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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

When is the Regency era?

The first quadrille at Almack's  from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1850)
The first quadrille at Almack's
from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1850)

When is a Regency romance not a Regency romance?

I love Regency romances. The Regency is a period ruled by elegance and etiquette. It is a romantic world full of balls and duels, Corinthians and debutantes, Almack’s and Vauxhall Gardens, and rakes reformed by love.

When I started to blog about Regency history, I was motivated by wanting to explore the historical background to the Regency romances that I love to read so that I could write my own. And yet I have often picked up a ‘Regency’ romance, only to find that it is set in 1823 and not set in the Regency at all!

The strict definition of the Regency period

The Regency lasted a mere nine years, from February 1811 until January 1820. In 1810, George III was taken seriously ill. He was declared incapable of ruling because of mental incapacity and the Regency Act was passed the following year making his son George Prince Regent to rule in his stead. The Regency lasted until George III’s death in 1820 when the Regent became King George IV and was able to rule in his own right.

Regency feel

So why is it that not all Regency romances are set in the period 1811 to 1820? And if they are not set in the Regency, why do we call them Regency romances?

I believe the answer lies in the ‘feel’ of the Regency. The term Regency has come to represent a much wider period of time than the nine years to which it actually relates.

The Regent
George IV  from Huish's Memoirs of her late  royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
George IV
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
The Regency period is epitomised by the Regent himself. As a young man, George IV was a handsome and personable figure, described as ‘the first gentleman of England’. The romantic figure of Prinny had almost disappeared by the time the long-awaited Regency started. He had become fat and his extravagant habits had made him unpopular and, as the years progressed, he became more and more reclusive.

But to the modern reader, the Regent in his youth represents the world of glamorous elegance, extravagant follies and romantic liaisons. It is this image of George IV as a young man that embodies the Regency, an image that was established long before he ever became Regent.


The Romantic Movement was well-established by the time the Regency started. This was a time that was rich in literature, both poetry and prose. It was the time of the Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Shelley and the Romantic novelist, Sir Walter Scott. Constable and Turner were painting and Beethoven was composing. The Regency finished, but the Romantics went on.

Jane Austen

The works of Jane Austen are inextricably linked to the Regency. All six of Jane Austen’s completed novels were published during this period, making them archetypal Regency romances. But they were not wholly written during the nine years of the Regency and although Jane died before the Regency ended, her books lived on.

Regency style

The Regency is associated with a style of architecture, furniture and design that spans more than a single decade. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Regency style as the
... decorative arts produced during the Regency of George, Prince of Wales, and the opening years of the 19th century as well as his entire reign as King George IV of England, ending in 1830.1
A period of high fashion

Saul David in his biography of George IV describes the Regency ‘in its widest sense (1800-1830)’ as a ‘devil-may-care period of low morals and high fashion’.2

A notice at the entrance to the Regency galleries in the National Portrait Gallery suggests an even wider time span:
As a distinctive period in Britain’s social and cultural life, the Regency spanned the four decades from the start of the French Revolution in 1789 to the passing of Britain’s great Reform Act in 1832.3
Ball dress  from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
Ball dress
from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
So, when is the Regency era?

The Regency era is, by very definition, related to the life of the Regent. It is characterised by the freedom and extravagance of George IV compared with the ascetic lifestyle of his father. Although the Regency is a mere nine years long, I am inclined to think that the Regency ‘feel’ starts around the time that George IV came of age in 1783 and continues until his death in 1830. This is sometimes referred to as the 'long Regency'.

Perhaps ‘Regency’ romances can be set in 1823 after all!

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background (2021)Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian historical romance set in the time of Jane Austen. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

Find out more about Rachel's books and sign up for her newsletter here.

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  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th edition (1994, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc).
  2. David, Saul, The Prince of Pleasure (Little, Brown & co., 1998).
  3. From a sign in the National Portrait Gallery, London (2012).
Sources used include:
David, Saul, The Prince of Pleasure (Little, Brown & co., 1998)
Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th edition (1994, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc)
Gronow, Captain, The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1850)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Fanny Burney (1752-1840)

Fanny Burney  from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1846)
Fanny Burney
from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1846)

Fanny Burney (13 June 1752 - 6 January 1840) was an English novelist and diarist who served as second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte from 1786 to 1791. Her works include Evelina and Cecilia and her journal which was published after her death.

Early life

Frances Burney was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, on 13 June 1752, the third child of Charles Burney, a talented musician and author, and his wife Esther.

Frances, known as Fanny, was plain and short-sighted and struggled to learn to read. She was also extremely shy and had a serious manner about her, far beyond her years, which gained her the nickname “the Old Lady”.

Despite this, by the age of ten, Fanny had acquired a life-long love of writing and at the age of fourteen, she started to write a journal in the form of letters to her sister Susan and a family friend, Samuel “Daddy” Crisp.

Exalted company

In 1760, the family moved to Soho, London, where her father became a music teacher. Two years later, Fanny’s mother died of consumption, and in 1767, her father married again. Fanny’s stepmother, Elizabeth Allen, was a widow and long-time friend of the Burneys, but Fanny struggled to get on with her.

Fanny acted as secretary for her father who was working on a history of music. Charles Burney’s circle of friends included the lexicographer Samuel Johnson, the poet Christopher Smart, the painter Joshua Reynolds, the actor David Garrick and a brewer Henry Thrale and his wife, Hester, a diarist.

Hester Piozzi, formerly Thrale  from Autobiography Letters and Literary   Remains of Mrs Piozzi (Thrale)  (1861)
Hester Piozzi, formerly Thrale
from Autobiography Letters and Literary 
Remains of Mrs Piozzi (Thrale)  (1861)

On 29 January 1778, Fanny’s first novel, Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, was published. The book was written in letter form and published anonymously and secretly with the help of her brother; not even her father knew she had written it.

Evelina was favourably received and when Fanny’s authorship became known, her father’s friend Hester Thrale demanded an introduction. Her celebrity as an author gained her entrée to literary circles and she became friends with the bluestocking hostess Elizabeth Montagu and through her, to the writer and artist Mary Delany.

Madame Duval is furious from Evelina by Fanny Burney (1808 edition)
Madame Duval is furious
from Evelina by Fanny Burney (1808 edition)

On the advice of her father and Daddy Crisp, Fanny abandoned a play, The Witlings, a satire on the literary world, which she was writing, on the grounds that it might offend. Instead she concentrated on her second novel, Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress, which was published on 12 June 1782.

Cecilia and Mr Briggs from Cecilia by Fanny Burney (1825 edition)
Cecilia and Mr Briggs
from Cecilia by Fanny Burney (1825 edition)
A Royal appointment

Through Mrs Delany’s influence, Fanny was presented to the King and Queen, and this was followed by the invitation to become second keeper of the robes for Queen Charlotte. Fanny was loath to accept. She feared separation from her friends and the heavy demands of the role, but her father’s enthusiasm for her to accept this mark of Royal favour, coupled with increasingly strained relations with her step-mother, eventually persuaded her to consent.

On 17 July 1786, Fanny began five years of service to the Queen. Her journals stand witness to the monotony of her days and the difficulties of dealing with her superior, Madame Elizabeth Schwellenberg. Her stress multiplied with the onset of the King’s illness in 1788, though the tedium was alleviated by a visit to Weymouth the following summer. But the rigours of the role were taking their toll on Fanny’s health and she petitioned the Queen to be allowed to retire. She was eventually released on 7 July 1791 on half pay.

Queen Charlotte  from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1846)
Queen Charlotte
from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1846)
Love at last

Still single at forty, Fanny must have doubted her chances of ever marrying. She had rejected the suit of a stiff young man named Thomas Barlow in 1775 and her court dalliance with Colonel Stephen Digby, Queen Charlotte’s vice chamberlain, had come to nothing.

But in 1793, Fanny met Alexandre d’Arblay, one of a party of French aristocrats who had fled to England to escape the revolution. The group of émigrés also included Madame de Stael and Charles Talleyrand.

Fanny fell in love with Alexandre and persuaded her family to accept their marriage, despite his Catholicism and penniless state. They were married on 28 July 1793 and a son, Alexander, was born the following year on 18 December 1794.


Fanny wrote a new novel, Camilla, or A Picture of Youth, which was published on 12 July 1796. Although it was received less warmly than her previous books, it was her biggest financial success. She sold the copyright for £1,000 and received at least as much again from a subscription. The list of subscribers included Elizabeth Montagu, Hannah More, Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen.


In 1801, Alexandre returned to France to try and reclaim his property and the following year, after peace had been declared, Fanny went to join him. They spent the next ten years living in the Paris area. In September 1811, Fanny underwent a mastectomy operation, performed by Dominique Jean Larrey, Napoleon’s surgeon, without anaesthetic.1

The Wanderer

In 1812, Fanny returned to England with her son, and in 1814, she published her last novel, The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties. The book was not very popular but she received £1,500 for the first edition.


Fanny returned to France in November 1814 when her husband resumed his military service and witnessed the run up to Waterloo which she recorded in her journal. Alexandre was injured, forcing him to retire from the army, and the family returned to England to live in Bath in October 1815.

Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey
Grief and death

In October 1817, Fanny had a harrowing experience at Ilfracombe in Devon when she was cut off by the tide and nearly drowned.

Then, on 3 May 1818, Alexandre died. Fanny was grief-stricken. In the years that followed, she devoted herself to compiling her father’s memoirs which were published in 1832. Fanny’s unsatisfactory and undistinguished son died of a fever on 19 January 1837.

Fanny died in London on 6 January 1840. Her journals, which she had carefully edited to exclude unpleasant family matters that she did not want generally known, were published posthumously and give a wonderful insight into Fanny’s life and the world she lived in.

(1) Referred to as Dominique-Jean Larron in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Fanny Burney by Pat Rogers (2004).

Read about how Fanny Burney's writing influenced Jane Austen.

Sources used include:
Burney, Fanny, Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett (Henry Colburn, 1846, London)
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth (The Dovecote Press, 2003, Wimborne)
Hodge, Jane Aiken, Passion and Principle (John Murray,1996,London)
Rogers, Pat, Burney, Frances (1752-1840) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004, online edn, May 2010, accessed 7 June 2012)
Thrale, Hester, Autobiography Letters and Literary Remains of Mrs Piozzi (Thrale) edited by A Hayward (Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, 1861, London)

All photographs © Andrew Knowles -

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Lulworth Castle – a Georgian visitor attraction

Lulworth Castle  
from The Beauties of England and Wales
by J Britton and EW Brayley (1803)
A noble pile

The 1785 Weymouth Guide describes Lulworth Castle as “a noble pile of building, a little North of the church, upon the edge of the park, on a rising ground, commanding a fine prospect of the sea, from an opening between the hills and from the top of the castle is a most extensive view over the country, especially on the North and East. It is an exact cube of 80 feet in diameter, rising 16 feet above the walls, which, as well as the towers, are embattled. The offices are under ground, and arched with stone, the principal front is to the East. Over the doors at the entrance are the statues of two ancient Romans in their gowns; and on each side of the door which is supported by four pillars of the Doric order, is a large niche, and over them two shields, on which were the arms of Weld, now worn out.”

“The large gardens adjoining, and the groves of trees that almost surround the edifice, add greatly to the beauty and grandeur of the place; and it is perhaps one of the best furnished private houses in the kingdom.”

Lulworth Castle today
A Georgian art gallery

The 1785 guide gave a long list of pictures which were on show. These included a number of family portraits by Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller, a portrait by Angelica Kauffman, two family pictures by Holbein, a view of the Castle by De Bruyne and some pencil likenesses by Giles Hussey Esq of Marnhull in Dorset.

The rooms open to the public

Of particular note was the drawing room which was “fifty feet by twenty-five, and eighteen feet high. The ceiling, from a design of Mr John Tasker’s, is the performance also of Mr Hague. The chairs and settees are worked in silk, with elegant carved and gilt frames. The noble glasses were manufactured near Prescot in Lancashire. The carpet, which is woven to answer the compartments in the ceiling, was made by Moore, of Chiswell Street, London, and is not only the largest, but supposed to be the most elegant he ever made.”

The Library was described as “neatly fitted up, and contains about 2000 volumes of the best authors.”

The King’s Bed Chamber was “twenty-four feet by twenty-one, and eighteen feet high. The State Bed and hangings are of blue Damask, as are the chairs and window curtains.”

Lulworth Cove

The arched rock, Lulworth
from The Beauties of England and Wales
by J Britton and EW Brayley (1803)
“But to return to Lulworth – The Castle is two miles Eastwards of West Lulworth, where is a house of entertainment; and on the foot path between this place and Lulworth Cove is a most delightful view of St Alban’s Head, over the rocks on the South East of Warbarrow Bay, and also over West Lulworth, almost the whole length of Portland Island.

Lulworth Cove is a natural basin, surrounded with very high cliffs, in the shape of a horse-shoe, of which the opening forms the entrance. It is 1380 feet in diameter, twenty-one feet deep at low water; admits vessels of eighty tons burthen, and is a great natural curiosity; as are also the lands hereabouts, which form the most romantic and pleasing variety of prospects.”

A warning to strangers

The 1785 guide ends with a word of caution that made me smile:
“Lulworth Cove … is about ten miles distant from Weymouth, from which it is an easy and pleasant sail; yet it may be proper to hint to strangers, that the gale which carries them pleasantly thither may so far retard their return as to leave them the whole night upon the water. It has therefore been found most convenient to be met by carriages or horses at Lulworth.”

An 1815 guide to Lulworth

View from the roof of Lulworth Castle
The entry for Lulworth Castle in A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815) is much shorter:

“About sixteen miles from Weymouth stands Lulworth Castle, which, notwithstanding its distance from Weymouth, is a constant object of attraction to strangers. It is the seat of Thomas Weld, Esq, and is not only admired for its situation, but in itself forms a most superb pile, adorned with statuary, painting, fine gardens, and other elegant and beautiful accompaniments, The environs are extremely well wooded, and happily intersected by hill and dale. From the south front of the house is seen a beautiful expanse of water, and a moving scene of ships.

Lulworth probably retains the name of Castle, from its being built on the site of an ancient fortress. The present edifice was erected about 1600. The possessor being of the Roman Catholic persuasion, has fitted up a beautiful chapel, and made many other improvements in his mansion and domain.

The magnificent manner in which Mr Weld received their Majesties and the royal family, when they did him the honour of a visit some years ago, would reflect a lustre on the taste, opulence, and loyalty, of the first subject in the kingdom.

The pictures and other works of art are too numerous to particularize, but they may be seen every Wednesday, from ten to two.”

Sources used include:
Britton, John & Brayley, Edward Wedlake, The Beauties of England and Wales (Vernor & Hood et al, 1803, London)
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth (The Dovecote Press, 2003, Wimborne)
Delamotte, Peter, The Weymouth Guide (1785, Weymouth)
Feltham, John, Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Groves, E, The Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide (E Groves, 1835, Weymouth)
Weld, Wilfrid, The Weld Family & Lulworth (Guidebook to Lulworth Castle purchased Aug 2012)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Regency History's guide to Lulworth Castle

The early history of Lulworth Castle

Lulworth Castle
Lulworth Castle was built as a hunting lodge at the beginning of the 17th century in Lulworth, Dorset, by Thomas Howard, Viscount Bindon. It was purchased by Humphrey Weld in 1641 and has belonged to the Weld family ever since. The Castle has played host to Kings; both James I and Charles II stayed there.

The Fitzherbert connection

Mrs Fitzherbert
from Memoirs of George IV
by Robert Huish (1831)
Edward Weld inherited the Castle from his father in 1761. His first wife died without giving him an heir and in 1775, he married the beautiful Mary-Anne Smythe. Tragically, Edward died a few months later following a fall from his horse. Mary-Anne, known as Maria, then married Thomas Fitzherbert, and on his death, she became the secret wife of the future George IV.

Thomas Weld and St Mary’s Chapel

St Mary's Chapel
On Edward’s death, Lulworth Castle passed to his brother, Thomas, who rebuilt much of the Castle’s interior in the Neo-classical style. The Welds were devout Roman Catholics and Thomas was influential in promoting Catholic emancipation and helping Catholics fleeing from the French Revolution.

In 1786, George III gave Thomas permission to build a mausoleum, purportedly with the licence to “furnish it inside as you wish”.

The Chapel of St Mary’s was designed by John Tasker to look like a classical garden building and it became the first free-standing Roman Catholic Church to be built for public worship in England since the Reformation.

George III’s visit

In 1789, George III and Queen Charlotte visited Thomas Weld at Lulworth Castle whilst they were on holiday in Weymouth. They saw inside the Chapel and gave it their approval.

The Royal connection continued when the Duke of Gloucester leased the Castle from Thomas’ son from 1824 to 1827.

Lulworth Castle today

The Castle was gutted by fire in 1929 but has now been restored. It was visited by the Queen in 1984 and is now a family-friendly visitor attraction.

Inside Lulworth Castle today

Sources used include:
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth (The Dovecote Press, 2003, Wimborne)
Delamotte, Peter, The Weymouth Guide (1785, Weymouth)
Feltham, John, Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Groves, E, The Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide (E Groves, 1835, Weymouth)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (Thomas Kelly, 1830, 1831, London)
Weld, Wilfrid, The Weld Family & Lulworth (Guidebook to Lulworth Castle purchased Aug 2012)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Jane Austen and the seaside

Sands near Chit Rock, Sidmouth    from A new guide descriptive of the beauties of Sidmouth    by Rev Edmund Butcher (1830)
Sands near Chit Rock, Sidmouth
  from A new guide descriptive of the beauties of Sidmouth
  by Rev Edmund Butcher (1830)
*Updated blogpost*

This post was updated in June 2017 to include references to Ramsgate and Southend, more quotes from Jane Austen’s work and letters, and updated sections on Brighton and Weymouth.


I originally wrote this post in 2012 after rereading Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last novel, completed by ‘another lady’. The description of Sanditon was of particularly interest to me as I have been researching sea bathing in the Georgian era and this gave me a contemporary, albeit fictional, description of the seaside.

The words that Jane Austen put into Mr Parker’s mouth represented the fashionable view of the seaside at the time and she must have been consciously echoing the words of such sea bathing enthusiasts as Dr Crane of Weymouth who wrote Cursory Observations on Sea-bathing.

Mr Parker
held it indeed as certain that no person could be really well, no person (however upheld for the present by fortuitous aids of exercise and spirits in a semblance of health) could be really in a state of secure and permanent health without spending at least six weeks by the sea every year. The sea air and sea bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every disorder of the stomach, the lungs or the blood. They were anti-spasmodic, anti-pulmonary, anti-septic, anti-bilious and anti-rheumatic. Nobody could catch cold by the sea; nobody wanted appetite by the sea; nobody wanted spirits; nobody wanted strength. Sea air was healing, softening, relaxing – fortifying and bracing – seemingly just as was wanted – sometimes one, sometimes the other.1
Was Jane Austen really convinced of the infallibility of the seaside as a cure for all ills? I think not! Rather she was laughing at the current fashion by creating the indefatigable Mr Parker who is both likeable and somewhat ridiculous in his extreme enthusiasm for Sanditon.

In Emma, Mr Woodhouse and Isabella argue about the benefits of the seaside:
“It was an awkward business, my dear, your spending the autumn at South End instead of coming here. I never had much opinion of the sea air.”
“Mr. Wingfield most strenuously recommended it, sir—or we should not have gone. He recommended it for all the children, but particularly for the weakness in little Bella’s throat,—both sea air and bathing.”
“Ah! my dear, but Perry had many doubts about the sea doing her any good; and as to myself, I have been long perfectly convinced, though perhaps I never told you so before, that the sea is very rarely of use to any body. I am sure it almost killed me once.”2
Jane Austen in Devon

Sidmouth from Chit Rock    from A new guide descriptive of the beauties of Sidmouth    by Rev Edmund Butcher (1830)
Sidmouth from Chit Rock
  from A new guide descriptive of the beauties of Sidmouth
  by Rev Edmund Butcher (1830)
Jane Austen visited the seaside on several occasions and seemed to enjoy the experience. She visited Sidmouth in Devon in 1801, and it was here that it is believed that she met the true love of her life, a gentleman who returned her affection but tragically died soon afterwards. It is no wonder that Sidmouth had a special place in her heart and Sanditon is thought to be based on Sidmouth. She stayed in Devon again in 1802, visiting Dawlish and Teignmouth.

Jane Austen in Ramsgate

According to the Austen-Leighs’ Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters, Jane visited Ramsgate in 1803 where she was seen by Sir Egerton Brydges. Her brother Frank was headquartered there at the time and it is likely that she visited him there on one of her trips to Godmersham Park.

In a letter to Cassandra, Jane wrote that a friend was talking of fixing at Ramsgate. She wrote:
Bad Taste! – He is very fond of the Sea however; – some Taste in that – & some Judgement too in fixing on Ramsgate, as being by the Sea.3
Ramsgate in Jane Austen’s novels

Ramsgate does not appear in a good light in Jane Austen’s novels. A fleeting reference is made to Ramsgate in Mansfield Park where Tom Bertram spent a week with his friend Sneyd, but it is in Pride and Prejudice that Ramsgate is painted as a place where bad things happen. It is at Ramsgate that Mr Wickham persuades Georgiana Darcy into an elopement. Mr Darcy wrote:
“Last summer she [Georgiana Darcy] went with the lady who presided over it, to Ramsgate; and thither also went Mr. Wickham, undoubtedly by design; for there proved to have been a prior acquaintance between him and Mrs. Younge, in whose character we were most unhappily deceived; and by her connivance and aid, he so far recommended himself to Georgiana, whose affectionate heart retained a strong impression of his kindness to her as a child, that she was persuaded to believe herself in love, and to consent to an elopement.”4
Jane Austen in Lyme Regis

In 1804, Jane visited Lyme Regis with her parents whilst her sister, Cassandra, was on a visit to Weymouth with her brother Henry. Jane enjoyed sea bathing but could never resist a jibe at fashion. In a letter to Cassandra written on September 14 1804 Jane wrote:
I continue quite well in proof of which I have bathed again this morning. It was absolutely necessary that I should have the little fever and indisposition which I had; it has been all the fashion this week in Lyme.5
Lyme Regis in Jane Austen’s novels

Rachel Knowles walking up the steps on the Cobb, Lyme Regis (2016)
Rachel walking up the steps on the Cobb, Lyme Regis (2016)
Jane was very taken with the natural beauty of Lyme Regis and this comes out in her description of it in Persuasion.
… the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs, stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.6
They praised the morning; gloried in the sea; sympathised in the delight of the fresh-feeling breeze – and were silent; till Henrietta suddenly began again, with – “Oh, yes! I am quite convinced that, with very few exceptions, the sea-air always does good.”7
Cassandra in Weymouth

On the other hand, Jane Austen’s feelings about Weymouth, which she appears to have known only by report, were less positive. In a letter to Cassandra who was staying there, she pigeonholed it as a resort for the fashionable elite:
Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no ice in the town; for every other vexation I was in some measure prepared, & particularly for your disappointment in not seeing the Royal family go on board on Tuesday, having already heard from Mr Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late. But for there being no ice, what could prepare me? Weymouth is altogether a shocking place I perceive, without recommendation of any kind & worthy only of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester [referring to a newspaper report of HRH the Duke of Gloucester’s arrival in Weymouth to visit the Royal Family]. I am really very glad that we did not go there.8
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis seafront  from Weymouth as a Watering Place  published by Simpkin & Marshall (1857)
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis seafront
from Weymouth as a Watering Place
published by Simpkin & Marshall (1857)
Weymouth in Jane Austen’s novels

Maybe the repeated visits of George III had made Weymouth too busy for Jane's liking. Weymouth is portrayed in her novels as a seaside resort for profligate young men and silly women and the ideal place for contracting a foolish, secret engagement.

In Mansfield Park, Tom Bertram met John Yates in Weymouth, whilst in Sense and Sensibility, silly Mrs Palmer had been visiting in Weymouth with her uncle and had therefore missed Mr Willoughby’s previous visit to Allenham.

In Emma, it is at Weymouth that Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill met and fell in love and entered into a secret engagement.

Mr Knightley said of Frank Churchill:
“It is not to be conceived that a man of three or four-and-twenty should not have liberty of mind or limb to that amount. He cannot want money—he cannot want leisure. We know, on the contrary, that he has so much of both, that he is glad to get rid of them at the idlest haunts in the kingdom. We hear of him for ever at some watering-place or other. A little while ago, he was at Weymouth.”9
Mrs Weston later breaks the news to Emma that Jane Fairfax is engaged to Frank Churchill:
“You may well be amazed. But it is even so. There has been a solemn engagement between them ever since October—formed at Weymouth, and kept a secret from every body.”10
Jane Austen’s opinion of Brighton

I have always believed that Jane disliked Brighton. Like many others, I read the following quote from one of her letters, dated 8 January 1799, which suggested that her opinion of Brighton was unfavourable at best:
I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you do, but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it.11
However, in Deirdre Le Faye’s book of Jane Austen’s Letters, the text reads ‘Bookham’ and not ‘Brighton’. Le Faye writes in her notes that the word was crossed out in the original manuscript, presumably to hide Jane’s unfavourable reference to the home of her Cooke cousins. It was wrongly guessed at by Lord Brabourne and the mistake has been circulating ever since.12

Brighton in Jane Austen’s novels

Brighton Pavilion
Brighton Pavilion
Despite the lack of proof that Jane detested Brighton, I am inclined to think she would have disliked it for its associations with the Prince Regent, whom she hated.13

In Pride and Prejudice, three of Jane Austen’s silliest characters, Mrs Bennet, Lydia and Kitty, are all desperate to go to Brighton, the most fashionable seaside resort of the time:
“If one could but go to Brighton!” observed Mrs Bennet.
“Oh, yes! If one could but go to Brighton! But papa is so disagreeable.”
“A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever.”14
Lydia, of course, gets her wish of going to Brighton – and proceeds to elope from there with the infamous Mr Wickham!

In Mansfield Park, the Rushworths go to Brighton for their honeymoon, with Julia Bertram in tow.
The plan of the young couple was to proceed, after a few days, to Brighton, and take a house there for some weeks. Every public place was new to Maria, and Brighton is almost as gay in winter as in summer.15
But even the entertainments of Brighton and London are insufficient to keep the young Mrs Rushworth contented for long and ultimately she succumbs to the illicit attractions of Henry Crawford.

Southend in Jane Austen's novels

Jane wrote in a letter to her brother Frank in July 1813 that their brother Charles and his family were all in Southend together.16

Southend is mentioned in Emma and the argument between Isabella and Mr Woodhouse quoted above is brought to a rapid conclusion by Emma saying wistfully:
“I must beg you not to talk of the sea. It makes me envious and miserable;—I who have never seen it! South End is prohibited, if you please.”17
Did Jane Austen like the seaside?

I think the answer is most definitely yes. Her description of Lyme Regis in Persuasion is full of praise for its natural beauty, asking the reader the question: ‘How could you not like it?’ I like to think that she would have appreciated Weymouth, my home town, for the same reasons, particularly after the king’s visits had ceased and it became less fashionable.

Emma concludes with Emma Woodhouse's marriage to Mr Knightley. I think that Jane Austen must have liked the seaside to send Emma there for her honeymoon:
They had determined that their marriage ought to be concluded while John and Isabella were still at Hartfield, to allow them the fortnight’s absence in a tour to the seaside.18
Burton Bradstock, Dorset
Burton Bradstock, Dorset
(1) From Sanditon by Jane Austen and another lady (1875).
(2) From Emma by Jane Austen (1815).
(3) In a letter dated 3-6 July 1813 in Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye (1995).
(4) From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813).
(5) In a letter from Jane Austen dated 14 September 1804 recorded in Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters by William and Richard Austen-Leigh (1913).
(6) From Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
(7) From Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
(8) In a letter from Jane Austen dated 14 September 1804, from Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye (1995).
(9) From Emma by Jane Austen (1815).
(10) From Emma by Jane Austen (1815).
(11) In a letter from Jane Austen to her sister dated 8 January 1799, from The Letters of Jane Austen selected from the compilation of Lord Bradbourne (1892).
(12) See text for the above letter and accompanying note in Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye (1995). My thanks to Yoram Cohen for pointing out this mistake in my original post.
(13) Referring to the Princess of Wales, Jane wrote: “Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her husband.” In a letter from Jane Austen to Martha Lloyd dated 16 February 1813 in Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye (1995).
(14) From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813).
(15) From Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814).
(16) In a letter to Frank Austen dated 3-6 July 1813 in Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye (1995).
(17) From Emma by Jane Austen (1815).
(18) From Emma by Jane Austen (1815).

Sources used include:
Austen, Jane, and another lady, Sanditon (1975)
Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)
Austen, Jane, Jane Austen's Letters, Collected and Edited by Le Faye, Deirdre (Oxford University Press, 1995)
Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814)
Austen, Jane, My dear Cassandra, letters to her sister selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallett (Collins & Brown Ltd, 1990)
Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (1817)
Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Austen, Jane, The Letters of Jane Austen selected from the compilation of her great nephew, Edward, Lord Bradbourne ed Sarah Woolsey (1892)
Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur, Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters (1913)
Butcher, Rev Edmund, A new guide descriptive of the beauties of Sidmouth (1830, Exeter)
Cecil, David, A Portrait of Jane Austen (Constable, 1978; Penguin, 1980, London)
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth (The Dovecote Press, 2003, Wimborne)
Feltham, John, Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Simpkin & Marshall, Weymouth as a Watering Place (Simpkin & Marshall, 1857, London)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -