age 41. In December, both “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey” were published.

Obviously, a lot of events are not listed above. One of the reasons is that one theme was continually repeated. Again and again there were notations of battles being enjoined and wars being declared to the point that I was rather discomposed as most benefited only a few and hurt many.

“War is defined as an active conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives. Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history. At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century.”  NY Times

Jane Austen was born shortly after the American Revolutionary War started. There was really no peace for Great Britain or many other places during the short time she was alive. The wars had to affect her country’s economy, prices of necessary goods, salaries, etc. Austen’s brothers were directly involved in the fighting as well. Although her family didn’t lose anyone to war, thousands of families lost loved ones to the various conflicts.

When I consider all that happened during her lifetime, including the death of her well-loved parents and sister-in-law, living on a shoestring at times, lack of family support, worry about her brothers, and the continuous wars, I understand a little bit why she wrote as she did: tongue in cheek; probably with a wry smile on her face for some; or a frown on occasions if she thought of all the hatred, selfishness, and conflict in the world. I would have loved to have had a long chat with Jane Austen and picked her brains. 🙂




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22 Responses to Historical Events during Austen’s Life, by Gianna Thomas

  1. Wow there were some surprises there. I didn’t realise somethings occurred or were invented so early. Great post.

    • Thank you, Teresa. There were a lot of surprises for me while doing the research. Wish I could have included everything. My jaw dropped at the toilet that flushed itself at regular intervals. When did we get those…about twenty years ago? 🙂

  2. How interesting!

    The first plastic surgery was performed in 1814!

    I wonder which part of the body was worked on?

    • On 22nd October 1814, Joseph Constantine Carpue (1764-1846) performed the first plastic surgery operation in Britain, reconstructing the nose of an army officer whose nose had collapsed due to long-term mercury treatments for a liver complaint. The operation lasted fifteen minutes, with no anaesthetic. Thank you for wondering about it. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Jeanne. I found it amazing and shocking as well. I wish there was evidence of how events actually affected Austen and impacted her writings. I imagine that would be a tale unto itself. 🙂

  3. Nice post! A lot of events happened in her time! The 1800s seem to be Jane’s year I didn’t realize so many of her books were published at that time!

    • Thank you, Cindie. This is list is probably about 5 percent of what was actually listed. There were numerous battles and declarations of war, inventions, astronomical discoveries, and political intrigues. Jane Austen had a lot to choose from. I was also surprised that six of her books were published nearly one a year from 1811 to 1817. 🙂

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