Portrait of Lady Charlotte Guest

Lady Charlotte Guest (1812-1895)

A major figure in the history of Welsh literature, she is best known for her pioneering translation of the Mabinogion.

Born at Uffington House, in Lincolnshire, on 19 May 1812, she was christened Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie. Her father was Albemarle Bertie, the ninth Earl of Lindsey, who died when she was six years old.

A lonely child, from an early age she showed great aptitude for talent for study, particularly for literature. She was schooled by tutors, and taught herself Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian.

At the age of 21 she moved to London, where she met the widower John Josiah Guest. A wealthy ironmaster, he had come to London from Merthyr Tydfil after being elected to parliament in 1832. The following year the pair married and settled in Dowlais, South Wales.

Lady Charlotte had a happy marriage and bore 10 children. She became involved in philanthropy, social issues, education and her husband's iron works, and learnt Welsh. The Guests were founder members of the Society of Welsh Scholars of Abergavenny, in a time of renewed interest in medieval life and Celtic history.

In 1838 she became a baroness, and in 1846 the pair bought the Canford estate in Dorset, where they built an impressive gothic mansion.

Her translation of the Mabinogion became the standard for nearly a century. The first volume was published in 1838, and by 1845 the tales had appeared in seven parts. She also wrote a Boys Mabinogion containing the earliest Welsh tales of King Arthur, and translated (often censoring during the process) a number of medieval songs and poems.

Charlotte's translations were influential enough for Tennyson to base his Geraint and Enid, in The Idylls of the King - the most popular poetic work of the era - on her writings.

Following her husband's death in 1852 she took over the iron business, a significant challenge for a woman at the time which led to clashes between her workers and other foundry owners.

In 1855 she married Charles Schreiber, a Cambridge academic and MP, who was also the tutor of her son Ivor. She gave up running the iron works, and instead travelled and assembled an impressive ceramics collection. Upon her death it was bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum; she also donated fans, board games and playing cards she had collected to the British Museum.

Charles Schreiber died in 1884, when Charlotte was 72-years-old. She continued cataloguing her collections and put them on public view. In 1891, the London Fan Makers awarded Charlotte the Freedom of their Company. She was, along with Baroness Coutts, one of only two Freewomen of Victorian England.

In her later years she campaigned for diverse causes including Turkish refugees and shelters for London hansom cab drivers.

She died on 15 January 1895. A public house, built during the regeneration of Dowlais in the 1980s, was named the Lady Charlotte in her honour.


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