The Persistence of a Genealogy Error,
What Really Happened
This is a curious problem of where a group of people have got something
wrong and this perpetuates the error such that it is now to be found
in a few books and a hundred or so internet sites. Worse, the error
centres around the Jane Austen afficionados and societies of the world.
Why I wonder do scholars and enthusiasts of Jane Austen manage to get
Let's try a few examples:
First, "A chronology of Jane Austen and her family 1700-2000" by
Deirdre Le Faye; in the index there are these lines:
Powys, Caroline, née Girle (1738-1817): 1761-2, 1788, 1792-6, 1798-9,
1807, 1810, 1817, 1818, 1835
All the names are right except the two Philip Lybbe-Powyses.
Powys, Caroline, see Cooper
Powys, Cassandra Louisa: 1797
Powys, Louisa: 1797
Powys, Philip Lybbe- (1734-1809): 1762, 1788, 1791-2, 1794, 1796-8, 1800-9
Powys, Philip Lybbe-, Junior: 1818
Powys, Revd Dr Thomas (1736-1809): 1762, 1771, 1796, 1797-8, 1805, 1809
Second, "The Austen Connection" [to Berkshire] by Joy Pibworth who writes:
Even in those days of uncertain travel, family visits were important and we
discover from one of Mrs Austen's letters, dated gth [sic] December 1770:
The daughter 'Caroline Lybbe' was in fact 'Caroline Isabella', she did
not have 'Lybbe in her name at all. And Philip did not take any extra
surname at all when he married the heiress Caroline Lybbe who was not
Lybbe at all but Girle: he was christened with the two forenames Philip
and Lybbe. Philip's father, Philip Powys, had married Isabella Lybbe
who was a fairly serious heiress. (I leave the more prevalent error
'We went to Southcote, where we found my sister, Dr Cooper and the little
boy quite well'
The little boy was Edward Cooper, her nephew, who in later life married
Caroline Lybbe, daughter of Philip and Caroline Lybbe Powys of Fawley,
near Henley. (Philip was brother to Reverend Thomas Powys and took the
extra surname when he married the heiress Caroline Lybbe).
Third, "Jane Austen A Life" by David Nokes, now professor in
English at Kings College, London. His descriptive account
includes in the first chapter this on Cassandra Austen, née
Leigh, set a little while after her engagement to George Austen:
It was only natural that Cassandra should have some misgivings at the
momentous step she was about to take. Her first view of Mr Austen's
Steventon parish had not greatly endeared the place to her. The
landscape was low and undistinguished by any striking natural
features; the rectory was mean and in a state of disrepair. But
most of all she felt a lingering regret about severing her ties of
affection with Tom Lybbe-Powys. The two of them had been friends
since infancy, when they had played together at Hardwick Hall. or
with the Cooper children at Phyllis Court. At last, the time had
come for Tom to tell her that childhood friendship had matured into
adult affection; but he had then no income to support a wife, nor
any prospect of obtaining one. Whereas Mr Austen was the rector of
one parish with the promise of another. She remembered the day, more
than a year ago now, that had brought the news Tom's appointment as
rector of' Fawley parish in Buckingham.
I do not know where Nokes got the 'Lybbe-Powys' name from. Thomas
Powys, the man himself, had been born with just that forename and
just that surname and rose to some eminence and prosperity as Dean
Fourth, "The Rise and Fall of the House of Elliot" by Eileen
Sutherland in a publication of the Jane Austen Society of America
In a similar situation was Mrs. Lybbe Powys. Mrs. Austen‘s sister
Jane had married the Rev. Edward Cooper, and had a son Edward and
a daughter Jane. The young Edward married Caroline, daughter of Mr.
and Mrs. Lybbe Powys. The Austens visited the Coopers at Edward's
parsonages at Harpsden and Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire, Mr.
and Mrs. Lybbe Powys spent their winters in Bath (in the winter of
1805-06, just around the corner from the Austens), and were on
good social terms with the Leigh Perrots. Jane Austen had ample
opportunity to know Mrs. Lybbe Powys well.
This really holds the key to problem, she refers to the family as
'Lybbe Powys' which happens to be wrong.
The origin of the problem
The cause is alsmost certainly in the book of eighteenth century life
"The Diaries of Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys" written by Caroline Powys,
née Girle and edited by Emily Climenson and published in 1899.
This book got the naming right, particularly in its title. But they
used a style which is now out of date and not understood by modern
It used to be customary in the 19th century to refer to a married
woman by the name of her husband. The husband in this case was
Philip Lybbe Powys, so that is how his wife was styled. But he was
a somewhat early example of a chap with two forenames, Philip and
Lybbe, the latter in honour of his mother the heiress.
Modern readers have thought that the Lybbe was part of the surname
and written accoringly - and got it wrong. She should be known as one of:
- Mrs Powys
- Mrs Philip Powys
- Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys
- (Mrs) Caroline Powys
The best evidence that the surname was plain Powys is in the baptism
register for Whitchurch on Thames, Oxfordshire for the second son of
Philip and Caroline Powys He was baptised Thomas and the entry reads:
1768 Dec 22 POWIS Thomas s. Philip Esqre and Caroline
Similarly for their daughter Caroline:
1775 Mar 29 POWIS Caroline Isabella d. of Philip Lybbe esqre &
You can see in both of these that the surname is given, misspelt
unfortunately, as POWIS on its own.
Then the 'Tom Lybbe-Powys' in Nokes' chapter is also found in
the same register as:
1736 Sep 25 POWYS Thomas s. Philip Esqre & Isabella'
Several documents survive referring to him in later life as Doctor
Thomas Powys - he had a doctorate of divinity. So he kept his
baptismal name into adulthood.
Later History of the Name
I am a direct male descendant of Caroline and Philip but my surname
has changed. This was a long and complicated process taking nearly
50 years to complete and it started in 1863. My great-great-
grandfather, one Philip Lybbe Powys where Powys was his surname (his
father, to underline my explanation above, was Henry Philip Powys
with no Lybbe in his name at all), went through a hiatus and
separated from his wife. He set up house with another lady and,
unable to divorce, came up with the strategem of changing his name
by getting a royal licence to add Lybbe after Powys. Having done
that, he and his lady made themselves known for the rest of their
lives as Mr and Mrs Lybbe and their three daughters were the Misses