Lady Charlotte Guest

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Lady Charlotte Guest
Portrait of Lady Charlotte Guest
Born 19 May 1812
Uffington, Lincolnshire, England
Died 15 January 1895 (age 82)
Occupation Translator, businesswoman

Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest (née Bertie; 19 May 1812 – 15 January 1895), later Lady Charlotte Schreiber, was an English aristocrat who is best known as the first publisher in modern print format of The Mabinogion which is the earliest prose literature of Britain. Guest established The Mabinogion as a source literature of Europe, claiming this recognition among literati in the context of contemporary passions for the Chivalric romance of King Arthur and the Gothic movement. The title Guest used derived from a mediaeval copyist error already established in the 18th century by William Owen Pughe and the London Welsh societies.

As an accomplished linguist, and the wife of a foremost Welsh ironmaster John Josiah Guest she became a leading figure in the study of literature and the wider Welsh Renaissance of the 19th century. With her second husband, as Charlotte Schreiber, she became a famous Victorian collector of porcelain; their collection is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum. She was also an international industrialist, pioneering liberal educator, philanthropist and elite society hostess.

Early life

Lady Charlotte was born on 19 May 1812 at Uffington House in Uffington, Lincolnshire, the daughter of Albemarle Bertie, 9th Earl of Lindsey and his second wife Charlotte Susanna Elizabeth Layard.[1] She was christened Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie. When she was six years old she suffered the loss of her father and during this year she was also caught in a house fire, from which she escaped. Her mother later remarried the Reverend Peter Pegus, whom Charlotte disliked.[2] She had two younger brothers and half-sisters. With time her mother slowly began to change from being an active women to someone who retreated with illness. It is during this time that Charlotte began to take over for her mother in the running of the house.[1]

It appears that she particularly enjoyed the refuge of the garden and with time she developed a dislike for being kept inside. Furthermore, at the age of nineteen she had to continually apologize for her families actions. Ever since she was young she had a keen interest in politics and keenly expressed her views on topics that she has formed an opinion in. Charlotte showed a great aptitude for languages and literature. She taught herself Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian as well as studying Latin, Greek, French and Italian with her brothers' tutor.[1] From looking at Lady Charlotte’s life it is clear that her life is very structured as she was someone who rose early and apparently despised laziness.

It appears that Lady Charlotte’s upbringing met the standards that society had held for her classes. She learnt various skills, such as singing and dancing. As she came from a well-off family, the Berties, it is clear that public school was not a success. Some members of the family were bullied, for example Lindsey, so he was swiftly taken out of school and a tutor came once again. It appears that Lady Charlotte did not have any close friends and if any she was closest to the O’Brien sisters.[1]

Dedication to Education

The first national working-class organisation in the world, Chartism, helped Lady Charlotte understand that there was a need for ‘closer involvement in practical work for the people of Dowlais.’[1] Many of the wealthier people during the 19th century helped develop educational and leisure facilities for the people who worked for them, this is something that the Guests’ also did. With the backing of her cousin, Henry Layard, Lady Charlotte eventually focussed her efforts on providing education in Dowlais. Although she was a female Lady Charlotte was able to put forward her ideas in unison with her husband’s when educational developments were being made. However, she did have to be very careful in doing this and needed to allow ‘some independent thought.’ [1] It is clear how important the Guests were to education as it has been noted by others, for example Leslie Wynne Evans.[1]

Lady Charlotte was very dedicated in her work and for a while she visited schools very frequently, regardless of circumstances. It was not only this that Lady Charlotte did. At the end of the school term she would hold events that included prize-givings and required classrooms to be decorated. Although, this was not something that her husband shared her enthusiasm for. As well as this Lady Charlotte Guest also supplied schools with materials for needlework and approved the purchases of many of the teaching supplies that were bought. It was not just schools in Dowlais that Lady Charlotte visited. She also visited schools in Swansea and Llandaff.[1]

Her dedication to trying to improve education can also be seen in the library that was constructed in the mid-1840s. Originally, there was a subscription fee of 1s 6d, however this was later changed in 1853 and the library became a public library.[1]

Dowlais Ironworks

Dowlais Ironworks was a major 19th-century ironworks located near Merthyr Tydfil, one of the four main ironworks in Merthyr - the other three were Cyfarthfa, Plymouth and Penydarren Ironworks.[3]

Charlotte Guest took assisted management of Dowlais Ironworks after the death of her husband John Guest in 1852. She along with G. T. Clark and Edward Divett would become executors and trustees of the Ironworks. As a result of this Lady Guest would be sole trustee while a widow but she remarried in 1855 to Charles Schreblier and de facto control fell to Clark although there is reports that she gave up running the iron works, and instead travelled and assembled an impressive ceramics collection.[4]

Personal life

During her life it can be said that she had many suitors as many people were considered as suitors for her. At one point Herbert Marsh was considered as a possible suitor.She made friends with the learned men of the time and almost married D'Israeli, who was attracted to her intelligence.Furthermore, her first love is believed to have been Augustus O’Brien whom she had met at the age of fourteen, something which is later been described as the best day of her life. However, this relationship was doomed as her mother was entirely against her daughter being bound to the son of a local squire, even going as far as to claim that she would sooner see her daughter in a grave than married to Augustus.

After a brief flirtation with the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, she escaped her unhappy home life through marriage in 1833, in an unconventional choice. At the age of twenty-one, she moved to London and met Josiah John Guest, a successful ironmaster and the first Member of Parliament from the town of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. Her husband, John Josiah Guest, was an industrialist, a foremost Welsh ironmaster, the owner of the Dowlais Iron Company which was the largest of its day. He was much older than she was; 49 to her 21. The couple married on 29 July 1833 and moved into a new mansion built near the Dowlais Iron Company in Merthyr Tydfil. She moved to his house in Dowlais in Merthyr Tydfil as a bride in 1833. He had already been elected as Member of Parliament for Merthyr in 1832. But although he was an MP, extremely wealthy, and of good family, he was much lower in status than his aristocratic wife, which caused her significant social strain for some years. Despite everyone else’s views they remained married until his death in 1835 and had 10 children.

However Charlotte was mainly very happy in her marriage. She bore ten children: Maria (1834–1902), Ivor (1835–1914), Katherine (1837–1926), Merthyr (1838–1904), Montague (1839–1909), Augustus (1840–1862), Arthur (1841–1898), Enid (1843–1912), Constance (1844–1916), and Blanche (1847–1919).[5] She took an enthusiastic interest in her husband's philanthropic activities on behalf of the local community, and they built pioneering schools for their workers, as well as piping in clean water for their cottages when this was still a very new technology. She was increasingly trusted by her husband as his assistant at the ironworks, and she acted as his representative for the company. She translated technical documents from French. John Guest was created a baronet in 1838, due in no small part to his wife's social engineering. The decline of Josiah's health meant that Charlotte spent more time administering the business and took it over completely following his death in 1852. She negotiated strikes and a slump, and stood up to other foundry owners, stabilising the business until in 1855 she could hand on the business to her eldest son, Ivor, and the manager G. T. Clark.[6]

Charlotte then married Charles Schreiber a classical scholar, recently her sons' tutor, and very much her junior. This created a major social scandal and set her apart from many of her former close friends such as Augusta Hall. With her experienced political support her new husband became a member of parliament for Cheltenham and later Poole. They spent many years traveling in Europe collecting ceramics which she bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. She also collected fans, board games and playing cards, which she donated to the British Museum. Guest was again widowed, and lived on to an advanced age. In her last few years she was unable to continue the journal she had written almost without a break since she was 10 years old, as she became blind. She died surrounded by her children, and grandchildren, and extended family at 82.

Guest's eldest son Ivor eventually became First Baron Wimborne and married Lady Cornelia Spencer-Churchill, the eldest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and an aunt of Winston Churchill. They were the parents of the first Viscount Wimborne. Among her other descendants are the American Guests (the late socialite C. Z. Guest was the wife of one of these), the Earls of Bessborough, the Viscounts Chelmsford, and others.


Guest arrived in Wales already expert in seven languages. She learned Welsh, and associated with leading literary scholars of the Abergavenny Welsh Society Cymdeithas Cymreigyddion y Fenni, notably including Thomas Price, and John Jones (Tegid) who supported and encouraged her in her work. Villemarqué had an initially cordial relationship with her about Breton sources, but then plagiarised her work. She translated several mediaeval songs and poems, then in 1837 she began on the Mabinogion. John Jones (Tegid) borrowed a copy of the Llyfr Coch Hergest manuscript for her from Judge Bosanquet, who had originally commissioned him to transcribe a copy when Tegid was a young scholar at Oxford. The first tale Charlotte translated from Tegid's transcription was the "The Lady of the Fountain" or "Owain," which was well received when published in 1838.

Some characters from the tales had been profiled in William Owen Pughe's Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales. Pughe published a translation of the first episode of Pwyll, from the First Branch, in 1795, and again in 1821. He made a complete translation of all the tales, but the work was unpublished at his death in 1835. Guest did not rely on Pughe's translations, though she did use a Welsh dictionary Pughe had completed in 1803.

The Charlotte Guest Mabinogion became the first translation of the material to be published in modern print format. It was published in seven volumes between 1838 and 1845, with the first volumes dedicated to Guest's favourite Arthurian material. In 1849 the work was republished in three volumes: Volume I contained the Welsh Romances Owain, Peredur, and Geraint and Enid; Volume II contained Culhwch ac Olwen and The Dream of Rhonabwy. Volume III contained the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and Taliesin. Geraint and Enid in Volume I was the basis for Alfred, Lord Tennyson's two poems about Geraint in the Idylls of the King.

The seven volume series 1838-45, and the three volume set 1849, were all bilingual, presenting Tegid's transcribed Welsh text, and Guest's English translation. They included copious scholarly footnotes, mainly in English, totalling 145 pages in all. They were lavishly produced, with full illustrations, and gold tooled,leather covers. All volumes were published simultaneously in Llandovery, Wales by the Tonn Press, and by Longmans of London.

The next edition in 1877 was the English translation only, and this became the standard edition which was to become so very well known.

The name 'Mabinogion'

The name Mabinogion for these stories is often incorrectly thought to begin with Guest but it was already in use in the late 17th century cf. Pughe 1795 and his circle in the London Welsh Societies. The name was derived from a mediaeval copyist mistake where a single instance of the word mabynnogyon looks like a plural for the term 'mabinogi;' but 'mabinogi' is already a Welsh plural.

The meaning Mabinogi is obscure, but it clearly roots in the word 'mab' for son, child, young person: this is to be seen in the naming convention 'son of' in genealogies. Beyond that scholars have no consensus. As a title the 'Mabinogi' properly applies to only the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Just to make it fun, these are not just four stories, as each contains at least three tales. But they are formally referred to as four tales out of the eleven which comprise the standardised Mabinogion collection, post-Guest.

Guest's own collection included twelve stories, adding in the Hanes Taliesin which is subsequently omitted by other scholars, as it is not found in the Llyfr Coch Hergest, or the Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch, like the rest.

In 2007 the leading modern scholar of the field, John Bollard, challenged the validity of the Mabinogion collection, saying that apart from the Four Branches of the Mabinogi which are coherent, the stories have little in common with each other except that they are prose fictions surviving in the same mediaeval manuscripts.

Death and legacy

On 15 January 1895 Lady Charlotte Guest died at Canford Manor in Dorset.

Guest, with her contemporary and friend Lady Llanover, was a patron of the arts in Wales. Her Enid was a literary influence on Tennyson, and her theories and sources influenced European artists, poets and writers. She published, promoted and translated of the books of The Mabinogion, with her 1877 single volume edition of the English translation being adopted as part of the Everyman series in 1902. Further editions were published during the 20th century. In 2004 the work was published online by the Gutenberg project, and in 2008 Colin Jones published recordings with music. Modern translations of The Mabinogion included John Bollard's series (2007-2010), and Sioned Davies (2008).



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Guest, R. and John, A. (1989). Lady Charlotte: A Biography of the 19th Century. United Kingdom: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,. pp. 3–4.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Revel_book" defined multiple times with different content
  2. "V. B. Ponsonby, Earl of Bessborough, ed. 1950. Lady Charlotte Guest: Extracts from her Journal 1833-1852. London: John Murray". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. V. B. Ponsonby, Earl of Bessborough, ed. 1950. Lady Charlotte Guest: Extracts from her Journal 1833–1852. London: John Murray. p.x
  6. James, B. Ll. "Clark, George Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5461.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


  • Marsh, Katherine. "Lady Charlotte (Elizabeth) Guest". From The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester. [1] Retrieved 3 April 2007.
  • Schreiber, Lady Charlotte Guest. Biography from British Authors of the 19th Century; H. W. Wilson Company. 1936.
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). [ "Schreiber, Lady Charlotte Elizabeth" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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