Biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was an eighteenth century playwright and Member of Parliament.

When and Where was he Born?

30th October 1751, Dorset Street, Dublin, Ireland. Christened Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Family Background:

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was the third son of Thomas Sheridan Theatre Manager at Smock Alley Theatre and the editor of a pronouncing dictionary and Frances Sheridan a playwright.

Education:

English Grammar School, Dublin. Harrow School. Middle Temple to study law but left after one week to pursue his lover.

Timeline of Richard Brinsley Sheridan:

1758: The Sheridan family moves to England when Richard is aged seven.

1762: He attends to Harrow School.

1768: Sheridan leaves Harrow and is placed in the care of a tutor. He is also taught elocution and English reading by his father.

1770: The family move to Bath where Sheridan meets Elizabeth Linley the eldest daughter of the composer Thomas Linley and an accomplished singer. Various people are chasing Elizabeth including a Captain Thomas Mathews.

1771: He still keeps in touch with a friend from Harrow School N.B. Halhed and they work on various literary ventures including translations of Aristaenetus and a farce called “Jupiter which was turned don by Garrick and never performed.

1772: Richard Sheridan escorts Elizabeth Linley to a convent in France so that she can escape the attentions of Captain Mathews. Richard and Elizabeth secretly marry on the way and he fights two duels with Captain Mathews on his return after he wrote a newspaper article attacking her character. The first duel was at the Castle Tavern in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden after they found Hyde Park to be too crowded. Mathews lost his sword and was forced to sign a retraction, however he was so annoyed by the publicity the duel attracted which blackened his name that he challenged Sheridan to a second duel. This was fought at Kingsdown near Bath. Both men break their swords and both were wounded. Sheridan came off worst and had to be carried from the field and took eight days to regain any kind of health. Elizabeth’s father denounces the relationship as he says Sheridan is not suitable for his daughter. He is sent to Waltham Abbey to continue his studies in mathematics.

1773: Sheridan enters the Middle Temple on the 6th April and a week later he begins being openly married to Elizabeth. The couple set up a lavish lifestyle at a house in Orchard Street, Portman Square in London, entertaining various people from society, although the couple have little money. He starts writing in earnest.

1775: First production of Richard Sheridan’s comedy “The Rivals” at Covent garden in January. The first performance was not well received due to problems with the acting but the second revised performance went well and it has since become a standard in the repertoire. In November he produced the comic opera “The Duenna” at Covent Garden with the help of his father in law the composer with whom he was now reconciled. It went on to play seventy five performances. Birth of his only son Thomas, who was later to become a successful poet.

1776: His negotiations with David Garrick for a half share in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, were completed. Thomas Linley and Dr Ford were also his partners.

1777: Sheridan’s first major production was of John Vanbrugh’s “The Relapse” and then he put on his own other major success “The School for Scandal”. The latter nearly didn’t go ahead as the Lord Chamberlain had to be persuaded by Sheridan’s friends to let it have a licence.

1778: Sheridan buys out Garrick completely to own the Theatre Royal. Produces “The Camp” which comments on the possible threat of invasion of Britain by the French.

1780: He is first elected to Parliament for the Whig party in Stafford as a friend of Charles James Fox. It is said that he bribed the local burghers with five guineas each with extra promises of dinners and ale. His first act in parliament was to try and defend himself against acts of bribery. He opposed the war in America.

House in Stafford where Sheridan stayed
The House in Stafford where Sheridan stayed. (copyright Anthony Blagg)
Sheridan plaque
Details of plaque

1782: He becomes Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

1783: Richard Sheridan is appointed Secretary of the Treasury.

1787: Sheridan speaks for five hours on the impeachment of Warren Hastings in parliament and his oratory was well received.

1791: The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is rebuilt as it was thought to be unsafe.

1792: Death of his wife, Elizabeth.

1794: His last great speech in parliament. During this period he acted as more or less and independent member and did not side with Edmund Burke on the condemnation of the French Revolution and agreed with Fox on non-intervention. He was also one of the few MP’s not to support the joining of the Irish and British parliaments.

1795: He marries Esther Jane, daughter of Newton Ogle, The Dean of Winchester.

1803: Richard Sheridan writes “an Address to the People” during the height of the invasion scare from the French.

1804: He is appointed Receiver-General of the Duchy of Cornwall.

1806: The Whigs come back to power and Sheridan is appointed Treasurer of the Navy. He is elected to represent Westminster for Parliament but fails to become the Leader of the Whigs.

1807: He is defeated at the General Election in Westminster but gets back into Parliament at Ilchester and it was widely thought that George, the Prince of Wales had paid for his.

1809: The second rebuilding of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane after a fire.

1811: When Prince George becomes the Prince Regent Sheridan’s private influence on him helps to stop the Whigs achieving power again and he was known as the Prince’s mouthpiece.

Theatre Royal
The present Theatre Royal, Drury Lane opened in 1812. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1812: The opening of the current Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Sheridan cannot secure enough money to buy the parliamentary seat of Stafford after a quarrel with the Prince Regent. Now all his creditors see their chance and try to get their money back and his fortunes begin to plummet and his gambling debts are called in. On hearing of his precarious financial position the US Congress offer Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American War of Independence but he refuses the money.

1815: He becomes gravely ill and is confined to his bed.

When and Where did he Die?

7th July 1816, Number 14 Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, London, England. He died a pauper. His funeral was attended by the Lord Mayor of London and a large number of aristocrats.

Age at Death:

64.

Written Works:

1775: “St Patrick’s Day” (First performed), “The Duenna”, “The Rivals”.
1777: “The School for Scandal”, “A Trip to Scarborough” (First performed).
1778: “The Camp”.
1779: “The Critic, or a Tragedy Rehearsed”.
1794: “The Glorious First of June” (First performed).
1798: “Collected Speeches”.
1799: “Pizarro”. (Opera).

Marriages:

  1. 1773 to Elizabeth Ann Linley at Marylebone Church, London. (died 1792)
  2. 1795 to Esther Jane, daughter of Newton Ogle, The Dean of Winchester.

Site of Grave:

Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London, England.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

AVON:

He lived near No 9 King Street, Bath for two years.

LONDON:

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

SURREY:

Polesden Lacey. (Once his home now owned by the National Trust).