THE LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN, ELEANOR BUTLER and SARAH PONSONBY, respectively, born (d: 1829 and 1831); In the 18th century, a polite euphemism for Lesbianism was coined – a “romantic friendship,” a term occasionally invoked in our own times whenever the press wants to touch on such delicate matters like Eleanor Roosevelt’s “romantic friendship” with Lorena Hickock, for example.
The 18th century press was particularly fond of attacking “romantic friendships,” which they called “the latest unnatural vice,” and singled out for censure Marie Antoinette and her court of “Sapphists,” the comedienne Miss Farren, and especially the infamous Ladies of Llangollen.
Butler and Ponsonby, Irish ladies of quality, ran off together to Llangollen, Wales, where, together with their servant Mary Caryll, known as “Molly the Bruiser,” they set up house and lived together in domestic bliss and tranquility for half a century. That theirs was a physical relationship is clear from Lady Eleanor’s journal, written in an easily decipherable code. That the modern vulgarism “bush” is hardly modern at all may be seen in the journal’s constant references to shrubbery – even in the dead of winter: “My beloved and I spent a delightful evening in the shrubbery.” Fifty years of gardening is a long time, and the two women are well worth reading about in any of several full-length books about their life together.
Their house became a haven for all manner of visitors, mostly writers such as Robert Southey, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron and 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. The Ladies were known throughout Britain, but in fact 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.
For images of their home: http://www.f-n-f.net/Ladies-of-Llangollen.htm