The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 28th February

Todays is another birth free day, so lets celebrate someone we missed in January; another cross-dresser: Charlotte Charke 13 January 1713 – 6 April 1760.

Charlotte was the youngest daughter of Colley Cibber a celebrated actor. She grew up independent and took to the stage herself, frequently playing ‘britches’ parts (18th Century theatre was obsessed with cross-dressing). Evidently she found cross-dressing suited her, and she took to doing the same off stage, but in 1733 she fell out with her father who sold the theatre, and although she went to work at another theatre a change in the licensing laws soon saw her out of a job. Her brief marriage was over and she was a single parent. She started to make a living  in a series of jobs under the name of Charles Brown, first running a puppet theatre, but illness led to debt and she had to sell the theatre. She was imprisoned for debt, but her bills were paid for her by a collection made by the ladies of Covent Garden (prostitutes). She had a young heiress fall for her, believing her to be a man, and was at some difficulty to persuade her of her mistake, much tot he disappointment of both!

No one seems to have been much bothered or suprised by her cross-dressing, nor apart from the poor heiress, to have been fooled into thinking her a man.

She worked for a time as valet to the notorious  Earl of Anglesey, then briefly as a sausage maker, before taking on her own theatre company where she wrote and produced  her own plays. around the same time she borrowed money and set up as a tavern owner, but this was not a success. She became a strolling player, and was arrested for vagrancy, before marrying again and moving to America. At last she settled to writing under her own name several novels and the all important autobiography (which you can read in full online.) She never persuaded her father to reconcile with her.

Charlotte sounds like a charming companion, and would be welcome to the party – provided she doesn’t offer to bring sausages – the eighteenth century was famous for the awfulness of food adulterated with all sorts of undesirable and in some cases poisonous additives.

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