Block 26: Fanny’s Favorite for Fanny Knight by Bettina Havig
Frances Catherine Knight (1793-1882)
Jane Austen’s eldest niece.
“I have always maintained the importance of aunts,” Jane wrote brother Edward Knight’s daughter Fanny. Surviving letters between Fanny and Jane reveal their close relationship. Fanny was “almost another sister ... quite after one's own heart...."
Fanny by her Aunt Cass. Both were watercolorists.
Her mother, The Hon. Elizabeth Bridges Knight, died when Fanny was fifteen, leaving her eldest girl responsible for ten younger siblings and a grieving father. Aunt Cassandra, perhaps more tolerant of the company of young children, spent much time helping at the family home of Godmersham Park. On Aunt Jane’s shorter visits she read her manuscripts to her niece generating “peals of laughter,” according to one of the envious younger girls.
Godmersham Park, the Knight family estate.
Fanny’s father Edward Austen Knight inherited land
After Aunt Jane died, Fanny married Sir Edward Knatchbull, 9th Baronet, a member of Parliament. Sir Edward was a widower with five children. He and Fanny, Lady Knatchbull, had nine more.
Political caricature of Sir Edward the 9th Baronet by
Doyle, 1834. National Portrait Gallery
Fanny lived to be 89 years old, dying in the late Victorian age. By then her Aunt Jane was a famous personage, subject of several family biographies, for which Fanny wrote recollections of Jane and Cassandra.
After marriage Fanny lived at Mersham Hatch, the Knatchbull estate in
Kent, similar to her childhood home.
The fifty-year-old memories were rather blunt:
“They were not rich & the people around with whom they chiefly mixed, were not all high bred…. [They] were brought up in the most complete ignorance of the World & its ways (I mean as to fashion &c)….”
Many Janeites consider Lady Knatchbull to be perfidious in that assessment of her fond aunts. She went on to say that were it not for their rich relatives the Knights, the aunts “would have been, tho’ not less clever & agreeable in themselves, very much below par as to good Society & its ways.”
Was Fanny’s characterization of her “unrefined” aunts an ungrateful betrayal or an honest assessment of the class system in Jane Austen’s England?
Lady Knatchbull by John Partridge. Fanny seems to have inherited her
Grandmother Cassandra Leigh Austen’s nose, considered
aristocratic in the Leigh family.
Fanny Knight was the granddaughter of Sir Brook William Bridges, 3rd Baronet Bridges of Goodneston, Co. Kent. (Goodneston is pronounced Gunston.) Her mother was entitled to be called the Hon. Elizabeth Bridges. Fanny married Sir Edward Knatchbull, 9th Baronet Knatchbull of Mersham Hatch, co. Kent. She herself was entitled to be called Lady Knatchbull.
Knatchbull family arms from a bookplate.
Fanny’s adoptive grandmother Catherine Knight
was born a Knatchbull. (see block 11).
The egalitarian United States was built in reaction to Europe’s class-bound aristocracy so it’s particularly hard for us Americans to understand the hierarchy of the British peerage and how it colored perception in the Regency and Victorian eras.
About 1640 Sir Norton Knatchbull was created the first
Baronet of Mersham Hatch.
Now, those who understand the ladder of “good Society and its ways” will tell me that Lady Knatchbull and her mother’s family were not actually of the peerage. They were higher up the ladder than the commoner Austens but as daughters and wives of mere Baronets, the Knights were not peers. A Baronetcy was a hereditary “courtesy title,” Baronets did not sit in the House of Lords. They were far below Earls and Dukes---but far above wives and daughters of country rectors.
Not only were Jane and Cassandra uninterested in aping their betters, they realized they could never be their equals (even if Jane had married one of Sir Brook William Bridges’s sons, which some think a rejected possibility.)
We should give Fanny a break (to use one of our expressions) and not judge her from our perspective. Jane and her niece knew quite well they were of different classes, but affection overrode the boundaries.
Fanny’s Favorite is the perfect block to recall the relationship between a niece and a well-loved aunt. It was given the name by the Ladies Art Company pattern catalog in the early 20th century.
Cutting a 12” Block
A – Cut 8 squares 2”.
B - Cut 8 rectangles 2” x 3-1/2”.
C - Cut 8 squares 2-3/8”. Cut each in half with a diagonal cut to make 2 triangles.
You need 16 small triangles.
D - Cut 2 squares 3-7/8”. Cut each in half with a diagonal cut to make 2 triangles.
You need 4 of the largest triangles.
E – Cut 4 squares 3-1/2”.
F - Cut 1 square 4-1/4”. Cut with 2 diagonal cuts to make 4 triangles.
You need 4 triangles.
Read more about Lady Knatchbull and her Austen memories here:
Read a review of Marilyn Sachs biography Almost Another Sister: Fanny Knight, Jane Austen's Favourite Niece here:
Here's an explanation of the aristocracy: