• Heather Moll

Carriage and Horse Accidents in An Affectionate Heart

As delightful as it might sound to us to ride in an open carriage, driving and riding in Georgian England wasn’t as carefree as you might think. Sanditon begins with a carriage tipping over, and the Admiral and Mrs Croft joke about upsetting their gig. In 1804, Jane Austen’s dear friend and neighbor Mrs. Anne Lefroy died following a fall from her horse.

Caricatures from the era are filled with people thrown onto the road, of one of a pair of tandem horses turned the wrong way, and young sportsmen crashing their vehicles. Even getting into and out of a carriage had to be done carefully so you didn’t fall under and risk the horses moving and crushing you.


There are three incidents of horse and carriage accidents in An Affectionate Heart, and their mistakes are caused by young men driving too fast, riders being inattentive, or maybe a driver just not skilled enough to manage their team.


Horse-related accidents could be caused by problems with the equipment, the coach, the driver, or even the horses themselves. In one scene, Elizabeth, Georgiana, and Colonel Fitzwilliam are walking along a lane and see that a carriage has overturned in front of the small lodge near Meryton that Mr Darcy is renting with his sister.


They approached Netherfield Lodge from the lane rather than the garden, and saw near to the house a fashionable carriage overturned, and two shocked-looking gentlemen in conversation with Mr Darcy. The contents of what had been on the luggage-boot were strewn across the lane.


“All your friend is saying is that you ought not to have attempted to go quickly downhill on a rough lane,” she heard Mr Darcy say calmly.


Elizabeth watched her husband mediate their dispute. For a man of modest income and comforts, Mr Darcy’s clothes were as high a quality as theirs, but he lacked their affectations.


The first man bowed his head. “I ordered the driver to cut the horses too sharply, perhaps.”


“Perhaps?” the other gentleman cried to his friend. “We are overturned!”


“Did you not say you wished to be there an hour ago? If I did tell the postboy to go quickly, it was at your urging!”


“You are the one who refuses to begin morning calls until three, even whilst in the country! And we were not going that quickly.”


Mr Darcy stepped between them. “I saw myself your carriage press against the horses as you descended. You took the hill too quickly, but set your quarrel aside. Call some men in the other field to help you get the carriage upright again.”


Elizabeth was surprised that the men with the post-chaise followed his directives. Mr Darcy spoke steadily and quietly, but something in his manner compelled them to action. They set aside their walking sticks, watch fobs, snuff boxes, hats, and gloves. Colonel Fitzwilliam offered his help if it was still wanted when he finished carrying Georgiana inside. Meanwhile, Mr Darcy advised how to right the carriage, but did not lend any assistance himself, as if it was more natural for him to dictate and be listened to.


These fashionable gentlemen are willingly taking directions from a man beneath them in consequence because his manner is authoritative.


Mr Darcy and the postboy determined that the carriage, being now set up, had received such an injury on the fallen side as to be unfit for present use. He told the men to wheel it to the barn a quarter of a mile away in the next field to clear the roadway and instructed them on where to go in Meryton for assistance in repairing it. The two gentlemen were not onlyattentive to his every instruction, but grateful for his advice on managing their disaster.


How did a man of no significance in the world, with education but no status, and without fortune, have such a commanding aspect? Mr Darcy gave directions, and without any doubt that he would be listened to. Somehow, he had that kind of worldliness that others recognised as coming from experience and responsibility. It puzzled Elizabeth exceedingly.


Later in the book, Darcy is riding his spirited horse to distract himself and comes close to having an accident.


Darcy’s stomach dropped as Biscay bolted, and Darcy almost paid a terrible price for his inattention. His poor riding and tense manner were to blame for his bay’s deliberate disobedience. He almost pulled back on both reins to give the galloping horse something to brace against to throw him off. Instead of panicking, Darcy settled his mind and used one rein to draw Biscay’s head to the side to slow his motion forward.


He rode the gallop and slacked the opposite rein to slowly bring Biscay back under his control, turning the horse in a wide circle and then a few smaller circles. “Feeling disrespectful today?” he managed to say when his breathing returned to normal.


He cursed himself for his lack of concentration. I might have been thrown and killed!


Well-trained horses rarely bolt, and even a horse with a strong personality would rarely do so unless frightened… or if their rider is inattentive. Darcy was lucky he wasn’t thrown and suffered a broken leg, an amputation, or far worse. What was an experienced rider like Darcy so distracted about that he misses all the signs that his horse is about to bolt?


There’s a third incident involving horses and a carriage and a tollgate, but it’s far too critical to the plot to spoil it here. I promise, though, that our dear couple survive unscathed.


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