Lady (Charlotte) Eleanor Butler, elder of the two Ladies of Llangollen, was born at Cambrai, the youngest daughter of Walter Butler of Garryricken and his wife, Eleanor. Apparently of too ‘satirical’ and ‘masculine’ a cast of mind to make the advantageous marriage that might help restore the Butler family fortunes, Lady Eleanor seemed doomed to a life of narrow solitude when, in 1769, and aged almost thirty, she met Sarah Ponsonby.
On the night of 30 March 1778, disguised as men and armed with pistols, Ponsonby and Butler fled their homes and made for Waterford, Ireland and the boat for England. Their families caught up with them two miles from the port, and they were ignominiously brought back as prisoners. Not daunted, both ladies successfully escaped Ireland shortly thereafter.
Accompanied by Mary Carryll, the devoted Woodstock housemaid, Butler and Ponsonby for a time toured north Wales, finally settling at Plas Newydd, a rented cottage on the outskirts of the village of Llangollen. They then began to live the ‘retirement’ that would make them famous. It was a life almost conventual in its simplicity, lived according to a strict timetable, regulated by careful, if not always very accurately kept, accounts, concentrating on good works (though in moderation), self-improvement, reading, gardening, and delicious meals.
Lady Eleanor died at Plas Newydd on 2 June 1829, and her friend died there on 9 December two years later. They are buried with their maid, Mary Carryll, beneath a substantial neo-Gothic tombstone in Llangollen churchyard.