Proudly carved in stone above the front door of Chawton House, the Hampshire home of Jane’s brother Edward, is a coat of arms and the motto Suivant Saint Pierre – Follow Saint Peter – but this is the heraldry and family motto of Edward’s adopted family, the Knights.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a motto is ‘A short sentence or phrase chosen as encapsulating the beliefs or ideals of an individual, family, or institution.’ Dictionary.com defines a motto as ‘a maxim adopted as an expression of the guiding principle of a person, organisation, city, etc.'
The Knight family motto clearly points the family to the teachings of the Christian church for guiding principles and beliefs. I have known the words Suivant Saint Pierre for as long as I can remember and, as a child, it was easy to understand the meaning of the motto above our front door.
Jane’s own father, George Austen, was the rector of Steventon (also owned by the Knights), and she was raised in a Christian household. Jane was a devout believer and I’m sure would have approved of the Knight family mottos and strong Christian values. Jane spent the last eight years of her life living in a cottage in the grounds of Edward's Chawton estate and regularly worshiped in the church just in front of Chawton Great House, as Jane called her brother's manor house.
The Austen motto, however, is not so clear. Qui Invidit Minor Est – to envy is inferior – can be interpreted in different ways.
My family all take something different from these words. Life is about personal responsibility, embracing what you have and not wasting precious time and energy envying others. Envy has no productive outcome. Envy leads to unhappiness and a sense of inadequacy. Envy can lead to foolish and dishonourable acts. To me, it is a reminder to be grateful for what I have.
As an adult, I find myself drawn to the Austen motto. The adoption of the Edward Austen, my fourth great grandfather, by the Knights enables me to use either the Austen or the Knight heraldry and mottos and I have chosen to adopt the Austen motto on my heraldry, below a shield that includes both the Knight arms of diagonal lozenges and the Austen arms of a chevron and bear paws. You can read more about our heraldry and how I learnt about it as a child in my memoir Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage.
What do the words ‘to envy is inferior’ mean to you? I’d love to hear your views.
Caroline Jane Knight is the last Austen to grow up at Chawton House on the ancestral estate where Jane herself lived and wrote.
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Caroline is the author of Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage, available in paperback, hardback, e-book and audiobook at all good online retailers
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