This remarkably beautiful woman, who became one of the most controversial personalities of her time, was born about 1745 in the parish of St Margaret, Westminster, the daughter of Valentine Snow, serjeant-trumpeter to George II, and his wife Mary Snow. The details of her early life are shrouded in mythology, perpetuated by a highly novelized account of her life published in six volumes in 1787, bearing the name of Elizabeth Steele, but probably actually written by one Alexander Becknell. Born into a musical family of some modest affluence, at the age of about 18 in 1763 she eloped with the actor Robert Baddeley. They proved incompatible and unfaithful, and later separated. But through his influence she made her first recorded appearance, announced as a young gentlewoman, at Drury Lane Theatre on 27 September 1764, as Ophelia to Holland’s Hamlet. When she played the role for the third time, on 27 April 1765, she was named in the bills as Mrs Baddeley. As a regular member of the Drury Lane company from 1766 to 1780 she became exceedingly popular in a line of singing ingenues and young pretty heroines, including Celia in “As You Like It”, Patty in “The Maid of the Mill”, Uganda in “Cymon”, Fedelia in “The Foundling”, Violante in “The Wonder” and Olivia in “Twelfth Night”. She was not the original Fanny Sterling in the première of “The Clandestine Marriage” on 20 February 1766 (that was Mrs Palmer), but it is said that during a command performance of the play the King was so taken with Mrs Baddeley in the role that he ordered Zoffany to paint the picture now in the Garrick Club (G0023). Mrs Baddeley also sang at the various London pleasure gardens in summers and occasionally acted at the Haymarket and in the English provinces and Ireland.
Obliged to leave London to escape her creditors in 1782, she went to Dublin, where she became the mistress of Richard Daly, the Smock Alley Theatre manager. He was but one of her numerous lovers, who included a string of actors and several titled men. Mrs Baddeley was as reckless as she was beautiful and went through suitors almost as quickly as she went through money. After Daly it was Lord Melbourne, then the Duke of York and Sir Cecil Bishop. Her excesses and escapades eventually took their toll. After several years in the Edinburgh company, until the 1784-85 season, she ‘fell into consumption’ and died on 1 July 1786 in her lodgings in Shakespeare Square, Edinburgh, and was buried in the Calton cemetery, at about the age of 41. (BDA)