Jane Porter was the daughter of an army officer who died when she was three years old. Soon afterward her widowed mother took the family to Edinburgh to live, but shortly before 1803 the entire family moved to London, where Porter began to write. Her first book, Thaddeus of Warsaw, the story of a Polish exile, had an amazing success with critics and the public; among the people who sent congratulatory messages to the author was the renowned Polish patriot Thaddeus Kociuszko. With the publication of her first novel Porter became as well known as her brother, the painter Sir Robert Ker Porter, and her sister, Anna Maria Porter, who was also a popular novelist of the period.
The novel that is generally considered Jane Porter’s best is The Scottish Chiefs, a historical romance of the kind later made famous by Sir Walter Scott, who was a childhood friend of Porter. Indeed, The Scottish Chiefs is one of the few historical novels prior to Scott’s Waverley series that has continued to command a body of readers. After her initial success as a novelist, Porter turned to the writing of plays. Her first effort was never staged, and her second was a failure so complete that it ended her career as a dramatist. She wrote and published a number of later novels, but none caught the public or critical fancy as had her first two. Porter, who never married, spent much of her life in literary and artistic society and lived a happy and serene life, although her situation was financially somewhat straitened in her later years.