In these two forgotten gems of English literature, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens offer delightful, irreverent histories of their native land.
When she was only sixteen years old, Jane Austen composed her bitingly satirical History of England for performance in her family's drawingroom. A startling and precocious example of her celebrated wit—not to mention a brilliant social commentary—this lively piece sweeps rapidly across almost four centuries of British monarchy. In rambunctious and wickedly funny prose, Austen's critique spans from Henry IV to Charles I, from Richard III to Mary Queen of Scots, offering a fierce parody of the kind of biased history that young ladies of Austen's time were being forced to study. Reproduced here in its entirety, this is a rare, tantalizing look at the great novelist's budding talent, and an extraordinary bit of literary history that lay unpublished for more than 130 years.
Charles Dickens's A Child's History of England, by contrast, was written and published at the height of its author's considerable fame. A gory and dramatic account, full of villains and heroes, the essay was originally intended as a study-piece for his children, but in fact represented a sly, unconventional countertext to the more straitlaced historical canon. Dickens's exciting, flamboyant narrative is hugely evocative, both of the history he describes and of the time in which he himself was writing.
With an insightful introduction by bestselling historian David Starkey, Two Histories of England brings together, in a single, irresistible volume, these remarkable—and remarkably overlooked—literary treasures by two of the world's most beloved writers.
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About the Author
Born in 1775, Jane Austen published four of her six novels anonymously. Her work was not widely read until the late nineteenth century, and her fame grew from then on. Known for her wit and sharp insight into social conventions, her novels about love, relationships, and society are more popular year after year. She has earned a place in history as one of the most cherished writers of English literature.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was one of England's greatest writers. Best known for his classic serialized novels, such as Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, Dickens wrote about the London he lived in, the conditions of the poor, and the growing tensions between the classes. He achieved critical and popular international success in his lifetime and was honored with burial in Westminster Abbey.
Date of Birth:December 16, 1775
Date of Death:July 18, 1817
Place of Birth:Village of Steventon in Hampshire, England
Place of Death:Winchester, Hampshire, England
Education:Taught at home by her father
Read an Excerpt
Two Histories of England
By Jane Austen and Charles Dickens
Henry the 4th
Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2d to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered. It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife. Be this as it may, he did not live for ever, but falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales came and took away the crown; whereupon, the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear's Plays, & the Prince made a still longer. Things being thus settled between them the King died, & was succeeded by his son Henry who had previously beat Sir William Gascoigne.
Henry the 5th
This Prince after he succeeded to the throne grew quite reformed & amiable, forsaking all his dissipated Companions, & never thrashing Sir William again. During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. His Majesty then turned his thoughts to France, where he went & fought the famous Battle of Agincourt. He afterwards married the King's daughter Catherine, a very agreable Woman by Shakespear's account. Inspite of all this however he died, and was succeeded by his son Henry.
Henry the 6th
I cannot say much for this Monarch's Sense. Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him & the Duke of York who was of the right side; if you do not, youhad better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, & shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, & not to give information. This King married Margaret of Anjou, a woman whose distresses & Misfortunes were so great as almost to make me who hate her, pity her. It was in this reign that Joan of Arc lived & made such a row among the English. They should not have burnt her—but they did. There were several Battles between the Yorkists & Lancastrians, in which the former (as they ought) usually conquered. At length they were entirely overcome; The King was murdered—The Queen was sent home—& Edward the 4th ascended the Throne.
Edward the 4th
This Monarch was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage, of which the Picture we have here given of him, & his undaunted Behaviour in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another, are sufficient proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a Widow who, poor woman! was afterwards confined in a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity & Avarice Henry the 7th. One of Edward's Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble actions, his Majesty died, & was succeeded by his son.
Edward the 5th
This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that nobody had time to draw his picture. He was murdered by his Uncle's Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3d.
Richard the 3d
The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews & his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive true; & if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor Earl of Richmond as great a Villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown & having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it.
Henry the 7th
This Monarch soon after his accession married the Princess Elizabeth of York, by which alliance he plainly proved that he thought his own right inferior to hers, tho' he pretended to the contrary. By this marriage he had two sons & two daughters, the elder of which Daughters was married to the King of Scotland & had the happiness of being grandmother to one of the first Characters in the World. But of her, I shall have occasion to speak more at large in future. The Youngest, Mary, married first the King of France & secondly the Duke of Suffolk, by whom she had one daughter, afterwards the Mother of Lady Jane Gray, who tho' inferior to her lovely Cousin the Queen of Scots, was yet an amiable young woman & famous for reading Greek while other people were hunting. It was in the reign of Henry the 7th that Perkin Warbeck & Lambert Simnel before mentioned made their appearance, the former of whom was set in the Stocks, took shelter in Beaulieu Abbey, & was beheaded with the Earl of Warwick, & the latter was taken into the Kings kitchen. His Majesty died & was succeeded by his son Henry whose only merit was his not being quite so bad as his daughter Elizabeth.
Henry the 8th
It would be an affront to my Readers were I to suppose that they were not as well acquainted with the particulars of this King's reign as I am myself. It will therefore be saving them the task of reading again what they have read before, & myself the trouble of writing what I . . .Two Histories of England
By Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Copyright © by Jane Austen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.