Rare Book of the Month: June 2017

Lady Eleanor Douglas, Warning to the dragon and all his angels, 1625

The June 2017 rare book of the month is Warning to the dragon and all his angels, by Lady Eleanor Douglas (1590-1652), printed in London in 1625. Douglas is also known as Lady Eleanor Davies (née Touchet) and Eleanor Audley. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that she “was to be fluid in the use of the names which birth and marriage gave her, deploying them in pamphlet and petition according to context and the identity she was presenting”.

Lady Eleanor was the fifth daughter of the eleventh Baron Audley (1550/1-1617, admitted Middle Temple 1573/4). She could read Latin and English, and most likely had a good understanding of the law as she administered her father’s estate after his death. She married Sir John Davies (admitted Middle Temple 1588, called to the Bar 1595, died 1626) in 1609. Despite the fact that Davies was much older than her, they had three children together. The family moved to London in 1619 after Sir John was relieved of his position as attorney-general for Ireland; by 1623 Lady Eleanor was living in Berkshire.

A warning to the dragon and all his angels, 1625, is the first of many pamphlets published by Douglas. Her prophetic visions were first inspired in the same year by a heavenly voice which declared “there is Ninteene yeares and a halfe to the day of Judgement and you as the meek Virgin”. Many of her prophecies were anagrams and she believed that a version of her name (Eleanor Audelie) was an anagram of ‘Reveale O Daniele’.

A warning presents “political developments in Europe as a fulfilment of the books of Daniel and Revelation”. Her pamphlets angered her husband to such an extent that he burned them all, leading Lady Eleanor to predict his death within three years’ time. Davies died in December 1626. She subsequently married Sir Archibald Douglas in 1627, but he also burned her prophecies, leading her to announce that he would be punished by God with a mental disorder. Douglas’s prophecies also angered some in the court of Charles I, but she was consulted by Queen Henrietta Maria on her first pregnancy.

In 1631, her brother, Mervin Touchet (1593-1631, admitted Middle Temple 1610/11), second Earl of Castlehaven was executed on charges of sodomy and abetting the rape of his wife; he was the “first peer to be tried for felony under Charles I”. Douglas and her family petitioned the king for mercy, but Charles I refused to investigate the Earl’s allegations of corruption on the part of his wife and son, who stood to gain an immense inheritance upon his death. Douglas published various tracts, starting in 1633, to exonerate her brother.

In 1633 she also travelled to Amsterdam with her husband, where she had more of her prophecies printed and smuggled back into England. Archbishop Laud had the tracts publicly burned after she presented him with a manuscript prophecy- a “warning of his judgment at hand”. She was subsequently arrested, fined and imprisoned. In 1635 she was arrested and committed to Bethlem Hospital (also known as Bedlam) for causing various disturbances in Lichfield Cathedral. She was transferred to the Tower of London in 1638 and was released from there in 1640.

Despite all of the calamities in her life, she published her prophecies up until the year of her death; the English Short Title Catalogue lists 74 titles in all (69 of which are unique titles, the others being reprints), but given the number of her works that were burned, it is highly likely that many more were published. Despite (or due to) her seemingly difficult personality, Douglas is notable for being “one of the first English women to see her works through the press”, although Cambridge University Press’s Orlando project notes that her works are “vehement, opinionated, and hard to read, for Douglas's handling of words and syntax takes little account of rules or norms. Her theological and political beliefs are idiosyncratic and her imagery, steeped in that of bible prophecy, is sometimes impenetrable”.

Renae Satterley (r.satterley@middletemple.org.uk)


June 2017