Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.
Catherine “Kitty” Clive
5 November 1711 – 6 December 1785
Catherine “Kitty” Clive
Catherine “Kitty” Clive was most likely born in London, but her father, William Raftor, was an Irishman and a former officer in the French army under Louis XIV. According to her biographers, Clive worked as a servant in the homes of wealthy London families while young. At the age of 17, she was discovered by the theatre community when she was overheard singing while cleaning the front steps of a home near a tavern that actors and playwrights regularly patronized. She was recommended to Colley Cibber, manager of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, who hired her.
Clive’s first role at Drury Lane was as the pageboy Immenea in Nathaniel Lee’s tragedy Mithridates, King of Pontus. Throughout the 1730s she went on to play many more roles with much success, becoming Drury Lane’s leading comedic actress. In 1747 she became one of the founding members of David Garrick’s acting company. A soprano, Clive would also occasionally sing on the stage, notably portraying Emma and Venus in the world première of Thomas Arne’s masque Alfred in 1740. She also created the role of Dalila in Handel’s 1743 oratorio Samson.
Around 1732, Clive married George Clive, a barrister brother of Baron Clive. The marriage was not a success and the two separated, though never officially divorced, and Kitty Clive remained economically independent. Because she never openly took on lovers, Clive was able to keep her marriage vows and preserve her public reputation. Her good standing in the public’s eye helped strengthen the reputations of actresses in general, who were often looked down upon as being morally lax.
Clive rose in fame to become of the highest paid actresses of her time and may have even earned more than many of the male performers who were traditionally paid higher wages than their female cast-mates. Her career onstage spanned over forty years, and according to K. A. Crouch, “[h]er pay places her among the very best actresses of her generation.” Kitty Clive became a household name along with other theater greats of the time such as Lavinia Fenton and Susannah Cibber. Perhaps because of her earning power and her fame, Clive became an open supporter of actors’ rights. In particular, she published a pamphlet entitled The Case of Mrs. Clive in 1744 where she publicly shamed managers Christopher Rich and Charles Fleetwood for conspiring to pay actors less than their due. She also challenged the public’s habit of associating actors with beggars and prostitutes.
Clive tried her hand at writing farces, with some success. She wrote several satirical sketches with feminist undertones including The Rehearsal, or Boys in Petticoats (1750); Every Woman in her Humour (1760); and Sketches of a Fine Lady’s Return from a Rout (1763). In these pieces she used humor to criticize the challenges female performers and playwrights faced.
Kitty Clive retired in 1769 to a villa in Twickenham, which had been a gift from her friend Horace Walpole, and died there in 1785. She was buried at St Mary’s, Twickenham, where there is a memorial to her in the north-east corner of the church, on which a poem praises her generosity.