Ladies of Llangollen collection, 1774-1991

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Ponsonby, Sarah, approximately 1754-1831, Butler, Eleanor, approximately 1738-1829, Baskin, Lisa Unger, former owner, and Tighe, Sarah, 1743-1822
In the late 18th century, Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1832), also known as the Ladies of Llangollen, left their lives in the upper tiers of Anglo-Irish society and made a home for themselves in Llangollen, Wales, to the disapproval of both their families. Butler and Ponsonby appeared to have understood their relationship as a marriage, and they were known for dressing alike in masculine clothing. They were part of an emerging culture of 'romantic friendship' between same-sex couples. While they lived a life of rural retreat, the Ladies' relative celebrity and social status meant that their home Plas Newydd became a salon. They hosted the many of the intelligensia of the day, including poets such as Wordsworth and Byron, and the reigning Queen Charlotte. The collection is largely made up of letters by the Ladies, as well as materials about Llangollen, the cultural haven of Plas Newydd, and images of the Ladies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
9.5 Linear Feet
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Ladies of Llangollen Collection is made up of materials both by and about Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby's life at their home, Plas Newydd, in Llangollen, Wales.

The largest part of the collection is the letters written by and to the Ladies. Most of the correspondence takes place between Sarah Ponsonby and her cousin Mrs. Sarah Tighe, along with letters from Eleanor Butler, their neighbor Ch. L. West, and the Fownes family, Sarah Ponsonby's cousins and former guardians. The manuscripts include poems by the Ladies, as well as an account written about the Ladies of Llangollen by Ch. L. West and an album by a visitor to Llangollen. The papers contain items and images of the Ladies of Llangollen, Llangollen Vale, and the traditions of Wales in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Guidebooks, maps, and printed materials make up the materials about the history of the Ladies' beloved Llangollen. The images of the Ladies and their home in Llangollen Vale make up the largest part of the image files.

Biographical / historical:

Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, better known as the Ladies of Llangollen, eloped from Ireland to Wales in 1778 and setttled in a cottage, Plas Newydd, that was transformed into a salon for visitors inhabiting the highest echelons of literary and social society, such as William Wordsworth, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron, and Anne Lister.

Butler and Ponsonby had originally lived near each other in Wicklow, Ireland, and had struck up a friendship in 1768. For the next ten years, Eleanor and Sarah dreamed of leaving Ireland together. They wished to escape a life in a convent for Eleanor, and the unwanted sexual advances of Sarah's guardian and cousin Sir William Fownes. After their successful elopment and move to Llangollen, Wales, with the help of their beloved maid Mary Carryl, they lived in their home, Plas Newydd, for many years. Lady Eleanor died in 1829 at age 91, and two years later, Sarah died at age 74. Opinions differ as to whether their relationship was sexual, but they were clearly ahead of their time in their ability to successfully establish a domestic partnership as a same-sex couple. Recent scholarship has begun to examine them in light of their sexual transgressiveness.

Acquisition information:
The Ladies of Llangollen Collection was received as part of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2015.
Processing information:

Processed by Tracy Jackson, Heather McGowan, and Megan Lewis November 2017.

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2015-0050-LUBMSS522, 2015-0050-LUBMSS140, 2015-0050-LUBMSS072, 2015-0050-LUBMSS139, 2015-0050-LUBMSS502, 2015-0050-LUBMSS398, 2015-0050-LUBMSS399, 2015-0050-LUBMSS001, 2015-0050-LUBMSS142, 2015-0050-LUBMSS141, 2015-0050-LUBMSS397

Inventory updated with correspondence in Box 6 and some printed materials, Tracy M. Jackson, April 2023.


The Ladies of Llangollen Collection is arranged into three series: Letters and Manuscripts, Papers, and Objects. The Letters and Maunscripts series has two sub-series: letters and manuscripts. The letters are listed at the item level and are arranged chronologically. The Papers series contains images, albums, maps, guidebooks, materials about the history of Llangollen, and printed materials about the Ladies of Llangollen. The Objects series includes sourvenir objects with images of the Ladies of Llangollen or their home and town in Wales.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Ladies of Llangollen Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.