FOOTLIGHTS AND CORONETS REGENCY ROMANCE ERA ACTRESSES WHO MARRIED INTO THE PEERAGE
Since Catherine Stephens wore her coronet—and before—many an actress has found in the stage-door a portal to the Peerage. Elizabeth Farren, who was cradled in the year before George III came to his Throne, was the daughter of a gifted and erratic Irishman, who abandoned pills and potions to lead the life of a strolling actor, a career which came to a premature end while his daughter was still a child. Fortunately for Elizabeth, her mother was a woman of capacity and character, who made a gallant struggle to give her children as good a start in life as was possible to her straitened means; and by the time she was fourteen the girl, who had inherited her father's passion for the stage, was able to make a most creditable first appearance at Liverpool, as Rosetta, in Bickerstaff's Love in a Village.
So adept did she prove in her adopted art that within four years she made her curtsy at the Haymarket as Miss Hardcastle, in She Stoops to Conquer; and at once, by her grace and brilliant acting, won the hearts of theatre-going London; while her refinement, at that time by no means common on the stage, and her social graces won for her a welcome in high circles. Many a lover of title or eminence sought the hand of the sparkling and lovely Irishwoman, and none of them all was more ardent in his wooing than Charles James Fox, then at the zenith of his career as statesman; but she would have naught to say to any one of them all. Her fate, however, was not long in coming; and it came in the form of Edward Stanley, twelfth Earl of Derby, who, before his first wife, a daughter of the Duke of Hamilton, had been many months in the family-vault, was at the knees of the beautiful actress. He had little difficulty in persuading her to become his Countess; and one May day, in 1797, he placed the wedding-ring on her finger in the drawing-room of his Grosvenor Square house.
For more than thirty years Lady Derby moved in her new circle, a splendid and gracious figure, received at Court with special favour by George III and his Queen, before she died in 1829, transmitting her blood, through her daughter, Lady Mary Stanley, to the Earl of Wilton of to-day.