Ladies of Llangollen have become a wlw legend in their own right, but
fear not, they are no urban legend. Today is the birthday of Eleanor Charlotte
Butler, one of the two Irish Ladies who scandalized their contemporaries by living
together, as one does.
Butler and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) met in 1768, became close friends,
which obviously led to them becoming gal pals. Since there was immense pressure
from their families to marry or become a nun and live their lives as dutiful heterosexual women,
they did the only thing possible: devise a plan to just live together,
somewhere in the countryside, where no one would bother them. They left the
county where their families lived in April 1778, and did not back down even
when they were tracked down by the families who tried to coerce them into
giving up (lesbians gonna lesbian, and haters gonna hate).
They found their perfect retreat near the town of (would you
have guessed?) Llangollen in Wales: a Gothic mansion they called “Plas Newydd” (“new
mansion”), which did cause them financial difficulties since they hired staff
to tend to the house and gardens. There, they strove to lead an uneventful
life, devoting their time to scholarly studies in the humanities (Butler was
said to be quite the bookworm when she was young) and tending to their estate. They
relied on a modest income from relatives and the generosity of friends, and
repeatedly had financial difficulties. As the years went by and people started
hearing more about them, their life become an object of interest and curiosity
for many. The Ladies often had visitors over, mostly writers, from all over
Britain and Europe, especially people like Anne “notoriously gay” Lister.
They lived this way for the rest of their lives, meaning
over 50 years. Their exact relationship is often labeled as a “Boston marriage,”
probably the closest historically accurate label, but the gayness is
undisputable. I mean, they jointly signed their letters and they inscribed both
of their sets of initials on the books and glassware they owned, for heaven’s
sake. If that doesn’t screamed “practically married couple” to you, then what
does? (But people still find ways to straightwash history and argue about there
being little evidence that their relationship was sexual and hence how could
the Ladies of Llangollen possibly be anything but really, really close besties?
To which we answer: BS.)
Butler died in 1839, and Ponsoby died within two years, but
they’ve lingered in popular culture, and still today many articles are written
about them. Their house is also now a museum, which you can visit. Check out this
radio documentary about their lives, and this blog, which tracks
down everything related to the Ladies of Llangollen. And if one day you just want to quit everything and elope with your gf and go live in a little cottage and there do nothing but garden and read? Just do it. Pull a Llangollen and follow your dreams.