Tyler, Elizabeth (1739–1821)

The older, unmarried half-sister of Southey’s mother. She had spent her early life looking after an elderly relative and on his death received an inheritance which she then spent on living the high life. Her extravagance was a source of great concern to her relatives, in particular her half-brother Herbert Hill. Elizabeth Tyler was painted by Joshua Reynolds and moved in cultural circles in Bath and Bristol, counting amongst her friends the Palmers, owners of the Theatre Royal, Bath. Southey was largely brought up in her household, an experience he later described in a series of autobiographical letters to John May. Southey quarrelled with his aunt over his relationship with Edith Fricker and involvement in Pantisocracy, and on a wet night in 1794 she threw him out. They never saw or spoke to one another again. Southey later speculated that Elizabeth Tyler, whose grandmother had died ‘in confinement’, suffered from a form of insanity, noting that ‘her habitual violence of temper is now increased by long indulgence absolutely to a state of derangement’.

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