Eliza Haywood

18th Century Actress, Prolific Writer, Political Satirist, Magazine Pioneer

Title page of The Female Spectator, with sketch of four women leaning on a table.
From the title page of The Female Spectator, volume 1, 1744. The British Library/Robana via Getty Images

Known for: 18th century woman writer; established first periodical written by a woman for women

Occupation: writer, actress
Dates: about 1693 to February 25, 1756

Eliza Haywood Biography:

Her first biographer – also British – called her "perhaps the most voluminous female writer this kingdom ever produced."

An actress whose background is rather obscure -- or rather, for whom there are several possible versions of her background -- Eliza Haywood was the lover and companion of William Hatchett, a bookseller and actor, for more than twenty years, beginning in 1724.  He was the father of her second child. The two wrote several pieces collaboratively: an adaptation of a play and an opera.  She went by the name Mrs. Haywood and identified as a widow.  A Mr. Haywood has not been authoritatively identified.  Her older child was probably fathered by Samuel Johnson’s friend, Richard Savage, with whom she lived for a few years.

She was likely born in Shropshire, England, though she may have been born in London.

Earlier biographers had her married to a clergyman, Valentine Haywood, about 1710, and leaving him between 1715 and 1720. This was based on a notice in a 1720 paper about a woman who had "eloped from" her husband; the Rev. Mr. Valentine Haywood was giving notice he would not be responsible for the debts of his wife, Elizabeth Haywood, from then forward.  There is now doubt that the notice was about the writer Mrs. Haywood.

She was already known as Mrs. Haywood when she was first acting in Dublin in 1714. She worked in a Dublin theatre, Smock Alley Theatre, in 1717. In 1719, she began acting at Lincoln's Inns Fields, a London location which included a Theatre from 1661 to 1848, known at that time as Lincoln's Inns Fields Theatre.

The first of Mrs. Hayword's novels, Love in Excess, was published in 1719 in installments. She wrote many other stories, novellas and novels, mostly anonymously, including 1723's Idalia; or The Unfortunate Mistress. Her first play, A Wife to be Left, was staged in 1723 at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Her 1725 book Mary, Queen of Scots combines fictional and non-fictional elements.

In the 1730s, she worked with Henry Fielding’s Little Theatre.  A number of her plays in this period were political in nature. She sided with the Whigs against the Tories, putting her in the camp of Daniel Defoe and others; Alexander Pope wrote scathingly of her work. A 1736 novella, Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveo: A Pre-Adamitical History, was a satire of the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.  It was republished in 1741 with the alternative title The Unfortunate Princess, or The Ambitious Statesman.

She also wrote criticism of contemporary drama.  Her 1735 The Dramatic Historiographer, which not only describes plays but evaluates them, was reprinted in 1740 as A Companion to the Theatre and expanded and republished in 1747 in two volumes.  It was republished in more editions of one or two volumes through 1756.

In 1737, Parliament passed the Licensing Act, brought by Prime Minister Walpole, and she could no longer put on the satirical or political plays. 

She focused on her other writing.  She wrote a manual of moral conduct and practical advice for servant women in 1743, published as A Present for a Servant Maid ; or, the Sure Means of Gaining Love and Esteem.   This maid's manual was revised and republished in 1771, after her death, as A New Present for A Servant-Maid: containing Rules for her Moral Conduct, both with respect to Herself and her Superiors: The Whole Art of Cookery, Pickling, and Preserving, &c, &c. and every other Direction necessary to be known to render her a Complete, Useful and Valuable Servant.

In 1744, Eliza Haywood began a monthly periodical for women, The Female Spectator, that was designed around the conceit of four women (all written by Mrs. Haywood) discussing such women's issues and conduct as marriage and children, and education and books.  It was unique for its time, a first, as it was written by a woman for women.  Another contemporary journal for women, Ladies' Mercury, was written by John Dunton and other men.  The journal continued for four volumes, through 1746.

Her 1744 book The Fortunate Foundlings plays with the idea of gender, showing how two children, one boy and one girl, experience the world quite differently.

Her 1751 The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless is a novel about a woman who escapes an abusive husband and lives independently, developing herself before she marries again.  Patriarchal and impossible marriage advice in this book is put into the mouth of one Lady Trusty.  Unlike many novels of the time targeted for women readers, it was less about courtship than about marriage.  Betsy finally finds meaning in marrying well.

In 1756 she wrote a pair of books in the popular genre of "conduct" books, on The Wife and The Husband.  She published The Wife using one of her personas from The Female Spectator, and then published the follow-up volume under her own name.  She also wrote The Invisible Spy, and published collections of her essays and editions of a new periodical she’d been publishing, Young Lady.

Throughout her career, from at least 1721, she also earned income by translations.  She translated from the French and Spanish.  She also wrote poetry for most of her writing career.

In October of 1755 she had become ill, and died the next February in her home.  At her death, she left two finished novels which had not yet been delivered to the printer.

Also known as: born Eliza Fowler

Other early modern female writers: Aphra Behn, Hannah Adams, Mary WollstonecraftJudith Sargent Murray

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Eliza Haywood." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/eliza-haywood-biography-3530863. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Eliza Haywood. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/eliza-haywood-biography-3530863 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Eliza Haywood." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/eliza-haywood-biography-3530863 (accessed May 30, 2023).