“To his Royal Highness the Prince Regent”


“To His

Royal Highness

The Prince Regent,

This work is,

By his Royal Highness’s Permission,

Most respectfully


By His Royal Highness’s


         And obedient

                        Humble servant,

                                                The Author.”

In 1815 former clergyman Mr. Clarke, the Prince

Fig 1. King George IV

Regent’s librarian, gave Jane Austen “permission” (and delicate ‘encouragement’) to dedicate Emma to King George IV, who at the time served as Prince Regent. In a letter to Mr. Clarke (Wednesday 15 November 1815 Copy of Austen’s Letter to Mr Clarke), Austen attempts to politely refuse this request, to which Mr. Clarke replies “it is certainly not incumbent on [her] to dedicate [her] work now in the press to His Royal Highness; but if [she] wish[s] to do the Regent that honour either now or at any future period [he is] happy to send [her] that permission” (Mr. Clarke to Jane Austen, Carlton House, Nov. 16, 1815). Consequently, Austen finds herself ‘forced’ to dedicate Emma, which sadly is the last published Austen novel during her lifetime, to the Prince Regent. Yet, this dedication may be seen as fully of personality and satirical as Austen’s ‘Fragment of a Novel’.


Throughout the Regency King George IV was quite a radical figure:

In 1785, he had secretly married a Catholic widow Maria Fitzherbert…They had at least two illegitimate children. Unlike his father he was extravagant with money and became badly in debt…He was forced to deny his marriage with Mrs Fitzherbert and in return for paying off his debts officially marry Caroline of Brunswick whom he detested, so much so that when he became King George IV on the death of his father in 1820 he refused to let her attend his coronation…George refused to recognise Caroline as Queen and tried several times to annul his marriage to her. She died in 1821 claiming on her deathbed that she had been poisoned. (Britroyals)

Despite his character, King George IV was an avid reader of Austen’s novels, as Mr. Clarke reflects “the Regent has read and admired all [her] publications” (Mr. Clarke to Jane Austen, Carlton House, Nov. 16, 1815). Regardless, though polite, Jane Austen seems reluctant in dedicating Emma to him. Her word choice in the dedication proves increasingly problematic in validating her intentions as sincere, rather than forced.

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For one, immediately after introducing the dedication to ‘his Royal Highness’, Austen is quick to mention “this work is, by his Royal Highness’s permission, most respectfully dedicated” to the P.R. In other words, the Prince Regent has requested and gave permission for this dedication, and Austen, as a “dutiful and obedient humble servant” has obeyed. Of course, the prince Regent did not threaten Austen with a gun to dedicate this novel to him, but refusing such a request would have been highly offensive to a man of his class and status. Here, Austen establishes a natural hierarchy, a relationship of master and servant between herself and the Prince Regent, which excuses this dedication as a ‘servant’s’ duty to obey her ‘master’. While the work is described to be ‘most respectfully dedicated”, Austen displays very little respect to the Prince Regent by attempting to refuse him.

Beyond that, this very short ten line dedication is careful to repeat the word ‘Royal Highness’ three times! This unnecessary repetition becomes problematically satirical, and yet again expresses the power of the Prince Regent in retrospect to the anonymous author. In fact, this repetition could compare to Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Collins, who is persistent in repeating Lady Catherine’s name in every given occasion, and proudly admits Lady Catherine “likes to have the distinction of rank preserved” (PP, Austen 121). The satirical Mr. Collins consistently emphasizes Lady Catherine’s status and economical position in contrast to his own by repeating her name, much alike Austen in Emma’s dedication. Furthermore, though all of Austen’s published novels during her lifetime (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma), were collectively attributed to a common anonymous author, this anonymity serves as yet another tool of distancing the author from this dedication. Austen signs ‘the author’, which appears far less personal than her true initials. Though it is impossible to claim Austen’s true intent behind this dedication, it is a plausible thought it may not be quite as ‘respectful’ and ‘humble’ as it suggests.


Works Cited

“King George IV.” King George IV. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.britroyals.com/kings.asp?id=george4&gt;.

Fig. 1: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/4d/32/99/4d3299894f96d6e440af6dfeaf494fc3.jpg

Fig. 2: http://static.wixstatic.com/media/862090_c7df235f5e034e908b6ef61ccb8659ce.jpg/v1/fill/w_626,h_578/862090_c7df235f5e034e908b6ef61ccb8659ce.jpg

Fig. 3: https://janeausteninvermont.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/emma1816_vol1-dedication.jpg


2 thoughts on ““To his Royal Highness the Prince Regent”

  1. I really enjoyed discovering this subtext within the text. It is very interesting how the close reading of the dedication reveals so much more than at first glance, especially in context of her letters. It is also intriguing to consider in relation to her other novels as I believe she did not make other dedications except in jest. Thank you also for sharing more information about King George IV to help give it context – what a scandal!


  2. I’ve always wanted to hear more details about the subversive context surrounding Austen’s dedication to the Prince Regent in “Emma” so I’m really glad you wrote this piece Maya! I think it’s great that you highlighted the satire behind it and how it is emphasized by our knowledge of Austen’s reluctance to provide this dedication. The comparison you made to Mr. Collin’s obsequious behaviour and to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s caricatured personality is an entertaining and effective parallel in showing how Austen might not have been as ‘respectful’ or ‘humble’ as we might be expected to believe. I hope you don’t mind if I find it pertinent to mention this as a manner of shedding light on the actual content of the novel itself for our final project, maybe I’ll be able to link to your post as well, if you don’t mind. 🙂


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