The beautiful Mrs Sheridan

30 January 2010

Elizabeth Ann Linley (7 September 1754 – 28 June 1792), the beautiful wife of the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Elizabeth came from a musical family and was known as the Maid of Bath thanks to her prodigious talents, primarily for singing.

She was painted several times by Thomas Gainsborough, who was no doubt enamoured by her grey eyed, almost melancholy beauty. I particularly love his painting of her seating outside, gazing mistily out towards the onlooker.

The lovely Elizabeth may have had a demure beauty but scandal dogged her heels nonetheless, especially when at the age of seventeen, on 18th March 1772 she eloped to France with a twenty year old Sheridan. The young couple were separated until they were finally allowed to marry a month later, with the begrudging permission of their father, both of whom had had distinctly different matches in mind for their rebellious offspring.

The lovely Mrs Sheridan was always sickly and was cherished by her charming, somewhat rakish husband, although he found it impossible to remain faithful. The couple also had the misfortune to suffer several miscarriages, which were a great source of grief to them both.

Poor Elizabeth lived a sad life: universally admired for her gentle, sweet ways, beautiful face and extensive talents and yet feeling miserable and unappreciated because of the faithlessness of the man that she adored and had risked scandal and social ostracism for.

In the end, the inevitable happened and Elizabeth had her own affair, with the gallant and handsome Irish Revolutionary Lord Edward FitzGerald, son of the Duke and Duchess of Leinster (the Duchess was Lady Emily Lennox, one of the famous Lennox sisters who took eighteenth century London by storm in the 1750s) and later husband of the beautiful Pamela Egalité, enigmatic ward of Philippe, Duc d’Orléans and his mistress, Felicité de Genlis. It is said that Lord Edward fell in love with Pamela thanks to her resemblance to his adored Elizabeth.

Elizabeth became pregnant and was delivered of a daughter, the child of Lord Edward. The difficult pregnancy and labour were to rob her of her final vestiges of health and she was to succumb shortly afterwards to the tuberculosis that had plagued her since her marriage. It is to the credit of Sheridan that, in full knowledge of the pregnancy’s circumstances, he cared for his wife tenderly and showered her with love and attention in her final months, refusing to reproach her in any way and in fact, seeming only to blame himself.

Elizabeth Linley Sheridan, adored by all who knew her, died in Bristol on the 28th June 1792 and was buried in Wells Cathedral.

I’ve been a bit quiet lately, sorry! I’ve been under a lot of stress and haven’t been too well but hope to be on the mend very soon. I have also been putting the finishing touches to a very secret project that some of you may well be interested in! All will be revealed very soon!

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