Monday, 14 August 2017

14 August, 1593 - a letter from Henslowe to Alleyn

Welcome back once again! For the last two weeks, we have been looking at a series of letters exchanged between Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe. Today, we are looking at a third letter, written on this day 424 years ago. As you no doubt remember, Henslowe is writing from plague-ridden London to Alleyn, who is touring plays in southwestern England with Lord Strange's Men.

The city of Bath, from a 1610 map by John Speed
Henslowe begins by informing Alleyn that "we heard you were very sick at Bath, and that one of your fellows were fain to play your part for you". You might think this news would have worried Alleyn's wife, Joan, but in fact she was relieved: Henslowe explains, "we had no letter from you when the other wives had letters", and this had made Joan "not to weep a little but took it very greviously, thinking you had conceived some unkindness of her". Henslowe implores Alleyn to write more often in future.

Joan's anxiety was no doubt the result of living amid a near-apocalyptic plague while her husband was far away. Henslowe relates that Joan "prayeth day and night to the lord to cease his hand from punishing us with his cross" and hopes that her husband will soon be "eased of this heavy labour and toil". He then thanks Alleyn for the advice he gave a while back on keeping the house clean to prevent plague, and adds that "we strew it with hearty prayers unto the Lord".

But Henslowe also records more mundane matters. He refers back to an earlier letter of Alleyn's (now lost) "wherein makes mention of your white waistcoat and your lute-box". He refers to yet another letter, brought by one Peter, who had also brought Alleyn's horse for Henslowe to look after. And he reports that while Alleyn's bean-patch is thriving, his tenants "wax very poor" and cannot pay the rent.

Henslowe also reports on the renovations to Alleyn's home. The joiner insists "he will make you such good stuff and such good penniworths as he hopeth shall well like you and content you", and that he will "prove himself an honest man". These words sound deeply suspicious to me, but perhaps I'm jaded by bad reno experiences...

At the end of the letter, Henslowe gives his regards to the rest of Lord Strange's Men while alluding to his financial worries in these uncertain times: "commend me heartily to all the rest of your fellows in general, for I grow poor for lack of them; therefore have no gifts to send but as good and faithful a heart as they shall desire to have come amongst them".

He concludes with a plague update: 1,700-1,800 people have died this week alone.

What's next?

The next letter in this sequence is dated 28 September, so that's when Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return. See you then!

Further reading

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