Born into a well-to-do family, Charlotte Turner Smith was brought up in South England. At the early age of fourteen, she was married to Benjamin Smith, the son of a wealthy East Indian merchant. However, his wealth did not last and in 1783 Charlotte shared his imprisonment for debts with him for several months.
At that time she decided to publish some of her poems to support her ever increasing family. The volume "Elegiac Poems" of 1784 was an instant success. Charlotte put down her thoughts the form of sonnet, a form which since Shakespeare's days had come out of use. Her poetry, famous for its melancholy and sadness, became highly popular in the following years. "Elegiac Poems" saw several further editions and important Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Coleridge were influenced by her poetical work.
In the late 1780s Charlotte Turner Smith began to write novels to earn money for her family. She composed them in almost breathtaking speed. "Emmeline" was published in 1788, "Ethelinde" in 1798, then followed "Celestina" (1791), "Desmond" (1792) and "The Old Manor House" (1793).
Charlotte Turner Smith was an admirer of the French Revolution. She liked Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the revolutionary A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Wollstonecraft's husband, William Godwin, reports that in the late 1790s Smith's house was a vital gathering place for radical intellectuals. However, she was also critical of the tyranny of Jacobinism. In her poem "The Emigrants" (1791) Charlotte Turner Smith deals with the situation of French clergy and nobility who have fled into savety to exile in rural Sussex. She points out the injustice of their former conduct towords the poor, but she also condemns the violent turn the Revolution has taken.
In 1806 Charlotte Turner Smith died at Tilford near Farnham in Surrey. A collection of poems from her manuscripts was published posthumously in 1807 under the title of "Beachy Head and Other Poems."