Elizabeth Inchbald: A Catholic Woman

Elizabeth Inchbald: A Catholic Woman

"A beautiful summers day _ I read Bury paper &c _ Mr. P. Hoare sent me two numbers more of my Monday Essay _ MRs. Roseveer washed for Miss Baillie and calld on me at dusk _ then I went out for my supper" (Elizabeth Inchbald, June 15, 1807, pg. 36). 

Elizabeth Inchbald

Elizabeth Inchbald

Elizabeth Simpson was born to Catholic "gentry-yeoman" in Standingfield, 1753 (Ian Hamnett 215 ). She longed for a life as an actor, and as a result, ran away to London to pursue this dream (215). She married an actor with the last name Inchbald, who was also Catholic, but unfortunately passed away in 1779 (215). The world experienced Elizabeth in the 1780s as she worked as an actor, "a regular at Covent Garden and the Haymarket Theaters in London," also performing in "Scotland and Ireland" (Ben P Robertson 120). Despite having a speech impediment, she was highly sought after by audiences, and this alone made her employers continuously hire her (120). After joining a "traveling repertory company," Inchbald "learned, observed and hoped" while working (Hamnett 216). In 1784, her first play was "accepted and produced with great success before a London audience," and thus, her career began (216). 

Over the course of her life, there was hardly a year that went by and did not see the production of one of Inchbald's plays. There is great criticism on her works, such as "her jokes go on too long, tragedy is remorselessly transmuted into melodrama, heroes and heroines are prigs and her endings never fail to be dismally happy" (216). Experience in the theater allowed her to write many renowned plays. The only novels she wrote, A Simple Story, 1791, and Nature and Art, 1796, however can very well be known as her "title to fame" (216). 

Covent Garden Theater, 1808

A Simple Story is "the only one of her works in which her religion is at all evident" (216). Apart from the astounding literary techniques found in this novel, it is "an interesting commentary on the Catholicism of her day" (216). A Simple Story presents the image of Catholicism as imperfect, containing "pagan virtues" and "characterizes by the deism of the high eighteenth century" (218). Her Catholic background allowed Inchbald to make such criticisms without "losing her sense of proportion" (218).

Aside from writing and producing plays, Inchbald also kept a diary for various stages in her existence. They were daily entries containing what she felt was important to take note of including, but not limited to, her social outings, shopping trips and the daily weather. 

  • Elizabeth Inchbald

The diary entries are a way for the reader to take a glimpse into Inchabld's life. They show that she was diligent and passionate about her work. She spent many days writing and editing works that were also sent out to her publisher, Robinson. She was also honest about others opinions on her work, not omitting negative comments or accentuating the good. 

Lovers Vows

About This Exhibit


Amanda R. Barba


Elizabeth Inchbald kept a diary for a large portion of her life. It included details such as her social life, the weather, and public relations. This project aims to explore these details and think of how they allow us to draw conclusions about England during the time period, such as common every day life and the naturalization of Catholicism.

Saturday, 5 July.

"Warm & pleasant _ read the 'Artist,' an Evangelical Magazine &c_ dull and thought much on Mr. Morrises visit to me yesterday & the death of Mrs. Hill.

Did not go out for beer, but went Early to bed, and saw no creature all day.

All alone.

The Duchess of Brunswick arrive. 'Henry 5th' came out' (40)."

Inchbald's Social Life

Jenkins points out that Inchbald "herself did not seek out people to meet socially" and that many around her simply "refused to allow her to be a recluse" (Jenkins 495). It is for this reason that so much of Inchbald's diary entries are filled with social interactions such as letter writing and reading, people visiting her, walking her home, and joining her for dinner.

Some individuals Mrs. Inchbald was close with:

  1. Maria Edgeworth, "indeed with the whole family" (495).
    • The letters Inchbald receives from the Edgeworths are not always just from Maria, but from the whole family, often expressing "how much they admired her and [sometimes] asking for her help" (495).
  2. Madame de Stael, an individual who was a refugee at the time and fled France to live in London (495). 

Saturday, 11 July.

"Mr. Morris walked home with me by moon light His Brother, the Doctor there in the evening" (41)."

Some footage of London from late 1800s to the early 1900s. Not much is found in the means of video recordings of London streets before this. This video also contains the oldest sound recording of Big Ben in 1890!

Mrs. Inchbald discusses the weather at the beginning of every diary entry. Most of the days are described as "mild and pleasant," "fine and warm," or "rainy." Sometimes, on a day like June 19, Inchbald describes the day as "gloomy, some fog" (37). 

On one occasion, she called a Monday a "beautiful summers day." On several occasions she refers to Sundays as "pleasant," "beautiful," and "fine," even on days when they may be rainy. 

Fleet Street By James Valentine, c. 1890.

Inchbald always makes a point to reference the weather on Sundays if it was once rainy and later changed. For example, on Sunday, July 26, Inchbald pens the entry: "Very hot til after one shower then cool and gloomy _ read much _ Dined at Sir C: Bunburys off venison _ Mr. Phillips & all his family there _ towards dusk we all walked in the Green Park &c_ a beautiful Evening" (44). Although the day started off hot with rain showers, then turned gloomy, Inchbald still refers to the evening as beautiful and had a wonderful day with colleagues. 

The weather can tell one a lot about what Inchbald did on days of nice weather or on days of not so nice weather. On days when it is excessively hot, such as July 22, or very gloomy and rainy, such as July 1, Inchbald does not have too many visitors or go out much. These diary entries are often short, sometimes with an individual coming to see her. For example, July 22 reads, "Excessive hot with Wind_ I read all day in Adam Smith & Magazines" (43). July 24 reads, "Much cooler with a Long shower of Rain I readd all day and till dark" (43). This lack of activity during extreme weather would refer to the city at that time, where in which the streets were crowded, made of cobblestone or dirt and on days of excessive heat or a lot of rain, the streets would be a horror to walk along. 

Mrs. Inchbald is an Educated Woman

Mrs. Inchbald talks greatly on the public affairs during this time. She is always reading her newspaper, then writing down important events, battles, meetings and announcements. 

  • June 7. "News of our x defeat in Egypt" (Inchbald 35).
  • June 28. "The defeat of the Russians at Friedland announced, & contradicted" (39).
  • June 29. "Saw Sir F. Burdett chaired as Representative of Westminster" (39).
  • July 1. "[Speculated] defeat of the Russians" (39). 
  • July 2. “Newspaper seemd to doubt government report of the Battle of Friedland” (40).
  • July 5. “Duchess of Brunswick arrived” (40).
  • July 7. “Account of the entrance of the French into Kiningsburgh” (41).
  • July 7. “Defeat of the Russians confirmed and the taking of Koningsburgh” (41).
  • July 16. “Meeting of Bonaparte and Alexander announced” (42).
  • July 23. “Bonaparte’s intimacy with the two conquered Kings announced” (43).
  • July 27. “War with America indicated” (44).
  • August 1. “In my paper were the Articles of Peace between France and Prussia most humiliating for the Latter” (45).

Mrs. Inchbald is also very educated in the way that she makes rather large decisions for herself, such as on July 18, she "Bought stock at the Bank" (43). She also notes that on June 24, "Dr. C. Burney sent [her] a book on the institution for schoolmasters on Wednesday" (38). On July 8, Inchbald recalls, "Dolly came to dinner &c_ my paper came late and I read to her in the Bulletin in it describing the Battle of Friedland, and the grant of an Armistice” (41). 


Mrs. Inchbald is Deeply Involved in the Theater

Mrs. Inchbald finds it important to note each time a new play is produced. 

  • June 6. "'King Lear' came out" (35).
  • June 7. "'Constant Couple' came out" (35).
  • June 15. "I read Bury papers" (36). 
  • June 20. "'School of Reform' came out" (37).
  • June 27. "'To Marry or not to Marry' came out" (39).
  • June 28. "'Henry ye 8th' came out" (39).
  •  July 5. “Read the ‘Artist,’ an Evangelical Magazine” (40).
  • July 5. “’Henry 5th’ came out” (40).
  • July 12. “’Good Natured Man’ came out (42).
  • July 25. “’Recruiting Officer’ came out” (44).
  • July 26. “Last number of the ‘Artist’ came out” (44).
  • August 1. “’Antony & Cleopatra’ came out” (45).

Mrs. Inchbald Takes Note of her Own Accomplishments

Inchbald mentions when she sees that one of her works have been published. She also notes when she has read them, when proofs of writings are sent back, and when she has colleagues read her published writings. 

  • June 7. "My Essay in "The Artist" came out (35).
  • June 10. “After dinner had a Proof of my Essay for the ‘Artist’” (35).
  • June 11. “At the Proof of my ‘Artist’ till noon” (35).
  • June 15. "Read my own Essay in the "Artist" (36).
  • June 16. "Dolly came to a baked dinner &c_ she read my Essay in the "Artist" (36).
  • July 1. “Read and had many Proofs” (39).
  • Inchbald's A Simple Story
  • Elizabeth Inchbald

Lack of Catholicism

Aside from A Simple Story, Elizabeth Inchbald hardly brings her own Catholicism into light. As seen in The Diaries of Elizabeth Inchbald, Catholicism is not mentioned at all. Sundays, the days where one would expect the topic of Catholicism would be brought up, are often described as "pleasant," "beautiful," and "fine." The only other slight mention to Catholicism is that Inchbald reads the "Artist," which she notes is an Evangelical Magazine (40). The absence of Catholicism throughout her diary entries is ostentatious.

Jennifer Farooq's book "Preaching in Eighteenth-Century London" reveals that in the 1720s, there was a mixing of both Protestant and Christian worship in London. She notes that "the metropolis was home for a wide variety of Christians, where Anglican churches, dissenting meeting courses, foreign Protestant churches and even Catholic chapels were all nestled together" (Jennifer Farooq 20). These made for a great "diversity of preaching" in the city and many "revelled" in it" (20). She also notes that visitors from out of city would often explore the "notable places for preaching," including not only Anglican churches but also Catholic "embassy chapels" (21). In 1829, the Catholic Emancipation Act allows Catholics to begin holding office, as well as the Catholic Relief Act which removed some restrictions once placed on Catholics in an attempt to unite the country.

The Gordon Riots by John Seymour Lucas, 1879

From the end of the 18th century to beginning of the 19th century, aside from the infamous Gordon Riots, there appeared to be a general tolerance for Catholics. Due to this "open secret" of Catholics mixing easily among Protestants and Anglicans, Inchbald found it unnecessary to include her Catholic association in her diary entries. Pages upon pages of Inchbald’s diary are filled with trivial activities that she found important: dining out with colleagues, shopping with friends, plays being produced, public affairs, etc. For this reason, it could be possible that Inchbald did not feel it necessary to include if she was attending church when it was becoming so normalized. Whether she was attending Church or not, she did not feel that activity was important to include in her daily noting of activities. She did, however, always mention that Sundays were beautiful.


This article discusses the London Preaching scene of the early eighteenth century. It provided me with a lot of information regarding the beginning of the tolerance of Christianity in the city. It also brought forward the idea that many individuals were in favor of the mixing of two religions because it brought more options and diversity for out-of-city visitors and citizens themselves. This helped in my analysis of why Inchbald may not have included her Catholic roots in her diary entries and what this meant for the current time period of the 18th century. 

  • Hamnett, Ian. “ELIZABETH INCHBALD.” Blackfriars, vol. 35, no. 410, 1954, pp. 215–220. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43814572.

This journal article gave me a closer look at Elizabeth Inchbald's life. It included detailed description of two of her most well known novels, explaining specific details of why they were so popular and why individuals took well to them. This journal article also explained her journey to fame, brief introduction to her early life and then a possible explanation of why her writing ended. 

  • Jenkins, Annibel. “The Last Years.” I'll Tell You What: The Life of Elizabeth Inchbald, University Press of Kentucky, 2003, pp. 493–521. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j71g.16.

This work provided me with information regarding the individuals Inchbald associated herself with, such as the Edgeworth family and Madame de Stael. This work is also one of the very few that speaks directly about Inchbald's diaries, which was helpful. 

  • Robertson, Ben P. “South Central Review.” South Central Review, vol. 23, no. 1, 2006, pp. 119–121. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40039920.

This work provided me with extra information about Inchbald's work as an actor, such as where she performed and why the theater kept her on for so long. It also clarified why someone with a speech impediment would be so popular performing on stage, and the answer is simply because the audience fell in love with her. This work also lead me to Annibel Jenkins work. 


  • Covent Garden Theater, 1808. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Microcosm_of_London_Plate_027_-_Covent_Garden_Theatre_(colour).jpg

I included this image of the 1808 Covent Garden Theater to provide a visual of what the theater may have looked like during the time Inchbald was active in it. 

  • Elizabeth Inchbald, image in her biography. 2013. Wikimedia Commons.

This image is a sketch of Inchbald. I included this just to have some visuals of what she looked like.

  • "Lovers Vows" Image, 1796. Wikimedia Commons.

This image shows one of Inchbald's works that she had countless revisions on. I put it in my project to have some examples of what her works, both cover and title page, look like. 

  • Lucas, John Seymour. "The Gordon Riots." 1879. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Gordon_Riots_by_John_Seymour_Lucas.jpg

I included this image in my section of Inchbald's lack of Catholicism to provide a visual of the Gordon Riots. I touch on the Gordon Riots briefly in passing, but I felt it would be important to include an image of what they may have looked like. 

  • Valentine, James. Fleet Street, 1890. Wikipedia Commons.

This image shows what Fleet Street in London would have looked like around 1890. Again, it was difficult to find footage or images of the time in which Inchbald would have been wandering the streets, but I feel it provides a nice visual and can give the reader an idea of what it would have looked like. 

  • Yestervid's, "Oldest Footage of London Ever." 2015. Youtube.

This youtube video provides some of the oldest footage of London to be recorded. I thought it would be interesting to include a visual of what London would have looked like. Unfortunately I could not get footage of the exact time in which Inchbald would have been active, but these images and videos provide enough visuals to give one the basic idea.