Sheridan, Frances (née Chamberlaine) (1724–66), writer, was born in Dublin, the youngest child among three sons and two daughters of Philip Chamberlaine , a Church of Ireland clergyman who was rector of St Nicholas Without, and Anastasia Chamberlaine (née Whyte), his English-born wife, who died at her birth. Her grandfather was Walter Chamberlaine, a proctor of the ecclesiastical courts in Dublin. Described as plain-featured, even homely, she was partly lame owing to a childhood accident. Disregarding her father's firm opposition to women's education, she received secret tutoring from her brothers, and by the age of 15 had written a precocious two-volume romantic novel, Eugenia and Adelaide (published posthumously in 1791). Her poem ‘The owls’ (1743) was written in support of the actor and theatre manager Thomas Sheridan (qv) during the controversy surrounding the staging of Cato at the Theatre Royal, Smock Alley. Having thus procured Sheridan's attention, and later his affection, she married him in 1747; they built a substantial house at 12 Dorset St., Dublin, and had a country property, ‘Quilca’, in Co. Cavan, inherited from his father. The union produced a remarkable lineage of literary talent. Of their four sons and two daughters, the first and fourth born, both boys, died in infancy. While their second surviving son, the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan (qv), was ultimately the most distinguished of the family, it was his elder brother, Charles Francis Sheridan (qv), later a barrister and politician, who in childhood ranked as the prodigy. Their two daughters married the brothers Joseph and Henry Le Fanu of Dublin; the elder daughter, Alicia Le Fanu (1753–1817) wrote two plays, and was the grandmother of the gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu (qv), while the younger, Anne Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Le Fanu (1758–1837), wrote a novel, The sister (1810), and kept a journal published in 1960.
Faced with mounting debts and the increasingly difficult political environment that surrounded the Dublin stage, the family moved to London in 1754, returning to Dublin intermittently during the years 1756 to 1758. Throughout this period Richard and Alicia mainly resided in boarding schools between the two capitals. Ireland never featured in Frances Sheridan's writing; indeed, a letter of 1757 to Samuel Richardson betrays a greater affection for England: ‘I long to return to England. I call it returning; that expression, I think, gives me an idea of a sort of home . . .’ (quoted in Hogan (1984), 19). Encouraged by Richardson, who showed an interest in her talent for writing, in 1761 she anonymously published a hugely successful novel, Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph, which was translated into French and German. This was followed by her first play, the witty comedy ‘The discovery’, produced in 1763 at Drury Lane (and published in the same year), with her husband and David Garrick in leading roles. Running for seventeen nights, it later enjoyed several revivals, most notably by Garrick, who regarded it as the best comedy of the age, and staged it for six nights in 1776. A revised version by Aldous Huxley, produced in 1924, was an immediate flop. Sheridan's second play, ‘The dupe’, completed and staged later in 1763 (published in 1764), received only three performances.
After living for several years between London and Windsor, in 1764 the Sheridans moved to Blois, France, to escape their creditors, leaving Richard, then aged 13, at boarding school in Harrow. Frances wrote a two-volume ‘conclusion’ to Sidney Bidulph and a romance, The history of Nourjahad; both were published posthumously in 1767. Her literary prowess was eventually eclipsed by the success of her son Richard, who, however, cast many of his own characters in the embryonic moulds created by his mother. For example, her unstaged third comedy, ‘A journey to Bath’ (not published till 1902), inspired the creation of his most famous character, Mrs Malaprop in The rivals (1775). Frances Sheridan died in Blois after a short illness on 26 September 1766. The only substantial biographical work, Memoirs of the life and writings of Mrs Frances Sheridan (1824), by her granddaughter Alicia Le Fanu (daughter of Betsy Sheridan, and author of historical romances), is flawed by several factual inaccuracies; it includes a portrait of the subject. A complete edition of her plays, with a useful biographical and bibliographical introduction, was published in 1984.