Pyrenees 1838: Anne Lister Is Mistaken For A Man

⚠️ This research has been updated. Please see the latest version.

Marlene Oliveira, Pauline M, Lívia LabatePublished on 7 April, 2020Last updated on 18 April, 2020
This case represents active research and the facts and details included have been and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. Refer to the Twitter threads at the bottom for a summary of what was known at specific points in time.

In late September 1838, Anne and Ann decide to travel to the region of Eaux-Bonnes. 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, at the time a Commune in the Basses-Pyrénées region. It is there that trouble ensues.

When they arrive in Mauléon on the 28th of September, Anne presents their passport for visa purposes, but she is told that it will not be necessary. As Anne and Ann are leaving, they are approached by a man who asks to see their passport. Anne, thinking he is a beggar, refuses to do so 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 witheld 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 a report is issued. Anne is also given a receipt that proves that the gendarmes had her passport:

“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, vexed due to the report’s contents, that she considers “detestable falsehoods”, 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 escort them there and she speaks with the Sous-Préfet, who was polite and respectful. Unfortunately, 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 a man dressed as a woman. 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.

On the 29th of September, Anne and Ann travel to Pau. 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 top of Mt. Vignemale on the 7th of August of that same year. The lawyer, unfortunately, had travelled to St. Sauveur. Thus, Anne and Ann then make their way there to try and meet with him. 

When Anne and Ann reach St. Sauveur on the 1st of October, they learn that Mr. Latapie had travelled to Barèges. They had, once again, missed him. So they 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 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 –”

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:

“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 –”

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. It’s easier to understand Anne’s reaction, if we remember that she was mistaken for a man in previous occasions. In September 1818, while running errands around York early in the morning, Anne is thought to be a man by some men and women she encounters. Madame Galvani, who taught Anne French in 1824, had also thought Anne was a man at first.

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.”

She asks the Préfet for a certified copy of the gendarmes’ report and tells the Préfet 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

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"

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”

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

Glossary of terms

State of Prevention - a person is informed that they committed an infraction. 

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

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


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.