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Edward Alleyn's diary and the "lost years" recovered.

IN an essay addressing the elusive nature of women as biographical subjects, Michael Holroyd, one of the most eminent of life writers, characterized Eve Fairfax as a "biographical tease." "Every time I pursue her," he stated, "she retreats into the mists of legend, but when I give up the chase, some letters, the account of an adventure or a strange birth certificate arrives in the post. So I've decided to ignore her in the hope that she will pursue me." (1) But in addition to the mists of obscurity, there are other places--chasms, forests, and black holes--into which a biographical subject can easily vanish; and some subjects seem to disappear during certain periods of their lives and then resurface at other moments, depending upon the distribution of the extant evidence.

Edward Alleyn is one such subject who seems most knowable in the middle of his life when he was working on the stage and living in London. Most scholars are not conversant with his early life. That his natural father died when Edward was very young, as did two subsequent stepfathers, or that his natural father had been the porter of Bedlam Hospital, is not common knowledge. Likewise, his later years fade into an odd kind of obscurity, following his move south of the city, when he built and managed his so-called "hospital," the combination orphanage and pensioners' home that he called the College of God's Gift at Dulwich, and is now known as Dulwich College.

What we tend to be familiar with are the years during which he performed the lead roles in Marlowe's plays, the time when he married the step daughter of Philip Henslowe, the owner of the Rose Playhouse, and the ways in which Alleyn eventually took over the management of the Fortune Playhouse, built in 1600, or the Hope Playhouse, constructed in 1613 to serve as a multipurpose theater and baiting arena. The archive at Dulwich College, where the Henslowe-Alleyn papers reside, preserve the documents that substantiate such large and memorable moments, especially the moments that are tied to the emergence of the playhouse industry during a period in which Shakespeare's plays were written and performed. It was a time when, after all, theatrical entrepreneurship was new and the idea of a playhouse owner was a novelty in early modern culture.

The best-known manuscript from the Henslowe-Alleyn papers is simply catalogued as MS. VII, what archivist George F. Warner, in 1881, described as the "Diary and Account-Book of Philip Henslowe, 1592-1609." (2) In this source, Alleyn exists primarily in the background of the manuscript, as an actor and, I would argue, as a silent co-manager of the Rose Playhouse. During the period covered by Henslowe's book, Alleyn was clearly onstage with the Lord Admiral's Men; he most likely helped to keep financial records relating to Henslowe's performance receipts; and he helped to disburse money to pay advances for play texts, for costumes, and for other related expenses. But anyone who has looked, even quickly, through Henslowe's diary understands that all of the activity recorded for the Rose Playhouse depends upon the financial workings of the theatre. With few exceptions, anything that was noted, on a daily basis, was the result of payments or "outlay" invested in the playing company or the fabric of the building; and what was recorded as "income" were receipts on daily performances. With small exception, it is a document that is completely given over to financial transactions.

Alleyn's own diary, Dulwich MS. IX, described by Warner as the "Diary and Account-Book of Edward Alleyn, 29 September 1617-1 October 1622," (3) would appear to be another manuscript recording financial transactions. It is a narrow folio, with the accounts section covering sixty-one leaves and one introductory leaf identifying the manuscript, in what appears to be a seventeenth-century italic hand, as "The Founder's Boke/ Accounts from/ October 1617 to/ September 1622." The hand throughout is uniformly Alleyn's and the accounts appear to be complete, and the ledger is copied systematically with the annotations kept in strict chronological order. All this suggests that Alleyn purchased the book for the purpose of keeping his own accounts (unlike Henslowe's diary, which was taken over from Henslowe's brother who had earlier used it for the purposes of posting forestry accounts). However, Alleyn's ledger is so markedly distinct, in other ways, from a book such as Henslowe's, and from other contemporary account books, that it is really rather startling.

In the customary manner of the period Alleyn notes the amounts of money paid for items purchased, the fees for services required, and the salaries he paid to employees. He "cast up"--or "totaled"--his accounts both quarterly and then annually, in order to determine his expenses for the twelve months preceding. (There are no receipts; the annotations relate wholly to outlay.) So far, Alleyn's book appears to be like every other household or estate book. Yet oddly, and also wonderfully, Alleyn's diary is remarkably personalized. Although living in Dulwich at the time the diary opens, Alleyn was constantly entertaining visitors on his estate; he was supervising the education of the children at his orphanage--identified sometimes by this childless man as "my children"--and he also paid a quarterly stipend to each of his servants. Not only this, but Alleyn continuously traveled in and out of London--to collect rents, to check on the Fortune Playhouse and the Bear Garden, to have his beard trimmed and a haircut, and to purchase clothing or have his hat trimmed. He met friends and business associates at various places around the city, and attended vestry meetings in the parish of St. Saviour's Southwark, where he had lived previously. He also found himself in the midst of several lawsuits, one of them domestic when, upon Philip Henslowe's death, his brother and nephew decided to sue Alleyn for part of the estate. And in another court case, Alleyn started to construct a private playhouse in the Blackfriars area at Puddle Wharf, and he ended up having to close down the project when pressure from local residents who opposed a second playhouse in the district prevailed. Alleyn preserved all of these transactions and interactions with a fascinating level of detail--where he went, who he met, what his business was about, and what everything cost. The result is that, for five years, we can tell what Alleyn was doing on virtually every day of his life, whether these were holidays and feast days, or ordinary days. In comparison with a manuscript even as evocative as that of Henry Machyn, the merchant-taylor of London who recorded a steady stream of local events for thirteen years, from 1550 to 1563, (4) Alleyn's diary stands out; because unlike Machyn or Henslowe, Alleyn had decided to note what he was doing, and often, the purposes for his travels or his expenditures. Of the twelve hundred, or more entries in the diary, let me offer five examples from the opening pages to illustrate this:

1. "my wife: mraustein: mr young & my self went to see Suttons Hospitall water Is." (29 September 1617)

2. "I came to London in ye coach & went to ye red bull 2d." (1 October 1617)

3. "given Okey ye barber for tryming 6d." (2 October 1617)

4. "pd for 2 cathachismes for ye children 4d." (4 October 1617)

5. "beck: snell & His wife dind wt vs" (26 October 1617)

Whether Alleyn is chasing those of us who are interested in him as a biographical subject or not, the existence of his account book is fortuitous, to say the least. Just two months before he died, in 1626, Alleyn wrote up what he titled a "Memorandum for his Colledge," detailing some of the properties that were to be bequeathed to the foundation that he had nurtured, along with a list of the debtors who still owed him money. In the preamble to the document Alleyn stated specifically that most of his "evidences" were kept in "a chest at the bedsfeete in the yellow chamber[,] the keye whereof is in the till of my deske." (5) Such attention to particulars not only suggests the care with which Alleyn protected his legal documents, but perhaps it also hints at one reason for the survival of his diary: Alleyn was very careful about the storage of the manuscripts that mattered to him.

As even a glance at a section of the diary testifies, Alleyn was both methodical and meticulous in keeping his accounts. Clearly he carried a pocket diary in which he made periodic notes and then, at a later time, he copied the annotations into the ledger. His purposes in keeping the book, and for only the five years concerned, can only be guessed at; however, in purchasing the Dulwich estate and founding his charity there Alleyn took on enormous responsibility in addition to his complex network of London-based investments. Once he had founded The College of God's Gift he extended the familiar duties of a landlord to the less familiar, to farming and livestock management. Moreover, Dulwich manor required active ongoing management, and Alleyn's diary records the annual rhythm of the estate, in order that Alleyn, as lord, could provide for those who depended upon him, a fairly large group of persons, from the household servants and those who oversaw the brew house and ox house, to those who tutored the children and cooked for the pensioners, and even traveling workmen. Not only this, but it seems that Alleyn decided to use the diary to as a place wherein to create a record of his life, a life during which he had achieved much, but was still, in many ways, setting new goals. When Alleyn began the diary he was just fifty-three and, it appears, he looked forward to many more years, years that would have been largely unrecoverable for biographers had he not produced so detailed a set of accounts.

As intimated earlier, many manuscripts in the Dulwich archives are primarily legal documents related to not only to Alleyn's properties but to the history of the properties for which he held leases. Along with these are some rare manuscripts illustrating aspects of Henslowe and Alleyn's theatrical affairs: for example, the contracts for the construction of the Fortune and Hope playhouses, Alleyn's side for a play entitled "Orlando," and some costume and prop inventories written up by Henslowe, most likely, in anticipation for a move from the Rose to the Fortune. Then, there are a handful of well-known personal letters exchange by Henslowe and Alleyn when the latter was on tour in the country, during periods of plague when the theatres had been closed.

From such collections a biographer has the opportunity to piece together a narrative of institutional histories, behind which lie the human subjects who were involved in them. Thus, it is a relatively straightforward task to reconstruct Alleyn's role as the project manager who watched over the construction of the First Fortune Playhouse from the series of annotations that he wrote on the back of the building contract. Nevertheless, it is more difficult to envision what kind of interactions he had had with the master builder, Peter Street, outside of the annotation that Alleyn makes toward the end of the project to having given Street a one-time tip of 4s. "to pasify him." (6)

Such is the problem of writing Alleyn's life in the years before and after the period covered by his diary. Much of his life remains embedded within the history of the institutions with which he worked; and the years covered by the diary are virtually invisible from within the larger collection of Dulwich manuscripts, despite the fact that the years prior to and following are slightly better documented. The several years leading up to the opening of the diary were marked by a combination of prosperity and personal disruption. During the year before he embarked on his record, the Alleyn family suffered two traumatic events, beginning with the death of Philip Henslowe in January 1616 and Henslowe's wife's death followed barely a year later. (Prior to this, Alleyn's only brother and nephew had passed on, and his parents were both dead as well.) The large-scale businesses that Alleyn had launched with Henslowe during the previous decade hummed along, and the bear garden-playhouse seemed to work fairly well once the owners worked out an agreement with the Bishop of Winchester who called into question the placement of the foundation vis-a-vis some property in which the church had an interest. Similarly, during the years following the end of Alleyn's diary prosperity abounded; and yet they were marked by some of the most life changing moments. In 1623, just after the diary ended, Alleyn's wife Joan died and was buried in the chapel at Dulwich College. A few months later, he married Constance, the daughter of John Donne, poet and Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. Three years on, in July 1626, Alleyn traveled to Simondstone, Yorkshire, where he surveyed property that he intended to purchase. It is difficult to determine exactly what happened next. On October 14, Henry Underwood, writing to Alleyn concerning the scheduling of a court leet, expressed his pleasure that Alleyn was moving "towards a recouery." (7) Then, on November 13 Alleyn wrote out his last will and testament; he was buried, two weeks later, in the chapel that he had built.

During the final years of Alleyn's life, the number of documents in the Dulwich collection falls off considerably: Alleyn's theatrical investments, his playhouses, had been operating for some time and he didn't take on new ones; his charitable foundation was well established and it was so expensive to maintain it (in 1622, over 200 [pounds sterling] per annum) that Alleyn had not attempted to support others; and Alleyn's other investments in greater London had been stable for more than a decade. Simply put, he wasn't expanding his list of properties and he was no longer actively managing a playing company, so the number and kind of manuscripts that seem to characterize Alleyn's early life simply don't exist for the last decade of his life. Not least of all, the manuscript collection, as a whole, has probably been altered by a variety of circumstances. By 1614, Edward and Joan Alleyn moved from Southwark to Dulwich, apparently giving up their London home; and then, a short time later, they liquidated the Henslowe home. These provided two major opportunities to clear out or destroy unwanted papers, especially manuscripts that didn't pertain to the business end of Alleyn's affairs. Shortly thereafter, and during the period when Alleyn was embroiled in the legal dispute over Henslowe's estate, the masters in Chancery ordered him to bring to court all of the papers, or any "evidences" that pertained to the case. This offered yet another opportunity for materials--perhaps even other detailed account books--to be lost. Then there was a period of six months, or more, in 1626, during which time Alleyn knew that he was ill and could well have culled manuscripts he viewed as insignificant from his collection. Not least of all, in the intervening centuries, the Dulwich archive was not a secure repository, nor was it catalogued until 1881, with the result that John Payne Collier and others treated the collection as a lending library, taking manuscripts away and not necessarily returning them. Certain items were returned from Collier's home after his death; however, the collection was inventoried so late in its existence that it is impossible to tell what existed earlier and what went missing down through the ages.

Therefore if we had to rely on the current gathering of manuscripts at Dulwich to reconstruct the events of 1617 through 1622 it would be very difficult indeed. Manuscripts from gathering 1 and gathering 2, collecting bits and pieces, all antedate or postdate the diary years. Gathering 2, principally concerned with affairs related to the Bear Garden, contains one significant manuscript, a statement by Alleyn on matters in dispute between him and Jacob Meade, his manager at the Bear Garden, as well as other things relevant to Henslowe's estate. (8) A few pieces of Alleyn's correspondence, collected in gathering 3, concern recommendations of persons for Alleyn's pensioner's home, a letter from Thomas Bolton, scrivener (then a prisoner in the Marshalsea), begging for money. Here we also find a recommendation for a preacher, and an apology from a different preacher who had secretly married one of Alleyn's servants. Fortunately, the manuscripts in gathering 5 are a bit more promising, for here we find the letters patent for King James I for the foundation and endowment of Dulwich College, although there is little else of great interest. (9) Finally, there are thirty muniments, all dated within the chronological range of the diary, but they are largely documents concerning lands in Dulwich.

As I tried to suggest from the few examples presented earlier, Alleyn's diary is a treasure trove of details, too numerous to explore here; and collectively it provides a fascinating window into a period when little else is known about Alleyn. In addition to detailing his everyday activities, the book offers an unprecedented glimpse into Alleyn's finances at a time, near to the end of his life, when he had become well established. Not only can we assess where his funds were dispensed, through specialized accounts that bring together diverse kinds of expenses: the household, the college, the manor farm, legal expenses, clothing, salaries, rents, and so forth. As well, we can, just as importantly, determine the level of Alleyn's wealth. (10)

For Alleyn too, tracking the dispersal of his wealth was incredibly important; however, one senses that Alleyn, quite consciously, included a high level of personalization in the diary because this technique allowed him to write numerous, overlapping "micro-histories" simultaneously. It allowed him to calculate his needs (fiscal, agrarian, pedagogical; in terms of food, livestock, clothing, household help). It charted the progress on his building projects, whether the college buildings, an ox house, a kiln, or the Second Fortuna Playhouse, which was destroyed by fire late in 1621. It reminded him, from one year to the next, of the upcoming planting, mowing, maintenance, as well as his outlay for rents, and what he and his extended family had done to celebrate the last Christmas and Easter. It recorded the names and terms of service for all of the help he employed, as well as the same information for his pensioners and children at Alleyn's school. It celebrated the friends and visitors (among them Francis Bacon and the Archbishop of Canterbury) who were present at the foundation ceremony; and it illustrated, for posterity, those who increasingly visited the College as a kind of tourist destination, including some eminent statesmen such as Noel de Carone, Secretary of States General in the Low Countries. It charted Alleyn's travel and reminded him of his meetings--both personal and professional, and it recalled his wedding anniversary, last year's grain yield, the customary time of lambing season, a schedule of work produced by the blacksmith, and the names of temporary workmen.

But unconsciously, in terms of writing Alleyn's life, it reveals the constitution of his household and his living habits and the manner in which he managed his household. It exposes Alleyn's own illnesses and those sustained by members of his family, along with the large social network he cultivated and enjoyed. It brings to light his house renovations, large and small, and catalogues the New Year's gifts he received from tenants. It flaunts the range of incredible projects that he managed, and the range of litigation in which he was continuously involved, and it exposes his political alliances within the government and the church. And there is so much more that this manuscript makes evident whether Alleyn intended to expose these aspects of his life or not.

In closing I would note that it is impossible to say whether there were other account books, similar to this, that were kept by Alleyn. The Dulwich archive holds one rent book and another small book containing some stray notes in Alleyn's hand, both of which are much more typical of what we might expect of an early modern account book. Yet in trying to reconstruct Alleyn's biography, it seems we are incredibly fortunate to have access to a source that offers such a unique combination of financial and personal sensibility on. It presents a unique testimony on a period of Alleyn's life that is largely absent in other source materials. Moreover, it offers a glimpse into a changing style of self-presentation in a period in which most of what was committed to writing was fairly restrained, and forty years before the Pepysian model asserts itself, changing forever our sense of what it was to compile a "diary."


(1.) Michael Holroyd, "Finding a Good Woman" in Lives for Sale, ed. Mark Bostridge (London: Continuum Books, 2004), 160-64. Quotation from 163-64. Eve Fairfax was the fiancee of the second Lord Grimthorpe.

(2.) George F. Warner, ed., Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Muniments of Alleyn's College of God's Gift at Dulwich (London: Spottiswoode & Co., 1881), 157.

(3.) Warner, Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Muniments, 165. Alleyn's diary is currently transcribed in vol. 2 of William Young, The History of Dulwich College (Edinburgh: Morrison & Gibb, 1889), 2 vols., and available online through Cornell University's Archive project.

(4.) John Gough Nichols, eds., The Diary of Henry Machyn (London: Camden Society, 1848).

(5.) Folger MS. X.d.255.

(6.) R. A. Foakes, ed., Henslowe's Diary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 2nd ed.,315.

(7.) HAP, MS 3: 108.

(8.) HAP, MS 2: 35.

(9.) HAP, MS 5: 29, and a copie of the deed for the foundation exists as MS 5:31.

(10.) As a sidebar, it is perhaps worth noting that at the end of 1622, when the diary ends, Alleyn was spending around 1700 [pounds sterling] per annum.
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Author:Cerasano, S.P.
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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