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Dame Alice Ellen Terry, GBE (27 February 1847[1] – 21 July 1928), known professionally as Ellen Terry,[2] was an English actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain.

Born into a family of actors, Terry began performing as a child, acting in Shakespeare plays in London, and toured throughout the British provinces in her teens. At 16 she married the 46-year-old artist George Frederic Watts, but they separated within a year. She soon returned to the stage but began a relationship with the architect Edward William Godwin and retired from the stage for six years. She resumed acting in 1874 and was immediately acclaimed for her portrayal of roles in Shakespeare and other classics.

In 1878 she joined Henry Irving's company as his leading lady, and for more than the next two decades she was considered the leading Shakespearean and comic actress in Britain. Two of her most famous roles were Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She and Irving also toured with great success in America and Britain.

In 1903 Terry took over management of London's Imperial Theatre, focusing on the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen. The venture was a financial failure, and Terry turned to touring and lecturing. She continued to find success on stage until 1920, while also appearing in films from 1916 to 1922. Her career lasted nearly seven decades.

Ellen Terry, by Walford Graham Robertson, 1923 -NPG 3132 - © reserved; collection National Portrait Gallery, London
Ellen Terry by Walford Graham Robertson Oil on canvas, 1923 48 1/4 in. x 30 1/8 in. (1224 mm x 765 mm) overall NPG 3132

St. Paul's Church, London

On 21 July 1928, Terry died of a cerebral haemorrhage at her home at Smallhythe Place, near Tenterden, Kent, aged 81. Her son Edward later recalled, "Mother looked 30 years old ... a young beautiful woman lay on the bed, like Juliet on her bier".[31] Margaret Winser created a death mask.[32] Terry was cremated at Golders Green, Middlesex. Her ashes are kept in a silver chalice on the right side of the chancel of the actors' church, St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, where a memorial tablet was unveiled by Sir John Martin-Harvey.[33]

After her death, the Ellen Terry Memorial Museum was founded by Edith Craig in her mother's memory at Smallhythe Place, an early 16th-century house that she bought at the turn of the 20th century.[25] The museum was taken over by the National Trust in 1939.

Terry's daughter Edith Craig became a theatre director, producer, costume designer, and an early pioneer of the women's suffrage movement in England. Terry's son, Edward Gordon Craig, became an actor, scenery and effects designer, illustrator, and director; he also founded the Gordon Craig School for the Art of the Theatre in Florence, Italy, in 1913. Her grandnephew was the actor John Gielgud.[34] Illustrator Helen Craig is Terry's great granddaughter.[35]

Terry is also connected with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

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  1. Birth certificate is dated 1847 Archived 6 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. she had reversed her given names by the time of her first marriage
  3. Biography and reviews of Terry
  4. Biography of Terry at the Stage Beauty website
  5. Booth, Michael R. "Terry, Dame Ellen Alice (1847–1928)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2008, accessed 4 January 2010
  6. Hartnoll, pp. 815–17.
  7. Obituary, Time Magazine, 1 September 1930
  8. The photograph of Terry as Mamillius and Kean as Leontes was taken by Martin Laroche.
  9. Hartnoll, p. 816.
  10. Terry Biography at Answers.com
  11. Profile of Terry by Amanda Hodges Archived 17 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Description of the Terry and Irving partnership and link to further information about Terry Archived 4 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Information from Schoolnet.com Archived 30 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. The Times, 10 April 1879, p. 8, col. B
  15. "Miss Ellen Terry's Benefit", The Era, 23 May 1880, p. 6
  16. "Sullivan's incidental music to Shakespeare's Macbeth, The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 28 January 2005, accessed 21 August 2016; Hugill, Robert. "Mendelssohnian charm: Sir Arthur Sullivan's Macbeth and The Tempest", PlanetHugill.com, 15 August 2016. See also "A flyaway success: Victorian dress made from 1,000 beetle wings restored at a cost of £50,000". The Daily Mail, 16 March 2011
  17. Review and drawings of Henry VIII, Punch magazine, Vol. 102, 16 January 1892, p. 33
  18. Information about King Arthur including an image of the program Archived 20 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. American Theatre Guide entry
  20. "Music and the Drama: Irving's Visit", The Week: a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts, 28 February 1884, vol. 1, issue 13, p. 204, accessed 27 April 2013
  21. Holroyd, p. ?
  22. Irving, John H. B. "Quest for the Missing Letters" Archived 24 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine., The Irving Society; accessed 12 October 2011
  23. Information about Terry's pets and residences
  24. Cockin, Katharine. Edith Craig (1869–1947): Dramatic Lives Cassell (1998).
  25. Biography of Terry BBC Coventry
  26. Cockin (2015), p. 164 et. seq.
  27. Cockin (2001), pp. 7, 27-28, 46 and 48–50
  28. Recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Co. Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. Information from Findagrave.com
  30. Irving, John H. B. "Quest for Missing Ellen Terry Letters", The Irving Society; accessed 5 March 2016. Archived 7 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  31. Holroyd, pp. 508–509
  32. "National Portrait Gallery, Death-mask of Ellen Terry". Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  33. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2. McFarland & Company (2016) ISBN 0786479922
  34. "The Gielgud-Terry Family Tree", Gielgud, John (with John Miller). An Actor and His Time, p. 180, Legends Series, Hal Leonard Corporation, 2000; ISBN 1-55783-415-6
  35. Jansen-Gruber, Marya. "The Authors and Illustrators – Profiles: Helen Craig", Through The Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews website; accessed 1 April 2014
  36. Law, Jonathan (2013). The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre. A&C Black. ISBN 9781408145913.
  37. "Charles Terry". Ancestry. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  38. Roy, Donald. "Neilson, Julia Emilie (1868–1957)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 7 January 2010
  39. "Edward William Godwin". The Elmbridge Hundred. Retrieved 21 February 2016.