Inheriting a National Treasure: Aunt Jane Austen's Ring

Jane Austen Ring 3

Nicky Gottelier of Oxfordshire, England didn’t think of her family heirloom as a national treasure.

“That never crossed my mind,” she says of the gold-and-turquoise ring passed down to her from her great-great-great-great-great aunt – the celebrated novelist Jane Austen.

Gottelier talks about the ring – and the uproar when it sold at auction to American pop star Kelly Clarkson  – on the latest episode of Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby.

It’s the first interview given about her famous forebear’s ring, which she kept hidden in a dresser for more than 30 years.

“In those days, you didn’t really brag about the fact that I was a five times great-niece of Jane’s.”

The ring is one the few possessions still around that belonged to the famed author of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. Austen died in 1817.

Jane Austen Ring 3

“It’s extraordinary how little trace she’s left, except in our imaginations,” said Philippa Granville, an historian of English art.

Austen’s stories – originally published anonymously -- use biting wit and irony to show how polite society worked at the turn of the 19th century. In the 200 years since she died, Austen has become one of literature’s most beloved novelists, a fixture on college reading lists – and the inspiration for an ever-growing number of movies and television series.

Gottelier inherited the ring from her father in 1981 – then stowed it away while she raised her two sons.

“I couldn’t have it out. We had two small boys, and lots of people come into the house. Anything could have happened to it,” she tells Colby. “To all intents and purposes, for a long time, it was pretty well forgotten about.”

Despite their ancestor’s enduring fame, neither of Gotellier’s sons was particularly interested in keeping the heirloom. “I thought, there’s no point in hanging onto it forever,” Gotellier says of her decision to sell the ring. “Now she is really big all over the world -- let’s see what happens. I could do with it what I wanted.”

Not quite, it turns out.

Gotellier first offered the ring to the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, but it didn’t have the budget to acquire it. When she then put it up for auction, it sold for approximately $250,000 to former American Idol Kelly Clarkson.

The British government immediately stepped in, declaring the ring a national treasure and halting the sale.

“I totally agree it is a national treasure for you all,” said Clarkson. “But I kind of felt like they maybe should have claimed that before I bought it.”

Jane Austin Ring 1

Given a second chance to keep the ring in England, donors put up the cash to buy it back from Clarkson and gave it to the Jane Austen’s House Museum

“I would have much rather poor Kelly had kept it because she was such a fan, but it did finish up at the museum, which is actually where I would have liked it to have gone in the first place.”

Catch Jamie Colby’s full interview with Nicky Gottelier Monday, February 27 at 9 p.m. ET on the Fox Business Network.