Friday, October 21, 2011

Elizabeth Linley Sheridan

  
Lady of Fantasy and Tragedy
by Wanda Luce, Regency Author

As a passionate author and reader of Regency-era fiction, I have often wondered if any real persons actually experienced the kind of romance I and other Regency authors portray in our books.  Those who share my partiality for the Georgian/Regency genre most probably love it because theyfind themselves transported into a world of idyllic romance and glorious endings. 

Unlike real life, Georgian and Regency-era novels carry the reader blissfully along through a multitude of ups and downs that to a satisfying ending in which the hero and heroine at last form a deep alliance between soul mates.  The reader expects and even anticipates that this love match, so beautifully brought to its desired zenith, will in like form continue so long as both partners shall live. 

As I searched for a real life story like the fictional ones I create, I discovered a lady whose life seemed stamped from the ideal, until I read about what transpired in her life beyond what in my novels is the final scene.  Her life prior to marriage was a pattern card for a Jane Austen spin-off, but afterward?  Well, I hope you will take a moment to honor her by reading my short summary of her life.

Elizabeth Ann Linley Sheridan, or Betsy was one of the great beauties of the late 18the century.  She was born the second of twelve children to composer Thomas Linley and his wife Mary Johnson on September 7, 1754.  Thomas Linley taught his children musical skills, but of the seven who at length had musical careers, Elizabeth, or Betsy as she was called by her friends and family, possessed the greatest talent and beauty.

As a child, Elizabeth stood outside the Pump Room in Bath and sold tickets to her father's concerts, but by the age of fourteen, she was a stunning Soprano who drew her own crowds.  From an early age, her dark hair, slim, tall figure, and porcelain skin drew the attention of men.  Artist Thomas Gainsborough painted many portraits of her out of a desire to flaunt her exceptional beauty.
Elizabeth began her vocal training at an early age and gave her first performance at Covent Garden when only twelve.  Over the next few years, she transformed from a lovely girl with an extraordinary voice into a beautiful young woman whom a great many men desired to court.  Her singing   enchanted the public wherever she went, and her ability and beauty became famous.

In spite of the many marriage proposals Elizabeth received,  her father pressured her into an engagement with Walter Long who was about four times Elizabeth’s age.  Although she found the idea of marrying him repugnant, her father desired the wealth Mr. Long would bring to the family.  Mr. Linley also hoped Elizabeth’s marriage to a man of wealth would prevent her from pursuing a career on the stage. Long, however, broke off the engagement, sending wild rumors flying that she had begged off.  On 26 June 1771, a comedy about her life, called The Maid of Bath, opened at the Haymarket Theatre 

Shortly after the drama of Elizabeth’s broken engagement, Richard Sheridan, one of Elizabeth’s most ardent admirers, swept her off her feet, and on 18 March 1772, the two eloped to France.   Unfortunately, the marriage was invalid while both of them were underage.  Although neither father approved of a union between Elizabeth and Sheridan, Elizabeth’s father eventually capitulated and granted his consent in an effort to save his daughter’s reputation.  On April 13, 1772, Elizabeth at last married Richard Brinsley Sheridan in Marylebone, London.

Over the course of their marriage, Elizabeth was plagued with poor health and suffered many miscarriages, but in 1775 at the age of twenty-one, she finally delivered a son, Tom. 

In spite of Sheridan’s initial passion for Elizabeth, he soon sought his pleasure in other women’s beds and consigned Elizabeth to years of despair and loneliness over his unfaithfulness.   Though they began to live quite separate lives, the two occasionally appeared in public together, but her beauty soon caught the eye of the handsome Lord Edward Fitzgerald in whose arms she eventually sought the affection now absent in her marriage.  Unfortunately, the affair produced a daughter and exposed Elizabeth’s infidelity, but the most terrible consequence was the serious effect the pregnancy had on her health.   Overcome with guilt for his affairs and neglect, her husband helped her through the difficult pregnancy. 

After the delivery, Elizabeth developed tuberculosis.  In an effort to improve her health, Sheridan took her to Bristol to soak in the hot wells, but to no avail.  One night, he discovered Elizabeth at her piano, crying, the tears dripping down her thin arms.  Her suffering and his guilt nearly drove him to madness.

On 28 June 1792 Elizabeth passed away.   So great were the crowds in the street that the carriage could barely edge its way to Wells Cathedral.  Her husband adored the daughter Betsy had conceived by Lord Fitzgerald and took her in as his own, but only months after Betsy’s death, her infant daughter also passed away.

Imagine for a moment if Richard had remained faithful, adoring, and attentive how different Elizabeth’s life might have been.  Just a thought.

Wanda Luce is the author of Lydia.
Tormented in a relentless battle to overcome her love for Lord Connor
Denton, the handsome son of an earl, the impoverished Lydia Hathaway
resolves to flee home to Twyford to escape her despair and to forget.
But…can he forget her?

10 comments:

  1. Wow what an amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  2. I'm glad I don't write tragedy! I would spend a lot of time weeping. How sad that the child died as well. I think I'll stick to romance and happy endings!

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  3. Thank you, Wanda, it is interesting to read about the lives of people from past times. If only people, like Richard, could realize ahead of time what grief they cause, maybe they would live differently. I hope he taught his son, Tom, to do better from the lesson he learned.

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  4. What a sad and touching story!
    Thank you for sharing it.
    Grace x

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  5. I enjoyed gaining the knowledge of this lady and her husband from the past, but it is a bittersweet knowledge- rarely is anyone's life a fairy tale in the real world. Brave you for researching such a story. (-;
    Thank you for posting.

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  6. What a great story - and a sad ending. This is why we write romance...to give people happy endings. :)

    ~Marie~

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  7. Thanks for sharing the story of Elizabeth Linley Sheridan.

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  8. I must say I doubt Sheridan's infidelity caused his wife's tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was epidemic then, among happy people as well as sad.

    As a man of the theater, Sheridan was especially a target for seduction by would-be actresses (in Hollywood the common term was "the casting couch") and perhaps he used seduction as a means of encouraging financial support of his plays. The late 18th century was a time of fairly wild extra-matirial activity in England. And he seems to behaved well when his wife most needed him.

    Incidentally, Sheridan's lovely house, Polesdan Lacey, appears to have been the inspiration for George Washington's remodeling of his rather ungainly farm house into the Mount Vernon we know so well.

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