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Hartley, Elizabeth

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The daughter of James and Eleanor White of Berrow, Somerset, this beautiful actress was born in 1750 or 1751. As a young woman she became the mistress of a Mr Hartley, probably a provincial actor, and though she never married him she took his name. As Mrs Hartley she appeared in Edinburgh on 4 December 1771 in the role of Monimia in “The Orphan”. That season at Edinburgh she acted substantial tragic roles, suggesting some considerable previous experience, Desdemona, Cordelia, Belvidera in “Venice Preserv’d” and Calista in “The Fair Penitent” among them. After enjoying success in similar roles during several seasons at Edinburgh, and then at Bristol, Mrs Hartley made her London debut on 5 October 1772, at Covent Garden, acting Jane Shore. By the end of her first season in London, though she had not very much impressed the critics by her acting, she was universally acclaimed as a very beautiful woman. She continued to be engaged at Covent Garden through 1779-80, acquitting herself in leading roles in the repertory. The large painting in the Garrick Club by Angelica Kauffmann of her as Hermione (G0291) commemorates her single appearance in that role on 12 March 1774. During her last several seasons at Covent Garden she was plagued by illness that often prevented her playing. She retired from the stage in May 1780 and died many years later, at the age of 73, at her house in Woolwich on 26 January 1824. Reynolds and Romney also made portraits of her. The BDA (7: 162-64) lists 35 portraits of her. The actor-playwright Thomas Hull accounted her as the only one beautiful enough to personate the fair Rosamond – a nickname that became attached to her – in his Henry II. (BDA)
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