by Emily Neutron, Fourth Year, Ravenclaw
Subject of the portrait: Lady Elisabeth Arwen Snowe (“The Jarvey Lady”)
Location of the portrait: Transfigurations Hall, just outside of the Long Gallery, on the right as you go into the hall.
A famous Muggle stereotype is of the “crazy cat lady” who lives with many cats, but is unmarried and otherwise alone for the duration of her entire life. A “crazy cat lady” might be somewhat eccentric; she might treat her cats as though they were indeed human. She might even treat her cats as though they were her own children. For witches, of course, there is nothing unusual about having cats in one’s life. Instead, we have the “The Jarvey Lady,” Lady Elisabeth Arwen Snowe, third daughter of Augustus Edwin Snowe, Earth of March, 1498 – 1532. The painting was done posthumously in 1536, depicting Lady Elisabeth holding one of her beloved Jarveys. Lady Elizabeth oftentimes is looking protectively to her right, as though keeping a watchful eye for anyone who might want to harm the creature.
Lady Elizabeth Arwen Snowe was born to privilege as a daughter of a wealthy nobleman, supposedly an Earl of March. She was born in 1498 on one of her father’s Irish estates, and had a mostly uneventful childhood until she started showing signs of being able to do magic. Today, Lady Elisabeth would be considered ‘Muggle-born’ in that neither of her parents were able to do magic. Having a witch in a noble family would have scandalized the Earl and his family, and so Lady Elisabeth was locked away until age 11, when she wasallowed to attend a wizarding school.
It may have been a noblewoman’s natural disinclination from doing large amounts of work but Lady Elisabeth was a poor student, though she did learn enough to at least get her magic under control. At school, she met a Jarvey for the first time: a brown creature called Reginald. She was enchanted by the Jarvey’s ability to speak, and not at all put off by its propensity to swear and hurl insults. In fact, there are accounts of Lady Elisabeth having insult competitions with Reginald.
Despite her obvious affinity and enthusiasm for these creatures, Lady Elisabeth was naturally forbidden from keeping a Jarvey as a pet while in school. But when she left (after a rumoured four years of instruction), she sought out Jarveys with great persistence. She acquired her first Jarvey in 1517. Her family objected strenuously to her new rather uncouth companion, and exiled her (to her everlasting delight) to her own small estate outside of Llawryglyn in Wales. Lady Elisabeth lived in what became known as Jarvey Cottage for the rest of her life.
Life at Jarvey Cottage might have been heaven for Lady Elisabeth (indeed, her diary of the period is full of praise for her surroundings and her independent circumstances), but it was very difficult for the few servants she retained. By 1519, she had only two left: an old married couple who argued with each other as forcefully (and as obscenely) as the Jarveys spoke to everyone. By 1523, Jarvey Cottage was home to no fewer than 23 Jarveys, and Lady Elisabeth had become a bit of an expert in Jarvey breeding. She was curious as to why there were so few people interested in taking on these creatures as pets.
It has been opined that keeping Jarveys was Lady Elisabeth’s way of avoiding the prospect of an unpleasant arranged marriage to the second son of a Scottish Duke. Certainly, surrounding herself with the foul-mouthed creatures afforded her a degree of independence not available to most women of the age. Isolated as she might have found herself, she did not seem to mind the solitude. Indeed, she seemed perfectly happy to trade the vilest of insults and swear words with all of her Jarveys. In 1526, soldiers attempting to board at Jarvey Cottage were reported to have fled in disarray, even though Lady Elisabeth had been obliged to hide all the Jarveys in her basement: supposedly, she managed to upbraid and abuse the soldiers in language so objectionable that even hardened killers could not abide her companionship.
Lady Elisabeth’s last two servants both died in late 1531 during a heated argument while walking along a clifftop. Apparently neither of them noticed the cliff in time, so intent they were on hurling insults at one another. However, sources report that the fall was long enough that they did have time to apologize to each other before impact. Lady Elisabeth was unable to find replacement servants, and soldiered on alone in Jarvey Cottage. In May 1532, a traveling salesman was alarmed by what he thought to be a huge argument as he passed by the house. It turned out that the Jarveys were shrieking over Lady Elisabeth’s corpse. She had very recently passed from some sort of ailment, having been unable (or, more likely, given her proclivities, unwilling) to procure the services of a physician or wizard healer.
After her death, it is said Lady Elisabeth’s Jarveys were chased out of Jarvey Cottage into the Welsh countryside. A full count of the Jarveys then resident in the cottage was not taken, but it is thought that there must have been in excess of a hundred twenty. Garden gnomes are rumoured to have largely disappeared from that part of Wales for at least two generations, and at least three highly successful de-gnoming businesses of the latter half of the 16th century are thought to have used descendants of Lady Elisabeth’s Jarveys.
Jarvey Cottage retained the name, and even stands today, though Muggles now think it refers to a person named Jarvey, not to the creatures once kept there. The painting was commissioned four years after her death by an admiring wizard who inherited a number of her Jarveys, and all of her research into their behavior and breeding.
Interacting with the portrait
Lady Elisabeth and her nameless Jarvey are really rather accessible, being at eye level in a relatively well-trodden area. However, neither swears the way she and her actual Jarveys did. Apparently the wizard who painted the portrait didn’t actually know much about Jarveys or about Lady Elisabeth. The creature in Lady Elisabeth’s lap is silent, and otherwise entirely agreeable and pleasant. In fact, Lady Elisabeth is likewise quite gentle and kind. They are willing to listen to just about anyone, though they have been known to go and visit other paintings with fair regularity. They seem to both be quite sociable. One thing the artist did get right was the devotion Lady Elisabeth had for her Jarveys: her portrait is never without hers. When they go visiting other portraits, they always stay together.