Oldfield, Anne (1683–1730)

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Oldfield, Anne (1683–1730)

One of the most celebrated actresses of the English stage. Name variations: Mrs. Oldfield; Ann Oldfield. Pronunciation: OLD-feld. Born in London, England, in 1683; died at age 47 on October 23, 1730; daughter of a soldier; married Arthur Mainwaring (1668–1712); married Charles Churchill, a lieutenant general (died 1745); children: (first marriage) one son; (second marriage) one son.

An English actress, Anne Oldfield appeared at the Drury Lane for several years before she was finally recognized for her talent rather than her beauty and elegance alone. But following her creation of Lady Betty Modish in Colley Cibber's Careless Husband in 1704, Oldfield was generally acknowledged as the best actress of her time, the "acknowledged successor of the great Mrs. Mountfort (Susanna Verbruggen )." Even the usually grudging Cibber, who had reluctantly given her the part because Verbruggen was ill, admitted that she had as much to do with the play's success as he. She was also lauded for her Lady Townley in Cibber's Provoked Husband.

In genteel comedy, Oldfield was unrivaled, and she later won laurels for her work in tragedy. Her list of parts was long and varied; she excelled as Cleopatra (VII) , and also played Calista in Nicholas Rowe's Fair Penitent and created the title role in his Tragedy ofJane Shore (1714). Her acting was the delight of her contemporaries, while her beauty and generosity produced a spate of eulogists.

Sought out by people of fashion, Oldfield generally frequented the theater in a chair, attended by two footmen, while wearing a dress she had just worn to some aristocratic dinner. She kept her powers to the end; a few months before her death in 1730, she played the tragic role of James Thomson's Sophonisba, acting this last part, it was said, superbly.

Anne Oldfield was buried beneath the monument of William Congreve in Westminster Abbey. According to her maid Margaret (Betty) Saunders , Oldfield was interred in a shawl of fine Brussels lace, a holland shift with double ruffles of the same lace, and a pair of new kid gloves, while her body was wrapped in a winding sheet. This elicited from Alexander Pope the well-known lines from his "Moral Essays," Epistle I:

Odious! in woolen! 'twould a saint provoke,
Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke;
No, let a charming chintz and Brussels lace
Wrap my cold limbs and shade my lifeless face;
One would not, sure, be frightful when one's dead,
And—Betty—give this cheek a little red.

suggested reading:

Authentick memoirs of the life of that celebrated actress Mrs. Ann Oldfield, containing a genuine account of her transactions from her infancy to the time of her decease. 2nd ed., London: 1730.

The Lovers Miscellany, a collection of amorous tales and poems, with memoirs of the life and amours of Mrs Ann Oldfield. London: 1731.

Memoirs of Mrs. Anne Oldfield. London: 1741.

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