Mary Robinson (née Darby)

(27 November 1756/7 - 26 December 1800)
Mary Robinson (1756/7-1800)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mary Robinson (1756/7-1800)

Works in ECPA

alphabetical listing / listing in source editions

Source editions

  • Robinson, Mary, 1758-1800. Poems by Mrs. Robinson [poems only]. London: Printed for C. Parker, the Upper Part of New Bond-Street, 1775. [8],134p.,plate; 8⁰. (ESTC T100118)

Biographical note

Born Mary Darby, third child of Nicholas Darby (c. 1720–1785), a sea captain and merchant in Bristol, and his wife, Hester Vanacott (c. 1725–1793), of North Petherton in Somerset, Mary Robinson was educated at a school run by the sisters of Hannah More and by a succession of private tutors. She enjoyed a comprehensive education. Mary's parents lost their fortune and separated when she was ten and Mary completed her education at boarding schools in London. She developed an early interest in the stage and David Garrick later became her tutor at Drury Lane. In 1773, aged 15, she married Thomas Robinson (fl. 1750–1802), the illegitimate son of a wealthy Welshman, who was however unable to support the couple's fashionable lifestyle. In 1775, after the birth of her daughter Maria Elizabeth, Mary followed her husband into a debters' prison. Here she supported the family with miscellaneous work, her Poems by Mrs. Robinson (1775) brought her to the attention of Georgiana Cavendish, duchess of Devonshire, who became her life-long patron. After her husband's release from prison, Mary embarked on a theatrical career. She was engaged by Sheridan and played a number of roles at Drury Lane where she became a celebrated actress in light comedy roles. She became widely known under the name of Perdita. Late in 1779, she caught the attention of the juvenile prince of Wales (the future George IV) who confessed his love and urged her to give up her theatrical career to become his mistress. However, the affair was short-lived and Mary was rewarded with an annuity for giving up any claims. Early in 1782, Mary became involved with Colonel Banastre Tarleton (1754–1833), an army officer and politician from an influential Liverpool family, who remained her partner for the next 15 years. The couple lived extravagantly, Tarleton was a war hero and friend of the prince of Wales, Perdita a tabloid celebrity and the subject of much gossip. After a stroke of bad health in 1783 which eventually left her partially paralysed, Mary took up writing again and became a prolific poet, playwright, translator, and novelist. She published two volumes of her collected poetry in 1791 and 1794 respectively. Her last book of poems, Lyrical Tales (1800), was influenced by Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads (1798). Among her friends and correspondents during her last years were Eliza Fenwick, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and S. T. Coleridge. She died in the care of her daughter at Englefield Green on 26 December 1800 and was buried in the parish churchyard at Old Windsor.


ODNB 23857; NCBEL 680-681; DMI 2099


  • Brewer, William D., gen. ed. and Daniel Robinson, ed. The works of Mary Robinson, Vols. 1-2 (Poems). The Pickering Masters. London; Brookfield, VT: Pickering & Chatto, 2009. Print. 8 volumes.
  • Pascoe, Judith, ed. Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2000. Print.


  • Byrne, Paula. Perdita: the literary, theatrical, scandalous life of Mary Robinson. New York: Random House, 2004. Print.
  • Davenport, Hester. The prince's mistress: a life of Mary Robinson. Stroud: Sutton, 2004. Print.
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Perdita: Royal Mistress, Writer, Romantic. London: Bantam, 2005. Print.

Reference works


  • Cross, Ashley. Mary Robinson and the genesis of Romanticism: literary dialogues and debts, 1784-1821. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2017. Print.
  • Cross, Ashley. From Lyrical Ballads to Lyrical Tales: Mary Robinson's reputation and the problem of literary debt. Studies in Romanticism 40(4) (2001): 571-605. Print.
  • Curran, Stuart. Mary Robinson and the new lyric. Women's Writing 9(1) (2002): 9-22. Print.
  • Curran, Stuart. Mary Robinson's Lyrical Tales in context. Wilson, Carol Shiner and Joel Haefner, eds. Re-visioning Romanticism: British women writers, 1776-1837. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania UP, 1994. 17-35. Print.
  • Garnai, Amy. Revolutionary imaginings in the 1790s: Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Elizabeth Inchbald. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.
  • Goulding, Susan. Legitimizing voice: Petrarchan form in Mary Darby Robinson's sonnet sequence Sappho and Phaon. Essays in Romanticism 19 (2012): 65-82. Print.
  • Janowitz, Anne. Women Romantic poets: Anna Barbauld and Mary Robinson. Tavistock: Northcote House in assn with the British Council, 2004. Print.
  • Jung, Sandro. Some notes on the Hellenism of Mary Robinson's odes. Eighteenth-Century Women 3 (2003): 185-97. Print.
  • Labbe, Jacqueline M. Selling one's sorrows: Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, and the marketing of poetry. Wordsworth Circle 25(2) (1994): 68-71. Print.
  • Lee, Debbie. The Wild Wreath: cultivating a poetic circle for Mary Robinson. Studies in the Literary Imagination 30(1) (1997): 23-34. Print.
  • Miskolcze, Robin L. Snapshots of contradiction in Mary Robinson's Poetical Works. Papers on Language & Literature 31(2) (1995): 206-19. Print.
  • Pascoe, Judith. Romantic theatricality: gender, poetry, and spectatorship. Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell UP, 1997. Print.
  • Robinson, Daniel. The poetry of Mary Robinson: form and fame. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
  • Robinson, Daniel. Mary Robinson and the Della Crusca Network. Gravil, Richard, ed. Grasmere 2010. Penrith, England: Humanities Ebooks (HEB), 2010. 115-125. Print.
  • Robinson, Daniel. Reviving the sonnet: women Romantic poets and the sonnet claim. European Romantic Review 6(1) (1995): 98-127. Print.
  • Robinson, Daniel. From 'mingled measure' to 'ecstatic measures': Mary Robinson's poetic reading of Kubla Khan. Wordsworth Circle 26(1) (1995): 4-7. Print.
  • Singer, Kate. Mary Robinson and the idiot's guide to sensibility and oblivion. Literature Compass 12(12) (2015): 667-74. Print.
  • Stelzig, Eugene. 'Spirit divine! With thee I'll wander': Mary Robinson and Coleridge in poetic dialogue. Wordsworth Circle 35(3) (2004): 118-22. Print.
  • Vargo, Lisa. Tabitha Bramble and the Lyrical Tales. Women's Writing 9(1) (2002): 37-52. Print.