Charlotte Despard (French) (1844 - 1937)

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Death: Died
Cause of death: Fall at home
Managed by: Terry Teford Cooper
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About Charlotte Despard (French)

Source: Find A Grave memorial #22152195.

Writer and political figure. She was a daughter of William French, a naval commander from Ireland. By the age of ten her father had died and her mother was committed to an insane asylum and she was sent to London to live with relatives. She was shocked by the poverty she saw and as a result developed radical political opinions. In 1870 she fell in love and married Max Despard, a Frenchman who shared her political beliefs.

In 1874 her first first novel, Chaste as Ice, Pure as Snow was published. During the next sixteen years Charlotte wrote ten novels. When her husband died in 1890, Charlotte decided to devote the rest of her life to helping the poor. She left her luxurious house in Esher and moved to Wandsworth to live with the people she intended to assist. She joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was arrested and imprisoned for her political activities. However, she disapproved of Emmeline Parkhurst's methods and together with three other women founded the Women's Freedom League (WFL).

This new organization still took a militant approach but unlike the WSPU the Freedom League concentrated on using non-violent illegal methods. In 1909 she met Gandhi and was influenced by his theory of "passive resistance". As the leading figure in the WFL, she urged members not to pay taxes and to boycot the 1911 Census. She continued to be involved in politics after the war and joined in the Sinn Fein campaign for a united Ireland but resigned as a response to the factionalism of its members.

In 1930 she visited the Soviet Union and took the decision to move from Dublin to Northern Ireland in the wake of an attack on the Irish Workers' College, which she had financed for some time. In the mid 1930's her finances were becoming strained and she was declared bankrupt in 1937. Nonetheless, she continued to fight Fascism until her death as a result of a fall at her home at the age of 95.

She was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland.


Charlotte Despard (née French) (June 15, 1844 – November 10, 1939) was an English-born, later Irish-based suffragist, novelist, Sinn Féin activist, vegetarian and anti-vivisection advocate.

Early life

She was born in Ripple, Kent, the daughter of Commander John Tracy William French RN (who died in 1854) and Margaret French, née Eccles (who died suffering from insanity in 1867). Her father was born at Frenchpark, a village in County Roscommon, Ireland, that is the ancestral home of the Barons de Freyne, and she spent some time there. Her brother, John French, become both a leading military commander during World War I and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, putting them on opposing political sides in later life.

She regretted her lack of education, although she did attend a finishing school in London. In 1870, she married businessman Maximilian Carden Despard, who died at sea in 1890;[2] they had no children. Her romantic novels included Chaste as Ice, Pure as Snow.


Following her husband's death, when she was 46, Despard was encouraged by friends to take up charitable work. She was shocked and radicalised by the levels of poverty in London and devoted her time and money to helping the poor in Battersea. She lived above one of her welfare shops in one of poorest areas of Nine Elms during the week and converted to Roman Catholicism. She was elected as a Poor Law Guardian for Lambeth poor-law union.


Despard was a very active member of the Battersea Labour Party during the early decades of the 20th century. She was selected as the Labour candidate for Battersea North in the 1918 General Election receiving 33% of the vote.

At the time Despard was a vocal supporter of the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party. In 1906 she joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and was imprisoned twice in Holloway gaol. She became frustrated with the lack of progress the organisation was making she joined the more radical Women's Social and Political Union (WPSU).

Eventually, Despard was one of three women who formed the Women's Freedom League after disagreements over the autocratic way in which the WSPU was run. She was joined by Teresa Billington-Greig and Edith How-Martyn. She was closely identified with new passive resistance strategies including women chaining themselves to the gate of the Ladies' Gallery in the Palace of Westminster; and also a "No taxation without representation" campaign which saw her household furniture repeatedly seized in lieu.

She became good friends with Eleanor Marx and was a delegate to the Second International. She campaigned against the waging of the Boer War as a "wicked war of this Capitalistic government" and she toured the United Kingdom speaking against the usage of conscription in the First World War, forming a pacifist organisation called the Women's Peace Crusade to oppose all war. She remained actively political well into her 90s, addressing several anti-fascist rallies in the 1930s.


Despard spend a lot of time in Frenchpark, County Roscommon, where her father was born. In 1908 she joined with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins to form the Irish Women’s Franchise League. She urged members to boycott the 1911 Census and withhold taxes and provided financial support to workers during the Dublin labour disputes. In 1909 Despard met Mahatma Gandhi and was influenced by his theory of passive resistance.

She settled in Dublin after World War I and was bitterly critical of her brother, Field Marshal Sir John French.

During the Irish War of Independence, together with Maud Gonne, she formed the Women's Prisoners' Defence League to support republican prisoners.[4] As a member of Cumann na mBan she opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and was imprisoned by the government during the Irish Civil War.

In 1930 Despard toured the Soviet Union. Impressed with what she saw she joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and became secretary of the Friends of Soviet Russia organization.

She was buried in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


In London, there are two streets named after her, one in Battersea SW11, and another in Archway, Islington. At the end of the latter is a pub recently renamed in her honour.

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Charlotte Despard (French)'s Timeline

June 15, 1844
November 10, 1937
Age 93
Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland