1755 - 1831 (76 years)
Has more than 250 ancestors but no descendants in this family tree.
||Sarah Ponsonby |
||9 Dec 1831
||St Collen, Llangollen
||This person is also One of the Ladies of Llangollen at Wikipedia |
||16 Jun 2016 |
- In 1778 Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby eloped to set up a new life together in Plas Newydd in Llangollen Vale. The move met with strong opposition from their respective families but their new Gothic residence soon became a magnet for writers and intellectuals.
Wordsworth, Madame de Genlis, Edmund Burke and Anna Seward all visited, and the 'Ladies of Llangollen' (as Butler and Ponsonby soon became known) established a vigorous correspondence network.
The papers of the Ladies of Llangollen held at the National Library of Wales are a vital source to study this important partnership and the literary circle that they created. Known as the Hamwood Papers, formerly in the possession of the Hamilton family of Hamwood, Dunboyne, co Meath, they include:
Papers and Correspondence of Elinor Goddard including an account of attempts by Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby to escape from their homes in Ireland, and accounts of visits to the Ladies of Llangollen
lost both parents in early childhood and her stepmother when she was thirteen. Given into the care of her father's cousin Lady Betty Fownes, she was sent to Miss Parke's boarding school in Kilkenny.
There, in 1768, she met Butler, youngest daughter in a Catholic branch of an ancient and noble family of Kilkenny. Educated in an English Benedictine convent in France, Butler became Ponsonby's intellectual mentor and intimate friend. After Ponsonby left Miss Parke's in 1773, the two women entered upon a secret correspondence and determined to live together.
Butler and Ponsonby's first elopement failed; they were discovered, returned, and separated by their two families. Eleanor was urged to a convent, whereas Sarah, it was hoped, would be married. When both women resisted these pressures and Sarah threatened to make public the attentions of her guardian's husband, the families relented and the women fled to Wales. They took a cottage, which they named Plas Newydd, and there settled for the rest of their long lives.
The Ladies' pastoral retreat drew many prominent visitors, including Edmund Burke, William Wordsworth, Anna Seward, and Stéphanie de Genlis. Their mutual attachment, and their life of shared reading, writing, walking, and gardening, were celebrated and mythologized in such contemporary writings as Seward's "Llangollen Vale" and Wordsworth's "Sonnet Composed at Plas Newydd."
The women shared bed, board, books, income, and daily walks; dressed similarly in men's waistcoats and women's skirts; signed their correspondence jointly; named one of their dogs Sappho; and refused to spend even one night away from home. Butler's journals refer to Ponsonby as "my Beloved" and "my sweet love," describe physical attentions bestowed for headaches and illnesses, and express the couple's longings, when visitors were too plentiful, to be alone again.
There has been considerable debate about whether Butler and Ponsonby's union should be labeled "lesbian." During their lifetime, implications of homosexuality circulated occasionally in the press and among visitors, although their upperclass status and connections undoubtedly protected them.
Their homophobic neighbor Hester Thrale Piozzi suspected them of Sapphism; Genlis considered them imprudent victims of an excessive sensibility. Anne Lister, the Yorkshire woman who recorded her own homosexual activities in coded diaries, wrote after visiting Llangollen in 1822, "I cannot help thinking that surely it was not Platonic. Heaven forgive me, but I look within myself & doubt."
Whether the Ladies of Llangollen have been regarded as celibate or sexual, their relationship has emblematized "romantic friendship" for over two centuries. Deeply immersed in the literary culture of their day as readers, conversationalists, and occasional writers, they have also remained literary subjects.
Colette speculates about them in The Pure and the Impure (1928), Constance Stallard dramatizes their relationship in "The Ladies of Llangollen" (1955), and novels by Doris Grumbach (The Ladies, 1984) and Morgan Graham (These Lovers Fled Away, 1988) imagine their life. Elizabeth Mavor's 1971 biography remains the major resource for scholars; Mavor's selections from Butler's and Ponsonby's private writings is also a valuable textual source.
- Sarah Ponsonby Collection