Ryves, Elizabeth (1749–97), author, journalist, and translator, was born in Ireland, eldest of three daughters. Her father was probably Robert Ryves who had been a lieutenant in the 31st Regiment of Foot in 1740; no details of her mother are known. The family claimed to be related to Bruno Ryves (1596–1677), dean of Windsor, and Sir William Ryves (qv) (d. 1648). In 1757 her father died, leaving his estate to the next male heir, who disputed the provision made for the widow and children. In 1770 Elizabeth wrote to David Garrick, the actor and manager of the Drury Lane theatre, London, from Woburn, Bedfordshire, where she and her family were then living, recording that for the last thirteen years her mother had been unsuccessfully taking legal action to obtain redress. She enclosed the text of a play, ‘The tragedy of Adelaide’, in the hope that she could make some money from a literary career. Unfortunately Garrick turned her effort down, as it was not up to the required standard.
She never married and continued to write, submitting political verses and articles to newspapers and periodicals. In all she published seven volumes of poetry, the most successful being Poems on several occasions (1777). Increasingly she supported the whigs. She wrote to William Mason in 1780 praising ‘the free born mind’ and in 1785 penned a squib castigating Warren Hastings's wife for bribing Pitt. However, this gave little financial reward: one newspaper simply paid for her poems by publishing others’ verses praising hers. Her plays, ‘The prude’ (which she published in Poems on several occasions), a comic opera set in Elizabethan times, and the unpublished ‘The debt of honour’ were warmly received by the theatre manager at Drury Lane (possibly Garrick, who retired in 1776, or his successor Richard Brinsley Sheridan (qv)) and warranted payment of £100 but were not performed as Ryves ‘never suspected that her comedies were not comic’ (Disraeli (1859), 107). She also published The triumph of Hymen (1777).
Faced with these disappointments she moved to Islington, taught herself to read French, and commenced a career as a translator. Her translations included Jean Jacques Rousseau, Social contract (1792), Guillaume Thomas Francois Raynal, Letter to the National Assembly (1792), and Charles Delacroix, Review of the constitutions of the principal states of Europe (1792), to which she added her own notes. She commenced a translation of Jean Froissart, Chronicles of England, France, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Brittany, Flanders and other places adjoining, but curtailed her research as she concluded that the version by Sir John Bourchier, Baron Berners (1523–5), was much superior to anything she might produce. She returned to London and died in poverty 29 April 1797 at Store St, Tottenham Court Road, London, in a manner reminiscent of her character Lavinia, heroine of her semi-autobiographical novel The hermit of Snowdon (1789), which was published anonymously and purported to be based on an old manuscript. Lavinia had been as unsuccessful at writing as Ryves. After her death a letter in the Gentleman's Magazine (July 1797) recorded how Ryves would spend her last shillings on food for the family who lived in the rooms above her, with no regard to her own well-being. Her works are listed in the BL catalogue.