Charlotte Frances Townshend (5D27)

Date of Birth: 20 Jan 1857
Date of Death: dsp 12 Sep 1943
Generation: 7th
Residence: Ayot St Lawrence, Herts
Father: Horace Payne - Townshend [5D12]
Mother: Kirby, Mary Susannah
  1. Shaw, George Bernard
Issue: None
See Also: Table VD ; Scrapbook ; Lineage ; Ancestors' Tree ; Descendents' Tree

Notes for Charlotte Frances Payne - Townshend (1)

Married 1 June 1898 (2) at the Registrar's Office, 15 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London. George Bernard Shaw (GBS) of Ayot St Lawrence, Herts and son of George Carr Shaw of Dublin. See Burke's Peerage - Shaw Bt of Bushy Park.

Born at Derry (3) Charlotte in her words “had a perfectly hellish childhood and youth” (4) on account of her mother’s domineering and forceful character and the appalling way she treated her father. Though she adored Derry and the life there she came to hate her mother and this had a profound effect on her views on life, marriage and motherhood.

In his unpublished autobiography Edward Mansel Townshend [630] (5) mentions meeting Charlotte and her sister on several occasions - they were first cousins - and described Charlotte as a 'tall, lively young lass with light red hair'. Edward was of the opinion that Charlotte should not have married George Bernard Shaw but rather should have accepted the proposal of Mr Smith-Barry at that time the wealthiest Commoner in Ireland and later created, by the revival or an old Townsend-Barry title, the Earl of Barrymore.

She was 28 when her father died in 1885 leaving her, her sister and mother well provided for. Still unmarried, despite the best efforts of her mother to find a suitable son in law, Charlotte was now a wealthy woman in her own right and her mother became increasingly possessive fearing that some fortune hunter would ensnare her. She insisted that Charlotte accompany her on all her travels and Charlotte had no option but to do so though it did bring some relief to her for she adored travel and this stayed with her throughout her life. When her mother fell ill in the early part of 1890 Charlotte took her to Derry to recuperate and whilst there found that there was renewed interest in the Clonakilty Extension (see her father’s entry for details) and she took up the issue in memory of him notwithstanding the protestations of her mother that this was not something a young woman should concern herself with. In July 1891 Charlotte and her mother undertook another protracted tour round Europe. They returned to London in August that same year and Charlotte’s mother died on 9th September.

Francis Guy’s City and County Cork Almanac and Directory 1891 records on page 90 that Charlotte was a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland - "Payne-Townsend Miss, Rosscarbery". Page XIX of the 1896 Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society lists Charlotte as a member along with her kinsmen Richard Baxter Townshend [5D15], Horace Townshend [5D23], Horatio Hamilton Townsend [6B05] and Edward Richard Townshend [6C04].

Over the next four years Charlotte travelled widely in India, Egypt and Italy; a very wealthy, strongly independent woman searching for some purpose in life. In 1892 she very nearly accepted a proposal of marriage from General Clery whilst two years later she arrived in Rome from Egypt and there met Dr Alex Munthe (6). She fell madly in love with him but he never proposed to her. In reaction to this Charlotte’s life took a new turn and she started taking an interest in social issues and the emancipation of women. Soon afterwards she met Sidney and Beatrice Webb and was fascinated by their agenda for spreading socialist ideas through non violent means. Through them she met many other like-minded people and this gave her a strong sense of having found that purpose in life which she was seeking. In 1895 Charlotte joined the Fabian Society (7) and it was through her friendship with Sidney and Beatrice Webb that she met GBS on 29 January 1896. In an attempt to link her further to the Fabian Society the Webbs had been trying to match Charlotte with the historian Graham Wallas, who was handsome and sophisticated. However it was the bohemian GBS who attracted her and over the next two years they became close companions who pursued the same mutual interests and social ideals. Charlotte started acting as his secretary and became a constant companion; when GBS injured his foot and had to undergo an operation for necrosis of the bone it was Charlotte who realised that he needed rest and she proposed taking a house in the country where she could nurse him back to health. It was then that GBS proposed to her and when they married he was still on crutches!

That their union remained childless may be attributed to Charlotte's concerns about her age (41 on her marriage) as well as other emotional factors as described above. Indeed there is no certainty that they ever consummated their marriage. Charlotte and GBS lived at 10, Adelphi Terrace, London which had been her home since 1896. Nearly every year after their marriage they rented a house in the country where GBS could work in peace and quiet. In 1906 they moved to Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire which was to become their permanent country home.

Whilst GBS and Charlotte were much devoted to each other their marriage did not develop into anything deeper; if anything they drifted apart spiritually. They never enjoyed close intellectual camaraderie though GBS depended heavily on her protective, intelligent presence. Nevertheless they continued developing their social ideas within the framework of the Fabian Society; Charlotte wrote a tract in 1909 entitled ‘Rent and Value'. But there were a number of issues on which they deeply disagreed and one of these was travel. Charlotte had always enjoyed travel since she was a young girl and she was convinced that travel was the only way in which she could stop GBS from overworking. However he hated traveling and there were frequent protestations as he only ever wanted to remain in one place so that he could get on with his work. Charlotte never relinquished her passion for travel even when GBS refused to accompany her.

Charlotte met Colonel TE Lawrence in 1922 and, despite the difference in their ages Charlotte being 65 and Lawrence 42, they established a deep and intimate friendship which lasted until his death in 1935. In a way that she could never do with her husband Charlotte opened up her heart to Lawrence as he did with her. In no sense were they lovers, rather they were confidantes who poured their hearts out to each other. One in particular, written on 17 May 1927 and published in 'Mrs GBS' stands out for in it Charlotte records in great detail the unhappy experiences of her childhood. Charlotte's letters to Colonel Lawrence are to be found in the British Museum.

Charlotte inherited Derry from her father through her mother when she died in 1891 and this left he a very wealthy woman. According to ‘Mrs GBS’ she loved the place and would have spent much more time there after her marriage had GBS shown an interest in the place. She visited the house with him in 1905 but to him it was just another Irish country house. This appears to be the last time that Charlotte visited Derry; having been in the family since 1686, she sold the house in 1915. (8)

William Tower Townshend [535] of Myross Wood, Charlotte’s distant cousin, managed Derry and the estate on her behalf until it was sold. The April 1901 Irish Census records that he was a land agent and farmer living at ‘House No 6’ in Derry with his wife and four domestic staff. The house consisted of twelve rooms, two stables, two coach houses and a further twelve outbuildings. It is the largest house listed but does not accord with the April 1911 Irish Census which shows that the largest house was ‘House No 1’ which consisted of 22 rooms, 11 stables, a coach house, a harness room and a further 22 outbuildings. The 1911 Census shows William, then aged 55, living at ‘House No 1’ with his wife, three daughters, two children’s nurses, a ladies maid, cook and three domestic servants. The 1901 Census shows William as the owner of eleven houses and that of 1911 as owner of nine houses – these presumably belonged to the Derry estate, rather than to William personally, who in his own right owned thirteen houses in the Myross estate.

Throughout her adult life Charlotte had suffered from neuralgia and in later years from chronic lumbago. She died of osteitis deformans (9) and was cremated at Golders Green. Throughout her married life Charlotte had always taken a keen interest in the advancement of culture and the improvement of education. She gave much money to many societies promoting such values. In her will she left £154,967 for "the teaching of self control, elocution, deportment and the arts of personal contact, and social intercourse" in Ireland. The patronising Victorian terms of her will, with echoes of the 'ascendancy' generated much unfavourable comment. On 23 November 1950 her ashes, which had been kept safely stored since her cremation, were mixed with those of GBS and taken to Ayot St Lawrence where they were scattered on the flower beds.

GBS started work, aged 15, on 26 October 1871 when he took an appointment as a junior ledger clerk at the estate agency run by Charles Uniacke Townsend [5C00] on a salary of £18 per annum. As he recalled in his play 'Misalliance', he sat in "a stuffy little den counting another man's money. I enter and enter, and add and add, and take money and give change, and fill cheques and stamp receipts’. He remained working for Charles T until 29 February 1876 when he resigned and moved to London. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Though best known for his plays, literary critiques and socialism, George designed a stained glass window for the Fabian Society in 1910. The so called 'Fabian Window' was made by Charlotte's cousin, Caroline Townsend [5D31].

(1) Much of the detail about Charlotte is drawn from the book ‘Mrs GBS’ by Janet Dunbar. Published in London 1963 by George Harrap.

(2) Entry in the diary of Agnes Townsend [334] - 'June 1 1898 Miss Payne T married to Mr Bernard Shaw'.

(3) The entry for Derry in the University of Galway Landed Estates Database records "Family records indicate the original house at Derry was bought by Bryan Townsend, son of Richard, the Cromwellian officer, in the 1680s. This house was a short distance from the current house which was built by Reverend Horatio Townsend in the early years of the nineteenth century and was held in fee by Reverend Chambre Townsend in 1851 when it was valued at £44. Earlier, in 1786, Wilson referred to Derry as a Townsend seat. It was substantially damaged when it was burnt in April 1921 during the War of Independence. . At the time it was the residence of Alexander Sullivan, a well-known barrister. In 1944 the Irish Tourist Association Survey noted that it was still derelict following the 1921 burning. The centre portion of the house and a substantial farm still exist at the site.

(4) Extract from a letter to Colonel TE Lawrence dated 17 May 1927.

(5) 'A Protestant Auto-Biography by the Rev E Mansel Townshend'

(6) Dr Munthe was Physician in Ordinary to the Crown Princess of Sweden.

(7) Charlotte's aunt by marriage Emily Townsend [5D14] (nee Gibson) was also a member of the Fabian Society and they must have known each other. Strangely she is not mentioned in the book ‘Mrs GBS’.

(8) The following item of furniture came up for sale at Wilkinson's Auctioneers in Doncaster on 18 June 2011. It was most probably disposed of when Charlotte sold Derry. "530. A Carved & Panelled Oak Box Settle. The back having a lunette carved top rail above two horizontal upper panels carved with scrolling serpents and three vertical lower panels carved with flowering plants beneath gadrooned arches. The dividing rail inscribed RESTE AND BEE THANKFUL flanked by chamfered uprights with turned finial surmounts. The arms resting on baluster turned posts leading down to the box form seat with a hinged lid and carved triple panel front echoing the back, 58 ins (148 cms) high, 43 ins (110 cms) wide. [Paper label inside settle reads: 'This settle came to Grandfather W.G. Wood.1890 from the Townsend family, Miss Charlotte Townsend married G.B. Shaw. Horace Payne Townsend (father of Charlotte) Derry House in the Parish of Rosscarbery, Co Cork, W.G. Wood was auctioneer in Skibbereen, Co Cork']. Estimate €2000-3000."

(9) Paget's Disease.

See Dictionary of National Biography 2004 for full details about George Bernard Shaw.