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OLDFIELD, ANNE (1683–1730), actress, the granddaughter of a vintner, and daughter of a soldier in the guards, said to have been a captain who had run through a fortune, was born in Pall Mall in 1683. Her father was, perhaps, the James Oldfield of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields who married Elizabeth Blanchard of the same parish on 4 Dec. 1682 (Chester, Marriage Licences). She was put with a sempstress in King Street, Westminster, where she spent her time in reading plays. Afterwards she resided with her mother at the Mitre Tavern, St. James's Market, then kept by her aunt, Mrs. Voss, afterwards Wood. Farquhar the dramatist overheard her reciting passages from the 'Scornful Lady' of Beaumont and Fletcher, and expressed a favourable opinion of her capacities. This was conveyed by her mother to Vanbrugh, a frequenter of the house, who was struck by her abilities. He introduced her, accordingly, to John Rich [q. v.], the manager of Drury Lane, by whom she was engaged in 1692 at a weekly salary of fifteen shillings, soon increased to twenty. Concerning her hesitation to come on the stage, she said to Chetwood: 'I long'd to be at it, and only wanted a little decent entreaties' (sic). To the same writer she said, concerning her early performances in tragedy: 'I hate to have a page dragging my tail about. Why do they not give [Mrs.] Porter these parts? She can put on a better tragedy face than I can.' Mrs. Cross had in 1699 temporarily deserted the stage, and Anne Oldfield made in that year, according to her biographer Egerton, her first appearance in that actress's part of Candiope in Dryden's 'Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen.' No record of Mrs. Cross in that character is preserved, although she played five years later Florimel in the same piece.

The first character in which Mrs. Oldfield is traced is Alinda, an original part in a prose adaptation by Vanbrugh of the ' Pilgrim ' of Beaumont and Fletcher, produced in 1700 at Drury Lane. In 1700 she was also the original Aurelia in the 'Perjured Husband, or the Adventures of Venice,' of Mrs. Carroll (i.e. Susannah Centlivre [q. v.]), and Sylvia in Oldmixon's opera ' The Grove, or Love's Paradise.' In 1700 she was the original Miranda in the 'Humours of the Age,' attributed to Baker ; Anne of Brittanie in Mrs. Trotter's 'Unhappy Penitent,' the prologue to which she spoKe; and Queen Helen in Settle's ' Virgin Prophetess, or the Fate of Troy; in 1702, Uimene in Higgons's 'Generous Conqueror, or Timely Discovery;' Camilla in Bumaby's 'Modish Husband;' Lady Sharlot in Steele's 'Funeral, or Grief à la mode;' and Jacinta in Vanbrugh's' False Friend,' the prologue to which she recited ; and in 1703 Luda in Furfey's 'Old Mode and the New, or Country Miss with her Furbeloe : 'Lucia in Estcourt's 'Fair Example, or the Modish Citizens;' and Belliza in Mrs. Carroll's 'Love's Contrivance, or Le Médecin malgré lui.' She also played Hellena in 'The Rover.'

During this time her personal graces won recognition rather than her abilities. Wholly inexpert at the outset, she was long in acquiring a method. Colley Cibber, who watched her opening career, had grave doubts as to her future ; and Critick, in Gildon's 'Comparison between the Two Stages,' 1702, speaks of her and Mrs. Rogers as 'rubbish that ought to be swept off the stage with the dust and the filth' (p. 200). Cibber first recognised her merits when, at Bath in 1703, she replaced Mrs. Verbruggen [q. v.] as Leimora in 'Sir Courtly Nice' (see Gent. Mag. 1761, p. 264). From this time she began to improve, and two years later she stood high in public favour. In Steele's 'Lying Lover, or the Ladies' Friendship,' she was, on 2 Dec. 1703, the original Victoria; and on 6 March 1704 the original Queen Mary in Banks's 'Albion Queens.' Owing to the illness of Mrs. Verbruggen and the secession of Mrs. Bracegirdle, the part of Lady Betty Modish in Cibber's 'Careless Husband,' on 7 Dec. 1704, was, with some reluctance, confided to her. In a spirit more magnanimous than he often exhibited, Cibber subsequently owned that a large share in the favourable reception of this piece was due to her, praising the excellence of her acting and her manner of conversing, and saying that many sentiments in the character might almost be regarded as originally her own. In Steele's 'Tender Husband, or the Accomplished Fools,' on 23 April 1705, she was the original Biddy Tipkin. After the union of Drury Lane and Dorset Garden theatres, she was, on 30 Oct. 1705, the first Arabella in Baker's ' Hampstead Heath.' During the season she played the following parts, all original : Lady Reveller in the 'Basset Table' of Mrs. Carroll, Izadora in Cibber's 'Perolla and Izadora,' Viletta in the 'Fashionable Lover, or Wit in Necessity,' and Sylvia in Farquhar's 'Recruiting Officer.' Joining the seceders from Drury Lane to the Haymarket, she made her first appearance at the latter house as Elvira in the 'Spanish Friar,' playing also Lady Lurewell ; Celia in 'Volpone, Monimia in the 'Orphan,' and many other characters ; and being the original Isabella in Mrs. Centlivre's ' Platonick Lady,' Florimel in Cibber s ' Marriage k la mode, or the Comical Lovers,' Mrs. Sullen in Farquhar's 'Beaux' Stratagem,' and Ismena in Smith's 'Phædra and Hippolytus.' At the same house in 1707-8 she created Lady Dainty in Cibber's 'Double Gallant, or Sick Lady's Cure;' Ethelinda in Rowe's 'Royal Convert ; ' and Mrs. Conquest in Cibber's 'Lady's Last Stake,' and she also played Narcissa in Cibber's * Love's Last Shift.' Returning in 1708 to Drury Lane, her principal parts — none of them original — were: Angelica in 'Love for Love,' Elvira in 'Love makes a Man,' Semandra in 'Mithridates,' Second Constantia in the 'Chances,' Euphronia in Æsop,' Lady Harriet in the 'Funeral,' and Teresia in Shadwell's 'Squire of Alsatia.' On 14 Dec. she was the original Lady Rodomont in Baker's 'Fine Lady's Airs, or an Equipage of Lovers;' and on 11 Jan. 1709 Lucinda in 'Rival Fools,' Cibber's alteration of Fletcher's 'Wit at several Weapons.' Once more at the Haymarket, in partnership with Swiney, Wilks, Dogget, and Cibber, Mrs. Oldfield played many light comedy parts—Mrs. Brittle, Berinthia in the ‘Relapse,’ and Lætitia in the ‘Old Bachelor’—and was the original Belinda in Mrs. Centlivre's ‘The Man's Bewitched, or the Devil to Pay.’

Returning to Drury Lane, which thenceforward she never quitted for any other house, she was, on 7 April 1711, the first Fidelia in ‘Injured Love.’ Between this period and her retirement and death she took many original parts, the principal of which are: Arabella, in the ‘Wife's Relief, or the Husband's Cure,’ on 12 Nov. 1711, Johnson's alteration of Shirley's ‘Gamester;’ Camilla in Mrs. Centlivre's ‘Perplexed Lovers,’ 19 Jan. 1712; Andromache in the ‘Distressed Mother,’ 17 March 1712, adapted by Ambrose Philips [q. v.] from Racine; Victoria in Charles Shadwell's ‘Humours of the Army,’ 29 Jan. 1713; Emilia in ‘Cinna's Conspiracy,’ 19 Feb. 1713; Marcia in Addison's ‘Cato,’ 14 April 1713; Eriphile in Charles Johnson's ‘Victim,’ 5 Jan. 1714; Jane Shore in Rowe's ‘Jane Shore,’ 2 Feb. 1714; Violante in Mrs. Centlivre's ‘Wonder a Woman keeps a Secret,’ 27 April 1714; the heroine of Rowe's ‘Lady Jane Grey,’ 20 April 1715; Leonora in Mrs. Centlivre's ‘Cruel Gift,’ 17 Dec. 1716; Mrs. Townley in ‘Three Hours after Marriage’ of Gay, and, presumably, Pope and Arbuthnot, 16 Jan. 1717; Maria in Cibber's ‘Nonjuror,’ 6 Dec. 1717; Mandane in Young's ‘Busiris,’ 7 March 1719; Celona in Southern's ‘Spartan Dame,’ 11 Dec. 1719; Sophronia in Cibber's ‘Refusal, or the Lady's Philosophy,’ 14 Jan. 1721; Mrs. Watchit in Mrs. Centlivre's ‘Artifice,’ 2 Oct. 1722; Queen Margaret in Philips's ‘Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester,’ 15 Feb. 1723; Princess Catharine in Hill's ‘Henry V,’ altered from Shakespeare, 5 Dec. 1723; the Captive in Gay's ‘Captives,’ 15 Jan. 1724; Cleopatra in Cibber's ‘Cæsar in Egypt,’ 9 Dec. 1724; Lady Townly in the ‘Provoked Husband,’ 10 Jan. 1727; Lady Matchless in Fielding's ‘Love in Several Masques,’ 16 Feb. 1727; Clarinda in the ‘Humours of Oxford,’ attributed to Miller, 9 Jan. 1730; and Sophonisba in Thomson's ‘Sophonisba.’ She kept her powers to the end, acting this last part superbly; in her delivery of the line addressed to Wilks as Massinissa—

Not one base word of Carthage—on thy soul!

she startled him, and carried away the audience. For her benefit, on 19 March 1730, she chose the ‘Fair Penitent,’ presumably playing Calista, ‘a gentleman’ appearing as Lothario. On 28 April 1730 she made, as Lady Brute in the ‘Provoked Wife,’ her last appearance on the stage. In her last years she suffered much pain, and tears are said to have often trickled from her eyes while she was acting. She died on 23 Oct. 1730, in her own house, at 59 (afterwards 60) Grosvenor Street. She had previously resided in New Southampton Street, Strand, and in the Haymarket. After lying in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, her body was buried beneath the monument of Congreve in Westminster Abbey, at the west end of the nave. According to the testimony of her maid, Margaret Saunders, she was interred ‘in a very fine Brussels lace head, a holland shift and double ruffles of the same lace, a pair of new kid gloves, and her body wrapped in a winding-sheet.’ This elicited from Pope the well-known lines:—

Odious! in woollen! 'twould a saint provoke,
Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke;
No, let a charming chintz and Brussels lace
Wrap my cold limbs and shade my lifeless face:
One would not, sure, be frightful when one's dead,
And—Betty—give this cheek a little red.
Moral Essays, i. 246.

Her natural son, Arthur Mainwaring, was the chief mourner at her funeral, the pallbearers being the Lord De la Warr, John lord Hervey of Ickworth [q. v.], George Bubb Dodington, Charles Hedges, Walter Carey, and Captain Elliot. An application by Brigadier-general Churchill for permission to erect a monument to her in Westminster Abbey was refused by the dean.

She left two illegitimate sons, one by Arthur Mainwaring [q. v.], and the other by General Charles Churchill [q. v.] Mainwaring left almost his entire estate to her and Arthur, his son by her. A report was current that she was married to General Churchill. Princess (afterwards Queen) Caroline told her that she had heard of the marriage, and was answered, 'So it is said, your royal highness; but we have not owned it yet.'

Her son by Churchill married Lady Mary Walpole, and Mrs. Oldfield was thus connected with some of the principal families in England, including that of the Duke of Wellington. By her will, proved on 2 Nov. 1730, she left her fortune, which for those days was considerable, between these two youths, after the payment of legacies to her mother, her aunt Jane Gourlaw, and her maid Margaret Saunders. Her house in Grosvenor Street she left to her son Charles Churchill, who died there on 13 April 1812.

Ample testimony is borne to Mrs. Oldfield's beauty, vivacity, and charm, and to the excellence of her acting. As an exponent of both tragedy and comedy she can have had few equals. Chetwood, not too intelligibly rhapsodising, says: 'She was of a superior height, but with a lovely proportion; and the dignity of her soul, equal to her force and stature, made up of benevolent charity, affable and good natur'd to all that deserv'd it' (General Hist. of the Stage, p. 202). Campbell imagines her to have been, apart from the majesty of Mrs. Siddons, 'the most beautiful woman that ever trod the British stage.' Cibber, whose prejudices against her yielded to her fascination and talent, praises her 'silvery voice,' and says that her improvement 'provided from her own understanding,' with no assistance from any 'more experienced actor.' More than one of his plays he wrote with a special view to her. The extent of her powers could only, he holds, be gauged by the variety of characters she played. Her figure improved up to her thirty-sixth year, and 'her excellence in acting was never at a stand.' To the last year of her life 'she never undertook any part she liked without being importunately desirous of having all the helps in it that another could possibly give her . . . . Yet it was a hard matter to give her any hint that she was not able to take or improve' (Apology, ed. Lowe, i. 310). Steele in the 'Tatler' and the 'Spectator' bears warm tribute to her distinction and her power. Her countenance, according to Davies, was pleasing and expressive, enlivened with large speaking eyes, which in some particular comic situations she kept half shut, especially when she intended to give effect to some brilliant or gay thought. In sprightliness of air and elegance of manner, says the same authority, she excelled all actresses. Swift {Journal to Stella, 1712-13) mentions her opprobriously as 'the drab that acts Cato's daughter.' Walpole, on the other hand, says, concerning her performance of Lady Betty Modish, that had her birth placed her in a higher rank of life she would have appeared what she acted — an agreeable gay woman of quality, a little too conscious of her natural attraction. She was much caressed by people of fashion, and generally went to the theatre in a chair, attended by two footmen, and in the dress she had worn at some aristocratic dinner. Thomson spoke with extreme warmth concerning her performance of Sophonisba as all that in the fondness of an author he could either wish or imagine ; and Fielding, in the preface to 'Love in Several Masques,' referred to her 'ravishing perfections.' A French author, unnamed, declared her, according to Chetwood, 'an incomparable sweet girl,' who reconciled him to the English stage. Richard Savage, whom she is said to have saved from a death penalty he had incurred, and to whom she allowed a pension of 60l. annually (a statement made by Dr. Johnson and disputed, without any authority advanced, by Gait), addressed to her a eulogistic epistle, and, according to Chetwood, an epitaph in Latin and English, which Johnson, for no adequate reason, refused to accept as his. Her best parts in tragedy were Cleopatra and Calista. In comedy her Lady Townly has not been equalled. For her performance of this the managers presented her with 50l. She was free from the arrogance and petulance frequently attending her profession, was always reasonable, and benefited thereby, as successive managements denied her nothing. The only difficulty in her career occurred when she supplanted in several parts Mrs. Rogers, who consequently left the theatre in pique. The public, espousing the cause of Mrs. Rogers, hissed Mrs. Oldfield in certain parts. A competition between the two actresses was arranged by the management, and Mrs. Oldfield chose the 'art of Lady Lurewell in the 'Trip to the jubilee.' Her rival, however, well advised, withdrew from the contest.

In spite of the frequent sneers of Pope, who, apart from other allusions, wrote in his unpublished 'Sober Advice from Horace,'

Engaging Oldfield who with grace and ease
Could join the arts to ruin and to please,

Anne Oldfield inspired warm friendships and affection, and was greatly respected. In regard to both character and talents, she was above most women in her profession.

A portrait of Mrs. Oldfield by Richardson, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, was engraved by Meyer, E. Fisher, and G. Simon. A second, a folding plate, is prefixed to her life by Egerton, 1731; and another, engraved by G. King, is given in the title-page of her 'Memoirs,' 1741. An autograph receipt for 2,415l. is preserved in a copy of Egerton's 'Life,' in the possession of the writer of this notice.

[Four editions at least of the Authentick Memoirs of the Life of that Celebrated Actress Mrs. Oldfield were published in the year of her death, 1730. In 1731 appeared Faithful Memoirs of the Life, Amours, and Performances of . . . . Mrs. Anne Oldfield, by William Egerton. An abridgment of this was added in 1741 to Curll's History of the English Stage, attributed by him to Betterton, but said to be by Oldys. The Lovers' Miscellany, a Collection of Amorous Tales and Poems, with Memoirs of the Life and Amours of Mrs. Ann Oldfield, 1731, 8vo, cannot be traced; Theatrical Correspondence in draft; an Epistle from Mrs. Oldfield in the Shades to Mrs. Br—ceg—dle upon Earth appeared in 1743; a life appears in Chetwood's History of the Stage; lives are also given in Rose, the two Biographies Générales, the Georgian Era, Galt's Lives of the Players, and many other compilations. See also Genest's Account of the English Stage; Horace Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, passim; Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Stanley's Historic Memorials of Westminster Abbey; Cibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies and Life of Garrick; Doran's Annals of the Stage, ed. Lowe, &c.; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 420, xi. 123, 144, 3rd ser. vi. 148, 216, 318.]

J. K.