The Secret Greyfriar at Jane Austen's Great House

The Greyfriar is my family crest and a constant symbol of the centuries old heritage of the Knight family in Chawton.

I have known the Greyfriar all of my life - he is carved in stone in the heraldry above the front door of Chawton House and greets family and visitors alike.

 
 Knight family heraldry above the front entrance to Chawton Great House

Knight family heraldry above the front entrance to Chawton Great House

 

There is no single defining image of the Greyfriar, he has been depicted in many different ways. But in whichever form you see him, the Greyfriar wears robes and in his left hand holds a cinquefoil - an ornamental design of five lobes arranged in a circle. A pendent hangs from his right wrist and in many of the painted images, he appears to have a beard.

 The Greyfriar (Copyright Caroline Jane Knight)

The Greyfriar (Copyright Caroline Jane Knight)

I have heard it said that the monks from order of the Whitefriars in the nearby village of Selbourne, were nicknamed the Greyfriars due to the discolouring of their white robes – there was certainly no order of the Greyfriars in the area – but the exact origins of the Knight family crest are unclear.

What is clear is the importance of the crest in the ‘branding’ of the family and the Chawton estate. It is no coincidence that the pub in the middle of the village of Chawton is called The Greyfriar. It was built in the sixteenth century around the same time as the Great House, as Jane called Chawton House, owned by her brother Edward (my fourth great-grandfather).

 
 The sixteenth century Greyfriar Pub, in the village of Chawton

The sixteenth century Greyfriar Pub, in the village of Chawton

 

The Greyfriar is carved in marble above the reclining statue of Sir Richard Knight in Chawton Church, he is engraved on the family silver and crockery and worn on our signet rings. The Greyfriar is featured in the family bookplates, the finest examples are Montagu Knight’s.

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Montagu bookplate 1.jpg
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I sat below the Greyfriar inside Chawton House every day - he stands proudly at the top of the carving above the fireplace in my family’s sitting room.

 
 Carving above the fireplace in my family's sitting room at Chawton House

Carving above the fireplace in my family's sitting room at Chawton House

 

The Greyfriar also takes pride of place on the Wedgwood china, owned by my father, commissioned exclusively for Edward Austen Knight when he, Jane and Fanny visited Wedgwood’s London showroom in 1813.

 
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These symbols of the Greyfriar are plain for everyone to see in Chawton, but did you know there is secret carving of the Greyfriar in Chawton House. It is by a doorway but not immediately visible and it was customary for members of my family to touch him as they passed to reinforce our heritage and connection to the Chawton estate. 

 The secret Greyfriar at Chawton House

The secret Greyfriar at Chawton House

The secret Greyfriar is in a part of the house that is open to the public – do you know where it is?

Caroline

Caroline Jane Knight is Jane Austen's fifth great-niece and 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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