Friday, April 3, 2009

Tart of the Week: George Anne Bellamy

No, George Anne Bellamy isn't England's version of the Chevalier d'Eon. George Anne was very much a woman and was born in eastern Ireland in 1727. Her mother was the very unfortunate Miss Seal who was not only a Quaker but a mere schoolgirl when she discovered she was pregnant by Lord Trywaley. Miss Seal had already conducted an affair with the Irish aristocrat which resulted in a son. Trywaley went away looking for a rich wife before he returned to the old fling. However, Trywaley still needed a wife and he went to Lisbon in search of one, inviting Miss Seal to come with him. When she realized his true intentions in Portugal, Miss Seal quickly returned to England and married a sailor by the name of Bellamy. But when baby George Anne was born not long after the wedding Bellamy soon disappeared too.

The series of unlucky events continued at George Anne's christening. The hard of hearing priest didn't quite get the name of "Georgiana" when her mother said it. For whatever reason he heard "George Anne" and so became the girl named George.

Unlike many bastard daughters of aristocrats, George Anne had a a privileged upbringing. Her father sent her to France to receive her education like every other proper young English lady. Given this upbringing you would think George Anne would try to nab herself a rich husband and settle down to a wealthy lifestyle. But no, she took a path she was born into rather than the opportunity her father presented to her. She moved back in with her mother who convinced her to pursue acting, figuring George Anne's beauty could make some fast cash. After playing Monimia in The Orphan at Covent Garden George Anne met with the success her mother hoped for and many parts soon followed.

Success was sweet for "Mrs. Bellamy." She caught David Garrick's eye which, of course meant instant success and celebrity treatment. She also became his leading lady since the position was now open due to his recent breakup with Mrs Cibber. George Anne would be seen around town partying it up with her male-friends. Naughty! Not only did she make many friends but enemies as well. There was a notorious rivalry between her and fellow Irish actress, Peg Woffington that supposedly began when they were both in the (appropriately named) Rival Queens. The rumour mills cited jealousy and gowns as to the cause of the rift, but who could know for sure. The rivalry ended when Peg was on her deathbed and she called George Anne so they could kiss and makeup.

Of course, the good life couldn't last forever. George Anne's dapples with men led to pregnancies without marriages. She also was cursed with faded beauty. George Anne's wilted beauty meant no one was interested in seeing her on stage anymore. Meanwhile, debts from her frivilous celebrity days were piling up and debtor's prison loomed in the distance.

In an act of desperation George Anne wrote her revealing memoirs, An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy. As the title implies, the book was an autobiography of degregation at the author's social expense. Although the books sold, it was a little too late to save her from monetary ruin. George Anne died not too long afterwards, a fallen woman, her last moments spent hidden in shame.


  1. Wonderful post. I had never heard of George Anne Bellamy, and I studied English theatrical history for years.

  2. It's the first time I hear of her as well. Thanks for this interesting post Heather:)

  3. What a depressing story. I mean, fun in the beginning, but what a sad ending. It makes me think of an old movie I saw when I was a kid with Vivien Leigh as the title character - "That Hamilton Woman". It also was a life of great opulence followed by a degraded end.

  4. Paul, I was reminded of Emma Hamilton, too. Except Emma makes me angry. At least George regretted her excesses and didn't brag about them. But it sounds like she had some good times to balance out the bad, so her life wasn't completely tragic.

  5. In the old movie I saw, she didn't look too braggy, but I'm sure that was because they were angling for sympathy. I'll have to read up on her to get a better sense. All I can remember is frivolous luxury and coquetry set against an elegant island backdrop with flash forwards to a dingy poor house jail and Vivien looking all raggedy haggedy as lots of filthy crones and waifs hung on her every word.
    I think Olivier was in it, too, filling out his breeches nicely and wearing one of those military jackets with all the buttons. What's up with all those buttons? So cruel to wear pants that sexy and then make getting out of the top take twenty minutes. I guess it built the anticipation. Not to mention just trying to get undressed for sleep.

  6. Paul, I'm so jealous, I've been dying to see that movie for quite a while! Unfortunately I don't think it's available in Region 1 format yet. They got to get a move on to that. Emma was one of those difficult TOTW's for me because there's just so much to write about and it's hard to edit it down to blog-length!

  7. Paul: I don't know about Nelson's crowd, but in colonial America, buttons on your jacket were a sign of wealth because it meant you could afford all the metal--so having lots of buttons like that was a way of showing off and therefore was rather significant.

    I haven't seen the movie but I read "Beloved Emma" by Flora Fraser and was not impressed. Emma was ridiculously proud, and she only got where she did because of her looks (and because she was loose), not because of any real merit. She had pretty much everything she wanted and only became impoverished a year or two before she died. But even while she was in debtor's prison, she had her own household and nice things and was throwing parties. So, as I said, she makes me angry. Romney painted some gorgeous portraits of her, though.

  8. Heather, a link to a little sampling of Vivien in action as Emma Hamilton, the grotesque and the glitter. I noticed on Youtube that you evidently can watch the movie all the way through, if you don't mind doing it in fifteen parts.

    Eliza, the showing off of wealth through the buttons makes perfect sense. I think I read somewhere once that Napoleon added buttons to cuffs to keep his soldiers from wiping their noses on their sleeves. A person could probably write a fun book called 'Buttons'.