Monday, 7 August 2017

Early August, 1593 - a letter from Henslowe to Alleyn

Welcome back again! Last week, we looked at a letter from Bristol, written by Edward Alleyn to Philip Henslowe. Today, we are reading Henslowe's reply, which is undated but appears to have been written around this date, 424 years ago. If you recall, Henslowe is writing from plague-stricken London to Alleyn, who is touring plays in southwestern England with Lord Strange's Men. Henslowe's letter is co-signed by Alleyn's wife Joan.

After passing on greetings to Alleyn from his family, Henslowe provides mixed news about the plague: "we are all at this time in good health in our house, but round about it hath been almost in every house about us and whole households died, and yet my friend the bailiff doth 'scape but he smells monstrously for fear and dares stay nowhere, for there hath died of the of the plague 113".

Henslowe adds a detail that Alleyn would have found very disturbing: "Robert Browne's wife in Shoreditch and all her children and household be dead and her doors shut up". Browne was an actor in another playing company and was currently touring in Germany. His fate was no doubt what Alleyn feared the most: that of returning home from his travels to find his entire family dead.

Smithfield Market, from the Agas Map (1561)
After passing on this worrying news, Henslowe moves on to more mundane matters. The renovations to Alleyn's house are proceeding well. Following up on Alleyn's requests in the previous letter, Henslowe assures him that all is under control: "your spinach bed not forgotten, your orange-coloured stockings dyed". He does, however, report that there is "no market at Smithfield neither to buy your cloth nor yet to sell your horse, for no man would offer me above £4 for him, therefore I would not sell him but have sent him into the country till you return back again".

Henslowe signs off "praying to God to send you all good health", and hoping that "we may all merrily meet". Perhaps feeling guilty about the doom and gloom he's been reporting, he ends on a positive note: "your poor mouse", he writes, using Alleyn's pet name for Joan, "hath not been sick since you went".

What's next?

A second letter from Henslowe will be described on August 14.

Further reading


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


  1. It's interesting to me that they lived in Southwark (?) and had plenty of room for a garden worth mentioning in a letter. I think of Southwark as sort of full up then, but I think I'm probably more wrong about that.

  2. Actually, Southwark was surrounded by countryside in those days. And in the Bankside area where the Rose was there were lots of gardens. The map on this page shows that well -