Lady Eleanor Davies of Rectory Manor

The extraordinary life of Eleanor Touchet, Lady Davies 1590-1652

Eleanor 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, where Eleanor grew up. Her father then became Governor of Kells in Ireland, where Sir John Davies was Attorney General, and Anne married him in 1609, when he was 40 and she only 18. That year he purchased the Manor and Rectory at Pirton. However they lived in Dublin in Ireland and in a castle called Curlew’s in County Tyrone, which he built, but, when back in England, lived at first in Pirton.  They had 3 children, their first son dying as an infant, their second son drowning in the River Liffey aged 6, only their daughter Lucy surviving. This and other events in Eleanor’s life may well have affected her mind, and also her attitude to religion, and she may well have taken solace in the more dramatic passages in the bible, which became the subject of her later prophecies.  Her mental instability first come to public attention in 1622, three years after she and her husband had returned to England and settled in London. Another event which may well have further disturbed her mind as well as her marriage, was the execution in 1631, of her brother, the notorious Mervyn Touchet, 2nd Lord Castlehaven, one of the few aristocrats in the early 17th century to be executed for both rape and buggery.

However before this dramatic event she had already started her career as a prophetess. She had already upset various ladies in London with her extreme Protestant views and Davies bought the Englefield estate in Berkshire to get her away from the capital. There her daughter Lucy, then only 10, married Ferdinando, Lord Hastings, then only 14 and heir the earldom of Huntingdon, a family with royal connections. Lucy then lived with her in-laws and was thus separated from her mother Lady Eleanor, who now had effectively lost her third child. Eleanor then took into her house the apparently dumb fortune teller named George Carr, who suddenly began to talk and explained the weird dreams he had been having. She then began to read the Book of Daniel in the Bible and, on 28th July was awoken, by Daniel’s voice announcing that, “There are nineteen years and a half to the day of Judgement and you are the meek Virgin”. She felt she had been chosen for a special mission in life and it was this experience, at the ‘Angels’ Field that led her to make more prophecies. The first pamphlet she produced was this one “A warning to the Dragon and all His Angels” Other prophecies she systematically wrote down and later attempted to publish. She often played around with anagrams of words and phrases and thought that the anagrams had a mystical or religious meaning. Thus she made an anagram of her own name Eleanor Davies and made the phrase “Reveal o Daniel”. This led her to believe that she was the incarnation of Daniel and could prophesy, as he had done in the Bible.

Apparently Sir John Davies, seeing the danger of some of her prophecies, burnt them. She reacted dramatically and predicted his death within 3 years by making an anagram of the letters of his name (Joves hand), from which point onward, she dressed only in mourning clothes, in anticipation of his death which did take place in 1626.

She continued to predict what would happen in the future, particularly in England, and attacked the roles played by Bishops, Parliament and even the King, by this time Charles I.  Charles I’s favourite was the Duke of Buckingham, whose death she foretold. He had been in charge of a disastrous naval escapade and was subsequently assassinated by a disgruntled sailor. Having alienated her husband before his death, he left his estates, to his only surviving child, the thirteen-year-old, Lucy, Lady Hastings. Having nowhere to live, Eleanor disputed this legacy for years, so decided to remarry, this time to Sir Archibald Douglas. He too, alarmed by her prophecies, burnt them, and she then supposedly, cast a spell on him, which apparently struck him dumb, except for the occasional grunt. This was however probably a stroke brought on by her raving at him. As a result he left her and lived with relatives, dying in 1644.

By 1633, Lady Davies’ activities could no longer be ignored by the government as she had attacked Charles’s Queen Henrietta Maria, who was seen as influencing her husband away from Protestantism towards Catholicism.  Banned from publishing her prophecies in England, she published them in Holland. She then visited the 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, burnt her books before her very eyes and had her brought before the Court of High Commission in London, over which Laud presided.  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  as 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.

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 Asylum and later moved to the Tower of London. Released in 1640 she was arrested for debt and infringement of the publishing laws. However many were influenced by the idea that the second coming of Christ was nigh, and that this was going to happen in their lifetime. Also that the Beast in the Book of Revelation could be identified with Charles I, and once he was executed then the day of Judgement would come.

She published further tracts during the republic and in 1651 addressed a favourable ‘Benediction’ to Oliver Cromwell, who had received her politely though he had little faith in her supposed mystic abilities. Before then however she had been in contact with Gerard Winstanley the leader of the so-called Diggers.

They believed that men should dig up and plough the land in common, which they proceeded to do at St Georges Hill in Surrey until they were dispersed by local gentry. Winstanley, like Eleanor Davies, produced a number of Tracts, the most notably of which were the True law of Freedom and the New Law of Righteousness. After the failure of the Digger experiment in Surrey in 1650, Winstanley temporarily fled to Pirton where he took up employment as steward for Lady Eleanor. However after a few months she sacked him, accusing him of mismanaging her property

1652 saw, both the last pamphlet Eleanor Davies wrote, Tobit’s Book, and her own death, the causes of which are not known. She chose not to be buried at Pirton, where she had lived, but in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields at Charing Cross, near Westminster, alongside her first husband, Sir John Davies. Thus ended a life filled with mysticism, imprisonment and clandestine writing. However her collected works have been gathered together and published, and though they show a deep reading of the bible, her conclusions and prophecies alarmed so many people in her lifetime that she became a figure of notoriety rather than sympathy.


Share this page: