Sir Walter Elliot, Bt. — A vain, self-satisfied baronet, Sir Walter's extravagance since the death of his prudent wife 13 years before has put his family in financial straits. These are severe enough to force him to lease his estate, Kellynch Hall, to Admiral Croft and take a more economical residence in Bath. Despite being strongly impressed by wealth and status he is attracted in some way to Mrs Clay, who is beneath him in social standing.
Elizabeth Elliot — The eldest and most beautiful daughter of Sir Walter encourages her father's imprudent spending and extravagance. She and her father routinely put their interests ahead of Anne's, regarding her as inconsequential.
Anne Elliot — The second daughter of Sir Walter is highly intelligent and, although accomplished and attractive, is unmarried at 27, having broken off her engagement to Wentworth eight years previously. She fell in love with Captain Wentworth but was persuaded by her mentor, Lady Russell, to reject his proposal because of his poverty and uncertain future.
Mary Musgrove — The youngest daughter of Sir Walter, married to Charles Musgrove, is attention-seeking, always looking for ways she might have been slighted or not given her full due, and often claims illness when she is upset. She greatly opposes sister-in-law Henrietta's interest in marrying Charles Hayter, who Mary feels is beneath them.
Charles Musgrove — Husband of Mary and heir to the Musgrove estate. He had wanted to marry Anne but settled for Mary (much to the disappointment of the Musgrove family, and to his misfortune) when Anne refused him due to her continued love for Wentworth.
Lady Russell — A friend of the Elliots, particularly Anne, of whom she is the godmother. She is instrumental in Sir Walter's decision to leave Kellynch Hall and avoid financial crisis. Years ago, she persuaded Anne to turn down Captain Wentworth's proposal of marriage. While far more sensible than Sir Walter Elliot, she shares his concern for rank and connections and did not think Wentworth good enough for Anne because of his inferior birth and financial status.
Mrs. Clay — A poor widow, daughter of Sir Walter's lawyer, and intimate 'friend' of Elizabeth Elliot. She aims to flatter Sir Walter into marriage, while her oblivious friend looks on.
Captain Frederick Wentworth — A naval officer who was briefly engaged to Anne some years ago. At the time, he had no fortune and uncertain prospects, but owing to much success in the Napoleonic Wars, his situation has greatly improved. One of two brothers of Sophia Croft.
Admiral Croft — Good-natured, plainspoken tenant at Kellynch Hall and brother-in-law of Captain Wentworth.
Sophia Croft — Sister of Captain Wentworth and wife of Admiral Croft. She offers Anne an example of a strong-minded woman who has married for love instead of money.
Louisa Musgrove — Second sister of Charles Musgrove, Louisa, aged about 19, is a high-spirited young lady who has recently returned with her sister from school. Captain Wentworth admires her for her resolve and determination, especially in contrast to Anne's prudence and what he sees as Anne's lack of conviction. She is ultimately engaged to the morose and romantic Captain Benwick, and has changed such that she now likes what he likes and has become much less rambunctious.
Henrietta Musgrove — Eldest sister of Charles Musgrove. Henrietta, aged about 20, is informally engaged to her cousin, Charles Hayter, but is nevertheless tempted by the more dashing Captain Wentworth.
Captain Harville — A friend of Captain Wentworth. Severely wounded two years previously and discharged at half-pay, he and his family have settled in nearby Lyme.
Captain James Benwick — A friend of Captain Harville. Benwick had been engaged to marry Captain Harville's sister Fanny, but she died while Benwick was at sea. Benwick's loss left him melancholic and a lover of poetry. His enjoyment of reading makes him one of the few characters in the story to find an intellectual connection with Anne, and it is implied that he might have an interest in her, but Benwick ultimately becomes engaged to Louisa Musgrove.
Mr. William Elliot — A relation and the heir presumptive of Sir Walter, Mr. Elliot became estranged from the family when he wed a woman of much lower social rank for her fortune, though Sir Walter and Elizabeth had hoped William would marry Elizabeth Elliot. He is now a widower, and (wanting very much to inherit the title and the money that accompanies it, to help pay his debts) he mends the rupture to keep an eye on the ambitious Mrs. Clay. If Sir Walter married her, William's inheritance would be endangered. When Mr. Elliot meets Anne by accident, his interest is piqued: if he could marry Anne his title and inheritance likely would be secured because her father would be more disinclined to disinherit his daughter. Rumors circulate that Anne and he are engaged.
Mrs. Smith — A friend of Anne Elliot who lives in Bath. Mrs. Smith is a widow who has suffered ill health and financial difficulties. She keeps abreast of the doings of Bath society through news she gets from her nurse, Rooke, who also works for a friend of William Elliot's. Her financial problems could have been straightened out with some assistance from William Elliot, her husband's former friend, but Elliot would not exert himself, leaving her much impoverished. Wentworth eventually acts on her behalf.
Lady Dalrymple — A viscountess, cousin to Sir Walter. She occupies an exalted position in society by virtue of wealth and rank. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are eager to be seen at Bath in the company of this great relation.