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Cheerful Givers: Henslowe, Alleyn, and the 1612 Loan Book to the Crown.

THE CIRCULATION OF MATERIAL objects--in the form of gifts, bribes, and loans--has long been central to understanding power relations in early modern Europe. Historians continually remind us that these transactions were part of the everyday traffic of social and political affairs, especially within patronage networks. As Linda Levy Peck explains, the complex patron-client relationship of the period was conceived of as a "mutual exchange of benefits." However, as she also notes, service to a notable patron was both a sign of status and a burden.(1) Consequently, personal and political rewards bred financial obligations, not uncommonly for the individual in service to a greater lord. Given their subtle nature these transactions are frequently difficult to identify. However, one particular window into such obligations is preserved in British Library Additional MS. 27,877, in which are listed the names of persons who contributed to a loan to King James in 1612.

The book consists of over one hundred pages and catalogs within these roughly six hundred names. The first section of the book is organized according to the officers of various legal courts--Chancery, King's Bench, Common Pleas, the Exchequer, and Star Chamber. There follows a brief section headed "Merchant Strangers," listing many French and Dutch merchants who contributed to the loan. However, the largest portion of the book records, on a country-by-country basis, lenders' names, the sums lent, the dates of payment to the collectors, and the dates that the funds were transferred to the Exchequer of Receipt. Approximately six to ten names are listed per each "day of payment," suggesting that the collectors contacted lenders individually and, even perhaps, personally.

Although termed a "loan," the lenders understood implicitly that, given the Crown's financial circumstances in 1612, they might never receive repayment of the loan; or that repayment might indeed take a very long time. To begin with, King James had inherited a substantial debt from Elizabeth I, as well as a public revenue system that, in Conrad Russell's phrase, was "close to the point of breakdown" when James ascended the throne. Additionally, the effects of serious long-term underfunding had begun to take their toll. By the beginning of James's reign no more than 10 percent of households in the country were required to pay the lay subsidy taxes periodically approved by parliament. Moreover, other factors strained the budget. The Jacobean court was much more expensive to operate than Elizabeth's had been. The King, Queen, and Prince Henry each ran his or her own household. Then there was the problem of conspicuous consumption that, as David Loades explains so well, was seemingly inherent in the aristocracy: "Aristocratic households were traditional centres of power, patronage and conspicuous consumption."(2) Unfortunately, King James and Queen Anne excelled at prodigality. Their time at court was marked by displays such as the Jonsonian masques, the ostentatious funeral of Prince Henry, and the lavish wedding of the Princess Elizabeth--the latter two occurring in the period around 1612. All this exacerbated the Crown's financial problems and made even more desperate the need for the loan. What had been the Crown's customary expenses of 300,000 [pounds sterling] per annum, during the reign of Elizabeth in peacetime, rose initially under James to 400,000 [pounds sterling], and to 550,000 [pounds sterling] by 1614.(3) Thus, the loan was one of Robert Cecil's last initiatives to reduce the Crown's debt before his death in May of the same year.(4)

The loan book represents a collection of names headed by aristocrats, those loyal both to the Crown and to the conservative faction led by Cecil. Not surprisingly, the list reads like a social register, including such personages as Sir William Bowyer, Sir William Killigrew, Sir George Coppin, and Sir Henry Billingsley. Sir Jerome Bowes, sometime ambassador to Russia, also contributed, as did Sir Thomas Vincent, Sir George and Sir Nicholas Carew, and Sir Thomas Heneage. More than several wealthy women also contributed, some widowed, who were members of eminent noble families, such as Susan, Lady Stanhope and Lady Elizabeth Kitson. There are other familiar names as well, including John Donne (who just over a decade later became Edward Alleyn's father-in-law), Fulke Greville, and Robert Fludd, the well-known physician, alchemist, and rosicrucian.(5)

Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn appear together on fol. 140(4) under the section devoted to Surrey, which spans just under two pages. They are the only persons listed in the loan book in any way connected with theatrical interests.(6) However, they are doubtless included because of their social backgrounds--each was armigerous by birth--and also they shared the position of Master of the Royal Game at the time. (They acquired the position in November 1604, through Sir William Steward, the King's good friend, who had acquired the patent from the Crown just a few months earlier.(7)) In the context of the other lenders Henslowe and Alleyn's "liberality" (as it would have been termed then) placed them well within the upper echelon of the lenders. The donations ranged from just over 6 [pounds sterling] to 50 [pounds sterling]. Most gentlemen lent sums in the lowest range, while many titled nobles were content to loan 20 [pounds sterling] each. Within this group were Henslowe and Alleyn, who lent 10 [pounds sterling] and 15 [pounds sterling] respectively, placing them in league with significant landowners such as Sir Thomas Hunt, and just beneath Sir Lionel Cranfield, a businessman legendary for his wealth, who lent 20 [pounds sterling].

In the realm of their extensive holdings the money lent by Henslowe and Alleyn reduced their own value very little, though the amounts of their donations were substantial for the time. If nothing else their loans were meager in comparison with the money they earned through their ownership of the Bear Garden. Moreover, their involvement in court circles protected their own political and financial interests. Solidarity with royal factions offered immunity from certain types of reproach and legitimized their activities outside of the court circle. In retrospect, it seems that the 1612 loan fell at an advantageous moment. It was a pivotal year for Henslowe and Alleyn. Having encountered resistance from the Middlesex authorities in building the Fortune in 1600, they had relied upon the support of the Privy Council and the Queen to allow them to continue with this project. Now, twelve years later, they were making plans to convert their existing Bear Garden into a unique structure, a combination playhouse-baiting arena called the Hope, which was constructed the next year. Therefore the good will of the Crown was politically useful as an assurance that future projects would be supported. The Masters of the Game would have argued that if there was to be a Royal Game, periodically exhibited at court for the entertainment of the king and foreign visitors, it had to be practiced on a regular basis. Consequently, Henslowe and Alleyn needed a rebuilt Bear Garden to assist in this; not to mention that the business generated by the baiting in London was a hefty portion of their income. But, concurrently, Henslowe and Alleyn were well aware of the growing animosity of the city fathers toward the public stage. Given this, they might well have been wary that the London officials could argue that Southwark didn't need another playhouse. So however their plans were greeted, the royal imprimatur was politically useful.

Quite predictably, the liberality toward the Crown, as it is exemplified in the 1612 loan book, did not stop there. If the court was a place of conspicuous consumption it was also a place of conspicuous obligation, and Alleyn continued on in royal service until his death. In April 1619, Alleyn purchased a musket, coat of armor, and horse in order to outfit Sir Jeremy Turner, Muster Master of the Surrey trained bands. One month later, Alleyn and his wife traveled to Somerset House to attend the funeral of Queen Anne. On 24 March 1620 Alleyn visited Whitehall to attend the festivities celebrating King James's accession. On 8 September of the same year Alleyn's wife contributed 3 [pounds sterling] to the Queen of Bohemia's aid.(8) Such gifts and gestures were the currency that allowed them, and others, to get along in the murky waters of the Jacobean court circle.

Nor was the magnitude of their individual loans or gifts the most significant factor in reading their activities. Rather, these transactions would have been considered part of the reciprocal nature of the Crown's patronage, a sign that all was well in their mutual relationship, a symbol of the lenders' faithful adherence to their liege. Likewise it gave the lenders solidarity with other members of the aristocracy. In part, their acceptance of a royal patent placed Henslowe and Alleyn in positions of both power and obligation. In other part, the mutuality of patronage coupled virtue with the giving and ennobled their relationship with the Crown. Gift-giving was the mirror of Divine practice.(9) As was stated in 2 Corinthians 7-9 of the King James Bible, first printed in 1611: "God loveth a cheerful giver." Hence, Henslowe and Alleyn would have been pleased to have been thought of as being among those who supported the Crown in a time of need; and they would have thought themselves honored in that obligation. Thus, their appearance in the 1612 loan book speaks to yet another way in which the theatrical world came together with the world of the court. Furthermore, it illustrates that the theatrical world could be inhabited by men like Philip Henslowe, who spent their time brushing shoulders with the court not only to promote their own social aspirations, but to nurture and protect their business interests from within the corridors of conservative power.


(1.) Linda Levy Peck, Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England (London: Routledge, 1993), 15-17, 33, and elsewhere throughout the introduction and chapter 1. For ways in which the circulation of gifts influenced international politics see Gustav Ungerer, "Juan Pantoja de la Cruz and the Circulation of Gifts between the English and the Spanish Courts in 1604/5," Shakespeare Studies 26 (1998): 145-86.

(2.) David Loades, Tudor Government (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 236.

(3.) Christopher Durston, James I (London: Routledge, 1993), 24, 26-27.

(4.) Alan Haynes, Robert Cecil: Earl of Salisbury, 1563-1612 (London: Peter Owen, 1989), 194-205,212.

(5.) The community of names preserved in the manuscript constitutes several social groups. Many of those listed in the loan book had dealings with Henslowe and Alleyn during their careers. Given the brevity of this essay, I will have to explore these connections elsewhere.

(6.) The London and Middlesex pages are equally devoid of persons with theatrical interests. Also, unhappily, when all roads leading to Shakespeare's biography seem to come to dead ends, this manuscript is no exception. The Warwickshire pages are totally blank.

(7.) George F. Warner, Manuscripts and Muniments of Alleyn's College of God's Gift at Dulwich (London: Spottiswoode, 1881), 68.

Henslowe's affiliation with the court extended back to 1593 when he was appointed a Groom of the Chamber. He later became a Sewer of the Chamber and then a Gentleman Pensioner. E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press), I, 44. Edward Alleyn's family had also been associated with the court, his father serving as a Gentleman Porter.

(8.) Warner, Manuscripts and Muniments, 178, 183, 186.

(9.) Peck, Court Patronage, 13ff. Barbara Rosenwein writes about these tendencies in an earlier context in Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and the Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), especially chapter 7, "A Gift-giving King."

S. P. CERASANO, Professor of English at Colgate University, is writing a biography of the actor-entrepreneur Edward Alleyn.
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Author:CERASANO, S. P.
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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