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Eliza Hancock, later the Comtesse de Feuillide, Jane Austen's spirited first cousin, was living in Paris in 1780 when she described the harp as ‘at present the fashionable instrument.’ The taste for these large but delicate instruments had certainly reached English circles some fifty years later, when in 1829, Thomas Legh, master of Lyme Park, purchased this beautiful Grecian harp. In England, the harp had a long and distinguished pedigree and was particularly associated with the great Welsh harpers of the earlier 18th century. But soon after the invention of the single-action pedal harp, France became the main centre for cultivation of the instrument and its music. The maker of this particular harp was the Frenchman, Sébastien Erard. Prior to establishing his firm in London, Erard was closely associated with the Bourbon court including the harp-playing Marie Antoinette, whose arrival to Versailles in 1770 fuelled the rage for the instrument amongst the French elite. But by the early 1790s, with many of his clients facing certain death by guillotine, Erard fled France for London where he established a shop on Great Marlborough Street. There he honed his craft to such a degree that by 1794 he took out the first British patent for the harp to protect his innovations. In 1800, the Princess of Wales bought one of his harps and the success of his firm was ensured; by 1810 he had sold nearly 1400 of his stringed instruments from his London outlet alone. Eliza de Feuillide, whose royalist husband was guillotined in 1794, had long since returned to England where harp playing continued to be the pastime of the wealthy and the privileged. After her second marriage to Henry Austen (Jane’s older brother), Eliza held parties at her London home where professional harpists performed. Interestingly, in 1814, Fanny Knight, Jane and Eliza’s niece, began studying the harp and herself became a client of the Erard firm, continuing the Franco-British dialogue around the harp and its repertoire.

  • Maker:
    Erard, Sébastien [Person]
  • Collection:
    National Trust, Lyme
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  • Place of production:
    London (Timezone: Europe/London)
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  • Repository:National Trust, Lyme