Butler, Eleanor (DNB00)

BUTLER, Lady ELEANOR (1745?–1829), recluse of Llangollen, was the youngest daughter of Walter Butler, by Ellen, daughter of Nicholas Morres of Latargh, Tipperary. Her father was a collateral descendant and only lineal representative of James Butler, second duke of Ormonde, who had been attainted in 1715. Her brother John (1740-1795) claimed the Irish titles of his family, which had been forfeited by the act of attainder, and in 1791 he was acknowledged seventeenth earl of Ormonde by the Irish House of Lords. The rank of an earl's daughter was at the same time bestowed on Eleanor and her sisters. Some years previously—in 1774 according to one account, and in 1779 according to another—Lady Eleanor and a friend, Sarah Ponsonby, daughter of Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby, cousin of the Earl of Bessborough, had resolved to live together in complete isolation from society. According to a writer in 'Notes and Queries,' 4th ser. iv. 12, they were both born on the same day of the same year at Dublin, and lost their parents at the same time. But the obituary notice of Miss Ponsonby in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' 1831, pt. i. 272, is probably correct in making her ten years younger than her companion. Their relatives dissuaded them from their plan, and, when they first left their homes, brought them back. Soon afterwards, however, they made their way to a cottage at Plasnewydd in the vale of Llangollen, accompanied by a maidservant, Mary Caryll. Their names were not known in the neighbourhood, and they were called 'the ladies of the vale.' Here they lived in complete seclusion for some fifty years, and neither left the cottage for a single night until their deaths. Their devotion to each other and their eccentric manners gave them wide notoriety. All tourists in Wales sought introduction to them, and many made the journey to Llangollen for the special purpose of visiting them. Foreigners of distinction figured largely among their visitors, and they received a number of orders from members of the Bourbon family. In 1796 Miss Anna Seward wrote a poem, 'Llangollen Vale' in their honour. In September 1802 she addressed a poetical farewell to them. Madame de Genlis, another visitor, has given an account of them in her 'Souvenirs de Félicie.' De Quincey saw them during his Welsh ramble (Confessions, 1856, p. 121). In 1828 Prince Pückler-Muskau saw them at their cottage, and wrote a very elaborate description of them. He says that his grandfather had visited them half a century before, that 'the two celebrated virgins' were 'certainly the most celebrated in Europe.' According to the prince they were invariably dressed in a semi-masculine costume. Lady Eleanor Butler died 2 June 1829, and her companion, Miss Ponsonby, died 8 Dec. 1831. With their servant, Mary Caryll, who died before either of them, they lie buried in Plasnewydd churchyard under a triangular pyramid inscribed with their names. Portraits of them and their cottage are often met with. A painting of them by Lady Leighton has been engraved by Lane.

[Gent. Mag. 1829, ii. 175–6, and 1832, i. 274; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 12, 220 (where Prince Pückler's account is translated from his Briefe eines Verstorbenen, Stuttgart, 1831, i. 18–22); Burke's Patrician(1841), v. 485; Brit. Mag. (ed. S. C. Hall), 1830. p. 8; Burke's Peerage, s.v. 'Ormonde'; Seward's Letters, iii. 70–80, 345.]

S. L. L.