Considerable confusion and contradiction surround Maria Bland’s origins. The most reliable documentation is a manuscript at the Folger Library in the hand of James Winston, that states she was baptised Maria Theresa Catherine Terzi in the Catholic Church of Notre Dame in Caen, Normandy, on 10 September 1770, and she was the daughter of an itinerant musician from Rome named Alexander Tersi and his wife Catherine Zeli, a Florentine Jewess. When the family came to England in 1773 they changed their professional name to Romanzini, and on 10 April four-year-old Maria appeared with her father on stage at Bristol. She soon was performing in London at Hughes’ Riding School, Blackfriars Bridge, and at Sadler’s Wells, and by the age of 11 she was singing at the King’s Theatre and at Drury Lane. Maria spent most of her professional career at Drury Lane, though she often played summers at the Haymarket and in the provinces. Among her numerous roles at Drury Lane were Fanny in “The Maid of the Mill”, Rose in “The Double Surprise”, Jenny in “The Deserter”, Annette in “Lord of the Manor” and Ariel in “The Tempest”.
Maria Romanzini married the actor George Bland on 21 October 1791 at St Paul, Covent Garden. It proved to be an unfortunate marriage, and by 1795 Mrs Bland was living openly with the actor Thomas Caulfield. Finding himself in an untenable situation, George Bland took himself off to America, where he acted in New York and Boston and died in the latter city in 1807. Eventually Thomas Caulfield left Mrs Bland and also went to America; he died in a drunken fit while acting on a stage in Kentucky in 1815. Mrs Bland, however, thrived professionally in London, and, according to Oxberry, was recognized ‘as perfect as an English ballad-singer.’
Though she was unattractively short and stumpy, looked like a most unharmonious person, and was the brunt of unkind remarks concerning her Jewish background, she remained a stage favourite for more than 30 years. She sang admirably in Italian and French, but the English ballad style was her forte. In her later years she taught singing. By 1824 she was suffering from a nervous disorder that edged on madness. She benefited by some £800 from a public subscription on her behalf that brought her an annuity of £80. Mrs Bland lived her final years with a family named Western, at the Broadway, Westminster, where she died of a stroke on 15 January 1838; she was buried at St Margaret, Westminster. Information about her children is in the BDA, where also are lists of her many roles and portraits. (BDA)