Who was Kitty Clive? Guest post by Dr Berta Joncus

Today I have the honour to host a guest post about the famous 18th-century celebrity, Kitty Clive, by Dr Berta Joncus.

Berta is Senior Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths, University of London. Before joining Goldsmiths, she was at the University of Oxford: she took her doctorate there and was a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at St Catherine’s (2004–7), then music lecturer at St Anne’s and St. Hilda’s (2007­–9). As a scholar, she focuses on the intersection in eighteenth-century vocal music of creative practice and identity politics.

Book jacket, illustration: William Verelst, Catherine Clive, 1740. Oil on canvas. By kind permission of the Garrick Club. Paintings: G0122.
Book jacket, illustration: William Verelst, Catherine Clive, 1740. Oil on canvas. By kind permission of the Garrick Club. Paintings: G0122.

Historians have typically described Kitty Clive as a fat, vain comedienne. My book reveals another artist altogether.

From her 1728 debut until 1748, Clive was an awe-inspiring songster who changed Georgian playhouse history. She was the first playhouse performer to make music the basis of her stardom. She upended hierarchies of taste, dazzling equally with smart airs, operatic pyrotechnics and raw street ballads.

Was she a cheeky minx, a refined siren, a leering vulgarian, or all or none of these? Audiences flocked to the playhouse to find out. Handel, Thomas Arne, Henry Fielding, David Garrick and others supplied vehicles for personae Clive re-invented on the boards, defying male authority through her ability to, as she once wrote, “turn it & wind it & play it in a different manner to his intention.”

Facing systemic discrimination against women, Clive strategized brilliantly. She had some lucky breaks: in 1728, as she prepared for her debut, the collapse of London’s Italian opera company deprived audiences of high-style song, and The Beggar’s Opera whetted appetites for low-style song.

Composer and singing master Henry Carey had groomed Clive to excel in operatic and ballad singing, and Drury Lane manager Colley Cibber, desperate to rival other houses, hired the seventeen-year-old on first hearing. Carey was Clive’s friend and ally, fitting her earliest parts to her strengths, whether as a singing goddess (in masques), a witty shepherdess (in ballad opera), or a sentimental heroine (in sung comedy). Like Carey, the playwrights Charles Coffey, James Miller, and William Chetwood – this last Drury Lane’s prompter, and Clive’s first biographer – designed flattering stage characters around her gifts.

But often Drury Lane managers’ casting disadvantaged Clive, forcing her to create her own opportunities. Performing in The Devil to Pay, a 1731 ballad opera that extolled wife-beating, she used the songs Coffey had added to transform Nell, scripted as the drab victim of her cobbler husband, into a tender, courageous heroine. Overnight, she became Drury Lane’s star of ballad opera as well as of serious song.

In 1732 Cibber replaced Carey with Fielding as Drury Lane’s author of Clive vehicles, driving the indebted Carey to suicide and saddling Clive with Fielding’s unsavoury characterizations – in comedies, epilogues and air verses – through which she nonetheless shone.

With success came marketing. Illustrator John Smith claimed that an image he had engraved of a bare-breasted nymph from an old Dutch oil was a likeness of Clive igniting a years-long battle over whether she was plain or comely.

After Gottfried Schalcken [Couple d’amoureux dans un forêt, c1695], MISS RAFTER in the Character of PHILLIDA, 1729. Mezzotint. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Museum number: S.3874-2009.
After Gottfried Schalcken [Couple d’amoureux dans un forêt, c1695], MISS RAFTER in the Character of PHILLIDA, 1729. Mezzotint. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Museum number: S.3874-2009.
John Faber after Pieter van Bleeck, The Celebrated Mrs. Clive, late Miss Raftor in the Character of Philida, 1734. Mezzotint. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Museum number: S.3816-2009.
John Faber after Pieter van Bleeck, The Celebrated Mrs. Clive, late Miss Raftor in the Character of Philida, 1734. Mezzotint. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Museum number: S.3816-2009.

Fig. 6.6. Alexander van Aken after Joseph van Aken, ‘Of all the Arts…’ [Catherine Clive, ‘Printed for T. Bowles’], 1735. Mezzotint. © Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number 1902,1011.6026.
Fig. 6.6. Alexander van Aken after Joseph van Aken, ‘Of all the Arts…’ [Catherine Clive, ‘Printed for T. Bowles’], 1735. Mezzotint. © Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number 1902,1011.6026.
Theatrical wars were an occupational hazard throughout Clive’s career. In 1733 Colley Cibber’s son Theophilus, angered by not being made Drury Lane’s manager, led an actors’ revolt that Clive refused to follow.

While pamphleteers attacked her, she shored up her reputation by appearing to marry into the genteel Clive family of Shropshire. This ‘union’ was perhaps the most brilliant invention of the former Kitty Raftor: it bestowed on her the status of a Clive while allowing her to keep her earnings, and hid the same-sex desires that both she and George Clive harboured. Kitty’s reputation for propriety – one satire glossed her as ‘Miss Prudely Crotchet’ – became a critical means for garnering sympathy once Theophilus Cibber returned victorious as Drury Lane’s deputy manager.

In 1736 the younger Cibber tried to steal Clive’s parts for his new wife, Susannah. Rewriting the rules of playhouse power, Clive ran a newspaper campaign about her rectitude and her right to her parts; this battle Theophilus lost, despite having the more credible behind-the-scenes account.

Dissimulation was one of Clive’s arts, and her ability to shape-shift made her a Town favourite. She appealed to wit, not sensuality, and claimed to speak for the middling sorts. In her airs and parts of the 1730s and 1740s, Clive protested against effeminate fops, foreign entertainers, men’s authority, Spain’s perfidy, and first minister Robert Walpole’s corruption.

Mrs Riot, the Fine Lady : Lethe; or Aesop in the Shades by Van Bleeck, Peter. Garrick Club Collection
Mrs Riot, the Fine Lady : Lethe; or Aesop in the Shades by Van Bleeck Peter. Garrick Club Collection

‘The Clive’ stood for native taste in music (she was given two parts in London’s favourite masque, Comus), in legitimate drama (her Portia in The Merchant of Venice became legendary), and in celebrity connections (Handel wrote Samson for her to lead, and an elegant air for her 1740 benefit). In propria persona ‘Kitty’ roles multiplied, not least from the pen of Garrick, so that she could effervesce in the playhouse, season after season.

Clive’s very success sowed the seeds her failure. When in 1743 Drury Lane manager Charles Fleetwood cheated company members of their salaries, she co-led a company rebellion, prompting Fleetwood to claim that the house had been bled dry by stars’ outrageous salary demands.

He published Clive’s earnings, which were indeed large, and the perennial eagerness of the celebrity industry to consume its own children did the rest. Critics charged her with being vain, greedy, jealous and ambitious; a story was faked that she had been involved in a back-stage scuffle with rival actress Peg Woffington. In December 1745 Susannah Cibber engineered another press row with Clive, but this time readers believed her, not Clive. By 1747, Clive had lost her following.

Needing to work to support herself, her brother, and their household, Clive colluded with new Drury Lane manager Garrick to regain public favour. He re-cast her as a blousy, arrogant has-been whose saving grace was how cruelly she mocked herself. To verify Garrick’s version of her, Clive wrote and led self-incriminating in propria persona afterpieces; in her first such work, The Rehearsal, or Bays in Petticoats (1750), she also staged her farewell to serious song. Clive would again succeed at Drury Lane, where she would dominate for another twenty years, but in farce rather than art song or drama. She retired early and wealthy, but her former reputation as a vocal artist of rare skill, and an exponent of British virtues, was in tatters.

Kitty Clive’s rich, complex story, both familiar and foreign to our own celebrity-obsessed era, has been buried under mis-information for centuries. In Kitty Clive, or The Fair Songster, I invite readers to appreciate for the first time not only her achievements as a singer, actor, writer and self-manager, but also the obstacles she had to overcome and the compromises she had to make to reach, and regain, her leading position on the London stage.

***
For a signed author’s copy at £35.00 (or $45.00) posted free of charge, please email b.joncus@gold.ac.uk.

To listen to the song Handel composed in 1740 for Clive, please to go this link.

 

Edmund Kean as Othello. National Portrait Gallery

Edmund Kean (1787-1833), the Tragedian

We had thought about writing about his acting career, but we’re sure there are enough websites that provide all of that, so we decided to take a look at the man behind the theatre – if that’s at all possible. There has always been much speculation about his parents and so, as is our want, went on a hunting trip to see if we could unearth anything new.

Edmund Kean. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean. Garrick Club

His life appears to be a mixture of fact and fiction, some of which he possibly made up himself and the rest which has been ‘tweaked’ then repeated over the centuries with so much of it untrue, so let’s try to set at least some of the record straight if we can.

There is no disputing he was regarded as one of the best Shakespearean actors of his days. He was short in stature – true. His body being well-proportioned but a mere 5 feet 6 and three-quarter inches in height.

Edmund Kean as Alanienouidet, Chief and Prince of the Huron Tribe of Indians. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean as Alanienouidet, Chief and Prince of the Huron Tribe of Indians. Garrick Club

Born 4th November 1787, apparently, although there’s nothing to confirm that apart from books written some thirty years after his death, but let’s assume that is correct. His mother –  now, the book about his life has this to say:

George Saville Carey was cursed in a worthless inhuman daughter. Ann Carey had, at the age of fifteen, ran away from home to join a company of strolling players; and when itinerant business was at a standstill, she figured in the streets of London as a hawker. It was in the latter capacity that her not unprepossessing face attracted the attention of Aaron Kean, an architect, who took her under his protection, but subsequently abandoned her. Shortly afterwards she became the mother of Edmund Kean.

We have managed to find her baptism, in 1763 at St Bride, Fleet Street which nicely confirms her as George Saville Carey’s daughter.

A copy of Hoppner's painting of Mrs Kean. Original not found
A copy of Hoppner’s painting of Mrs Kean, a whole-length figure, standing, facing the spectator, in a cornfield… in white dress and blue satin shoes. Original not found

Mary Ann was one of several children that George Saville Carey (son of the poet Henry Carey*) and his wife Mary Ann née Phipp had, including two with the interesting names of Martha Udosia and Tempest Hazard.

Edmund Kean as Coriolanus. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean as Coriolanus. Garrick Club

Moving on to Edmund, there is no sign of a baptism for him, but it would appear that he was a child protégé and appeared on the stage when a mere 4 years old, with his mother, Mrs Carey, who we know was an actress and regularly appeared in the bill programmes for the London theatres. In his formative years, Edmund was simply known as Master Carey.

Who could his father have been? Well, we have seen references to it being an Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk; an Aaron Kean, architect; Aaron Kean, a tailor; and Moses Kean, a ventriloquist who apparently took a keen interest in young Edmund’s career. Yet again, no categorical answer to that question.

We came across this newspaper article below advertising the first stage performance for a Mr Edmund Kean, who couldn’t be ‘our’ Edmund as he would only just have been born. Given the theatrical connections, this could either be his father or Edmund simply adopted the name in later life. There were three brothers, Aaron, Edmund and Moses who were all tailors by trade who lived at No. 9 St Martin’s Lane.

There were also rumours that Edmund’s mother was a Charlotte Tidswell (1766-1841), an actress, but that seems exceptionally unlikely, it’s possible that she may have been a relative, but more likely a family friend who was involved in Edmund’s theatrical education.

Edmund Kean as Richard III. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean as Richard III. Garrick Club

On 17th July 1808, Edmund married Mary Chambers at Stroud, Gloucestershire and a couple of years later they produced a son, Charles John, who, after attending Eton, went on to become an actor, although, not in the same league as his famous father.

After Edmund had a very public affair with Charlotte Cox, the wife of a London Alderman. He was then sued by Mr Cox for crim. con and damages of £800 were awarded against him.

Charles John Kean by Stump, Samuel John
Charles John Kean by Stump, Samuel John. National Portrait Gallery, London

Needless to say, this had an impact on his career and his loyal wife, Mary remained loyal no longer and in 1825, she left him and moved in to Keydell House, Catherington Hampshire, which her son bought from a Captain RD Pritchard, who lived there from about 1826 until 1842 and who, coincidentally we have written about before. Mary Kean died in 1849 and was buried in the parish church.

Edmund moved to Richmond where he spent his remaining years. By all accounts he outlived his fortune and died penniless, whether that’s true or not, like the rest of his life, we may never know.

His death came 15th May 1833 and given his theatrical status, a request was sent to the Dean of Westminster Abbey to have him buried there – this was declined, and he was buried instead at Richmond parish church following a post-mortem carried out a couple of days after his death. The newspapers sparing their readers none of the gory details of the postmortem, which is how we know his exact height.

It would appear though that in May 1833 there was a flu epidemic and presumably they were expecting that to be the cause of death, but having read the details of the autopsy, that seems unclear as to what the cause was. Interestingly his mother was living with him at that time as she too was unwell. Apparently, she took one last view of her son in his coffin and retired to her room where in just a few days, she too died. A request, by Charles, was made for her to be buried with her son, but there wasn’t space.

Edmund Kean by Northcote, James.  National Portrait Gallery, London

It seems that we will never know the full truth about Mary Anne Carey’s relationship with the tragedian, Edmund Kean, but at least we’ve been able to add a little more factual information to the myth.

Edmund Kean as Othello. National Portrait Gallery
Edmund Kean as Othello. National Portrait Gallery

Sources

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 20 May 1833 

Worcester Journal 30 May 1833

John Hoppner, R.A. by McKay, William Darling, 1844-1924; Roberts, W. (William), 1862-1940

Hawkins F.W.  The Life of Edmund Kean in two Volumes 1886

Highfill, Kalman, Burnim, Langhans. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers …

* George Saville Carey was born 3rd December 1738 at Clerkenwell, the son of the poet Henry Carey and his wife Sarah Harrison. Despite reports to the contrary, he was not born posthumously. Henry Carey was reputedly the illegitimate son of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, but so far we have not been able to confirm this one.