Born c1674 Died 1748
Anne Bracegirdle is said to have been placed under the care of Thomas Betterton and his wife, and to have first appeared on the stage as the page in The Orphan at its first performance at Dorset Garden in 1680. She was Lucia in Shadwell's Squire of Alsatia at the Theatre Royal in 1688, and played similar parts until, in 1693, as Araminta in The Old Bachelor, she made her first appearance in a comedy by Congreve, with whose works and life her name is most closely connected.
In 1695 she went with Betterton and the other seceders to Lincoln's Inn Fields, where, on its opening with Congreve's Love for Love, she played Angelica. This part, and those of Belinda in Vanbrugh's Provoked Wife, and Almira in Congreve's Mourning Bride, were among her best impersonations, but she also played the heroines of some of Nicholas Rowe's tragedies, and acted in the contemporary versions of Shakespeare's plays.
In 1705 she followed Betterton to the Haymarket, where she found a serious competitor in Mrs. Oldfield, then first coming into public favour. The story runs that it was left to the audience to determine which was the better comedy actress, the test being the part of Mrs. Brittle in Betterton's Amorous Widow, which was played alternately by the two rivals on successive nights. When the popular vote was given in favour of Mrs. Oldfield, Mrs. Bracegirdle quitted the stage, making only one reappearance at Betterton's benefit in 1709.
Her private life was the subject of much discussion. Colley Cibber remarks that she had the merit of "not being unguarded in her private character", while Macaulay does not hesitate to call her "a cold, vain and interested coquette, who perfectly understood how much the influence of her charms was increased by the fame of a severity which cost her nothing". She was certainly the object of the adoration of many men, and she was the innocent cause of the killing of the actor William Mountfort, whom Captain Hill and Lord Mohun regarded as a rival for her affections.
During her lifetime she was suspected of being secretly married to Congreve, whose mistress she is also said to have been. He was at least always her intimate friend, and left her a legacy. Rightly or wrongly, her reputation for virtue was remarkably high, and Lord Halifax headed a subscription list of 800 guineas, presented to her as a tribute to her virtue. Her charity to the poor in Clare Market and around Drury Lane was conspicuous, "inasmuch that she would not pass that neighbourhood without the thankful acclamations of people of all degrees". She died in 1748, and was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.
See Genest, History of the Stage; Colley Cibber, Apology (edited by Bellchambers) ; Egerton, Life of Anne Oldfield; Downes Roscius Anglicanus
Being the entry for BRACEGIRDLE, ANNE in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.