1711 – 1785
Kitty Clive was born Catherine Raftor, the daughter of an Irish soldier: a captain in the army of Louis XIV, of gentle birth but few means. At the age of 17 she went on the stage, joining the company at Drury Lane where Colley Cibber was the manager. Shortly after this she married George Clive, a barrister and relative of the 1st Lord Clive. The marriage was short and separation soon followed by mutual consent. She made a career as an actress, with a penchant for comedy. This did not prevent her singing oratorio parts for Handel, a friend, nor taking the part of Hamlet in that play. In 1747 she became one of the original members of David Garrick’s company. Garrick found her quite a handful: on one occasion in 1765, Kitty wrote an angry letter: “Sir, I beg you would do me the favour to let me know if it was by your order that my money was stopped last Saturday”. However, there was mutual esteem and she remained with the company for 22 years before retiring in 1769 to Strawberry Hill in Twickenham.
Retirement in Twickenham
Horace Walpole made a house available for her retirement, naming it “Clive's Den”. It later came to be known as Little Strawberry Hill. There she lived until her death on 6 December 1785. She was buried in St Mary's Church, Twickenham where there is a memorial plaque in her memory on the exterior of the north wall of the church:
Sacred to the Memory of
Mrs CATHERINE CLIVE
Who died December the 7th 1785
aged 75 years
Clive's blameless life this tablet shall proclaim,
Her moral virtues and her well-earn'd fame.
In comic scenes the stage she early trod
“Nor sought the critic's praise nor fear'd his rod”
In real life was equal praise her due,
Open to pity and to friendship true;
In wit still pleasing, as in converse free,
From aught that could afflict humanity;
Her generous heart to all her friends was known;
And e'en the stranger's sorrows were her own.
Content with fame e'er affluence she wav'd,
To share with others what by toil she sav'd;
And nobly bounteous, from her slender store
She bade two dear relations not be poor.
Such deeds on life's short scenes true glory shed
And heav'nly plaudits hail the virtuous dead.
A tribute from Walpole
Walpole composed his own tribute to her memory, inscribed on an urn which he placed in the garden at Cliveden:
Ye smiles and jests still hover round;
This is mirth's consecrated ground:
Here liv'd the laughter loving Dame,
A matchless actress, Clive her name.
The comic muse with her retir'd
And shed a tear when she expir'd