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Reference group
Lord Admiral's Men [Prince Henry's Men, Lord Palsgrave's Men] (act. 1594–1625) were the patrons, players, and associated writers, who formed one of two new acting companies set up in early summer 1594, under their own patronage, by the privy councillors Charles Howard, second Baron Howard of Effingham and lord admiral of England, and his father-in-law, Henry Carey, first Baron Hunsdon and lord chamberlain of the royal household. The main purpose of what were designed to be outstanding fellowships of players was to entertain the queen, Elizabeth I, during the Christmas festivities. The secondary objective of the venture was to protect play-acting in London from the attentions of the city authorities who, for reasons that included an awareness of the theatres' potential for contributing to the dissemination of plague, and puritanical reservations about the morality of stage plays, were usually hostile.

Of the two companies Hunsdon was responsible for the formation of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (generally known as the Shakespeare Company), based at The Theatre, Shoreditch, and led by Richard Burbage. The second company, the Admiral's Men, was formed by Howard. Its London base was the Rose Theatre on the Bankside in Southwark, just south of the Thames, which had been built seven years before by Philip Henslowe. Henslowe's stepdaughter Joan had recently married Edward Alleyn, then the most famous actor in England. As the son-in-law of the theatre's owner, and a man who had been described in 1589 as ‘servant to the Lord Admiral’, Alleyn inevitably led the company at the Rose. The company remained under the patronage of Howard (who in 1597 became first earl of Nottingham) until 1603, when King James transferred it to his son Prince Henry. After Henry's death in 1612 patronage passed to Frederick, count palatine of the Rhine [see under Elizabeth, Princess] and the new husband of Prince Henry's sister, Elizabeth. Thereafter the company was known as the Lord Palsgrave's Men.

The formation of the two theatrical companies in 1594 was expertly organized. The actors mostly came from companies that, having played around the country in recent years, had either collapsed under financial pressure resulting from the extended plague epidemic of 1593 or had lost their patrons, leaving them without any formal authority to continue acting. John Singer, who was noted as a clown, came to the Admiral's Men from the Queen's Men, a large company that had been set up eleven years previously to comprise what were then the leading players, and had been given the monopoly of playing in London and at the royal court. His colleagues in Howard's new company included former actors with Lord Strange's Men, and with a previous fellowship of Admiral's Men, a group that had not played in London since 1591.

Along with the players, both the Admiral's and Chamberlain's Men were also supplied with a good stock of plays from the two major playwrights of the period. William Shakespeare became a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, which acquired his seven or more existing plays for its repertory, while at least five and probably all six of the late Christopher Marlowe's known plays were allocated to the Admiral's Men. Edward Alleyn had already become famous as the player of Tamburlaine, Dr Faustus, and Barabbas, the ‘Jew of Malta’. Those plays along with Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy formed the staple repertory that the Admiral's Men staged for over thirty years, first at the Rose and then at its successor, the Fortune Theatre in Cripplegate from 1600. Built by Peter Street, who had only recently erected the Globe for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the Fortune, too, was outside the city's jurisdiction.

The two companies founded in 1594 were organized along quite different lines. Whereas the Lord Chamberlain's Men was run as a team whose members shared decisions, risks, and profits equally, the Admiral's Men relied from the outset on Henslowe and Alleyn to underwrite the company's activities. This is made clear not least by the remarkable folio diary in which Henslowe kept his financial and other records during the first nine years of the company's existence. For three years from June 1594 Henslowe provided day-by-day accounts of what plays were performed, along with the landlord's share of the takings each afternoon (plays were always staged in daylight). Thereafter, as Henslowe's role developed from landlord to banker, his diary records what he paid the writers for the plays they added to the company's repertory, how much was spent on properties and costumes to stage them, and many other incidental details of the company's expenses.

From an early stage Edward Alleyn held many playbooks as his personal property, which he gave the company to perform. Large of stature as well as status, he retired from playing in 1597, and allegedly resumed his famous roles only at the queen's personal request three years later. Responding to local opposition to Henslowe and Alleyn's project to build the Fortune Theatre (on which work began in January 1600), a warrant from the privy council—prompted by Lord Howard in April—reminded critics of the popularity of the company and its principal actor:
her Majesty (having been well pleased heretofore at times of recreation with the services of Edward Alleyn and his company, servants to me the earl of Nottingham, whereof of late he hath made discontinuance) hath sundry times signified her pleasure that he should revive the same again. (Chambers, 4.328)
Howard's efforts to nullify opposition followed his earlier declaration of support for the new theatre in January 1600, when he had again emphasized Elizabeth's enjoyment of the company's entertainments:
Forasmuch as the place standeth very convenient for the ease of people, and that her Majesty (in respect of the acceptable service which my said servant and his company have done and presented before her Highness to her great liking and contentment, as well this last Christmas as at sundry other times) is graciously moved towards them, with a special regard of favour in their proceedings: This shall be therefore to pray and require you and every of you to permit and suffer my said servant to proceed in the effecting and finishing of the said new house, without any your let or molestation towards him or any of his workmen. (ibid., 4.326)
Alleyn finally gave up acting in favour of an impresario role in 1604, at which time he was able to add control of the royal animals for bull and bear baiting to what can only be called his entrepreneurial activities. Indeed Alleyn, who owned the Fortune playhouse and helped to finance the business of play-making there until his death in 1626, can be plausibly described as the first major impresario of English theatre.

The players whose activities Alleyn directed worked and lived closely together, many of them staying with the Admiral's Men for more than twenty years. In the list of King James's procession through London on 15 March 1604 lengths of red cloth were awarded to the ‘officers of the prince’. The players, who comprised nine of the company's ten sharers (those who held shares in the company's assets and costs), each received 4 yards of scarlet. Eight years later, on 8 November 1612, the list of grooms of the chamber at Prince Henry's funeral likewise included those of the prince's sharers; eight of the nine names of 1604 recur, indicating the steady nature of the company's membership (for a full list of the playing sharers between 1594 and 1625 see Gurr, Shakespearian Playing Companies, 253–6). Even those who eventually moved on might still work with the company for a long period. By 1610 John Shank had become one of the sharers; he enjoyed a long stage career, from the 1590s to the 1630s, including at least eight years with first Prince Henry's Men and then Lord Palsgrave's company, which he left in 1618. Richard Gunnell, for a while Shank's colleague in both companies, stayed with Lord Palsgrave's Men until its dissolution. Others who became associated with the Admiral's Men and its successors forged close links with the companies even when they were not themselves players. John Griggs, the carpenter who built the Rose for Philip Henslowe in 1587 and contributed to its enlargement five years later, subsequently helped to build a house for Alleyn, whose friend he became, while in 1598 his daughter married one of the actors.

Henslowe's diary reveals how writers he employed to produce plays for the company also co-operated closely. They mostly worked in teams of three or four, all of them experienced in the business of collaborative writing. One would produce a scenario, or ‘plot’ of a play, and if the outline was accepted he and the others would share the writing scene by scene. Usually it took no more than a month or so to produce the completed script, after which another month would see the play onto the stage. A number of jobbing playwrights wrote thus for the Admiral's Men, and so did some major writers. Samuel Rowley, a man of versatile talents who wrote a highly successful play about Henry VIII, When You See Me, You Know Me, and who was apparently employed to make additions to Marlowe's Dr Faustus, was unusual in that he was also an actor with the company from 1594 until at least 1613, and became heavily involved in its day-to-day organization. In the late 1590s George Chapman, Michael Drayton, and Anthony Munday were closely involved with the Admiral's Men, while between 1598 and 1602 Thomas Dekker contributed to over forty of their plays, providing only four of them as sole author. Thomas Middleton, too, for some years helped to supply plays for the company (sometimes in co-operation with Dekker), doubtless encouraged by the fact that his brother-in-law was one of its actors—as did John Webster at the beginning of his career, working with Dekker, Drayton, Munday, and Middleton on a play about Julius Caesar.

There could be personal as well as professional solidarity between such men. The minor playwright Wentworth Smith worked with William Haughton on at least two plays for Henslowe; when Haughton was on his deathbed in 1605 Smith was one of the witnesses to his colleague's will. But on other occasions the writers showed themselves less fraternally minded than the players. At about the time he turned from writing for the Admiral's Men to writing for the Shakespeare Company in September 1598, Ben Jonson killed the Admiral's player Gabriel Spencer in a duel. In June of the following year the Henslowe writer John Day got into a fight with his co-writer Henry Porter and killed him—in self-defence, it was later found.

Henslowe's diary provides 878 entries for the performance of 119 plays between February 1592 (over two years before the formation of the Admiral's Men) and the end of the daily notices in 1597. Titles are known for 229 plays staged by the company between its creation in 1594 and its demise in 1625, during a dreadful epidemic of plague that extended from March to November. Texts for only 33 of these plays are still extant—very many must have been lost in a fire that destroyed the Fortune playhouse on 9 December 1621. But the surviving works do include the great plays of Marlowe and Kyd, along with a few history plays and some brilliant comedies, that distinguished the company's repertory until the general closure of playhouses in 1642. As early as 1613 Ben Jonson and others had derided the Fortune's repertory as old-fashioned, at a time when the playhouse was coming to be known as a venue for ‘citizen’ playgoers, as distinct from the indoor Blackfriars Theatre where, since 1608, the Shakespeare Company had offered a place for fashionable society to show itself. But following the closure of the Lord Admiral's Men in 1625 its plays continued to be staged by different companies. Marlowe's The Jew of Malta went off to the Cockpit, where it was revived in 1631 and was first published with a dedicatory epistle by Thomas Heywood in 1633. Other plays were put on at the Fortune playhouse, which was rebuilt after the fire, notably The Spanish Tragedy and most of those by Marlowe, above all Tamburlaine and Dr Faustus.

Andrew Gurr


A. Gurr, The Shakespeare Company, 1594–1642 (2004) · A. Gurr, Shakespeare's opposites: the Admiral's Company (2009) · A. Gurr, The Shakespearian playing companies (1996) · E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan stage, 4 vols. (1923) · G. E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline stage, 7 vols. (1941–68) · A. Gurr, ‘Henry Carey's peculiar letter’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 56 (2005), 51–75