Sunday 28 February 2010

The LGBT History Series (28) - Ladies of Llangollen

The 'Ladies of Llangollen' were Lady Eleanor Butler, and The Honourable Sarah Ponsonby. The pair lived estranged from their families, in a house called Plas Newydd from 1780 to 1830, near Llangollen, their relationship has been described as a 'romantic friendship'.

The pair devoted their time to seclusion, private studies of literature and languages and improving their estate. They did not actively socialise and were not interested in fashion. Town-dwellers of Llangollen simply referred to them as "The Ladies".

Author: Unknown, Permisson: Public Domain

After a couple of quiet years, their life attracted the interest of the social elites. Their house became an attraction for all manner of visitors, including writers such as Robert Southey, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron and Scott; but also the Duke of Wellington and industrialist Josiah Wedgwood; aristocratic novelist Caroline Lamb (who was born a Ponsonby) came to visit too. The Ladies were known throughout Britain, but in fact led a rather unexciting life. Even Queen Charlotte wanted to see their cottage, and persuaded the King to grant the Ladies the pension that their disapproving families had held back.

Butler and Ponsonby lived together for the rest of their lives, over 50 years. Artefacts like their books and glassware had both sets of initials and their letters were jointly signed.
Eleanor Butler died in 1829. Sarah Ponsonby died two years later. Their house is now a museum run by Derbyshire Council.