When examining the life of any figure in the past, it is important to examine the particular era of history in which that person lived. To understand the life and work of Jane Austen, it is helpful to study that specific era of English history (1775-1817).
The first key historical event in Jane Austen's life was the American Revolution. While there were many sympathizers for the American colonies in England, for the most part, this nation supported their own monarch George III. However, despite the superior military numbers of England, the American colonies would eventually win the war in 1783.
France, after the fall of the Bastille in 1789, would descent into chaos under the Reign of Terror and the ensuing execution of King Louis XVI and his queen. Napoleon would later rise to supreme power in France, conquer multiple nations, and declare war on England. In addition, William Pitt the Younger entered Parliament in 1780. His evangelical friends, among them William Wilberforce, influenced Pitt to aid in the abolition of the slave trade. Unfortunately, Pitt did not have the same measure of success in his efforts to prevent Napoleon's capture of various countries. Despite the setbacks of these wars, the English Navy did dominate the seas.
The Evangelical Movement, under the preaching of the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield, swept through the nation. Furthermore, Parliament became increasingly divided as the Whig and Tory parties battled for political power and influence. Also, Napoleon's war efforts put England in desperate need of funds. Thomas Jefferson, in what is now known as the Louisiana Purchase, bought a huge stretch of land from England which more than doubled the size of America. The War of 1812 also occurred and the British soldiers were successful in burning various parts of Washington D.C. to the ground. This period of British history was filled with political feuds within the Empire and battles outside its borders. However, the changes that occurred within England brought far more radical changes to its people.
As stated above, the political happenings in England were not the only reason for this period of turbulence. The county was undergoing massive changes in the areas of economics, agriculture, and society. During the years 1775 - 1817, the Industrial Revolution played a large role in changing the country. London became the main hub of society as more and more of the public land became the property of private individuals. Consequently, the population numbers in the cities (mainly, London) increased rapidly as more and more of the so-called common folk migrated there in search of employment. Human labor in spinning and weaving was being replaced by vastly more productive machines. Steam power was being harnessed and roads were improving, making transportation and the shipment of goods easy, efficient, and fast. Communication also improved as the transportation improved.
The culture of England was changing too. Journalism was on the rise; satire was becoming a popular form of writing, especially during the early years of Austen's life. Books of information became available to larger segments of the population. Samuel Johnson had recently completed The Dictionary of the English Language while Lindley Murray was also working extensively on English grammar and language. In addition, David Hume (a philosopher), Adam Smith (an economist), Edward Gibbon (a historian), and Jeremy Bentham (a political scientist) exerted a great deal of influence on English society. Because of all of these rapid advances, the English people were undergoing critical changes in almost every aspect of their lives.