Elizabeth Sarah Villa-Real was born in Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire, England. She was the only child of William Villa-Real, the grandson of Joseph da Costa, a wealthy Portuguese Jewish merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Hallifax. Her father died when she was about two years old, leaving her his heiress, and her mother remarried and moved to Durham. At about age 10, Elizabeth was sent to boarding school in Little Chelsea. Her mother was widowed a second time and took Elizabeth to live in Bishopton near Ripon in north Yorkshire. In 1775, they visited Bath, where Elizabeth met William Gooch, the son of a baronet. They were married in London a mere one month later when Elizabeth was 17. The marriage was unhappy, though they had two sons in quick succession. Having obtained possession of her fotrune, her husband accused her of infidelity and took her to France in 1778, where he abandoned her in Lille. They were legally separated in 1780, but Elizabeth could not obtain a full divorce that would allow her to remarry. She struggled to survive on the meager allowance given to her by Gooch. She became an actress with traveling troupes of players and in London, and lived in style for some time with gentlemen callers who included the Duc de Lauzun and the Marquis of Queensbury. She was duped out of more money and her debts mounted again, and she spent time in the Fleet prison. She wrote a three-volume memoir, The Life of Mrs. Gooch, published in 1792. It catalogued her sexual misadventures and financial hardships, and demanded justice for herself as a woman lacking protection and guidance. She also published novels, including The Wanderings of the Imagination (1796), Fancied Events; or, The Sorrows of Ellen (1799), Truth and Fiction (1801), and Sherwood Forest; or, Northern Adventures (1804), as well as a collection of poems in 1793.