Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire was the grand mansion of the ennobled branch of the Leigh family. Tragedy and confusion reigned in the 1770s when the Fifth Lord Leigh, Edward, began to suffer from mental illness. One of Edward’s final acts of sanity, before he was declared a lunatic in 1774, was to draw up his Will leaving his estate in the care of his sister, the Honourable Mary Leigh during her lifetime and thereafter it was to devolve upon the ‘nearest of my kindred, being male…’ This was the Reverend Thomas Leigh at the time, the second contender being Jane’s rich uncle, James Leigh Perrot.
Everything hinged on who would live longest and when the Honourable Mary Leigh might die. To the impecunious Austens, who hoped to share in the wealth of this estate, it was a frustrating experience that deeply vexed Jane. In 1806 matters came to a head with the death of the Hon. Mary Leigh. This coincided with Jane’s last visit to Adlestrop and she, her mother and Cassandra travelled to Stoneleigh, together with the elderly Reverend Thomas Leigh, to see him take up his rich inheritance.
The magnificent mansion of Stoneleigh fired Jane’s imagination and not only may it have inspired her vision of Darcy’s Pemberley but she drew closely upon her memory of it when describing Sotherton and its grounds in Mansfield Park.
Click here to see the family tree of the Stoneleigh branch of the Leigh family