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 18thC 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 19thC. 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.


Guest was born at Uffington House in Uffington, Lincolnshire, the daughter of Albemarle Bertie, 9th Earl of Lindsey and his second wife Charlotte Susanna Elizabeth Layard. Her father died when she was six, and her mother married secondly the Reverend Peter Pegus, whom Charlotte disliked.[1] 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.

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. 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. 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.

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).[2] 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.[3]

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'[edit]

The name Mabinogion for these stories is often incorrectly thought to begin with Guest but it was already in use in the late 17thC 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.


Lady Charlotte Guest is remembered, along with her contemporary Lady Llanover who was for many years her close friend, as a great patron of the arts in Wales. Her 'Enid' was a literary inspiration to Tennyson, and her theories and sources stimulated many other European artists, poets and writers. Her work as the pioneering publisher, promoter and translator of the elaborate books of 'The Mabinogion' ensured her text remained unchallenged for a century. This was ensured by its adoption by the influential Everyman series in 1902, from the 1877 single volume edition of the English translation. This text continued through many different editions through the 20thC.

In 2004 it went online via the Gutenberg project, and in 2008 Colin Jones published recordings with atmospheric music. Her flowing text remains popular alongside the modern translations such as John Bollard's series 2007 - 2010, and Sioned Davies 2008; often giving an introduction to the tales for newcomers.

A public house, built as part of the regeneration of Dowlais in the 1980s, was named the Lady Charlotte in her honour. Lady Charlotte Schreiber is also remembered by aficionados of her china and fans collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the British Museum.



  1. ^ V. B. Ponsonby, Earl of Bessborough, ed. 1950. Lady Charlotte Guest: Extracts from her Journal 1833-1852. London: John Murray. p.1
  2. ^ V. B. Ponsonby, Earl of Bessborough, ed. 1950. Lady Charlotte Guest: Extracts from her Journal 1833–1852. London: John Murray. p.x
  3. ^ James, B. Ll. "Clark, George Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5461.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


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