The acceptance and also subsequent refuse of Harris Bigg-Wither’s proposal of marital relationship is a much questioned fact in biographies of jane Austen. It to be a turning point in her life, and if she had not reconsidered overnight ~ above the 2nd December 1802, we may never have had actually the satisfied of reading some of her novels.

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Manydown House, home of Haris Bigg-Wither (Select illustrations the Hampshire consisting of picturesque views of the seat of the nobility and gentry, 1833) (728.8)

Marriage come Bigg-Wither would certainly probably have actually denied Jane the time to devote to her writing, and also her denial of that is other we need to all be thankful for, however how lot do we actually know about Harris Bigg-Wither , the man who can have come to be Jane Austen’s husband? He has over the years had actually rather a negative press, defined by Caroline Austen as:

‘very plain in person, awkward and also even uncouth in manner’1

A crucial factor about Harris Bigg-Wither is, a few months after gift turned under by jane Austen he joined the north Hants Militia. We carry out not recognize his factor for law this, that may have actually been planning it because that a while, however we have the right to speculate. The is feasible he was complete of patriotic zeal and also military enthusiasm wanting to execute his bit for his nation at a time as soon as war had actually recently been asserted again between England and also France. Meanwhile it is also possible that a rebuffing the his proposal was thought about by him together a humiliation which necessitated a removal, at least for a period, indigenous his existing society. The involvement of a militia regiment would permit him to execute this there is no loss the standing and also at comparatively little expense to himself. Having actually failed with Jane the may likewise have feeling he had a better chance that procuring a mam from external of his instant circle. Gift an officer in the militia offered ample opportunities for balls and socialising in new areas and new societies:

‘For the officers, regimental life can with luck become an agreeable holiday, attendance in ~ drill occupied the morning and also some afternoons, but they can make and also receive calls and mix in great society…. The officers give balls where ever the regiment went and local gentry entertained policemans lavishly’2

Expenses of a ball and supper because that the phibìc Hants Militia in ~ Lymington, may 1799 (44M69/G6/2/4/1)

In Pride and also Prejudice, woman Austen makes it clear the the arrival of the militia in a ar such together Meryton was viewed as a great opportunity because that girls to uncover husbands:

‘they might talk the nothing but officers; and also Mr Bingleys big fortune the point out of i m sorry gave animation to their mommy was worthless in their eyes once opposed come the regimentals of one ensign’3


Harris did appear to be slightly anxious around entering militia life, as deserve to be checked out by this letter to Colonel Jervoise of 29th June 1803, when he worries about when he must make one appearance and also how he need to tie his hair


After Harris ended up being Captain the his firm he gotten rid of to Lewes whereby the phibìc Hants Militia to be quartered. It was from Lewes the Lieutenant Colonel Frith (who to be accompanied by his wife and daughter), created to Colonel Jervoise on 21st December 1803:

‘We have been fairly gay right here of late v balls, concerts, oyster clubs and also regimental dinners’4

Harris must have actually presumably gone into into these culture functions, because that on 15th January 1804, Frith educates Jervoise the his daughter is involved to Harris Bigg-Wither


From this we deserve to see that Harris was really keen to be married and also did not desire to wait. Merely thirteen month after being rejected by jane Austen and six months after involvement the militia he to be again engaged. Harris must have won his father round, together on 24nd April 1804 Frith composed again to Jervoise:

‘I find it will be necessary for me and also Mr Wither to have actually a conference to finally arrange household matters, for which function he has politely asked for that granny Frith, my daughter and myself have to pay him a visit in ~ Manydown’5

Matters must have been arranged satisfactorily, for on second November 1804, Harris Bigg-Wither married ann Howe Frith at east Dean, Sussex.

It shows up that Lt Colonel Frith to be happy through the prospect of his new son in law, if possibly a tiny hesitant around his manner: a letter from him come Colonel Jervoise, dated 19th November 1804 echoes the sentiments to express by Caroline Austen:


Little time to be wasted through the couple in starting a family: top top 19th September 1805, 11 months after the marriage, Frith tells Jervoise:

‘Captain Wither i understand has informed you that his wife has brought him a good boy, I have just heard native them, they room all well and the Captain this day for the very first time has missed his ague’6

It appears at this point, having acquired a wife and also started a family members there was no factor for Harris to stay in the militia. He appears to have actually resigned at some time in 1806, though no letter of resignation has actually been found. A mention of Wither’s resignation appears in a letter native a fellow officer, Stephen Terry, top top 21st Mar 1806, which talks of his own desire to resign, yet should he defer resigning for a duration he would gain six months’ pay together did his partner Thistlethwaite and also Wither. Terry proceeds in his letter to relate his factor for resigning, i m sorry were the he go not desire to leave his wife and also family claiming the militia life was not conducive to household life. Harris, currently with a young family, more than likely felt the same.

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Harris Bigg-Wither and Anne had ten children and appear to have actually led a contented married life together. Would he have actually been as happy with Jane? us will never know. She was no attracted to or in love with him, but perhaps if she had actually seen him in his uniform, things might have to be different.

‘This was specifically as it should be; because that the young man wanted just regimentals to make him completely charming’ 7


Sarah Farley, archivist

This blog is an abridged version of an post which an initial appeared in the feather 2017 cap Newsletter


Manuscript sources

Hampshire record Office, Jervoise the Herriard Collection, 44M69

Printed sources

Austen, Jane: Pride and also Prejudice (Penguin: Clays Ltd, 1995)

Honan, Park: Jane Austen: she Life (Phoenix: The bath Press, 1997)

Weston JR: The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century (Routledge and also Kegan Paul, 1965)