Griffith, Elizabeth (1727–93), playwright, novelist, and actress, was born in Glamorgan, Wales, on 11 October 1727, the daughter of Thomas Griffith (1680?–1744), at one time actor–manager of the Smock Alley theatre, Dublin, and originally from Wales, and his wife, Jane (née Foxcroft), from Yorkshire, whose father was at one time rector of St Michael's, Portarlington. Her father was affectionate and taught her English and French literature and recitation, probably with the theatre in mind. After his death in 1744, left without a fortune, she returned to Dublin and began acting at Smock Alley in 1749, making her theatrical debut as Juliet alongside the Romeo of Thomas Sheridan (qv) on 13 October 1749. She remained with the company for the next two years, appearing in a variety of roles. These were mainly tragic, and included Cordelia (December 1749), Andromache in ‘The distrest mother’ (November 1750) and the title role in ‘Jane Shore’ (March 1751). She made her last appearance on the Dublin stage as the countess of Nottingham in a production of ‘The earl of Essex’ (May 1751).
While living with her aunt in Abbey Street in Dublin, in 1746 she met Griffith Richard (d. 1788), a penniless gentleman farmer with aristocratic connections from Maidenhall, Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny. A five-year correspondence began, and though his initial intentions may not have been entirely honest (as he attempted seduction), she steered him towards marriage. The ceremony, witnessed by Lady Orrery, was performed in secret on 12 May 1751, in order not to prejudice the outcome of a lawsuit in which the groom was involved. The period after her marriage was extremely unsettled; she did not immediately live with her husband, and her son Richard was born at her aunt's home in 1752.
Richard Griffith's efforts to establish a linen industry at Maidenhall meeting with eventual failure, Elizabeth moved to London, where she acted in Covent Garden from March 1753 to May 1755. She made little progress, receiving only minor roles, and, with two children to support, the Griffiths decided to boost the family's income by publishing their early correspondence. A series of genuine letters between Henry and Frances appeared in 1757 and met with great success. (Several other volumes of letters were published, the last in 1770.) Encouraged by its popularity and by the necessity of providing for her family she continued to write, and in 1761 published Memoirs of Ninon de L'Enclos, the first of her numerous translations from the French. She followed this with the poorly received Amana: a dramatic poem (1764). Its failure resulted in her turning her attentions to drama. Her satirical comedy ‘The platonic wife’, adapted from Marmontel's L'heureux divorce, had a six-night run in Drury Lane in January 1765. It was followed by ‘The double mistake’, which played for twelve successive nights in Covent Garden in 1766. By now she was settled more or less permanently in London: she bought a house in Hyde Street, Bloomsbury, in 1766, while her husband was often in Ireland. Having sought assistance from Garrick, he suggested she write an adaptation of Beaumarchais's Eugénie, which she successfully produced as ‘The school for rakes’ under his direction at Drury Lane in February 1769.
Among her other works are ‘A wife in the right’ (Covent Garden, 1772); ‘The barber of Seville’ (unacted, 1776); ‘The times’ (Drury Lane, 1779); and three epistolary novels: The delicate distress (1769), as a companion to her husband's The Gordian knot; The history of Lady Barton (1771); and The story of Lady Juliana Harley (1776). She also wrote a critical study of Shakespeare (1775) and published an edition of collected novels, including works by Aphra Behn, Penelope Aubin and Eliza Haywood. Her Essays addressed to young married women (1782) endorsed pious domesticity. She gave up writing when her son Richard Griffith (qv) returned from service in the East India Company, where he had made a fortune sufficient to purchase property in Co. Kildare. According to Anna Seward, her husband may have eloped with a wealthy heiress, but he is known to have died at his son's home in Millicent, Co. Kildare. She also died there, on 5 January 1793.