BORN 1 March 1749 – 16 December 1804
Madam Lefroy was born Anne Brydges on 1 March 1749 in Wootton Court, near Canterbury. Jane greatly admired her, and tragically she died on Jane’s 29th birthday.
As inscribed on the border of the gold frame of her miniature, Anne Lefroy died from a fall from her horse on the 16 December 1804.
Their lives would intertwine over the years as Jane’s niece married Anne’s son Ben, Jane fell in love with her nephew Tom, they were both published authors, and tragically, Anne died on Jane’s birthday.
The Lefroy and the Austen Families
As Ashe was a short distance from Steventon, the Lefroy and Austen families saw each other often. George Austen and George Lefroy were both clergymen, and cared a great deal about their flock which they impressed upon their children. Literature was important, and although Mrs Austen and James wrote many plays, Mrs Lefroy and her brother were both published.
Anne married Reverend George Lefroy on 28 December 1778 and they took up residence at Ashe Rectory in 1783. They had four children named Jemima Lucy, John Henry George (who succeeded his father at Ashe), Christopher Edward and Benjamin Langlois (who later married James Austen’s daughter Anna).
A Love of Literature
Although Anne was 26 years older than Jane and had six children, the two became good friends, sharing a love of writing, literature and poetry. Anne would let Jane access her extensive library, and they would often discuss the latest novels and publications.
Anne was known for her sophisticated tastes and manners, and also for writing poems and literature. Anne had two poems published in The Poetical Register and Repository of Fugitive Poetry. This was arranged by her brother Egerton Brydges, who was a famous poet and rented the Manor House close to the rectory.
Anne was attractive and kind, and was known affectionately as Madame Lefroy to the villagers. She loved entertaining and had a wide social circle. She took her role as the wife of a reverend seriously, and opened a school for poor children and taught them to read, as well as vaccinated people against smallpox.
A Love in Jane’s Life
Anne was the aunt of Tom Lefroy who visited Ashe Rectory in December 1795 after his graduation from Trinity College, Dublin. She organised the ball on the evening 15 January 1796 before Tom returned to London where he and Jane flirted outrageously.
Jane later wrote to Cassandra, ‘You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.‘
Anne was also the one that sent Tom away after the flirtation as she thought there was no future for a match.
An Untimely Death
Anne was only 55 years old when she died after falling heavily from a bolting horse. Jane’s brother James conducted the funeral service for her burial on 21 December, and she is laid to rest in the churchyard of Holy Trinity & St Andrew.
Anne’s brother Samuel wrote a lengthy obituary which appeared in several publications including the December 1804 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine.
To do justice to the character of Mrs Lefroy would require a command of glowing and pathetic expression far beyond the powers of the writer of this article. She was alike the delight of the old and the young, of the lively and of the severe, the rich and the poor. She received from Nature an intellectual capacity of the highest order; her perceptions were rapid; her memory was tenacious; her comprehension was extensive; her fancy was splendid; her sentiments were full of tenderness; and her language was easy, copious, and energetic.
Jane’s Poem for Madam Lefroy
Four years later, Jane still missed her friend and wrote a long tribute poem to her. The opening lines read,
The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou were snatch’d forever from our eyes.
Read the full poem that Jane wrote for Madam Lefroy here
Who was Tom Lefroy? talks of Jane’s first loved who may have inspired Mr Darcy
Read a Book Review of The letters of Mrs Lefroy : Jane Austen’s beloved friend edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner
For further reading, I can recommend Jane Austen’s Inspiration: Beloved Friend Anne Lefroy by Judith Stove.