Née Lilian Bowdoin, Staveley was born to an affluent family, descended on both sides from Huguenots of the old French nobility. Her early life was not one of outward religious observance, but was rather one of privilege and learning. Along with two brothers, she was educated by tutors, governesses, and at boarding schools (Staveley spoke four languages fluently) and spent her summers in Italy. When she came of age in Society she entered into a privileged world of balls and suitors.
|“||“I was worshipping the Beautiful without giving sufficient thought to Him from Whom all beauty proceeds. Half a lifetime was to go by before I realized to what this habit was leading me—that it was the first step towards the acquirement of that most exquisite of all blessings—the gift of the Contemplation of God.”||”|
As a young woman she became an atheist; a painful decision with which she struggled for two years.
|“||”My intelligence said, “Resign yourself to what is, after all, the truth: console yourself with the world and material achievements.” The heart said, “Resignation is impossible, for there is no consolation to the heart without God.” I listened to my heart rather than my intelligence, and for two terrible years I fought for faith.”||”|
While in Rome, visiting the temples, she was moved by the beauty of her surroundings and “a longing for her Lord so painfully real that the longing could not be denied.”
While Staveley was highly sought after and offered many proposals, she entered into a secret engagement with Brigadier General William Cathcart Staveley when her parents refused, (due to his lack of money) to allow the romance. Meanwhile Staveley’s father, with whom she was quite close, suffered from a heart condition that left him gravely ill for two years before his eventual passing. His death had a profound impact on his daughter. “I became a semi-invalid, always suffering, too delicate to marry.” When her health returned, she married Staveley, (Married on 30 Sep 1899 at Kensington,London - GRO Record 1a 241) though they were quickly separated for a time when he left for the Anglo-Boer War.
At the end of World War I she brought to John M. Watkins of London a manuscript. For the sake of her privacy and because her husband was still living (a general in the Army), she insisted on anonymity. It was only after her death that General Staveley learned that his wife of nearly thirty years had led a hidden spiritual life.
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