Portrait of Elizabeth Barry

Portrait of Elizabeth Barry

Elizabeth Barry was brought up by Sir William Davenant, who was awarded one of the two patents when the theatres reopened in 1660. He was also a friend of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, poet and rake. When Barry first met the young earl in 1675 she had just started her acting career. To win a bet, Rochester undertook her training for the stage and promoted her in fashionable society, in return for which she became his mistress from 1675 to 1677.

Her first success was as Leonora in Aphra Behn's Abdelazar, after which she played a number of leading roles including Hellena in Aphra Behn's The Rover, and Emillia in D'Urfey's A Fond Husband. The poet John Dryden pronounced her 'always excellent'. Barry went on to have a prolonged and brilliant career, establishing her reputation as England's leading actress with her performance as Monimia in Otway's The Orphan. She died aged 55.