Lady Lettice Digby—correction

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2019), Letters, Volume 27

Sir,—There were many myths and legends that became attached to the story of the defence of her besieged castle by Lettice Digby, Baroness Offaly (HI 27.5, Sept./Oct. 2019). These myths themselves have been theorised as suggesting a certain discomfort among male historians with the heroic actions of a woman at a time when heroic action was reserved for men. One of the best-known legends told of Lady Digby’s haughty and dismissive reaction when a bullet narrowly missed her head as she walked on her battlements. She whipped out a handkerchief and appeared to dust (in a suitably domestic, female manner) the spot where the wall was damaged. This story was first told of a fourteenth-century Scottish warrior, Lady Agnes Randolph.

I have discovered that I have inadvertently perpetuated another myth. The portrait of Lady Digby, from Sherborne Castle, with which my article was illustrated shows her gesturing towards a bible open at the Book of Job. The text has been several times identified as referring to Job 19:20, which includes the words ‘I am escaped with the skin of my teeth’; I used this as an indication that Lady Digby’s experience of being besieged remained an important event in her memory ever after.

Recently launched in Geashill, as part of Heritage Week 2019, was local historian Clemens van Ow’s exhaustive survey of the history of Geashill Castle, Lettice Baroness Offaly and the siege of Geashill: an Irish biography 1580–1658. In it he transcribes what can be seen by anyone who takes the time to read: the text is Job 19:26—‘and though after my skin worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God’.

I regret that I didn’t spot this myself but I confess myself content to realise that Lady Digby’s robust sense of moral uprightness, which characterised her actions and correspondence, did not leave her and was how she chose to be remembered.—Yours etc.,

JANE MAXWELL

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