Plays and players

Pages 350-357

Analytical Index to the Series of Records Known as the Remembrancia 1579-1664. Originally published by EJ Francis, London, 1878.

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Plays and Players.

I. 9. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lord Chancellor, informing him that great disorder had been committed at the Theatre on Sunday last. He had taken measures to investigate the same, but understanding that his lordship, with other members of the Privy Council, had taken the matter in hand, he had stayed further proceedings. He thought it his duty to inform him that the players of plays, used at the Theatre and other such places, and tumblers and such like, were a very superfluous sort of men, and of such faculty as the laws had disallowed; that the exercise of the plays was not only a great hindrance to the service of God, but also a great corruption of youth, with unchaste and wicked matters, the occasion of much incontinence, practices of many frays, quarrels, and other disorders, within the City. He therefore begged that order might be taken to prevent such plays, not only within the City, but also in the liberties.
12th April, 1580.

I. 295. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor, Mr. Serjeant Flcetwood, Recorder, and the Aldermen, stating that, for avoiding the increase of infection within the City last summer, orders were sent to them for restraining of plays until Michaelmas last. As the sickness had almost ceased, and was not likely to increase at this time of the year, in order to relieve the poor players, and to encourage their being in readiness with convenient matters for Her Highness's solace this next Christmas, they required them forthwith to suffer the players to practice such plays, in such sort, and in the usual places, as they had been accustomed, having careful regard for the continuance of such quiet order as had been before observed.
18th November, 1581.

I. 317. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord, Mayor. For sundry good causes and considerations they had oftentimes given order for the restraint of plays in and about the City; nevertheless of late, for honest recreation sake, in respect that Her Majesty sometimes took delight in those pastimes, it had been thought not unfit, having regard to the season of the year and the clearance of the City from infection, to allow of certain companies of players in London, partly that they might thereby attain more dexterity and perfection in that profession, the better to content Her Majesty, the said players being restrained from playing on the Sabbath, and only permitted on the ordinary holidays after evening prayer, as long as the season of the year would permit, without danger of the infection. They requested the City to appoint some proper person to consider and allow such plays only as were fitted to yield honest recreation and no example of evil. For this purpose the Lord Mayor should withdraw his late prohibition against their playing on holidays, only forbearing the Sabbath-day. If the exercise of the same should increase the sickness and infection, then he should communicate to the Council.
11th April, 1582.

I. 319. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lords of the Council. acknowledging the foregoing letter. Although the players began not their plays till after evening service, yet all the afternoon they took in hearers, and filled the placed with such as were thereby absent from Church, and attended to serve God's enemies in an inn. If they were restrained from letting in the people till after service it would delay the action of their plays to a very inconvenient time of night, specially for servants and children. Further, the plague had increased, and the season being not and perilous, and term time and the meeting of Parliament near, the renewing and continuance of their exercises would be most dangerous. He therefore requested the Council to continue their restraint of such plays. As touching the orders prescribed for the matter and manner of their plays, steps should be taken to appoint some grave and discreet persons to peruse them and obey the caution of the Council.
12th April, 1582.

I. 359. Letter from Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, to the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, requesting them to grant a licence to his servant, John David, to play his provest prize in his science and profession of defence, at the Bull, in Bishopsgate, or in some other convenient place to be assigned within the liberties of the City of London.
1st July, 1582.

I. 383. Letter from Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, to the Lord Mayor, complaining of the treatment and disgrace put upon his servant in not being allowed to play prizes, after the publication of his bills, wherein his (the writer's) name had been used, although others had been so permitted.
23rd July, 1582.

I. 384. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Earl of Warwick, in reply. He had not refused permission for his servant to play his prizes, but had granted him a licence, only restraining him from playing in an inn for fear of infection, and had appointed him to play in an open place at the Leadenhall. Not having availed himself of the permission for fourteen days, and the infection increasing, it became necessary to prohibit and assembling of the people to his play within the City, but permission had been given to him to perform in the open fields. No permission had been granted to any others. With the man's own consent he had appointed Monday next, and had allowed him liberty to pass openly through the City with his company, drums, and show.
24th July, 1582.

I. 498. Letter from the Lord Mayor to Mr. Young, stating that the Court of Aldermen had lately received letters from the Lords of the Council for avoiding of all perils of infection. Certain fencers had set up bills and intended to play a prize at the Theatre on May Day next, which would cause great inconvenience and danger, especially as they desired to pass through the City with pomp. Fearing disorder, and considering the late disaster at Paris Gardens, (fn. 1) licence had been refused, and also permission to pass through the City. He requested the Justices of the county to assist them in preventing the assembly.
27th April, 1583.

I. 553. Letter from Sir Francis Walsingham, Knight, to the Lord Mayor. With regard to the letter of the Council on behalf of Her Majesty's players, which the Lord Mayor had interpreted to extend only to holidays and not to other week-days, the Council, considering that without frequent exercise of such plays as were to be presented before Her Majesty her servants could not conveniently satisfy her recreation and their own duty, desired that they should be licensed to perform upon week-days and work-days, at convenient times, between this and Shrovetide (Sundays only excepted).
1st December, 1583.

I. 554. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor. As the infection within the City had ceased, they desired that Her Majesty's players might be suffered to play as heretofore, more especially as they were shortly to present some of their doings before Her.
26th November, 1583.

I. 635. Letter from the Court of Aldermen to the Archishop of Canterbury (Whitgif), informing him of the daily disorderly exercise of a number of players and playing-houses erected within the City, whereby the youths of the City were greatly corrupted, and their manners infected with many evils and ungodly qualities, by reason of the wanton and profane devices represented on the stages. The apprentices and servants were withdrawn from their work, to the great hindrance of the trades and traders of the City, and the propagation of religion. Besides, to these places resorted the light and lewd disposed persons, as harlots, cutpurses, cozeners, pilferers, &c., who, under colour of hearing plays, devised divers evil and ungodly matches, confederacies, and conspiracies, which could not be prevented. They besought his favour for reforming the same. Further, because Her Majesty must be served at certain times by this sort of people, she had granted her Letters Patent to Mr. Tilney, her Master of the Revels, by virtue whereof he had authority to reform, exercise, or suppress all manner of players, plays, and playhouses, and he had licensed the said houses which before had been open to the Statutes for the punishing of such disorders. They requested his grace to call the Master of the Revels before him and treat with him as to the measures to be devised, that Her Majesty might be served with these recreations as she had been accustomed, which might easily be done by the private exercise of Her Majesty's own players in convenient places, and the City freed from these continual disorders.
25th February, 1592.

I. 646. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Archbishop of Canterbury, thanking him, in the name of the Court of Aldermen, for the trouble he had taken for removing the great inconvenience suffered by the City through the increase of plays and players. As touching the consideration to be made to Mr. Tilney for the better effecting the restraint of plays in and about the City, a certain number of Aldermen had been appointed to confer with him thereon.
6th March, 1592.

II. 6. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor, requiring him to restrain until further order all public plays and interludes within five miles of the City of London, on account of the plague.
3rd February, 1593.

II. 33. Letter from Lord Hunsdon to the Lord Mayor, requesting permission for the new company of players to be permitted to perform at the Cross Keys in Gracious Street (Gracechurch Street) "now that the sickness hath departed from the City."
Dated from Nonsuch, 8th October, 1594.

II. 73. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lord Treasurer, informing him that Frances Langley, one of the Alnagers for the sealing of cloth, intended to erect a new stage or theatre on the Bankside, and praying that the same might be prevented on account of the evils arising therefrom.
3rd November, 1594.

II. 103. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lords of the Council, requesting them to issue their letters to the justices of Surrey and Middlesex for the suppressing of stage plays on the Bankside, as being the cause of the increase of crime within the City.
13th September, 1595.

II. 171. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lords of the Council, recommending the suppression of stage plays as well at the Theatre, (fn. 2) at the Curtain, and Bankside, as in all other places in and about the City, accompanied by reasons for the same.
28th July, 1597.

II. 187. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor, renewing their Orders to the justices of Middlesex and Surrey for the prohibition of any more playhouses than the two mentioned (Golden Lane and the Bankside), and for the punishment of all who transgressed the Orders.
31st December, 1601.

II. 188. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor upon the complaint of the great increase of playhouses, and particularly of the playhouse in course of erection in Golden Lane by Edward Allen. (fn. 3) As Allen's house was not intended to increase the number of playhouses, but to be in lieu of the Curtain, he should be permitted to complete it. There should be but two playhouses, one in Middlesex, namely, the one in Golden Lane (fn. 4) above mentioned, and one in Surrey, the Globe (fn. 5) on the Bankside, which had been selected by the players from the numerous houses existing there. The Letter also contains the further orders of the Council, forbidding the performance of plays in common inns within the City, restricting the performances in each house to two in a week, and restraining the players from performing on the Sabbath Day or in Lent, or in times of infection, and charges the Lord Mayor and Justices to see the same duly executed.
22nd June, 1600.

II. 189. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor, granting permission to the servants of the Earl of Oxford and the Earl or Worcester to play at the Boar's Head in Eastcheap. (fn. 6)
31st March, 1602.

V. 28. Petition of the Constables and other officers and inhabitants within the precinct of the Blackfriars to Sir Sebastian Harvey, Knight, Lord Mayor, and the Court of Aldermen, stating that in November, 1596, (fn. 7) the inhabitants had informed the Privy Council of the inconveniences likely to fall upon them by a common playhouse then intended to be erected, and the Council had thereupon forbad the use of the house for plays. By Orders of the Privy Council dated 22nd June, 1600, only two playhouses were to be tolerated, one on the Bankside and the other in or near Golden Lane, exempting thereby the Blackfriars, and a letter was at the same time sent to the Lord Mayor and Justices requiring them to see the Orders strictly put in execution and continued. The owner of the said playhouse, under the name of a private house, converted it to a public playhouse, to which there was daily such a resort of people and such a multitude of coaches (many of them hackney coaches bringing people of all sorts), that at times the streets could not contain them, they clogged up Ludgate Hill also, so that they endangered one another, broke down stalls, threw down goods, and the inhabitants were unable to get to their houses, or bring in their provisions, the trademen to utter their wares, of passengers to get to the common water stairs without danger of life and limb; quarrels and effusion of blood had followed, and other dangers might be occasioned by the broils, plots, and practices of such an unruly multitude. These inconveniences happening almost daily in the winter time (not excepting Lent) from one or two o'clock till five at night (the usual time for christenings, burials, and afternoon service), the inhabitants were unable to get to the church, the ordinary passage for a great part of the precinct being close by the playhouse door. The petitioners therefore prayed that order might be taken in the matter, and the owner of the playhouse required to satisfy the Court of Aldermen for his presumption in breaking the aforesaid Orders, and to put in sufficient surety for the time to come. If the inhabitants, by turnpikes, posts, chains, or otherwise, kept the coaches outside their gates, grant inconvenience would ensue to Ludgate and the streets thereabout, they therefore craved aid and direction from the Court in all the premises.

The petition is signed by the minister, churchwardens, sidesmen, constables, collectors, and scavengers of the precinct.
(Circa 1618–19.)

V. 29. Letter from divers honourable person and other inhabiting the precinct of Blackfriars to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen in support of the foregoing petition.
(Circa 1618–19.)

VII. 101. Order of the Star Chamber, upon complaint of the inconveniences occasioned by the stoppage of the streets by the carriages of persons frequenting the playhouse of the Blackfriars, "their lordships remembering that there is an easy passage by water unto that playhouse without troubling the streets, and that it is much more fit and reasonable that those which go thither should go by water or else on foot," therefore, order that all coaches shall leave as soon as they have set down, and not return till the play is over, nor return further than the west end of Saint Paul's Churchyard or Fleet Conduit. Coachmen disobeying this Order to be committed to Newgate or Ludgate. Copies of the Order to be set up at Paul's Chain, the west end of St. Paul's Churchyard, Ludgate, the Blackfriars, and Fleet Conduit.
22nd November, 1633.

VII. 106. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor, informing him that the gentlemen of the Inns of Court were about to play a Masque before the King in the beginning of next week, (fn. 8) and requesting him to see that the streets through which they would pass, especially Aldersgate Street, were well cleansed by Monday night at the latest, and a good and careful watch kept by constables and the better sort of citizens themselves, in that part of the City and Liberties that laid that way.
Star Chamber, 29th January, 1633.

VIII. 115. Same as No. 101, Vol. VII.


  • 1. See note 1, page 17.
  • 2. Near the Priory of Holywell, Shoreditch, "are builded two publique-houses for "the acting and shewe of Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories, for recreation; whereof the one "is called the Courtein, the other the Theatre; both standing on the south-west side towards "the fields." Stow, edit. 1598, p. 349. The Theatre in Shoreditch was built by James Burbage, one of the leading member of the Earl of Leicester's company of players, who obtained a lease of the property on the 13th of April, 1576. He began the building immediately afterwards. It is mentioned in a letter from the Lords of the Council to Lord Wentworth, Master of the Rolls, and to the Lieutenant of the Tower, on the 1st of August, 1577. This was the earliest drematic building erected in this country. The locality is shown in the maps of London by Agas, circa 1560, and Braun, in 1574. Fencing matches were also held here. The Curtain was situated on the southern side of Holywell. Lane, and took its name from the piece of ground upon which it was built, which is called in a lease of the land granted by the Holywell Priory, 1538, "the Curten." It is mentioned again in a lease of 1581, "all that house, tenemente or lodge, commonly called the Curtayne." The earliest mention of the Curtain Playhouse is in December, 1577. (Vide Halliwell's 'Illustrations of the Life of Shakespeare,' pp. 11–28.)
  • 3. Edward Alleyn, the celebrated comedian in the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First, who founded Dulwich College, June 21st, 1619.
  • 4. The Fortune Theatre, Golden Lane. Arrangements were made in the early part of the year 1600 to erect this afterwards celebrated house. See Contract, January 8th, 15991600. Halliwell's 'Illustrations of the Life of Shakespeare,' p. 81.
  • 5. The Globe Theatre was erected in 1599–1600, with materials brought from the Theatre at Shoreditch, pulled down. Halliwell's 'Illustrations of the Life of Shakespeare,' pp. 25–27.
  • 6. This celebrated hostely stood near the site whereon the statue of William the Fourth in King William Street has been erected. It is made memorable by Shakespeare in 'King Henry IV.' It first appears as a tavern in a lease dated 1537, of "all that tavern called the Bore's Hedde, cum cellariis sollariis et aliis suis pertinentiis in Estchepe,"&c. It was kept by one Thomas Wright in 1588, and the historian Maitland says, in 1789, that it was "the chief tavern in London." It was destroyed in the Great Fire, and rebuilt in 1668. (Side Catalogue of Antiquities, &c., exhibited at Ironmongers' Hall, 1861, p. 466.) The sign then set up and also a taken issued from the same place, are now in the Museum of the Corporation at Guildhall.
  • 7. James Burbage purchased, by deed dated 4th February, 1596, from Sir William More, of Loseley, Surrey, a large house in the Blackfriars, which was shortly afterwards converted by him into a theatre. Halliwell's 'Illustrations of the Life of Shakespeare.' Among the names of the owners or sharers in this theatre in the year 1608, was William Shakespeare (edition 1858, vol. i. p. 190). From a document quoted by Collier in his Life of Shakespeare, it would seem that Richard Burbage was the holder of four shares, valued at a total of I,933l. 6s. 8d.; Lawrence Fletcher owned three shares, valued at 700l.; Shakespeare was proprietor of the wardrobe and properties, valued at 500l., as well as four shares, valued at 933l. 6s. 8d. The building was pulled down August, 1655.
  • 8. Whitelocke gives an account of this masque, performed before Charles the First and his Queen. It had a political application, and was suggested as a means of counteracting the effects of Prynne's 'Histriomastix' and of confuting his opinions against interludes. The procession started from Ely House, Holborn, for Whitehall. Their Majesties watched it from the windows of the Banqueting House, which were crowded. The expense is said to have been 21,000l. The King in return invited one hundred gentlemen, twenty from each Inn, to a masque on the Shrove Tuesday following.