When Jane Austen’s brother Edward was adopted by the Knight family, he became heir to the estates of Godmersham Park in Kent and Chawton House in Hampshire. Edward catalogued his library at Godmersham in 1818 and this handwritten catalogue, currently at Chawton House, shows the roughly 1250 titles to which Jane, along with other members of the family, had access. Many of these books were relocated to Chawton after the sale of Godmersham (500 of these original books are owned by Edward's descendant Richard Knight and currently housed in the library at Chawton House); but the remaining 750 were scattered far and wide: given away, sold at auction, purchased by libraries and individuals—or simply, lost to time.
Professor Peter Sabor of McGill University in Montreal created Reading with Austen as a virtual reconstruction of the library contents at Godmersham. Books now at Chawton or books that have been rediscovered in other libraries or personal collections are shown in their original arrangement on virtual shelves. A few clicks of a mouse and you can see the book and the all-important bookplate. Visit Reading with Austen >
The bookplates proved the key to locating these books again, because volumes in both libraries had one of several Knight family bookplates. This has become the primary way of locating titles and hence the formation of the Godmersham Lost Sheep Society (GLOSS), a research group of scholars and bibliophiles looking for those still-missing books. We need your help! Please contact us with information on any books you might find (in institutional libraries, private collections, booksellers, auction sales, or grandmother’s attic). Donating such a book to Chawton House (or donating the money for Chawton House to make such a purchase) will make you an become an official GLOSSer. The goal is to return as many of these missing books back to the collections at Chawton House as possible. If you have found one of these books or would like to donate towards a specific GLOSS purchase, please contact Deb Barnum at firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate to the GLOSS campaign, thereby becoming an official member of the Godmersham Lost Sheep Society, please check the box "My donation is strictly for GLOSS" on our donation page. We thank you for your support! The following are some examples of bookplates used by members of the Knight family at both Godermersham and Chawton in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Thomas Knight I (1701-1781), Thomas Knight II (1735-1794)
Thomas Knight’s family name was Brodnax, and he was the first member of the family to link the Chawton and Godmersham estates. In 1727, he changed his name to May in order to inherit the Godmersham Estate, changing it again to Knight in 1738 to inherit the Chawton estate. His son, also called Thomas Knight, made Edward Austen (later Knight) his heir to the Godmersham, Chawton, and Steventon estates.
Edward Knight (1767-1852)
Used by both Jane Austen’s brother Edward and his eldest son, also called Edward (1794-1879). In 1812, Edward officially took the Knight name and he had his own bookplate made, combining his Knight, Austen, and Leigh (his mother’s family) heritage into the one design. He also included the motto “Suivant Saint Pierre,” the Knight family motto since 1679. We know his son used the same bookplate because there are books in the collection with this bookplate and the younger Edward’s signature.
Montagu George Knight (1844-1914)
Montagu Knight was the son of Jane Austen’s nephew, Edward Knight. Montagu Knight was the first of this branch of the family to make Chawton his main home. (Edward Knight junior sold Godmersham in 1874, and Montagu inherited Chawton on his father’s death in 1879.) In 1911 Montagu co-wrote a history of the house and estate called Chawton Manor and its Owners: A Family History. Montagu created three different bookplates, playing with all the family arms and including those of his wife’s family. They are shown here, the first being the most commonly found.
“And books!--Thomson, Cowper, Scott--she would buy them all over and over again: she would buy up every copy, I believe, to prevent their falling into unworthy hands.” ~ Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility