Oldfield, Anne

, a celebrated English actress, and most accomplished woman, was born in Pall-mall, London, in 1683. Her father, once possessed of a competent estate, was then an officer in the guards; but, being improvident, left his family, at his death, almost destitute. In these circumstances, the widow was forced to live with a sister, who kept a tavern in St. James’s market; and the daughter was placed with a sempstress in King-street, Westminster. Miss Oldfield, in the mean time, conceived an extraordinary taste for the drama, and was entertaining her relations at a tavern by reading, or attempting to act, when her voice chanced to reach the eat of Farquhar, the celebrated dramatic writer, who happened to dine in the same house. On being introduced, he was struck with her agreeable person and carriage, and presently pronounced her admirably formed for the stage. This concurring with her own inclinations, her mother opened the matter to sir John Vanburgh, a friend of the family, who having the same favourable opinion of her talents, recommended her to Mr. Rich, then patentee of the king’s theatre. She remained, however, in comparative obscurity, till 1703, when she first appeared to advantage in the part of Leonora in “Sir Courtly Nice;” and established her theatrical reputation, the following year, in th’at of Lady Betty Modish in the “Careless Husband.

A little before this time, she formed an illicit connection with Arthur May n waring, esq. who interested himself greatly in the figure she made upon the stage; and it was in some measure owing to the pains he took in improving her natural talents, that she became, as she soon did, the delight and chief ornament of it. After the death of this gentleman, which happened in Nov. 1712, she engaged in a like commerce with brigadier-gen. Charles Churchill, esq. *


George II. and queen Caroline, when prince and princess of Wales, condescended sometimes to converse with her at their levees. One day, the princess asked her, if she was married to general Churchill “So it is said, may it please your highness, but we have not owned it yet.” It may much appear singular, to quote the late pious sir James Stonhouse for anecdotes of Mrs Oldfield, yet in one of his letters, we are informed that she always went to the house in the same dress she had worn at dinner in her visits to the houses of great people for she was caressed on account of her pro-

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essional merit, and her connection with Mr. Churchill, the duke of Marlborough’s brother; that she used to go to the play-house in a chair, attended by two footmen; that she sel­ dom spoke to any of the actors and was allowed a sum of money to buy her own clothes. Letters from the rev. J. Orton, and the rev. sir J. Stonhouse, vol. II. p. 250.

She had one son by Maynwaring; and another by | Churchill, who afterwards married the lady Anna Maria Walpole, natural daughter of the earl of Orford. About 1718, Savage, the poet, being reduced to extreme necessity, his very singular case so affected Mrs. Oldfield, that she settled on him a pension of 50L per annum, which was regularly paid as long as she lived. This, added to other generous actions, together with a distinguished taste in elegance of dress, conversation, and manners, have generally been spread as a veil over her failings; and such was her reputation, that upon her death, which happened Oct. 23, 1730, her corpse was carried from her house in Grosvenor-street to the Jerusalem Chamber, and after lying in state, was conveyed to Westminster abbey, the pall being supported by lord De la Warr, lord Hervey, the right hon* George Bubb Doddington, Charles Hedges, esq. Walter Carey, esq. and captain Elliot; her eldest son Arthur Maynwaring, esq. being chief mourner. She was interred towards the west end of the south aile, between the monumerits of Craggs and Congreve. At her own desire, she was elegantly dressed in her coffip, with a very fine Brussels laced head, a Holland shift, with a tucker and double ruffles of the same lace, a pair of new kid gloves, and her body wrapt up in a winding-sheet. On this account, Pope introduced her, in the character of Narcissa, in Epistle I. line 245,

Odious in woollen 'twould a saint provoke,” &c. She left the bulk of her substance to her son Maynwaring, from whose father she had received it; without neglecting, however, her other son Churchill, and her own relations.

In her person, we are told by her contemporaries, that she was of a stature just rising to that height where the graceful can only begin to shew itself; of a lively aspect and command in her mien. Nature had given her this peculiar happiness, that she looked and maintained the agreeable at a time of life when other fine women only raise admirers by their understanding. The qualities she had acquired were the genteel and the elegant; the one in her air, the other in her dress. The Tatler, taking notice of her dress, says, “That, whatever character she | represented, she was always well dressed. The make mind very much contributed to the ornament of her body. This made every thing look native about her; and her clothes were so exactly fitted, that they appeared, as it were, part of her person. Her most elegant deportment was owing to her manner, and not to her habit. Her beauty was full of attraction, but more of allurement There was such a composure in her looks, and propriety in her dress, that you would think it impossible she should change the garb you one day saw her in for any thing so becoming, till you next day saw her in another. There was no other mystery in this, but that, however she was apparelled, herself was the same; for, there is an immediate relation between our thoughts and gestures, that. a woman must think well to look well.1


Life published under the name of Esrerton, 1731, vo. Biog. Britl Tatller, 8vo edit. 1806, vol. I. p. 104; IV. 152.