The Glanville Fritillary

The Glanville Fritillary

Glanville Fritillary
Glanville Fritillary on Red Valerian, photographed at Sand Point on the Somerset coast. © James Packer, reproduced with permission.

Tickenham Court, built in about 1400, lies 1 km to the west of Moorend Spout (ST347715). This grade II listed building, which is now owned by Stewart Plant, is celebrated as the ancestral home of Eleanor Glanville (b. 1654), a pioneer entomologist. Eleanor was the daughter of a Roundhead major, William Goodricke, who left her a considerable fortune on his death. Within this legacy she inherited Tickenham Court, and it became her home. Her first husband, Edmund Ashfield, died young and Eleanor married Richard Glanville a Lincolnshire landowner, but this marriage soon broke down, when Glanville found a new partner. It is said that he was a violent man who once ‘presenting a pistol loaded with bullets and cock’t to her breast’ threatening to shoot her dead. She also reared butterflies and moths and may have been the first to describe Geometrid larvae as ‘loopers’.

Eleanor found solace in the study of wildlife and she was especially interested in butterflies, paying her servants 6d each for those that they found in good condition. At that time, those who were engaged in the study of insects were considered to be mentally ill, and society found this particularly unacceptable as an occupation for females.

Glanville Fritillary
Glanville Fritillary on Ox Eye Daisy photographed at Sand Point © Karen Woolley 2012 reproduced with permission.

Eleanor was corresponding with the newly formed Royal Society (founded 1662) and, in accordance with her interests, she apprenticed her son by her second marriage to an apothecary in London, James Petiver (1663-1718), who is recognised as the father of entomology. Eleanor gave Petiver many specimens which he received gladly. He gave many butterflies the names we now know them by, such as Brimstone, Admiral and Tortoiseshell. Glanville and his mistress did not approve of this apprenticeship and a bitter custody battle followed. Consequently her son was forced to give up his association with Petiver. Apparently no portrait of Eleanor exists, and it is not clear where she was buried. Unfortunately she also left very few written records.

Ribwort Plantain
Ribwort Plantain

When Eleanor died in about 1707 she left much of her estate beyond her immediate family. Her son from her first marriage, Forest Ashfield successfully contested her will at Wells assizes in 1712 suggesting that she was deranged, citing her study of insects as proof. Her life has recently been narrated in a (semi-fictional) biography written by Fiona Mountain entitled ‘Lady of the Butterflies’. Eleanor collected many entomological specimens and although these have been greatly depleted by mite predation, a part of her collection is now preserved in the Natural History Museum in London.

In Lincolnshire she was the first to describe the butterfly now known as the Glanville Fritillary in 1702. The larvae of most of the Fritillaries feed on species of wild violets (i.e. High Brown; Pearl Bordered; Small Pearl Bordered; Silver washed; Dark Green; Queen of Spain). Exceptions to this are the Heath Fritillary (Ribwort Plantain, Germander Speedwell); Marsh Fritillary (Devilsbit Scabious) and the Glanville Fritillary (Ribwort Plantain). The latter is distinguished from other Fritillaries by the presence of an arc of light coloured spots on the upper surface of the lower wing, each of which has an inserted black spot (see photograph above, taken in 2009).

The Glanville Fritillary is widespread in continental Europe, but its distribution has become restricted in England. It is primarily confined to the Isle of Wight and its environs. The butterfly was probably the subject of various introductions to Sand Point (ST320660) in North Somerset, not far from Woodspring Priory, where it now appears to be established. There are several other sporadic records of its occurrence in this area.

Although this article has been produced in good faith, some of the information here is derived from various websites. I apologize if I have made mistakes, I trust that I can be told and hopefully I can make corrections. In particular I am grateful to Tony Smith and Ray Barnett for their invaluable help in writing this article.

A biography of Eleanor Glanville may be found in ‘The Aurelian Legacy’ by Michael Salmon Harley Books (2000) pp106-108. See also ‘Butterflies of the Bristol Region’ by Ray Barnett (2003) p41 (Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre), www.goodrick.info/eleanor_glanville.htm and www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/reports_history.php

Terry Smith 2013

Comments are closed.