Foote, Maria, Countess of Harrington 1797?-1867, actress, was born 24 July 1797 (?) at Plymouth. Her father Samuel T. Foote (1761-1840), who claimed to be a kinsman of Samuel Foote [qv.], sold out of the army, became manager of the Plymouth theatre, and married a Miss Hart. In July 1810 Miss Foote appeared as Juliet at her father's theatre, in which also she played as Susan Ashfield in Speed the Plough, and Emily Worthington in the Poor Gentleman. Foote afterwards took an hotel in Exeter. The experiment not succeeding, his daughter appeared at Covent Garden, 26 May 1814, as Amanthis in the Child of Nature of Mrs. Inchbald. In this part, which specially suited her, she made a great success. Her second appearance was at the same theatre in the same character in the following season, 14 Sept. 1814. On 6 Dec. she was the original Ulrica in The King and the Duke, or Which is Which? attributed to Jameson. On 2 Jan. 1815 she played Miranda in the Tempest, and 17 April 1815 was the original Adela in the Fortune of War, attributed to Kenney. For her benefit, 6 June 1815, she appeared as Statira in Alexander the Great, Betty acting, for that occasion only, Alexander. This was her first appearance in tragedy. Fanny in the Clandestine Marriage, Hippolita in an alteration of the Tempest, Lady Percy in King Henry IV, Helena in the Midsummer Night's Dream, and many other parts, chiefly secondary, in old pieces and new, followed. Her abilities proved to be limited. She had, however, a reputation for beauty sufficient to secure her constant engagements at the patent theatres and in the country. She played with success in both Ireland and Scotland, and accompanied Liston, Tyrone Power, and other actors to Paris, where they all acted with very unsatisfactory results. In 1815 she formed at Cheltenham an intrigue with Colonel Berkeley, by whom she had two children. An alleged promise of marriage made by him was not kept. Pea Green Haynes then proposed to her and was accepted. He retracted, however, his offer, and as the result of an action for breach of promise of marriage had to pay 3,000l. damages. These proceedings gave rise to a keen pamphlet warfare, through which and through some opposition on the stage Miss Foote retained a large measure of public sympathy. At Covent Garden she played every season up to 1824-5 inclusive, frequently in subordinate parts, but taking occasionally characters such as Miss Letitia Hardy in the Belle's Stratagem, Miss Hardcastle, and, for her benefit, Lady Teazle. She was the original Isidora in Barry Cornwall's Mirandola. On 9 March 1826 she made as Letitia Hardy her first appearance at Drury Lane, where also she played Violante in the Wonder, Rosalind, Virginia, Maria in A Roland for an Oliver, Imogen, and Maggy in the Highland Reel. Other parts of importance in which she was seen at one or other house were Maria Darlington, Beatrice, Roxalana, Violante, Imogen, Ophelia, Desdemona, Juliana in the Honeymoon, and Clara in Matrimony. At Bath on 13 and 14 Jan. 1826 she was the object of ill-natured demonstrations on the part of a portion of the audience. Chronicling these and condensing them, Genest says that she was a very pretty woman and a very pleasing actress, but she never would have travelled about as a star if it had not been for circumstances totally unconnected with the stage (Account of the Stage, ix. 358-9). A writer in the New Monthly Magazine for March 1821, variously stated to be Talfourd, Campbell, and Horace Smith, writes warmly concerning the pure and innocent beauty with which she has enriched our imaginations, and, referring to her then anticipated departure, asks rhapsodically, Is comedy entirely to lose the most delicate and graceful of its handmaidens and tragedy the loveliest of its sufferers? Talfourd speaks highly of the grace of her movements, and specially commends her singing of the song Where are you going, my pretty maid? Her singing and dancing and her power of accompanying herself upon the harp, guitar, and pianoforte added to her popularity. She was indefatigable in the pursuit of her profession, and is said to have traversed England, Ireland, and Scotland every year for five years, in course of which she posted twenty-five thousand miles. Her theatrical career closed at Birmingham on 11 March 1831, and on 7 April of the same year she married Charles Stanhope, fourth earl of Harrington. She died 27 Dec. 1867. She was of medium height, her face oval, and her features expressive. She had an abundance of light brown hair. By those most under her influence the character of her acting was described as fascinating. A whole-length portrait by Clint of Miss Foote as Maria Darlington was sold in June 1847, with the effects of Thomas Harris, lessee of Covent Garden.

     The Stage, 1815
     Burke's Peerage
     Dramatic Magazine
     Genest's Account of the English Stage
     Facts illustrative of the Evidence in the trial of Foote v. Haynes, 1835
     Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vi. 6.

Contributor: J. K. [Joseph Knight]

Published: 1889