Sophie O'Ferrall Confalonieri

Italiano | English

Cover image: one of Sophie O'Ferrall's letters. Courtesy of Rigsarkivet, photo by Lucia Falzari.

Among Anne Lister's Italy-related acquaintances there is Sophie O’Ferrall. Not much was known about her, except that she married one of the most prominent Italian patriots – Federico Confalonieri – and, more recently, what Anne Lister herself had written about her in her journal.

Let’s get to know better who Sophie was through the documents – both published and unpublished – and especially through the precious legacy of the many letters, written by her kins, which we have found in the archives between Italy and Denmark.

Written by Francesca Raia
Translated in English by Lucia Falzari, design & visuals by Irene Trotta
Published 11/22/2021 • Updated 11/22/2021
3040 min read

Click on the image for higher resolution – Family tree of the O’Ferrall family. Sources: Skeel, Schaffalitzky og Ahlefeldt; Ancestry; Rigsarkivet; the genealogic scheme in “Il pio Asilo Butini Bourke: un istituto per le donne senesi fondato da una nobile popolana” by Barbara Capitoni.

Miss Sophie (Sophy) O’Ferrall

In summer 1833, Anne Lister travelled from Paris across Germany to Copenhagen with a young woman as companion: Miss Sophie O’Ferrall. According to Anne's journals, the girl had just refused to marry a Russian aristocrat 27 years her senior (20, according to her aunt) and for that reason her aunt, Madame de Bourke, had kindly invited her to join her sister, Countess Emily von Blücher-Altona, back in Copenhagen.

Those who watched the TV show Gentleman Jack will surely remember Sophie travelling with Anne (and dancing with her) in Episode 8.

According to Anne Lister's journals, the journey to Denmark turned out to be an occasion for exchanging pleasantries between the two women, such as caresses, kisses (not Anne's kisses, as far as we know) and chit-chatting about the possibility of sharing a house. However, Anne’s flirting was just a way to spice up the travelling time, and it came to an end at their arrival in Denmark. As a matter of fact, Anne and Sophie had already met a few years before, on January 9, 1831, when Anne was living in the Parisian apartment of Rue Godot de Mauroy Nr. 39 with her aunt, Anne Lister.

Madame de Bourke and her niece had called – came in to my aunt and sat with her 10 minutes or 1/4 hour – made very agreeable and my aunt was much pleased with their visit”

Anne Lister's journal (January 9, 1831).

"Madame de Bourke and her niece had called – came in to my aunt and sat with her 10 minutes or 1/4 hour – made very agreeable and my aunt was much pleased with their visit.". Anne Lister's journal (January 9, 1831), [SH:7/ML/E/14/0010]. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive.

But who was Sophie O’Ferrall?

Miss Ferrall descended from a family with Irish, English, Danish and Russian origins. She was the daughter of Sophie Krempien (or Krempion) and Roger O'Ferrall, Chamberlain of the Kingdom of Denmark who owned many plantations (and slaves) in Annaly on the Island of Saint Croix (the modern American Virgin Islands). Based upon her death certificate, Sophie was born in 1812 likely in Devonshire, where the O'Ferrall family lived before moving to Copenhagen. She lived in Copenhagen until 1830, when she joined her brother, Edward, in Paris. Edward had been living there for some years with their aunt, Madame de Bourke (widow of the Danish diplomat Edmund de Bourke).

Sophie seemed to fit in admirably into Parisian life and society, for we know that she soon received numerous invitations to Balls and parties, and that her en pointe dress-sense was admired and set her apart from her peers:

"Sophy is now lancée – Saturday she was at a Ball at the opera the Monday before at one à la court, last Monday another one at court, Thursday a Ball at Madame [Cambacérès], Friday one at Lord Granville and Tuesday one at the Apponys’. Besides that she is invited to four at Princess Wagrams’ and four at Madame [Cambacérès] – that is quite enough for the present at the last Ball at court she looked remarkably well, dressed in a white figured gauze gown a mantille which she made with her barbes; a wreath of different coloured flowers in her hair – at the preceding ball she had on a pink figured gauze gown, as a garniture three broad chiffons going down from the waist with a large bow at the end of each and pink flowers in her hair her waltzing is much admired – Sophy is the most downright little aristocrate I have ever known."

Letter from Edward O’Ferrall to his sister Annie (n.d.), Castonier family archive.

Even Anne Lister appeared impressed by Sophie’s attires, as she wrote in her journal “Miss Ferrall the prettiest best dressed girl” at the Queen’s birthday ball in Copenhagen.

"Miss Ferrall the prettiest best dressed girl". Anne Lister's journal (October 30, 1833), [SH:7/ML/E/16/0129]. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive.

Despite her real name being Sophie, all the family members referred to her as Sophy. In a letter to her brother Edward, she actually mentioned that she would use the latter also socially once in Paris: closing that letter, she signed herself Sophy O'Ferrall, adding “that is to be my name when I come to Paris”.

Sophie O'Ferrall signatures - the first reads "Sophie" and the second one read "Sophy", Bourke family archive. Image courtesy of Rigsarkivet.

The relationship between Sophie and her aunt was not idyllic, and the apartment where they lived in Rue Saint Honoré must have been a stage to many discussions, as Edward tells in a letter to their sister, Annie:

"At present there is an armistice concluded between her and Madame I adopt in this occasion the principe d’une intervention toute pacifique and I hope by means of that diplomatic plan to succeed in bringing about a final traite de paix."

Letter from Edward O’Ferrall to his sister Annie (March, 27 1831), Castonier family archive.

The rich Russian gentleman Anne Lister referred to in her journals was likely not the first match attempted by their aunt (and rejected by Sophie). In the 19th century, marriage was more a financial agreement amongst families, rather than a romantic dream, but the young Dane had a different opinion of what her future should be in that sense, and knew well what she wanted:

"Sophy, I see to my great despair, will never get married – she will only marry a man she loves."

Letter from Edward O’Ferrall to his sister Annie (n.d.), Bourke family archive.

Edward O'Ferrall letter to his sister Annie that reads: "Sophy, I see to my great despair, will never get married – she will only marry a man she loves." (n.d.). Image courtesy of Rigsarkivet

Therefore, leaving Paris in 1833 – and her matchmaker aunt – mustn’t have bothered Sophie too much:

"It seems she and Madame de Bourke do not suit and she Miss F- [Ferrall] has not thought of going back [to Paris]."

Anne Lister (August 23, 1833).

"It seems she and Madame de Bourke do not suit and she Miss F- [Ferrall] has not thought of going back [to Paris].". Anne Lister (August 23, 1833), [SH:7/ML/E/16/0099]. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive.

However, after spending about six years at her sister Emily’s in Copenhagen, Sophie went back to Paris. Still unmarried and having already rejected an engagement. Her aunt’s house had always been a social and cultural gathering, where many Italian expats and patriots would find hospitality, particularly from the Lombardia region. This is how, likely during one of the many dinner parties, Sophie met her soon-to-be husband, Federico Confalonieri.

But let’s have a look at the historical background of those days.

In the years around 1820 and 1821, Italy saw many revolutionary attempts, aimed to defeat the ruling regimes and set the country territories – although the country itself was not united yet – free from foreign sovereign dominations, as well as in order to obtain a first Constitution Act. Despite failed attempts, these movements continued and spread to Milan. Count Federico Confalonieri played an active role during the 1821 revolt in Milan against the Austrians, where he prepared a provisional government for Lombardia. As mentioned, these insurrections proved unsuccessful and on December 13, 1821 the Austrian police arrested Confalonieri and put him on trial. While detained at the Špilberk Castle in 1823, he and his companions were sentenced to death. However, his execution never took place, and thirteen years later his death sentence was eventually commuted in exile to America. In February 1837 he arrived in New York, but returned to Europe in August that same year: he lived in Belgium at first, and after three years he was allowed into the Italian territory again.

The Italian Count was about 27 years older than Sophie and had lost his beloved wife, Teresa Casati, many years before. This was how Sophie described him to her sister Annie in November 1839:

“Confalonieri is the only gentleman among them, he is a very amiable man, quite a gentleman in manners and sentiments and then there is a certain interest attached to him, I think which makes him attractive.”

Letter from Sophie O’Ferrall to her sister Annie (November 1839).

“He is one of my particular friends, I wish you could know him, he is such a nice man so gentlemanly, mild and religious.”

Letter from Sophie O’Ferrall to her sister Annie (n.d.).

Portrait depicting Count Federico Confalonieri. Engraving by Parmiani, mid 19th century. From the book "Carteggio del Conte Federico Confalonieri ed altri documenti spettanti alla sua biografia pubblicato con annotazioni storiche a cura di Giuseppe Gallavresi. Parte I."

Sophie was apparently so impressed by the Italian Count that – already in 1839 – she didn’t exclude the idea of marrying him:

“Confalonieri is one of the most amiable men I have ever met with and when one knows how nobly he behaved during all his sufferings one cannot help loving him. He is about fifty but looks more in his face, although his figure is very fine and he is very lively when he talks. We are the greatest friends in the world and I should not be astonished if I took him for better or for worse.”

Letter from Sophie O’Ferrall to her sister Annie (n.d.).

Countess Sofia Confalonieri

The wedding of Frédéric Jean Baptiste Francois Gaspard Camille Comte de Confalonieri e Sophie Anne Ferrall was celebrated on July 31, 1841 about two years after they had first met due to his many reservations, possibly caused by his father’s and stepmother’s intrusions.

That very day the newlywed Confalonieri left for Copenhagen:

“(...) passing Frankfurt, Köln, Hannover and Hamburg, we will be back to Paris in September, passing through Belgium (…) and, Heavens willing, we will be back home [Italy] in October.

Letter from Federico Confalonieri to Marquise Costanza Arconati (July 21, 1841), translation.

“(...) passando per Francoforte, Colonia, Hannover ed Amburgo, nel Settembre saremo di ritorno a Parigi, passando per il Belgio (...) nell’Ottobre ci restituiremo in Patria se così a chi dispone degli umani eventi parerà e piacerà.”

Letter from Federico Confalonieri to Marquise Costanza Arconati (July 21, 1841), transcription.

After only two months of marriage, the couple appeared to be already navigating rough waters, and running separate lives. A letter sent from Eliza O’Ferrall to Annie (both Sophie’s sisters) provides a clear picture of their marriage once back from the honeymoon:

“They are not suited to each other at all, and so she says he tells her all day long – From her account he worries her a great deal, and she is certainly grown dreadfully thin – However when they are together in public they are like two tourterelles– she calls him mon cher forever and kisses him rather oftener than he seems to like entre nous – however she says he tells her she must appear fond of him before other people as otherwise they will think she married him from interest (...) It is strange that he has introduced Sophy nowhere since she arrived – she is always shopping alone, and he leaves her every Evening, to make his own visits – She says he tells her that her manners are so disagreeable that he does not dare to present her to his Friends.”

Letter from Eliza O’Ferrall to her sister Annie (September 13, 1841), Castonier family archive.

The O’Ferrall family was clearly concerned for Sophie, but they were also quite confident that once in Italy he would be “quite alone among his own people”, and this would significantly improve their relationship.

Apparently, this is exactly what happened. As soon as they reached Milan, Federico Confalonieri wasted no time and cheerfully informed his fellow prison mates about his new marriage. This is what Confalonieri wrote about his spouse, in a letter dated October 16, 1841 to his best friend Silvio Pellico (another Italian patriot and writer):

This young woman, who now is my good, lovely and dear wife, is 30. She was born in England from a Danish family, although her roots are Irish and they had to leave their country, being they Catholics, at the beginning of the past century. She speaks English, Danish, German and French as a native, and Italian as an elective language. Her faith is strong in both belief and practice, and she is disenchanted and not worldly at least as much as I am. She longs for solitude and discretion; she loves the good and the good people of any country. She fell in love with me, for she thought me being a good man – thus failing her own judgment –, she likes you because you are good, and she cherished my beloved Teresa [his first wife] and looked up to her as the most magnanimous – thus being right. Her name is Sofia, her surname O’Ferral d’Annaly, from the place her ancestors used to rule almost like royals. She is tiny, with dark brown hair and eyes, and her looks are more Italian or Spanish-like than Nordic. She is not a beauty, but she is flawless. There is nothing else I can say to let you know her more, other than letting you meet her personally.

Letter from Federico Confalonieri to Silvio Pellico (October 16, 184), translation.

“Questa fanciulla, ch'ora è la mia buona, affettuosa e cara consorte, ha 30 anni, è nata in Inghilterra ed è di famiglia ora Danese, ma di origine Irlandese emigrata come cattolica per causa di Religione al principio dello scorso secolo. Parla l'Inglese, il Danese, il Tedesco ed il Francese come sue lingue, e l'Italiano come una lingua d'adozione. È assai religiosa di credenza e di pratica, e disingannata e schiva del mondo, quanto il sono io. Ama la solitudine, ossia la vita ritirata, ama il bene, ama i buoni di tutti i paesi, ha amato me perché mi ha creduto buono, – ed in ciò si è ingannata, – ama te perché lo sei, ed ha amato ed ammirato innanzitutto la mia Teresa [la sua prima moglie] perché lo era eminentemente, né si è in ciò certo ingannata. Essa chiamasi di nome Sofia, di cognome O' Ferrall d'Annaly, provincia che da' suoi antenati possedevasi con quasi regio dominio. È picciola di taglia, bruna di capegli e di occhi, ha figura piuttosto Italiana o Spagnola che Nordica, non è bella ma non ha difetti. Dopo tutto ciò se tu non la conosci ancora non saprei più come meglio fartela conoscere che col condurtela.”

Letter from Federico Confalonieri to Silvio Pellico (October 16, 1841), transcription.

On June 26, 1842 Confalonieri wrote a letter to his friend Piero Maroncelli (another Italian patriot who shared his imprisonment), telling him how he made up his mind to his second marriage:

[…] Allow me a few lines about the person that Providence once more decided to give me as a sweet companion in my evening hour. My Sofia is of Irish birth (of the O’Ferrall family, formerly masters of Annally [Annaly] in Ireland, who moved to Denmark a century ago due to religious conflict). I met her in Paris, two years prior to my homecoming, at the house of an elderly aunt of hers, Comtesse De Bourk [Bourke], whom she was visiting. Only when leaving Paris I realized without any doubts that she had an inclination for me, although she had kept it hidden until then: this led to a yearlong correspondence between us, until at last I thought I could take the courage to propose. I would not lie to you if I said that her worship for my beloved Teresa [Teresa Casati, Confalonieri’s first wife] gave me a strong impulse, as her only wish seems to be to take her place by my side. To seal her vows, the day I promised myself to her I also gave her a bracelet with Teresa’s hair, which she will treasure for life. I do not need to tell you how much pain, love and remembrance, and what a deep bond between past, present and future this simple ritual is to me. Nor has her vows ever seemed reckless, although arduous. I spent the whole winter in bed, at home, ill or convalescing, suffering from the relapse of my rheumatic pneumonia: my beloved Sofia never ever left the house in four months, not even one single hour: every day she would read me in Italian or French, or translate from English and German. She is worldly-wise enough, being thirty and having spent ten years at the Danish Court, but she is alien and disillusioned to that world with no disdain, just as I am. She loves reading and the countryside, and longs for a quiet and solitary life as I do, if not more. She is intelligent, and well educated, even though she is not aware of it: she can write many languages, and often acts as my assistant; she is far beyond the words of that roman eulogy: Lanam fecit, domum servavit [a famous Roman epitaph “She used to spin wool and keep the house”]. Furthermore, to be honest, I tell you she is also gracious enough, for anyone who is interested in that aspect more than I am, and she loves me in such a way I never thought I could be graced with, at my age. Those who really love me will acknowledge that Providence once more has blessed my last days here on Earth more than I could have ever expected; I can only heartily wish the same to those who envy us. To those who damn us – although I don’t know why they should, if not by some miserable mistake – I genuinely wish the same curse.

Letter from Federico Confalonieri to Piero Maroncelli (June 26, 1842), translation.

“[...] Eccoti un cenno sulla persona che la Provvidenza ha voluto ancora largirmi a dolce compagna dei giorni che m’avanzano. La mia Sofia, d’origine Irlandese (della famiglia O’Ferrall, già Signora di Annally [Annaly] in Irlanda, per guerre di religione trapiantatasi da un secolo in Danimarca) fu da me conosciuta, per due anni prima del mio rimpatrio, in Parigi, presso d’una vecchia sua Zia, la contessa di Bourk [Bourke], ove era venuta in visita. Soltanto al mio partire da Parigi m’accorsi a prove non dubbie di un’inclinazione ch’ella nutriva per me e m’avea sempre nascosto: ciocché diede luogo ad un carteggio prolungato fra noi per un anno a capo del quale credetti di poter risolvermi a farla mia. La sua adorazione per l’angelica mia Teresa, di cui altro non mi domandava che di poter compiere presso di me qualche vece, non ti tacerò, che fummi potentissimo impulso alla determinazione, e, quasi a consacrazione dell’espressomi suo voto, il giorno che la impegnai la mia parola, le cinsi anche un braccialetto dei capegli di Teresa, ch’Ella serberà qual reliquia per tutta la vita. A te non fa bisogno ch’io cenni tutti i misteri di dolore e d’amore, di legame fra il passato, il presente e l’avvenire, che in sé racchiude questo semplice rito. Né il voto di Sofia, benché arduo, mostrossi mai temerario. Io passai tutto questo verno fra letto e casa, fra malattia, larvate convalescenze e ricadute per infiammatoria-reumatica affezione di petto: e la mia buona Sofia non uscì in quattro mesi, alla lettera una sol ora di casa: mi fece ogni giorno 5. o 6. ore di lettura Italiana o Francese, o dall’Tedesco o dall’Inglese traducendo. Essa conosce il mondo assai bene avendo 30. anni ed avendone vissuti 10. alla corte di Danimarca, e senza disprezzarlo, ne é al par di me disingannata ed aliena. Dessa ama la lettura, la campagna, la vita tranquilla e ritirata al par di me, se non anche maggiormente. Ha ingegno ed istruzione assai, né quasi s'accorge di averne, scrive bene in più lingue, e mi fa spesso da segretario, né le mancano le qualità che bastarono all’elogio funebre di quella Romana: Lanam fecit, domum servavit. Oltre a ciò bisogna anche, onde essere ritrattista fedele, che ti aggiunga, ch’ella ha di avvenenza femminile quanto basta per poter piacere anche a chi ne fosse più di me curante, e che mi ama di un’amore che non avrei mai pensato poter ancora, alla mia età, toccarmi in sorte. Quelli che s’interessano dunque a me davvero, vedranno che il Cielo ha voluto ancora accordarmi in questi ultimi giorni più di bene che non mi fosse mai dato di aspettarmi quaggiù; a quelli che ci invidiano non so che augurare io altrettanto di cuore: a que' poi che ci maledicono, cosa per me inconcepibile, se non è originata da qualche errore di fatto, io desidererei di buon grado maledizione alla mia somigliante.”

Letter from Federico Confalonieri to Piero Maroncelli (June 26, 1842), transcription.

Letter from Federico Confalonieri to Piero Maroncelli (June 26, 1842), Fondo Piero Maroncelli, 9/101. Image courtesy of: Saffi Library Archive in Forlì.

There is currently no painting known to us showing Sophie’s likeness, but we have found words portraying her in Confalonieri’s writings. Furthermore, everyone remarked how there seemed to be a stunning likeness between Sophie and her mother:

“We found her extremely like dearest Mama’s picture and when lighted up I never saw so speaking an expression in any other person but Mama.”

Letter from Eliza and Edward O’ Ferrall to their sister Annie (September 12, 1839), Castonier family archive.

Portrait of Sophy O’Ferrall (Krempion) - Sophie O'Ferrall's mother - painting by Jens Juel. Copyright © Kunstauktioner.

“He [Confalonieri] likewise finds me like mama’ s picture, it is very odd I cannot see the likeness but they all tell me it is astonishing how the expression is the same.”

Letter from Sophie O’ Ferrall to her sister Annie (n.d.).

Sophie and Confalonieri could certainly be considered well-off for the time. Confalonieri bought the house next to the one where he used to live with his father in Milan, in Via Monte di Pietà, spending an estimated amount of 245.000 Italian Liras for its purchase and restorations, as reported in the supplement Nr. 14 of the Rivista Milanese di Economia published in 1987 for the celebrations of Confalonieri’s birth bicentenary.

Milan, Via Monte di Pietà 14, Palazzo Confalonieri, front (1939 ca. - 1949 ca.). Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale, Foto Milano , inv. FM URB 73.

Milan, Via Monte di Pietà 14, Palazzo Confalonieri, front foor (1924 ca. - 1928 ante). Raccolta Iconografica , inv. RI 13317.

Even the Confalonieri’s carriages were apparently renowned:

“Visconti is come from Milan and says that Sophys’ carriages and horses are the admiration of everybodys.”

Letter from Eliza O’ Ferrall to her sister Annie (April 30, 1842), Castonier family archive.

Study of the Confalonieri’s household expenditure for “Stable, saddleries and carriages” show that they spent 12.580 and 8.812 Italian Liras for 1842 and 1846 respectively, according to the above-mentioned source. Furthermore, they were on mutual call terms with the jet-set families in Milan, as we evidence with this letter:

“The Borromeos and Litta talked of Sophy who appears to have succeeded admirably at Milan – I am so glad of it poor girl, for altho’ she does not like the Milanese, it is important that they should like her. The Collegnos called upon us the other day, and spoke with great admiration of her dévouement to Confalonieri – She is the sister of the Marquise Arconati (a Savante) and Collegno is a Piedmontese Marquis (...) he hopes to have a chaise here and so they are come for the Winter (...) They all dined with Sophy three weeks ago and Collegno told me that Con[falonieri] had spoken of her to him in the highest terms.”

Letter from Eliza O’Ferrall to her sister Annie (November 30, 1843), Castonier family archive.

All the families mentioned in this letter were among the most prominent in Milan. However, their sojourn in Milan did not last for long. Due to the Count’s poor health, they travelled frequently in search for a more suitable climate in Italy (in the modern Lombardy, Tuscany, Campania and Sicily) and abroad (Spain, Portugal, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and France). Sadly, Federico Confalonieri passed away in Switzerland, while travelling from Paris to Milan, on December 10, 1846:

On December 8, 1846, during his journey back to Milan from Paris, Federico Confalonieri arrived at the Golden Lion hotel in Hospental, Uri, together with his second wife Sofia O’Ferral. His health was so badly compromised that he had to be carried from the carriage to his room. His condition suddenly collapsed, and the afternoon of the 10th he passed away. He had been suffering from dropsy for many years, and this had been fatal

From "Memorie e Lettere" by Gabrio Casati.

At her husband’s death, Sophie inherited a life tenancy of Palazzo Confalonieri Semira di Zelo Surrigone (250.000 Liras) and she subsequently became the rents recipient of the Cascina Grande and the Brusata (together about 232.000 Liras) and of the house in Via Monte di Pietà (228.000 Liras) in Milan (always according to the above-mentioned source).

Confalonieri's widow: from Sophie’s Italian patriotism to her latest years

Sophie remained in Italy for some years. We know that in autumn 1847 she visited Florence and Rome with Miss Shaw, her new lady-in-waiting. Miss Shaw had taken the place of Mademoiselle Gassie, as the latter had returned to Paris (where she had been at Madame de Bourke’s service until the countess’ death in 1845). From the private correspondence between Marquise Costanza Arconati and the writer Margaret Fuller Ossoli we know that Confalonieri’s widow was living a solitary and secluded life:

She wrote to me twice since she arrived in Rome, apparently she’s not seeing anyone, I believe she may now feel like the company of the good Miss Gassie would have been a solace

From a letter of Costanza Arconati a Margaret Fuller Ossoli (November 22, 1847), translation.

“Elle m’à écrit deux fois depuis qu’elle est à Rome, il paraît qu’elle ne voit personne, je pense qu’elle sent à présent que la société de la bonne Mademoiselle Gassie aurait été une ressource pour elle.”

From a letter of Costanza Arconati a Margaret Fuller Ossoli (November 22, 1847), transcription.

At the time, Milan had temporarily been released from the Austrian occupation, following the insurrections known as the Five Days of Milan in March 1848, and Sophie gave her contribution to help the earlier unification attempts of one Italian territory.

We find her name in the list of the delegates of the Board of Milanese Dames acknowledged by a Government Decree of the War Ministry dated June 25, 1848 – their purpose was to “collect and send shirts and other linens to those heroes who fought for the blessed Italian cause”.

“The board will consist of ten Dames and a Secretary” – Sophie’s name being listed as "Confalonieri Sofia".

On July 1848, these ladies managed to collect and provide “4000 shirts, 600 linens, 800 drawers and a huge number of beds, clothes, emergency provisions, food” and other goods.

The list of delegates – Sophie’s name being listed as "Sophy Confalonieri", 1848. From "Raccolta dei decreti, avvisi, proclami, bullettini ec. ec. emanati dal Governo provvisorio, dai diversi comitati e da altri dal giorno 18 marzo 1848 in avanti: 2, Volume 2."

However, all these supporting attempts were in vain. By the end of August, the Austrian army reconquered Milan, thus defeating any hope for an Italian national unity.

Currently (November 2021) there is still a gap in Sophie’s movements until February 1853, when we find her in Denmark again, but this time at her father Roger’s home with her sister, Louisa, and she seems not in the best of health:

“Sophy looks quite pretty and young this winter – but she complains a good deal and suffers from oppressions – all nervousness I think – as usual she passes her time in the melancholy delusion that she is detested by everyone and therefore makes herself and others unhappy – she cannot agree with the Blüchers this winter and as she says they are the only persons she cares for you may imagine her days pass very melancholy – she is extremely kind and affectionate to Papa and very aimable to me.”

Letter from Louisa O’Ferrall to her brother Edward (February 8, 1853), Bourke family archive.

Later on, she moved back to Italy, to Blevio – a little village near Como, facing the lake – where Sophie used to be a regular in the society of Princess Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso, a writer, journalist and publisher of insurrectional pamphlets who had actively contributed to the Risorgimento movement. The Princess had previously bitterly criticized Confalonieri for his management of the 1820-21 insurrection.

A close society of friends used to join her in Blevio, the most affectionate being Sofia O’Ferral, widow of Count Confalonieri who clearly didn’t harbor any resentments about how she had formerly addressed to her departed husband

From "La principessa del nord. La misteriosa vita della dama del Risorgimento: Cristina di Belgioioso" by Arrigo Petacco.

This connection with the Princess di Belgiojoso was once again a legacy of Sophie’s aunt, Madame de Bourke. Apparently, in Paris, the Princess was a regular at the Countess’s gatherings since 1830:

“Sophy, I suppose, has mentioned in her letters Princess Belgiojoso who is very handsome – she behaves rather lightly quite à l’Italienne.”

Letter from Edward O’Ferrall to his sister Annie (July 13, 1830), Castonier family archive.

On November 22, 1868 the widow, Soffia O’Ferral Confalonieri, passed away at four in the morning, in the house where she was living, Villa Chasteler de Visart, Blevio, at street Nr. 4 near the Parish Church.

According to the book “Tipi e tipe Bleviani”, the medical certificate stated a pleural effusion as cause of death (a build-up of excess fluid between the layers of the pleura outside the lungs).

Her funeral was officiated by the vicar of Torno on November 25, 1868, with seven priests and the Compagnia del Sacramento (the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament) attending the ceremony. Sophie was buried in the Blevio cemetery, very far from her beloved husband’s grave, since he had been laid to rest next to his first wife Teresa in Brianza, in the Casati family mausoleum.

On the Italian Countess’s headstone we can still read:

Sophie de Burgo

Of the Irish O’Ferral Counts

Widow of Count Federico Confalonieri,

whom she tirelessly took care of

and with redoubled love

during his long illness,

suddenly passed away

on November 22, 1868

at age 55

Here rests in peace

Source: "Periodico della Società storica per la provincia e antica diocesi di Como", n. 117-120, 1934, translation.

Sophia de Burgo

ex comitibus hiberniensibus O’Ferral

vidua comitis Friderici Confalonieri

cui diuturno morbo laboranti

subsidium juge praestitit

amorem duplicavit

improviso exitu correpta

die XXII novembris MDCCCLXVIII

annos nata LV

hic requiescit in pace

Source: "Periodico della Società storica per la provincia e antica diocesi di Como", n. 117-120, 1934.

On the 153th anniversary of Sophie O’Ferrall’s death, we wanted to honour the life of this woman whose presence was described as a fraîcheur extraordinaire (an uncommon freshness), always in fashion, a talented embroiderer, proficient in many languages, passionate about horse-riding and of solitary life. A woman who had the opportunity to know Anne Lister quite well, and who witnessed the birth of the Italian kingdom as a united country, fully embracing its history and culture.

More coming soon.

How to cite this article

Francesca Raia, Lucia Falzari, Irene Trotta, 2021. “Sophie O’Ferrall Confalonieri”, Anne Lister Italia (accessed: month day, year)


Anne Lister. (January 9, 1831). [Diary page, 1 January 1831-31 Dicember 1831]. LISTER FAMILY OF SHIBDEN HALL, FAMILY AND ESTATE RECORDS, INCLUDING RECORDS OF ANNE LISTER, DIARIST, (SH:7/ML/E/14/0010), West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, England, United Kingdom.

Anne Lister. (October 30, 1833). [Diary page, 13 January 1833-9 March 1834]. LISTER FAMILY OF SHIBDEN HALL, FAMILY AND ESTATE RECORDS, INCLUDING RECORDS OF ANNE LISTER, DIARIST, (SH:7/ML/E/16/0129), West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, England, United Kingdom.

Anne Lister. (August 23, 1833). [Diary page, 13 January 1833-9 March 1834]. LISTER FAMILY OF SHIBDEN HALL, FAMILY AND ESTATE RECORDS, INCLUDING RECORDS OF ANNE LISTER, DIARIST, (SH:7/ML/E/16/0099), West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, England, United Kingdom.

( July 31, 1841). [Federico Confalonieri and Sophie Ferrall wedding certificate]. 5Mi1 2124, (picture 9), downloaded on the 6th of November 2021, Archives de Paris, I Arrondissement, Paris.

Castonier family archive and De Bourke family archive: The Danish National Archives, Rigsarkivet,,

G. Gallavresi, Carteggio del Conte Federico Confalonieri ed altri documenti spettanti alla sua biografia Parte II – Sezione I, II, Pubblicato con annotazioni storiche, 1913, (Serie carteggi).

"Italia, Como, Como, Stato Civile (Tribunale), 1866-1929." Images. FamilySearch. : 14 June 2016. Tribunale di Como (Como Court, Como).

G. Rumi, Federico Confalonieri, aristocratico progressista nel bicentenario della nascita (1785 - 1985), serie quaderni n.14, Laterza, 1987.

Fondo Piero Maroncelli, 9/101, Fondi Antichi Biblioteca Saffi di Forlì.

Il Risorgimento italiano, XV-XVI, 1922/23, HathiTrust Digital Library.

A. Petacco, La principessa del nord. La misteriosa vita della dama del Risorgimento: Cristina di Belgioioso, Mondadori, 1993, (Oscar Storia).

Periodico della Società storica per la provincia e antica diocesi di Como, n. 117-120, 1934, Biblioteca Digitale Lombarda.

E. Detti, Margaret Fuller Ossoli e i suoi corrispondenti, con lettere inedite di Giuseppe Mazzini, Costanza Arconati, Adam Mickiewicz ed altri, F. Le Monnier, Firenze 1942, (Studi e documenti di storia del Risorgimento).

F. Confalonieri, Memorie e lettere, G. Casati (a cura di), vol. 1, Milano 1889.

Raccolta dei decreti, avvisi, proclami, bullettini ec. ec. emanati dal Governo provvisorio, dai diversi comitati e da altri dal giorno 18 marzo 1848 in avanti: 2, II, L. di G. Pirola, Milano 1848.

G. Valsecchi, Tipi e Tipe Bleviani illustri tra Settecento e Ottocento, Como 2004.

deLuxe Catalogue Auctions, auction catalog by Kunstauktioner, March 2007.

Civico Archivio Fotografico, Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale, fondo Foto Milano, inv. FM URB 73, Milano.

Civico Archivio Fotografico, fondo Raccolta Iconografica , inv. RI 13317, Milano.


Our special thanks go to Adeline Lim, who shared with us her work and knowledge of Anne Lister’s French and Danish periods (and beyond), thus helping us to deepen our knowledge of the connections between the families we have mentioned in the article, and also for being a patient and extremely precise proofreader.

Thanks to Packed with Potential, for the precious tools available on the website and for constantly paving the road to these researches, also by sharing their experiences.

Special thanks to the West Yorkshire Archive Service for Anne Lister’s journals, and to the Archives in Paris for the Confalonieris wedding certificate. To all the staff at Rigsarkivet in Copenhagen, at the Archives of the Saffi Library in Forlì and to Blevio Council Member Mrs. Silvia Cappi, who supported and helped our research of the documents we have used in this article.

Thanks to Anne Choma for disclosing to us all Sophie’s Italian connection in her book “Gentleman Jack the real Anne Lister”.

Thanks to Roberto Fabbri, for our logistics in Copenhagen.