Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lady Charlotte Guest and the Mabinogion

Nearly two weeks ago, I went to Hay Castle to see the first fifteen minutes of a film called The Dancing Floor, inspired by the Welsh mythology which was preserved in the collection of stories called the Mabinogion. There was music, on crwth, pipes, guitar and cello, and a storyteller who told one of the tales - of Llew Llaw Gyffes, and the Woman of Flowers, of magic and betrayal and a hero who is reborn. They have a crowd funder going at Indigogo, and it really is a beautiful film, well worth supporting.

Also there that evening was a great great grand daughter of Lady Charlotte Guest (I think I've got the right number of greats). She spoke about her illustrious ancestor - because Lady Charlotte Guest translated the Mabinogion from Medieval Welsh into English and popularised it for the first time.
She would seem to be an unlikely candidate for the task - she was born in Lincolnshire, the daughter of wealthy and aristocratic parents, but she shocked polite society when she married an ironmaster from South Wales, who was twice her age! Josiah Guest was also the first MP for Merthyr Tydfil, and later was made a baronet.
When she arrived at Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil, at the big house next to the ironworks, at the age of 21, she began to learn Medieval Welsh. She was already a linguist, having learned Latin, Greek, French and Italian with her brother (she fell for the tutor) and then went on to teach herself Arabic, Hebrew and Persian. When her work was published, Alfred, Lord Tennyson himself commented on the beauty of her language.
She and her husband were interested in education, and built several schools for the working people locally. She also started a library, at first for a fee of 1/6, but in 1853, shortly after her husband died, it was made free of charge.
On her husband Josiah's death in 1852, she also took charge of the running of the ironworks, at the time the largest in the world, until she handed it over to her oldest son Ivor. By this time, she had ten children. Ivor later married Lady Cornelia Spencer-Churchill, an aunt of Winston Churchill.

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