Worcester’s, Oxford’s and The Admiral’s
Copyright 1974 by Gwynneth Bowen
First published in Shakespearean Authorship Review (English), Summer 1974.
LITTLE is known of Worcester’s men and still less of Oxford’s before their amalgamation, and we do not even know when they were amalgamated. As everyone would agree, it was before the end of March 1602, for we first hear of the amalgamation in a letter from the Privy Council to the Lord Mayor, dated “the last day of March 1602.” [Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, Vol. 4, p. 334.] The amalgamated company are now to be licensed to play at the Boar’s Head, and nowhere else; but they had already played at the Boar’s Head, for it was the place “they have especially used and do best like of” and their offence lay in changing their place of playing “at their own disposition.” We now know that Worcester’s had in fact played at the Boar’s Head in 1599-1600 and then left, breaking their bonds to their own leader, Robert Browne, lessee of the Boar’s Head inn and theatre; [C. J. Sisson, The Boar’s Head Theatre (1972).] and if they had returned before the date of the letter, it seems that they must have left again. Since the servants of the Earl of Oxford share the blame for all this with those of the Earl of Worcester, it follows that they must have been one company at least since 1599.
From 1602, anyway, the company seems to have gone by Worcester’s name alone, till it was taken over by James I’s consort, Queen Anne, in 1603 or early 1604. In 1602-3 Worcester’s men were in financial relations with Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose playhouse, who is our chief source of information about many of the Elizabethan players. He had a special relationship, of course, with the Admiral’s men, who played at the Rose from 1594 to 1600, and afterwards at Henslowe’s new theatre, the Fortune, but nearly all the players in London, with the notable exception of William Shakespeare, borrowed money from him at one time or another. On 17th August, 1602, he opened an account for Worcester’s company, and though there is no complete list of members in his famous “diary,” Sir Edmund Chambers compiled his own list from the separate entries. At this time they included John Duke, Thomas Blackwood, William Kempe, John Thare, John Lowin, Thomas Heywood, Christopher Beeston, Robert Pallant, and a certain Cattanes, whose first name is not recorded and of whom nothing more is known. [Elizabethan Stage, 2, 226.] There are some well-known names among them, but as Chambers notes, it is impossible to say which came from Worcester’s and which from Oxford’s.
For an earlier list of Worcester’s men we must go back to 14th January, 1583, when William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester issued a licence to his players. There were eight of them, but we need to remember only four—Robert Browne, Richard Jones, James Tunstall and Edward Alleyn, then aged sixteen. [The complete list is printed by Chambers, E.S. 2, 222.] Performances by Worcester’s men are recorded in the provinces during 1583 and 1584, and up to March 1585, and then no more—till after the death of the third Earl, which occurred on 22nd February 1589.
But at the outset of 1589, Robert Browne, Richard Jones, Edward Alleyn and his elder brother, John, held a common stock of “playinge apparels play Bookes Instruments and other commodities.” Then, shortly before Worcester’s death, by a deed of sale dated 3rd January 1589, Jones parted with his share to Edward Alleyn. [Henslowe’s Diary, Eds. Foakes and Rickert, (1961), p. 273.] No company is named, but it is natural to suppose that, at the time of the transaction, all four men were members of a single company, as, with the exception of John Alleyn, they certainly had been in 1583. Sir Walter Greg was of the opinion that Edward Alleyn had remained with Worcester’s till the death of the third Earl and then joined the Admiral’s, but Chambers dissented from this view on account of the hiatus in the known history of Worcester’s, and suggested that the entire company had passed into the service of the Lord Admiral in 1585: “On Dr. Greg’s theory as to the date at which Alleyn took service with the Lord Admiral, the organization in whose properties Richard Jones had an interest would naturally be Worcester’s men; on mine it would be the Admiral’s, and it would follow that Jones and Browne, as well as Alleyn had joined that company.” [Elizabethan Stage, 2, 137.]
The main point in favour of Chambers’ theory is that the first period of activity of the Admiral’s men was from 1585 to 1589. “I suspect,” he says, “that in 1589 or 1590 they were practically dissolved.” [Is Elizabethan Stage, 2, 138.] This coincides, of course, with the gap in the known activities of Worcester’s, but on the other hand, there is no evidence that any of the four men concerned did join the Admiral’s in 1585, or at any time before the date of Richard Jones’s deed of sale, so at least the way is open for a possible alternative: either that Worcester’s survived somewhere, however obscurely, or that they entered the service, not of the Admiral, but some other lord. The question is important since it affects the provenance of the plays with which the reconstituted Admiral’s men began, at the Rose, in 1594.
Chambers goes on to say that there is nothing to show whether the Alleyns bought up Robert Browne’s share as well as that of Richard Jones, but he evidently harboured suspicions about that too:
“At any rate Browne began in 1590 that series of continental tours which occupied most of the rest of his career. Jones joined him in one of these adventures in 1592, and it is possible that John Bradstreet and Thomas Sackville, who went with them, were also old Admiral’s men. But I do not think it is accurate to regard this company, as Dr. Greg seems inclined to do, as being under the Admiral’s patronage. It is true that they obtained a passport from him, but this was probably given rather in his capacity as warden of the seas than in that of their lord. His name is not mentioned in any of the foreign records of their peregrinations.” [Elizabethan Stage, 2, 138.]
It may prove worth our while to follow them part of the way in their peregrinations, or rather, to join them at Frankfort for the autumn fair of 1592, where it is on record that they gave performances of the antiquated farce of Gammer Gurton’s Needle and, by way of contrast, some of Marlowe’s plays. It so happened that the traveller, Fynes Moryson, was also visiting Frankfort and saw them play. He has left us the following description:
“When some of our cast dispised stage players came out of England into Germany, and played at Franckford in the tyme of the Mart, having nether a complete number of Actours, nor any good Apparell, nor any ornament of the Stage, yet the Germans, not understanding a worde they sayde, both men and women, flocked wonderfully to see theire gesture and Action, rather then heare them, speaking English which they understoode not, and pronowncing peeces and patches of English playes, which my selfe and some English men there present could not heare without great wearysomenes. Yea my selfe comming from Franckford in the company of some cheefe marchants Dutch and Flemish, heard them often bragg of the good markett they had made, only condoling that they had not the leasure to heare the English players.” [Printed from Chambers, E.S., 1, 343.]
There may have been other English players at Frankfort at the time and doubts have been raised as to whether this was, indeed, Browne’s company, for he was a reputable actor. But Fynes Moryson does not criticize the acting and what he does criticize is precisely what we should expect: the inadequate number of actors; their lack of good apparel and stage properties; and the fact that they did not present whole plays, but “peeces and patches” As T. W. Baldwin comments, “their plays must have been assembled from parts, written or in their heads.” [Literary Genetics of Shakespeare’s Plays, p. 252, note 20.] The description is in complete accordance with what we know of the circumstances of this itinerant company, and especially if the Alleyns had acquired Browne’s share of the common stock as well as Jones’s. From the point of view of the players, however, Frankfort Fair was obviously a success and they were back the following August, after which, as Chambers says, the company seems to have broken up, [E.S. 2, 275.] an event which is probably not unconnected with the tragic fact, also related by Chambers, that Browne’s wife and all her children and household “died of plague in Shoreditch about August 1593.” [E.S. 2, 277] Bradstreet and Sackville may have stayed on in Germany, where they both eventually settled. There is no trace of Browne or Jones for a while, either in Germany or in England, but it is surely a reasonable conjecture that Browne set out on his homeward journey as soon as the news reached him, and that Jones went with him. Jones is next heard of in London, on 2nd September, 1594, when he bought “a manes gowne of Pechecoler” from Henslowe. [Henslowe’s Diary, (Foakes and Rickert), 35] This is the earliest of many references to him in Henslowe’s diary and he certainly joined the Admiral’s company, but there is no evidence that he was a member before he went abroad. As for Browne, the first clue we have to his whereabouts since August 1593, is the record in the parish register of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, of the baptism of his eldest son by his second wife, named after him, on 19th October 1595. [E.S. 2. 304.] It may be significant that he had moved from Shoreditch, where he presumably lived with his first wife, to Bankside—from the neighbourhood of the Theatre to the neighbourhood of the Rose—but there is no evidence that he ever had been, or ever became, a member of the Admiral’s.
John Alleyn, who was about ten years older than Edward, was not a member of Worcester’s in 1583, but may have joined them by 1585, or for that matter, at any time before 1589—so long as Worcester’s existed; or he may not have joined them at all. In any case, he never distinguished himself as an actor, but seems to have been primarily an innholder, as his father was before him. In 1580, he is described as a servant to Lord Sheffield and an innholder; and in 1587-8, as “of St. Botolph’s without Bishopsgate, innholder.” [Mark Eccles, Christopher Marlowe in London, p. 65.] James Tunstall, on the other hand, was a member of Worcester’s in 1583, but not a joint owner of common stock in 1589. In November 1590, however, these two are to be found together at the Theatre in Shoreditch, where they became involved in the notorious quarrel between James Burbage, owner of the Theatre, and Mrs. Brayne, widow of his former partner. We cannot, here, enter into the main cause of the quarrel, but it led to a law-suit as a result of which, certain relevant facts are recorded. It appears that at least two companies were playing at the Theatre at this time, one of which was the Admiral’s. The other is generally agreed to have been Strange’s, though Baldwin questions this. [Literary Genetics, 255.] Anyway, Tunstall was present when John Alleyn accused Burbage of detaining some of the money due to the players, saying they would complain to their lord and master the Lord Admiral: so we may take it that Tunstall, as well as John Alleyn, was by now a servant of the Lord Admiral. But Edward Alleyn is not even mentioned in connection with these events at the Theatre, and Baldwin suggests that John Alleyn and James Tunstall were in fact the only active members, and that Edward “was not present and active in the company in November 1590.” However, both brothers were still collecting apparel, for on 23rd November 1590, Tunstall witnessed the sale of a cloak to John Alleyn, and on 6th May 1591, that of another cloak to both John and Edward. [Literary Genetics, 254.] By 1592, the “Admiral’s” were co-operating with Lord Strange’s men at the Rose, and in October of that year, Edward Alleyn married Henslowe’s step-daughter. Then, on 6th May 1593, when the London theatres were closed on account of the plague, a special licence to play in the provinces was granted to Edward Alleyn “servaunt to the right honorable the Lord Admiral” and five other men—”William Kemp, Thomas Pope, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, and Georg Brian, being al one companie, servaunts, to our verie good Lord the Lord Strange.” It would seem, then, that Edward Alleyn, alone of the Admiral’s company, was now acting with Strange’s; and from this list of 1593, Baldwin goes on to infer that Edward Alleyn was in fact “the Admiral’s company which co-operated with Strange’s from February 1592.” [Literary Genetics, 251.] This may, of course, be an exaggeration, but though the names of some members of the combined company of 1592 have been preserved, they do not include those of John Alleyn or James Tunstall. As for Robert Browne and Richard Jones, whether or not they had ever been members of the Admiral’s it is significant that they procured the passport for their continental tour on 10th February 1592, just nine days before Strange’s (and the “Admiral’s”) began their season at the Rose, where their repertory included Orlando Furioso, Friar Bacon, The Jew of Malta, and a play called Harry the Sixth, which had an exceptionally long run. And now, let us turn back the calendar to the year 1585, when the company of the third Earl of Worcester is believed to have passed into the service of the Lord Admiral.
The last recorded performance of this company was in March 1585, and on 28th October of the same year, John and Edward Alleyn bought from their mother and step-father “four messuages in Busshopsgate Streete without Busshopsgate in the suburb of London lying next the house of the Earl of Oxford.” [Eccles, Christopher Marlowe in London, p. 65. G. F. Warner, Catalogue of MSS. and Muniments of Alleyn’s College, Dulwich, pp. 251, and 252.] The sale was witnessed by James Tunstall and it is interesting to find him at this early date, in his usual role as witness, this time to a private transaction within the family circle of the Alleyns. Edward Alleyn and he may, or may not, still have been members of Worcester’s, as they presumably were only seven months before; John Alleyn may, or may not, have joined the company; and the company, itself, may, or may not, have broken up; but amid all these uncertainties one fact is clear. The property bought by the Alleyn brothers from their mother and step-father was next-door to the house of the Earl of Oxford. Many years later, in 1615, Edward Alleyn drew up a lease for “two-messuages . . . lying next the mansion-house of Fisher’s Folly, in Bishopsgate Street, with an alley and garden and eight small tenements adjoining,” and this lease is endorsed: “Pye Alley in Bishopsgate Street, now Mr. Phillips.” [Warner p. 267.]
Fisher’s Folly, so-called after the builder and first owner, Jasper Fisher, who died in 1579/80, was in the fifteen eighties the residence of the Earl of Oxford. It was later to become Devonshire House and Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) informs us that Edward Alleyn “was born in the aforesaid parish (i.e. St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate), near Devonshire House, where now is the sign of the Pie. He was bred a Stage-player” . . . [Worthies of England (1662), by Thomas Fuller.] At the sign of the Pie, one would naturally expect to find an inn, which of course, would have given its name to the alley, not the other way round; so in spite of Fuller’s “now,” the inn must have existed, under that name, at least as early as 1615. Pie (or Magpie) Alley was just south of Devonshire Street, leading to Devonshire House (See map of Bishopsgate Ward in Strype’s edition of Stow), and Pie Alley presumably led to the Pie Inn, which was, therefore, not only “near” but “next” to Devonshire House. As G. F. Warner writes in his Introduction to the Catalogue of MSS. and Muniments of Alleyn’s College, Dulwich: “Fuller’s often-quoted statement that he (Edward Alleyn) “was born ‘near Devonshire House, where now is the sign of the Pie’ is fully confirmed by the mention of Pye Alley and Fisher’s Folly, the old name of Devonshire House, in close connexion with his father’s property.” [G. F. Warner, p. XV.]
Now, it is well-known that Edward Alleyn was baptized at St. Botolph’s without Bishopsgate, on 2nd September 1566, and that his father was Edward Alleyn, of Willen, Bucks., Innholder and Porter to the Queen, but it seems to have been almost forgotten that he also had an inn in Bishopsgate. The facts are clearly summarized by Warner (p. xvi). In 1555 and again in 1557 he is designated “of London Yeoman,” but “in subsequent deeds, the first of which records his purchase of a house in Bishopsgate in 1566 . . . he uniformly appears as ‘innholder’ and is so described in his will, dated 10th Sept., 1570 … The statement made by Malcolm (Londinium Redivivum, 1802, vol. i, p. 345) and noticed by Hunter as ‘a very curious fact’, that in the entry of his burial at St. Botolph’s, on 13th Sept., 1570, he is called ‘poete to the Queene’, may be readily dismissed. On referring to the register I found the word to be ‘porter’, and the title ‘one of the Queen’s Majesties, porters is given him in a document … dated 1567.’ ”
John and Edward Alleyn inherited from their father other property in the same parish, [Eccles, p. 65.] but all the evidence goes to show that the four messuages they bought from their mother and stepfather in 1585 comprised their late father’s inn. That John, already an innholder in 1580, should wish to own it and that their mother should be willing to sell it is not surprising, and as for their stepfather, he was a haberdasher by trade and may not have been interested in inns; but where does Edward come into the picture? Well, by the autumn of 1585, he was a talented and no doubt ambitious actor of nineteen, and at this period, plays were frequently performed at the city inns. Whether or not, the Pie had already been used for this purpose—as it may have been even in their father’s time—it is almost inconceivable that it would not be so used under the joint ownership of John and Edward Alleyn. To present plays there, with John as landlord of the inn and Edward as principal actor, would be to their mutual advantage; moreover, that great patron of players, the Earl of Oxford, was their next-door neighbour and almost certainly their ground landlord, but Oxford had his own company of players and they could hardly have played there as the servants of any other lord. Whether the whole company of the Earl of Worcester, as it stood in 1583, passed into the service of the Earl of Oxford in 1585 is immaterial, but I suggest that Edward Alleyn, Robert Browne, Richard Jones and James Tunstall did. John Alleyn, not having been a member of Worcester’s in 1583, is a case apart, but as landlord of the inn where Oxford’s men played, he would be in a unique position in relation to that company and a sharer in his own right, independently of his status as an actor. Nothing is known of the “Pie” as a playhouse, but then, there were many inns in London where plays were performed and little enough is known of any of them. Neither is it known where Oxford’s men played, apart from the Boar’s Head (after their amalgamation with Worcester’s), but we do know that they flourished in the fifteen-eighties and that, broadly speaking, Oxford was living at Fisher’s Folly throughout this decade. Shortly before Christmas, 1588, he sold it, and it was just nine days after Christmas that John and Edward Alleyn bought up Richard Jones’s share of that common stock of play-books and apparel held jointly by these three and Robert Browne. When a company was dissolved it was the normal practice to distribute the common stock among the sharers, who could then each sell his own assignment as he pleased; in the case of play-books, generally to another company or a publisher. But the Alleyns could evidently afford, not only to keep what was due to them personally, but to buy in much, if not all, of the remainder, obviously with a view to making a fresh start, the only question being the identity of the company to which all four of the joint owners belonged on 3rd January 1589; if the Admiral’s, they revived it after a period of instability and uncertainty: if Oxford’s they were obliged to seek a new patron, for Oxford was no longer available. In June 1588, his first wife, Anne Cecil, daughter of Lord Burghley, had died. Burghley had not only been Oxford’s guardian during his minority, but was Master of the Court of Wards, and as Professor Joel Hurstfield puts it:
“The Earl had entered into obligations to purchase his marriage from the Court of Wards, a necessary procedure before he could be free to marry Anne Cecil. The full price of his marriage had never been paid and this, and other debts, had long hung over him in the Court of Wards. Then, early in 1589, shortly after the death of Anne, Burghley instituted proceedings against the Earl for this debt, and some of his lands were seized and held for payment.” [The Queen’s Wards, p. 253.]
It seems that he had sold Fisher’s Folly just in time, and at about the same time he sold Oxford Place, near London Stone, to Sir John Hart who, as Stow tells us, kept his mayoralty there.
Oxford was certainly in no position at this time to maintain a London company of players, and a company travelling under his name is last heard of at Maidstone in 1589-90. At about the same time, a company under the patronage of Edward, 4th Earl of Worcester (son of the third Earl) makes its first appearance, at Coventry. It was this company which, sooner or later, was amalgamated with Oxford’s.
Meanwhile, on 14th July 1589, the Privy Council had written to Adlerman John Hart and others, “requiring them to take order for the relief of John Allen, “servaunte to me the Lo. Admirall,” against a certain Dr. Martin, “who seeketh by indirecte meanes to make frustrate a lease of a certain tenement and a garden demised by one John Roise to the suppliant’s father and Mother and himselfe…” [G. F. Warner, p. 85.] This letter, signed by Charles Howard (the Lord Admiral) and other members of the Privy Council contains what seems to be the earliest known reference to John Alleyn as “servant to the Lord Admiral.” It is well known that he was in the Admiral’s service “in” 1589 and I have, therefore, gone to a good deal of trouble to find out on what contemporary evidence this rather vague knowledge is based. According to the Shakespeare Encyclopaedia, he was “listed in 1589 as a member of the Admiral’s Men and as part owner, with his brother Edward, of ‘playinge apparelles . . .'” which rather implies that the source of both pieces of information was the same; but as I have said, Richard Jones’s deed of sale names no company. The odds were, of course, heavily against finding any such allusion, dated 1589 and earlier than 3rd January, but the above letter was in fact written six months after the deed of sale.
In the deed of sale, itself, John Alleyn was described as a “Citizen and Innholder of London,” and though no parish is named, he was presumably still an innholder of St. Botolph’s without Bishopsgate; as he is known to have been just a year before, or less. Now, I am not suggesting that the property referred to in the letter was identical with that bought by John and Edward from their mother and step-father in 1585, obviously it was not, though it may have been adjacent to it. Anyway, this dispute over the lease is worth noting for what it tells us of John’s reduced circumstances shortly after the sale of Fisher’s Folly. He was badly in need of a powerful friend at this time and found one in the Admiral, who may have taken him into his own household, but there is no need to suppose that he became a member of the Admiral’s company before November 1590, when he and James Tunstall were playing at the Theatre. The dispute over the lease was apparently still unresolved in December, 1589, when Howard drafted a letter to Sir William Drury, D.C.L., “umpire in the above dispute, asking his friendship and favour in behalf of his servant, John Allen.” [G. F. Warner, p. 86.] We do not know the outcome, and neither do we know what became at this time of those four messages next to Fisher’s Folly, though we may infer from the lease of 1615 that either John or Edward, or both, still owned “Pye Alley,” but neither of them seems to have lived there after 1592, when John Alleyn describes himself as late of the parish of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate.
In 1594, when the Admiral’s men, as a reorganised and independent company, finally settled at the Rose, under the leadership of Edward Alleyn, John did not go with them. This has been a puzzle to commentators, but if as I suggest, his chief interest was his inn, and his chief service to his brother and “the company”‘ had been the provision and supervision of a place to act in, there was no point. He had been supplanted by Henslowe. A year or two later he died, as a resident of St. Andrew’s, Holbourn. [Eccles, p. 65.]
I do not claim to have proved conclusively either that plays were performed at the Pie in Bishopsgate Street; or that Robert Browne, Richard Jones, both the Alleyns and James Tunstall were members of Oxford’s company from 1585 to 1589; but there is enough mutually corroborative evidence for a working hypothesis and I am content to leave it at that for the present. It is the sustained inter-action of fact and hypothesis, leading to the discovery of “new” facts, that counts in the long term and the Review is our laboratory.