Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tilney, Edmund

TILNEY, EDMUND (d. 1610), master of the revels, seems to have been third son of Thomas Tilney of Shelley, Suffolk, by his wife, a daughter of Antony Swilland in the same county. Thomas Tilney, the father, was grandson of Sir Philip Tilney of Shelley (d. 1534), who was treasurer in the expedition to Scotland in 1522 under Thomas Howard, third duke of Norfolk; the duke's second wife was Sir Philip's sister Agnes, and the Tilney family was very proud of this relationship. Edmund Tilney has been erroneously identified with his cousin Emery Tilney, a poor scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, who about 1543 was a pupil there of the Scottish reformer George Wishart (cf. Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr. i. 559). Emery Tilney subsequently contributed ‘An Account of Master George Wiseheart’ to Foxe's ‘Acts and Monuments’ (v. 626). It is just possible that he was author of a poem in octave stanzas entitled ‘Here begynneth a song of the Lordes Supper. Finis quot E.T.’ London, by William Copland, 1550? (Caldecott, Cat. 1833).

Edmund Tilney first came into notice as the author of a prose tract, ‘A Briefe and Pleasant Discourse of Duties in Mariage called the Flower of Friendshippe,’ which was published in London in octavo by Henry Denham in 1568. The work, which shows considerable reading in Italian literature, was dedicated by the author to Queen Elizabeth. It reached a second edition within a year of its first publication, and it was reissued in 1571. On 24 July 1579 Tilney was appointed master of the revels in the royal household, and he held the office for nearly thirty years. All dramatic performances and entertainments at court were under his control. He selected the plays and helped to devise the masques which were performed in the sovereign's presence, while outside the court he was entrusted with the task of licensing plays for public representation and publication. He was consequently in continual intercourse from 1593 onwards with Philip Henslowe [q. v.], the chief theatrical manager of the period, and the payments that he received from Henslowe and the other theatrical managers by way of licensing-fees formed an important part of his income. During his long tenure of office the greatest productions of the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, including the greater number of Shakespeare's plays, were submitted to his criticism in manuscript before they were represented on the stage. After the accession of James I a reversionary grant of the mastership of the revels was made on 13 July 1603 to Sir George Buc [q. v.], whose mother seems to have been Tilney's sister. Buc thenceforth often acted as Tilney's deputy, but Tilney licensed for publication a piece called ‘Cupid's Whirligig’ by Edward Sharpham [q. v.] on 29 June 1607. Next year, owing to age and infirmity, he apparently retired from the active exercise of his functions in favour of Buc, and withdrew to a residence he owned at Leatherhead, Surrey. He died on 20 Aug. 1610. He was licensed to marry, on 4 May 1583, Mary, widow and fourth wife of Sir Edmund Bray, knt. (d. 1581) (Chester, Marriage Licenses, col. 1343).

Edmund Tilney's cousin, Charles Tilney (1561–1586), only son of Philip Tilney of Shelley (b. 1539), by Anne, daughter of Francis Framlington of Crowshall in Debenham, Suffolk, was born on 23 Sept. 1561. At an early age he became a gentleman pensioner at Elizabeth's court, and there made the acquaintance of the catholic courtier Anthony Babington [q. v.] In Babington's conspiracy against the queen Tilney was induced to take a part. He was arrested with his fellow-conspirators early in September 1586, was convicted of high treason on the 16th, and was hanged and quartered in St. Giles's Fields on the 20th. Collier states that he met with a manuscript note by Sir George Buc [q. v.] in a copy of the 1595 edition of the ‘Tragedy of Locrine,’ stating that Charles Tilney was author of that piece. The statement seems improbable, and we have no means of testing it (State Trials, i. 1127 et seq.; Froude, Hist. of England, and art. Babington, Anthony).

[Davy's Manuscript Suffolk Collections (pedigrees) in Brit. Mus. MS. 19152, ff. 27 et seq.; Metcalfe's Visitations of Suffolk, pp. 77, 170; Lysons's Environs of London, i. 365; Variorum Shakespeare, 1821, iii. 57; Collier's Bibl. Cat. i. 95, ii. 435, and Hist. of Dramatic Poetry, i. 360; Cunningham's Accounts of the Masters of Revels; E. K. Chambers's Tudor Revels 1907; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 559.]

S. L.