Appendix: Notes on Derby's Men

Appendix: Derby's Men

my Lord taking delight in them it will keep him from more prodigal courses.

Countess of Derby to Secretary Cecil

It is now apparent that Derby's Men, under the patronage of William Stanley, were the longest existing of all pre-Restoration acting troupes under a single sponsor. This includes the Chamberlain's Men, the Admiral's Men, Oxford's Men, and everyone else. William sponsored a troupe as Derby's Men from the year he attained to the earldom (1594) until at least 1635 (additionally, they may have been in existence under another name before he became earl and they may have been in existence up to the time of William's death in 1642). While we know something of the venues of the company, we know nothing about its players (maybe, but see A Bust at Warrington).

Performance History

I've created a table below that contains a no doubt incomplete but, as far as I know, the most complete, record of known performances by William Stanley's players. In general, the performances are those mentioned by Gurr, and those found in the REED research, including Coman's remarkable discoveries (see Sources at bottom for more information).

Note that in the following the dates are approximate. In some cases, especially where there is a full date, say 5 May 1600, it is possible that it is the date of the actual performance. In most cases, however, the dates merely represent the date the venue recorded the payment (for example in quarterly or annual reports).

Date Location Comments, Source Footnotes
1594, May Southampton [Gurr]
I [to be clear: this comment is from JR, the author of the web page speaking, not the particular source (in this case Gurr) in this and the following comments unless otherwise indicated] date the start of the 6th Earl's company from the acquisition of the title earl in mid-April 1594. It is possible this contained remnants of the fifth Earl's company, which was largely ransacked by the companies of the Admiral's and the Chamberlain's Men, but a more likely scenario seems to be that any remnants from the fifth Earl's company belonged to the company at Winchester referred to as "the players of the Countesse of Derby" (the 5th earl's widow) in May 1594, and that "the Earle of Darbyes" company in Southampton in the same month was either new or a continuation of something William Stanley had already been involved with under a different name.
1594/5 Dunwich, Suffolk [Gurr]
Also, on January 26, 1595, the Earl's wedding took place and a likely first performance of Midsummer Night's Dream. Of course, even Stratfordians who believe that the play was first performed at this wedding (e.g., Fleay) believe it to have been performed by the Chamberlain's Men, because that is the company to which Shakspur belonged. I think it more likely to have been performed by the Earl's own company.
1595/6 Canterbury [Gurr]
1595/6 Gloucester [Gurr]
1595/6 Oxford town [Gurr]
1595/6 Bath [Gurr]
1595/6 Dunwich, Suffolk [Gurr]
1595/6 Leicester [Gurr]
1596 York [REED]
1596, December Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1596, July Bristol [Gurr]
1596, 30 September York city [Gurr]
1597, 26 March Ipswich [Gurr]
1596/7 Bath [Gurr]
1597, April-May Bristol [Gurr]
1597, December Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1597/8 Kendal, Lancashire [Gurr]
1597/8 Leominster, Herfordshire [Gurr]
1598, December Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1598 Leicester [Gurr]
1599, 16 October Leicester [Gurr]
1599-1602, numerous performances Boar's Head Playhouse, Whitechapel [Berry]. See also my comments on The Boar's Head Inn, Whitechapel below.
1600, February 3 At court A payment is registered for this day but may refer to the February 5 performance. [Berry], [Gurr]
1600, February 5 At court Second appearance this month? [Berry], [Gurr]
1601, 1 January At court Paul's Boys also performed at court on this day (Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage). [Berry], [Gurr]. It seems to have been Derby's day.
1601, 6 January At court Derby's Men and the Chamberlain's Men played this night. Hotson believed Twelfth Night was first performed at this time. [Hotson] [Gurr] [1]
1602, 27 February Norwich [Gurr]
1602, December Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1602, 10 March Faversham, Kent [Gurr]
1602, 4 June Ipswich [Gurr]
1602, 10 June Norwich [Gurr]
1603, November Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr] [REED]
1604, November Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1606, November Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1607, May 4 Congleton, Cheshire "This is the first reference to William Stanley's company [in the Congleton, Cheshire records], though from henceforth they are the most frequent visitors to Congleton." [Coman]
1607, November Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1607/8 Barnstaple, Devon [Gurr] [REED]
1608, December Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1609, 18 March Kendal, Lancashire [Gurr]
i1609, 24 May Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1609 Louth Paid but didn't play. [Gurr]
1609 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1609, December Gawthorpe, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1612, 26 March Yorkshire "Derby's Men were 15 strong when they visited the Clifford household at Londesborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire..." [George]
1612, 12 August Gawthorpe, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1612, November Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1612, 12 December Gawthorpe, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1613, September Gawthorpe, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1613/14 Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1615 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1615, 21 July Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1615/16 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1616, 14 May Coventry, Warwickshire [Gurr], [REED]
1616/17 Leominster, Herefordshire [Gurr], [REED]
1617, January Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1617, 18 March Gawthorpe, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1617, 22 March Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1617, 28 July Skipton Castle, Yorkshire [George]
1617, 2 August Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1618, 14 October Maidenhead Inn, Islington John Taylor, "the water poet", reports a performance of Guy of Warwick by Derby's Men [Keenan]. "after supper we had a play of the life and death of Guy of Warwick by the Right Honourable the Earle of Darbie his men." John Taylor The Pennyless Pilgrimage.
1619/20 Leominster, Herefordshire [Gurr], [REED]
1620, 12 February Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire [Gurr], [REED]
1620, 10 October Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1620, 25 November Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire [REED]
1621/2 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1622, October Congleton, Cheshire Perfomance a combination of "the late Queenes and the Earle of Derbeys plaiers". At this date the Queen's players likely included Heminge and Condell, who would produce (or would contribute their names to the production of) the First Folio of Shake-speare's works in the following year. [Coman]
1623, December 16 The Swan, Congleton Cheshire [Coman]
1625, February Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire [REED]
1627, 27 October Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1628 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1630 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1633 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1635 Congleton, Cheshire [Coman]
1636/7 Doncaster [Dutton]

A Bust at Warrington

It is even possible we know something about the member's of Derby's Men, late in their existence. [2]

On Sunday May 6, 1632, nine men were apprehended for performing Henry VIII in a Warrington ale house during the time reserved for divine services. They were acting upstairs supposedly without the knowledge of the proprietor, and it is likely that they were in fact practicing the play rather than performing it for an audience. For one thing, there were too few of them for a full performance of the play and for another, it would be hard for the proprieter to say he didn't know they were performing a play if there were a public performance going on in his house.

The record is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, it is only the third recorded "performance" of Henry VIII prior to the theaters closing in 1642. The point of interest here, though, is who was this company? Warrington is interestingly situated because it is only about 10 miles from Derby's Knowsley estate and it is at the bridge that crosses the Mersey. Warrington was literally on the road that connected the Derby estates and Chester and would be an ideal homebase for Derby's Men. Playing as they did throughout Lancashire and Cheshire in just these years (see Performance History), Warrington was perfectly situated at the central crossroads.

Curiously, and perhaps fortunately for the players, they were examined in Ormskirk, Lancashire by Thomas Ireland, Justice of the Peace, a longtime associate of Will Derby.

In the more than 40 years of existence of Derby's Men, we can be sure that the players comprising the troupe changed over time, but we may have a snapshot of perhaps most of their names in 1632. In any case, here are the names:

John Smyth
Thomas Houlbrocke
John Willie of Overford


William Hardman
John Cadewell
William Wildigge
Robert Wicke
John Choner
Randle Rylence of Warrington

(I can find no Overford, but there is, or was, an Orford 1.5 miles north of Warrington.)

It will be interesting to see if their names turn up in further researches of Derby's Men, or indeed in any association.

The Boar's Head Inn, Whitechapel

Although almost forgotten until recently, the Boar's Head Inn in Whitechapel near London was one of the leading public playhouses beginning around 1598, and Derby's Men were the draw for the first few years (1598?—1602). [
berry] Undoubtedly one of the reasons that the Boar's Head was forgotten is that historians did not find it referenced in the usual places because it was not licensed during this period, a period in which public playhouses were supposed to be licensed and controlled. Yet the Boar's Head operated and indeed prospered with impunity. It seems likely that it had support in high places, and this support may have been Derby. But it may also have been Secretary of State Robert Cecil.

In the letter quoted from above, William Stanley's wife, at William Stanley's behest, was requesting of her Uncle, the powerful Secretary of State, that he allow Derby's Men to play. The letter in full reads (spelling modernized):

Good uncle, being importuned by my Lord to entreat your favor that his man Browne with his company may not be barred their accustomed playing in maintainance wherof they have consumed the better part of their substance, if so vain a matter shall not seem troublesome to you, I could desire that your furtherance might be a means to uphold them for that my Lord taking delight in them it will keep him from more prodigal courses and make your credit prevail with him in a greater matter for my good. So commending my best love to you I take my leave

Your most loving niece
E. Derby

The date of the letter is not known, but it is believed to be around 1600. At that time, Derby's Men were led by their actor/manager Robert Browne, referred to in the letter. They were playing at the Boar's Head, a converted inn in Whitechapel, immediately outside the city limits of London. This is the time too (June 30, 1599), that the famous letters from Fenner were written, in which he says the Earl of Derby is busy writing plays for the common players.

The scene descriptions for the tavern scenes in Henry IV are often described as "The Boar's-Head Tavern, Eastcheap". This was not specified by the playwright, but added later. As the Variorum Shakespeare puts it:

Shakespeare makes no mention of the tavern by name in either play [i.e., parts 1 and 2 of Henry IV] and the identification of the Boar's Head as Falstaff's headquarters rests on a tradition which can be traced back to 1654 and on the pun at II ii 140-1.
The pun referred to (H IV, Part II) is:
Prin.: Where sups he? doth the old boare feede in the old Franke?
Bard: At the old place, my Lord, in East-cheape.
This supposed pun is clearly a very slender basis for saying the action takes place at the Boar's Head tavern in Eastcheap. I suggest that the idea that the tavern is the Boar's Head is a misunderstanding of a tradition that the play took place at the Boar's Head. Because of the reference in the play to Eastcheap, and the fact that it was known that there was a Boar's Head tavern in Eastcheap, the two were conflated and the Boar's Head tavern, Eastcheap was the result. But there was a Boar's Head in Whitechapel as well.

Henry IV, Part 2 was entered in the Stationer's Register on August 23, 1600, and published in a quarto edition shortly afterward.

Sources and Notes