29 January 2014

Mrs. Siddons at Drury Lane Theatre


                                                        Mrs Sarah Siddons (c. 1784) by Beach [Image 1].

In October 1784, Lady Mary Jerningham wrote to her daughter Charlotte who was at a French convent. Her and her husband had recently escorted their daughter to her new life in France, and she dearly missed her child. Ever a faithful correspondent to her much-missed Charlotte, Lady Jerningham described her crossing back at Dover, and her activities after she arrived back in London on the 19th October. At some point between the 19th and the 22nd October, Lady Jerningham went to see the celebrated Mrs Sarah Siddons play Isabella in Thomas Southerne's The Fatal Marriage at Drury Lane Theatre. 

                                             Sarah Siddons with her son, Henry Siddons, in Isabella [Image 2]

What Lady Jerningham wasn't expecting was for the First Lord of the Treasury, the young Mr. Pitt, to be sharing her stage box! Writing from Lothian's Hotel on Albemarle Street on October 24, 1784, Lady Jerningham relates:

"We went to the Play with Miss Paston and Miss Clifford, to see Mrs. Siddons who performed her grand part of Isabella in The Fatal Marriage. We had the Stage Box, and it is I think always disadvantageous to see the actors so very near; it destroys the Illusion. However Mrs. Siddons is a very handsome Woman and acts with a great deal of feeling. It did not move me, however, in the same manner I had reason to expect it would, from the exaggerated accounts every body gave of themselves. Mr. Pitt, the prime Minister was in our box, which was a greater treat to my curiosity than the actress [Mrs. Siddons]" [1].

I find it amusing to think that Lady Jerningham was more curious to see the young premier than she was to see the great tragedienne Mrs. Siddons!


1. The Jerningham Letters, Vol. 1. (1896) London: R. Bentley & Son, pg. 16.

Image Credits:

1. Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Beach (c. 1784). Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Museum no. DYCE.76.

2. Sarah Siddons as Isabella with her son, Henry Siddons by William Hamilton RA, engraved by J. Caldwell (1785). Harry Beard Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Museum no. S.280-1988.

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