Eleanor Charlotte Butler (11 May 1739–2 June 1829) was a member of one of the dynastic families of Ireland, the Butlers, the Earls (and later Dukes) of Ormond, who number amongst their ancestors Queen Anne Boleyn (through her paternal grandmother Lady Margaret Butler). Eleanor was considered an over-educated bookworm by her family, who resided at the Butler family seat Kilkenny Castle. She spoke French and was educated in a convent in France. Her mother tried to make her join a convent because she was becoming a spinster.
Sarah Ponsonby (1755–9 December 1832) lived with relatives in Woodstock, Ireland. She was a second cousin of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, and thus a second cousin, once-removed, of his daughter the Lady Caroline Lamb.
Their families lived only two miles (3 km) from each other. They met in 1768, and quickly became friends. Over the years they formulated a plan for a private rural retreat.
Rather than face the possibility of being forced into unwanted marriages, they ran away together in April 1778. Their families hunted them down and forcefully tried to make them give up their plans – in vain.
©Richard James Lane (1800-1872), after Lady Leighton/NPG D32504. Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, genteel Irishwomen who eloped to Wales, were famous for their romantic devotion to each other, and became known as the Ladies of Llangollen, after 1831 (©4)
Rather than face the possibility of being forced into unwanted marriages, Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler & Honorable Sarah Ponsonby ran away together in April 1778. Their families hunted them down and forcefully tried to make them give up their plans - in vain. They set up home at Plas Newydd, near the town of Llangollen in 1780. Butler and Ponsonby lived together for the rest of their lives, over 50 years. Their books and glassware had both sets of initials and their letters were jointly signed.
St Collen’s Church burial ground, Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales. Contains memorials to the 'Ladies of Llangollen'. Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler & Honorable Sarah Ponsonby who fleed Ireland to avoid marriages and settled here in 1778.
Plas Newydd appeared in the 1989 BBC adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (one of the Narnia Chronicles written by C.S. Lewis) as the home of the wizard Coriakin (played by Preston Lockwood). It was also used in a 1987 episode of the TV series Treasure Hunt.
They decided to move to England but ended up in Wales, and set up home at Plas Newydd, near the town of Llangollen in 1780. They proceeded to live according to their self-devised system though they could rely on only a modest income from intolerant relatives. Still, they restructured Plas Newydd to the Gothic style with draperies, arches and glass windows. They hired a gardener, a footman and two maids. This led to significant debt, and they had to rely on the generosity of friends.
They devoted their time to seclusion, private studies of literature and languages and improving their estate. They did not actively socialise and were uninterested in fashion. Over the years they added a circular stone dairy and created a sumptuous garden. Eleanor kept a diary of their activities. Llangollen people simply referred to them as "the ladies".
After a couple of years, their life attracted the interest of the outside world. Their house became a haven for all manner of visitors, mostly writers such as Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott, but also the military leader Duke of Wellington and industrialist Josiah Wedgwood; aristocratic novelist Caroline Lamb, who was born a Ponsonby, came to visit, too. Even travellers from continental Europe had heard of the couple and came to visit them, for instance Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, the German nobleman and landscape designer who wrote admiringly about them.
The ladies were known throughout Britain, but have been said to have led "a rather unexciting life". Queen Charlotte wanted to see their cottage and persuaded the King to grant them a pension. Eventually their families came to tolerate them.
Butler and Ponsonby lived together for the rest of their lives, over 50 years. 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. Both of the ladies are buried at St Collen's church in Llangollen.
The ladies' house is now a museum run by Denbighshire County Council. Butler's Hill, near Plas Newydd, is named in honour of Eleanor Butler. The Ponsonby Arms public house, a Grade II listed building on Mill Street in Llangollen, claims to take its name from Sarah Ponsonby.
In April 2011, the same month in which the first Irish civil partnerships took place under the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, Irish state broadcaster RTE broadcast a 45-minute radio documentary about the lives of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby entitled "An Extraordinary Affair". It asked whether they were Ireland’s first openly lesbian couple, but offered no evidence that their relationship was sexual.
They were buried in the church of St Collen in Llangollen where their memorial can be found. Their house is now a tourist attraction run by Denbighshire County Council.
Burial: Saint Collen Churchyard Llangollen, Denbigh, Denbighshire, Wales
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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