Thursday, 2 February 2017

2 February, 1593 - The closure of the Rose and another tour

On this day in 1593, performances ceased at the Rose playhouse. This was due to the Privy Council, who had ordered London's theatres to be closed in an effort to prevent plague. So, once again, Lord Strange's Men were forced to take their plays on the road and tour the country (you can read more about touring in this post about last year's tour).

This extended absence from London will prove fatal to Lord Strange's Men. The company will spend almost a year touring the towns of England, and during this time it will ultimately break up. By the time the theatres re-open in December, the company's two best-known actors, Edward Alleyn and Will Kemp, will belong to a troupe known as the Earl of Sussex's Men, and it is under this name that they will return to the Rose.

The plague

London hit by plague, from John Taylor's The
Fearful Summer (1636)
According to the Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence (yes, there is such a thing!), the first signs of the plague's return to London had been observed as early as September 1592. Things had calmed down during the winter months (because the fleas that, unbeknownst to people of the time, carried the disease, were in hibernation). But at the end of January, the Privy Council learned that "it appeareath the infection doth increase". It was a mild winter, and the plague began to bite more seriously in April 1593, much earlier than normal. The death rate rose during the summer, peaking in August and September before declining again as the winter set in. In total about 17,000 people died in London and its suburbs.

The tour

Strange's Men appear to have begun their tour in May, and fragments of documentary evidence enable us to glimpse some parts of it. In early May, they were in Chelmsford, Essex. Later in the summer they visited Sudbury and Faversham. In July, they were in Southampton. In July and August, they headed west to Bath and Bristol. They then turned north and visited Shrewsbury, from where they may have gone on to Chester and York. In December, they were in Leicester and Coventry before they returned to London.

What's next?

This blog will be on partial hiatus until 27 December when the theatres re-open. However, it will return intermittently during the summer. That's because the Henslowe-Alleyn papers contain some remarkable letters between Edward Alleyn, his wife, and Philip Henslowe, exchanged during the tour. These letters give wonderfully vivid glimpses of the personalities of the people this blog is studying, and so I'll post excerpts on the relevant days in May, July, August and September.

When we fully return, we will see Sussex's Men installed at the Rose, where they will perform an array of new plays, along with a few of the old favourites from Strange's Men!

Further reading

  • George Childs Kohn, ed. Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence from Ancient Times to the Present, 3rd edtn. (Facts on File, 2008), 230-1.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 258-71.


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!


  1. I'll miss the regular posting, for sure.

    When I was a grad student, I had that grad student "who the heck was Lord Strange?" moment, so I read up, and I have to say, it was fascinating. I don't remember that you've talked at all about Lord Strange, but he'd be worth a post. (And if you're willing to wait for summer, I'd be happy to help with that part.)

  2. Bring it on! But the company will be parting ways with Lord Strange at the end of the summer...

  3. I think it was a matter of him parting company with the mortal coil...