Mauléon 1838: Anne Lister Is Mistaken For A Man

Marlene Oliveira, Pauline M, and Lívia LabatePublished on 7 April, 2020 · Last updated on 24 April 2023
Cover image: "A Mauléon (Pays Basque)" by Eugène de Malbos (1811–1858)
Source: Rosalis, Bibliothèque municipale de Toulouse

Estimated reading time: 40 minutes.

This article describes active research and the facts and details included have and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. If you come across any other relevant information that can help clarify or expand the topics below, please get in touch
A previous version of this article can be consulted here.
Content updates are noted at the end of this article.

Would you like to cite this article? Have a look at "How to cite this article" below.

A break in the journey

In late September 1838, Anne and Ann decide to travel to the region of Eaux-Bonnes and spend some time there exploring and, eventually, climbing the Pic du Midi de Pau (or Pic du Midi d’Ossau). By then, Anne and Ann had been in the Pyrenees region for months, travelled extensively in the area surrounding the mountains, and even ventured into Spain for a few days. Keen on exploring another section of the region, they depart from Barèges to Eaux-Bonnes on the 21st of September. Their journey would eventually bring them to Mauléon-Licharre when the two women stopped en route to another short expedition to Valcarlos (a small town on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees). It is in Mauléon, at the time a Commune in the Basses-Pyrénées region, that trouble ensues. 

a black and white sketch of a bridge over a river, surrounded by nature and a couple of houses
The old bridge at Mauléon-Licharre, as it looked in 1827. Sketch by Paul-Jean-Pierre Gelibert (1802-1882). Source: / Bibliothèque municipale de Toulouse.
a colour image of a bridge over a river, surrounding by several buildings painted in pastel tones
The bridge and former water mill at Mauléon Licharre (2012). Photo by Tangopaso via Wikimedia Commons.

A Misunderstanding

When they arrive in Mauléon on the 28th of September, Anne presents their passport to the local authorities for visa purposes, but she is told that it will not be necessary. As Anne and Ann are leaving town, a man approaches them and asks to see their passport. At the time, Anne and Ann had a collective passport¹ , which referred to Ann Walker as Anne Lister’s niece, a fact that didn’t please Miss Walker at all² . Thinking the man is a beggar, Anne refuses to show their passport and offers him money instead. As it happens, the man was a gendarme (officer of the law). When Anne realizes her mistake, she gives him their passport immediately.

Thinking that Anne was a man dressed as a woman and travelling with another person’s passport, the gendarme withheld the document and Anne and Ann had no choice but to follow him to the barracks. Anne thought that she would see this misunderstanding cleared up once she talked with the gendarmerie officer at the barracks. However, she finds no sympathy there and, instead, the officers issued a report. Anne is also given a receipt that proves that the gendarmes had her passport. 

an old document written in black ink
The receipt given to Anne Lister by the Gendarme from Mauléon. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/E/22/0150). A transcript of this receipt, created by code breaker Linda Kost, is available here


“Received from Madame Anne Lister, English Lady, & Mademoiselle Walker, her niece, a collective passport. Sent to Monsieur le Sous-Préfet of the district.

The Lieutenant of the district’s Gendarmerie,

P. Montéléon”

Anne was vexed due to the report’s contents, which she considers “detestable falsehoods”, and asks if she is under arrest. She is told that she isn’t. She’s merely held in a “state of prevention”. Anne then asks to be taken to the Sous-Préfet de Mauléon. The gendarmes agree and escort them to the Sous Préfet. 

Anne speaks with the Sous-Préfet, who she deems polite and respectful. Unfortunately, he says he cannot help Anne with the gendarmes’ report, but the passport is returned to Anne and she is once again free. The Sous-Préfet would then write a letter to the Préfet de Pau, in which he explained that they had arrested a person whom they thought was a man dressed as a woman:

“The police force has today arrested in Mauléon an English individual who is suspected to be a man dressed as a woman. This individual offered money in order to be released. He took a passport in London on May 1, 1838 for a trip to the continent with a niece and their servants.”

The Sous-Préfet de Mauléon, 28th of September 1838 (APA-2Z49)

Per his account, this person had offered the gendarme money so they could walk free. This is, obviously, a very different account from the one Anne gives. 

A gendarme arrests a peasant. Sketch by Henry Monnier (1799-1877). Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, FOL-DC-202 (B,9). 

The events from Mauléon 

On the 29th of September, Anne and Ann travel to Pau. there, they wait for about half an hour to speak to the Préfet de Pau, Mr Duchatel. He eventually receives them and Anne recounts the events from Mauléon. It is not clear how well-received Anne was or how the conversation evolved.

In the early hours of the 30th of September, Anne and Ann travel from Pau to Lourdes, where they call at Mr Latapie’s house. Latapie had been the lawyer Anne hired to help her prove that she had been at the summit of Mt. Vignemale on the 7th of August of that same year. The lawyer, unfortunately, had travelled to St. Sauveur and was not at home when Anne and Ann called. Thus, the two Yorkshire ladies then decide to make their way there to try and meet with Latapie. 

When Anne and Ann reach St. Sauveur on the 1st of October, they learn that they had once again missed Mr Latapie, who had travelled to Barèges. So the ladies send someone to get him. At Luz, which at the time was a small town near St. Sauveur, they finally meet with Latapie. Anne explains what happened in Mauléon and then Mr Latapie also hears the same story recounted by Jean Pierre Charles (one of Anne’s guides). Mr Latapie concludes that the gendarme was to blame and advises Anne as to what she should do next:

“if the Prefet de Pau does not take any steps to satisfy me, I must apply to the Secretary des Affaires Étrangères, and then to the War Department –”

Anne Lister, 1 October 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0032)

Latapie then tells Anne that he will write a letter for her to sign the following day. He also keeps Anne’s passport so he can examine it. Anne and Mr Latapie meet again on the 2nd of October. He meets her and Ann and reads them the letter he wrote. Anne thinks Latapie’s letter was “really very well done – explanatory – très polie –”, and she thinks that the Préfet de Pau: 

“would understand the hit at his incivility and hoping that he would notice the matter as he thought proper and that I should have no occasion to apply to higher authority and hoping also that he would send me a copy of the Rapport and an answer to my letter directed to me aux soins de Monsieur Okey avocat to the British Embassy –”

Anne Lister, 2 October 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0033)

In the letter, Anne once again explains the events from Mauléon in detail and all the trouble she went through. It’s clear that she felt, at the very least, insulted by how she was treated:

“Instead, the gendarme withheld it [the passport] on the grounds or pretext that this passport was, perhaps, not mine, and that I could be a man disguised as a woman. He went to the barracks, and we had no choice than to follow him there. I hoped that the gendarmerie officer in residence at Mauléon would be more enlightened than his gendarme; I was mistaken in my idea, and I had to endure the vexations of one and the other. A report to Mr. the Sub-Prefect of Mauleon ensued, a report expressing detestable falsehoods, and very likely to raise my soul with indignation.”

Anne Lister, 2 October 1838 (SH:7/ML/1034)

It’s easier to understand Anne’s reaction if we remember that she was mistaken for a man on previous occasions. In September 1818, while running errands around York early in the morning, Anne is thought to be a man by some people she encounters (Lister 17 September 1818). Madame Galvani, who taught Anne French in 1824, also thought Anne was a man at first (Lister 26 October 1824). This happens again during Anne’s trip to the Pyrenees in 1830. Still, the only place where it becomes more expressive than mere curiosity is at the Hospice near Benasque, where a Spanish Customs Officer, seemingly hoping to make a quick profit, accuses Anne of being a man dressed as a woman and travelling under false pretences. At the time, the man wanted to inspect Anne Lister to ensure that she was who she said she was:

“I was just going to be off when Pierre brought me a letter which the Caporal gave him to give me saying that a messenger had arrived at Benasque to say they thought I was a man, and that the Governor had sent off an express with that letter to desire that I might not be suffered to pass till my baggage had been examined and I myself too, by the woman of the hospice to see whether I was femme or not - I said my passport was properly signed and did not understand any such order that I considered myself insulted and desired to have the letter - this the Caporal positively refused - then I said certainly should not submit to such a thing and should go back to the governor to inquire into the thing -”

Anne Lister, 30 September 1830 (SH:7/ML/TR/7/0023 and SH:7/ML/TR/7/0024)

The matter was resolved when Anne returned to Benasque and spoke to the governor, who assured her that everything was fine and that she wouldn’t be bothered by the Customs Officer on her return to France (Lister 1 October 1830). When she returned to the Hospice on her way back to France on the 1st of October 1830, Anne is told that the Customs Officer wants to see her passport, which she shows him at a distance. Anne takes her chance to tell the Officer that, had she indeed been a man, she’d whip him herself (Lister 1 October 1830).

The matter of 1838, though not necessarily a new situation for Anne, was perhaps more serious than those previous misunderstandings because she was indeed prevented from going about her business. In her letter from 1838 to the Préfet de Pau, Anne considers that:

“If there is no excess of power from the gendarme and the officer, there is at least fault and a very serious one.”

Anne Lister, 2 October 1838 (SH:7/ML/1034)

Anne asks the Préfet de Pau for a certified copy of the gendarmes’ report and tells him that the gendarme and the offIcer from Mauléon deserve, at the very least, a reprimand. Anne’s logic is sound: if these officers got a reprimand for what they had done to her, maybe they would think twice before they did the same thing to other travellers. Anne also hints that she is prepared to seek a higher authority, but she expects that the Préfet de Pau will handle the matter fairly. She instructs him to send her any response to her letter and to forward the certified copy of the gendarmes’ report to Mr Okey (the lawyer for the British Embassy in Paris). Mr Latapie promises to give Anne a copy of this letter, which is delivered to Anne, by Charles, on the 3rd of September and still survives today³ .   


3. Anne’s copy of Mr Latapie’s letter is currently held at the Calderdale office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service (reference SH:7/ML/1034).


Later, on the 10th of November 1838, Anne and Ann are in Paris. From there, Anne writes to Mr Okey, the lawyer for the British Embassy in the same city, asking him if he received any letter from Pau:

“Mrs Lister presents her compliments to Mr Oakey, and if he has received any letter for her from Pau, will be much obliged to him to put it under cover to her at Meurice's Hotel - Saturday Morning 10 November 1838"

Anne Lister, 10 November 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0063)

On the 12th of November, Anne writes him another note:

“If Mr Okey is not very particularly engaged, Mrs Lister will be much obliged to him to come and speak to her for a moment in her carriage as she is leaving Paris in a hurry - If Mr Okey is not at home at this moment, Mrs Lister will be much obliged to him to call upon her, if possible, tomorrow morning at, or before ten - Or, if not, to fix his own hour during the day any time before six in the evening - Hotel Meurice Monday 12 November”

Anne Lister, 12 November 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0065)

However, when Anne goes to deliver this note, Mr Okey is not at home. Anne doesn’t mention Mr Okey again in the diary entries of her remaining days in Paris, so it is not clear if they met or if she got a copy of the letter. The troubles at Mauléon are not, apparently, mentioned again. 

Glossary of terms

Timeline of events

21 September 1838 (WYAS - SH:7/ML/E/22/0024 - transcription)

Anne and Ann decide to go to Eaux-Bonnes.

28 September 1838 (SH:7/ML/AC/30 / SH:7/ML/1034 - transcription / APA-2Z49 - transcription)

Anne and Ann reach Mauléon and run into trouble with a gendarme. The officer thinks that Anne is a man dressed as a woman travelling with someone else’s passport. Anne is held in a “state of prevention”. She is escorted to the Sub-Préfet de Mauléon, who later writes a letter to the Préfet de Pau informing him that they had arrested a person “suspected to be a man dressed as a woman”. He tells the Préfet that they’re sending this person to him.

29 September 1838 (SH:7/ML/AC/30 / SH:7/ML/1034 - transcription)

Anne and Ann travel to Pau, where they meet the Préfet, (Mr. Duchatel). They explain what happened in Mauléon.

30 September 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0032 - transcription

Anne and Ann travel from Pau to Lourdes and call on Mr. Latapie’s house. Unfortunately, he isn’t home.

1 October 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0032 - transcription

Anne and Ann travel from Lourdes to Barèges, where they finally meet Mr. Latapie (lawyer). Anne explains the events from Mauléon and agrees to meet the lawyer the following day. Mr. Latapie is to write a letter to the Préfet de Pau, which Anne is to sign.

2 October 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/0033 - transcription / SH:7/ML/1034 - transcription

Mr. Latapie meets Anne and Ann again. They talk for a long time and Mr. Latapie reads them the letter he wrote. Anne is pleased with the contents of the letter and Mr. Latapie promises to have a copy delivered to her the following day.

3 October 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/0034 - transcription)

Charles delivers to Anne the copy of Mr. Latapie’s letter.

10 November 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0063)

While in Paris, Anne writes a note to Mr. Okey (the lawyer of the British Embassy) and asks if he has received any letter from Pau addressed to her.

12 November 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0065)

Anne writes a note to Mr. Okey and asks if he is available to meet her for a moment. However, when Anne goes to deliver this, Mr. Okey is not at home, so they don’t meet.

Summary timeline



On April 24, 2023

Updated and rewrote part of the text to make it easier to read. Added details about Anne's troubles in the Pyrenees in 1830. Added images that show Mauléon in Anne's time, as well as added some illustrations, and a copy of the receipt from Mauléon. Improved article structure.

On April 7, 2020

The original version of this article was published. It can be consulted here.


Special thanks to Linda Kost for generously contributing with the transcript of SH:7/ML/E/22/0150 and to Steph Gallaway and Amanda Pryce for contributing with additional references. Thank you also to the Calderdale team of the West Yorkshire Archive Service for their assistance with copyright inquiries. 

How to cite this article

If you'd like to cite this article in your works, please do so in a manner similar to this:

Oliveira, Marlene, Pauline M., and Lívia Labate. 2023. “Mauléon 1838: Anne Lister Is Mistaken For A Man” Packed with Potential. (accessed MONTH DAY, YEAR).

Note: Don't forget to replace "MONTH", "DAY", and "YEAR" with the corresponding date in which you accessed this article.

See also Marlene Oliveira's presentation on "Une Superbe Femme: Anne Lister in the Pyrenees" first given as part of the West Yorkshire Achive Services, Codebreaker Sessions at the Anne Lister Birthday Festival 2023:

You can see the Twitter original thread from @moliveiradev for further commentary: