Eleanor Touchet, Lady Davies

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Eleanor, Lady Douglas, as she became having married Sir Archibald Douglas, was a prophetess. She was arrested and held at Bedlam, and in the Tower of London.

Eleanor, born in 1590,  possibly at Fonthill Giffard, Wiltshire, was the 5th daughter of George Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven, by his first wife, Lucy, the daughter of Sir James Mervyn of Fonthill Giffard in Wiltshire. Her father having sold his Staffordshire estates, Eleanor grew up and was educated at Fonthill and then in Ireland where the Earl was Governor of Kells in County Meath. No doubt, this was how she came to meet the Attorney-General, Sir John Davies, although her father may also have known him through his connections with the Middle Temple and her mother’s family were important landowners near his childhood home. Eleanor was an attractive bright girl of eighteen when she married the forty-year-old Davies in March 1609. The two lived at Pirton in Hertfordshire, when in England, but were mostly kept in Ireland by Sir John’s legal career. They mostly resided in Dublin, but also at Castle Curlews, which Davies built in County Tyrone. The couple had three children together. Sadly, their son, Richard, died while still a baby and, John, a dumb mute, drowned in the Liffey when only about six years old. Only their daughter, Lucy, survived to adulthood, marrying Ferdinando Hastings, later 6th Earl of Huntingdon, on 7 August 1623. These sad losses probably put considerable strain on the marriage.

Soon after the wedding, Davies had begun to discover that marrying into the aristocracy was not necessarily as advantageous has he might at first have thought; for his father-in-law was apparently notorious for his selfish greed and quickly began to pressurize him for political favours. Presumably, Davies was also unaware of the personal habits of his unsavoury brother-in-law, Mervyn Touchet, Lord Audley (eventually Earl of Castlehaven), who was executed in 1631, not only for the frequent sodomising of his male servants, but also for forcing both his wife and daughter-in-law to have sex with the same men while he watched. Eleanor’s own mental instability seems to have first come to public attention in 1622, three years after she and her husband had returned to England and settled in London.

Details of these first two cases involving Lady Davies are lacking. There was some conflict with Lady Jacob over “womanish babbles,” but she also appears to have been harassing a certain Mrs Brooke and her daughter with her Protestant religious mania. Brooke fought back, telling her Ladyship that she had “abandoned all goodness and honesty” and was “mad, ugly and blinded with pride of birth”. Her husband placed curses on Eleanor and even threatened to “scratch a mince pie out of her” if she did not desist further. He also wrote a letter to the Star Chamber. It may have been because of this incident that, the following year, Sir John purchased himself a country retreat, Englefield House in Berkshire, well away from London and the Royal court. In the adjoining church, their ten-year-old daughter, Lucy, married the fourteen-year-old Ferdinando, Lord Hastings, the son and heir of the impoverished Earl of Huntingdon with whom Davies had had business dealings. Eleanor is recorded as having been instrumental in bringing about the match and this probably explains her brother’s unfortunate marriage to the Countess’ sister in the same year. Around this time, Sir John also burnt the many prophecies that his wife had been industriously recording. She was livid and immediately predicted “his doom in letters of his own name, within three years to expect the mortal blow”: John Davies being an anagram of ‘Jove’s Hand’. From that day onward, Sir John only ever saw his wife dressed in mourning clothes.

Young Lord Hastings started his studies at Cambridge University in 1625 and Lucy Davies left Englefield to live with her in-laws without fear of having her marriage consummated. This led to something of a midlife crisis for Lady Davies, while her husband was occupied with trying to procure a lucrative appointment at court from the new king. Only a few weeks before her daughter’s departure, Eleanor had taken in a thirteen-year-old Scottish lad named George Carr. He was known as the “Dumb Fortune-teller” and had caused quite a stir in London before arriving at Englefield. The Berkshire air must have agreed with him, for he began to talk and was able to explain Lady Davies’ troubled dreams. He later went abroad. During Carr’s residence, Lady Davies had begun to read the Book of Daniel and, on 28th July that same year, she was suddenly awoken at Englefield by the Biblical prophet’s trumpeting voice exclaiming, “There are nineteen years and a half to the day of Judgement and you as the meek Virgin”. She felt she had been chosen for a special mission in life and it was this experience, at the ‘Angels’ Field,’ which formed the rock on which she now built her reputation as a prophetess.

Lady Davies would mainly spend her time interpreting the Bible and what it had to say about England’s future, particularly using anagrams. This led her to criticise local officials, bishops, Parliament and even the King. However, she would also foretell events concerning specific people, both upon request and unannounced, as with her husband who did indeed die in 1626 as she had prophesied. Their marriage having disintegrated, Sir John left his estates, including Englefield, to his only surviving child, the thirteen-year-old, Lucy, Lady Hastings. Having nowhere to live, Eleanor disputed this legacy for years. Presumably she had a charismatic charm of sorts, for she did remarry, to Sir Archibald Douglas, 7th of Tilquhillie. He too burnt her prophecies, for which she struck him dumb, reducing his speech to pig-like grunts. He lived with relatives and eventually died in 1644.

By 1633, Lady Davies’ activities could be ignored no longer. Banned from publishing her prophetic tracts – seventy all told – in England, she travelled abroad and published them in Holland. Upon her return, she visited the new archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, and directly related his name to a psalm proclaiming that the Lord would destroy those who did not trust in him. Laud was furious. He burnt her books before her very eyes and had her brought before the Court of High Commission in London. When apparently overtaken by the spirit of the Biblical Daniel in front of her accusers, she was merely met with derision and hilarity; and, when she claimed her name, Eleanor Audelie, proved her chosen calling – it is an anagram of ‘Reveale O Daniel’ – she was told that Dame Eleanor Davies was also an anagram of ‘Never Soe Mad a Ladie’. She became silent and was sentenced to be imprisoned in the Gatehouse Gaol, along with a fine of £3,000. She spent several months there before her release, when she took up residence in Bath. However, her bizarre goings-on continued.

In 1636, she became the leader of a small group of ladies in Lichfield in Staffordshire opposed to the Catholic ways creeping back into the English Church. They sat in the choir-stalls reserved for gentlewomen and, later, Lady Davies claimed to be the Bishop and sat in his throne while pouring a mixture of pitch and wheat paste over the new altar hangings. For this outburst, she was placed in the Bedlam Mental Assylum and later moved to the Tower of London. She was eventually released in 1640. She took up residence in Kensington and elsewhere. Publications followed, including ‘The Stay of the Wise’ (1643), ‘The Restitution of the Reprobates’ (1644) and ‘The Bride's Preparation’ (1644). She was, again, arrested in 1646 and had to live in the custody of the Hastings family for the rest of her life. Her last work, ‘Tobit’s Book,’ was published in 1652, the year of her death.

She died on 5th July 1652 in the City of London and was buried by the side of her first husband in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields at Charing, near Westminster.d>



Sources for this article include:

• Royal Berkshire History

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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024