When George Austen married Cassandra Leigh in 1764, he must have not only admired her looks but her aristocratic pedigree – quite different from his own solid, but relatively humble background. The Leigh family’s wealth and prestige in England went back many centuries. It was Sir Thomas Leigh, in the time of Elizabeth I who founded the family’s fortunes. He was a successful member of the powerful Mercers’ Guild in the City of London and rose to become Lord Mayor. His greatest honour was to escort Queen Elizabeth through the City on her Coronation Day in 1588. Sir Thomas made an advantageous marriage to a rich heiress whose father endowed his son-in-law with property and money, including the extensive estate at Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire. In 1553 Sir Thomas bought the Manor at Adlestrop from the Crown for just under £1500.
When Sir Thomas died his estate was divided between three of his sons. The eldest inherited Adlestrop and his younger brother, Stoneleigh. Over the following centuries the Stoneleigh branch grew in wealth and influence resulting in Charles I granting a peerage in 1643 to the first Baron Leigh. The Leighs of Adlestrop were never to enjoy such prosperity leading to a drastic retrenchment in the 1720s after which good marriages and a substantial inheritance resulted in rising prosperity in the late eighteenth century just when Jane Austen came onto the scene.
Click to see the Leigh Family Tree