Open main menu


HENSLOWE, PHILIP (d. 1616), theatrical manager, was fourth son of Edmund Henslowe of Lindfield, Sussex, who was in 1540 master of the game in Ashdown Forest and Broil Park. His mother's name was Margaret Ridge; his father's family came from Devonshire. Philip's earliest employment was as servant to one Woodward, bailiff to Viscount Montague, whose property included Battle Abbey and Cowdray in Sussex, and Montague House in Southwark. Henslowe's duties led him to settle in Southwark before 1577; in that year he was living there in the liberty of the Clink, and on the death of his master Woodward he married Agnes, Woodward's widow, with whom he obtained considerable property. He remained at Southwark till his death. From the first he showed a marked aptitude for commerce, and engaged in various trades. Between 1576 and 1586 he negotiated the sale of much wood in Ashdown Forest. On 14 June 1584 he was concerned in the purchase and dressing of goat-skins, and was for many years described as a dyer. He also manufactured starch, and practised pawnbroking and money-lending. In 1593 he bought land at Buxted, where his only sister Margaret and her husband Ralph Hogge, an ironfounder, were settled, and he subsequently obtained property at East Grinstead.

But Henslowe was chiefly occupied in the purchase and superintendence of house-property in Southwark. He owned many inns, including the Boar's Head, and several lodging-houses, some of which were undoubtedly used for immoral purposes. Chettle denounced him as a landlord who was unscrupulously harsh to poor tenants. He obtained much influence in the parish, was a regular communicant at church, was a vestryman from 1607, and churchwarden in 1608. He helped to assess a subsidy in the liberty of the Clink in 1608–9, and was selected with four other ‘ancients’ in 1613 to purchase ‘of the court’ the rectory of St. Saviour's. In 1604 he was in receipt of 20l. a year for providing a ‘dock and yard’ for the king's barges (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10, p. 228), and managed to obtain some small offices about the court, becoming groom of the royal chamber in 1593, and sewer of the chamber in 1603. On 30 Dec. 1604 he and another were granted the reversion of the bailiwick of Hinckford and Barstable, Essex (ib. p. 180). His own residence was on the river bank between the Clink prison and an inn called the Bell.

Henslowe's chief claim to distinction lies in his relations with theatrical property in Southwark and elsewhere. On 24 March 1584–5 he purchased the land close by the southern end of the modern Southwark Bridge, on which already stood a playhouse called the Little Rose. On 16 Jan. 1586–7 he and one Cholmley arranged for the rebuilding of the theatre and the erection of a refreshment-room in its neighbourhood. The new Rose playhouse was doubtless opened soon afterwards, and its financial management was in Henslowe's hands. On 17 Feb. 1592, when his extant account-books begin, Lord Strange's company was performing at the Rose, and that or other companies occupied it almost continuously till 1603, when a quarrel between Henslowe and the ground landlord led him to close his connection with the house. He threatened to demolish it at the time. Meanwhile, he managed the theatre at Newington Butts when the lord admiral's and lord chamberlain's companies were acting together there in 1594. Towards the close of the century he seems to have taken some part in the management of the Swan Theatre, which, like the Rose, was on the Bankside. On 15 Oct. 1592 his step-daughter, Joan Woodward, had married Edward Alleyn the actor [q. v.], and his relations with Alleyn in business and in private life were thenceforth very close. On 26 Sept. 1598 an interesting extant letter from him to Alleyn, who was then in the country, mentions the murder by Ben Jonson of Gabriel Spencer, a member of Alleyn's company. In 1600 he and Alleyn built a new theatre called the Fortune in Golden Lane, Cripplegate Without. It was square in shape, was the largest playhouse of the time, and was opened in November 1600. Until his death Henslowe actively interested himself in the affairs of the Fortune, which was subsequently burnt down (9 Dec. 1621).

Henslowe and Alleyn were also connected with less elevated entertainments. In December 1594 they secured a substantial interest in the Paris Garden, devoted to bear-baiting, on the Bankside. They failed in 1598 in a joint application for the mastership of the royal game of bears, bulls, and mastiff dogs, but purchased the office from the holder in 1604, and secured a patent in their favour on 24 Nov. in that year. Many bears and lions belonging to the crown were thenceforth entrusted to their care (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 20 March 1611). In February 1610–11 Alleyn sold to Henslowe his interest in the Bear Garden, and on 29 April 1613 Henslowe and a new partner, Jacob Meade, ‘waterman,’ arranged for the demolition of the existing buildings, and for the erection of a new building, to be called the Hope, fitted for stage-plays, as well as for bull- and bear-baiting exhibitions. A new inn called the Dancing Bears was erected at the same time in the Garden, and there Meade resided. He, rather than Henslowe, managed the new Hope playhouse.

During Henslowe's tenure of the Rose and Fortune theatres plays by many of the leading Elizabethan dramatists were first put on the stage, and he was in intimate relations with the authors. His extant account-book proves that he bought plays direct from the authors, and hired them out at a profit, together with the necessary properties, to various acting companies. Among those who sold their works to him were Dekker, Drayton, Chapman, Chettle, Day, and Rowley. The highest price paid by him for a play before 1600 was 6l.; after that date the price sometimes rose to 10l., but in many cases four, five, or even six authors were concerned in the composition, and shared in the emolument. The receipts, inserted in the extant diary, of moneys paid to dramatists by Henslowe are signed, and in some instances fully written out, by the recipients themselves, and thus some unique autographs are preserved. Henslowe often lent the authors small sums of money on account of promised work, and invariably kept them in humiliating subjection to himself. He always looked carefully after his security. Frances, wife of Robert Daborne [q. v.], one of his most needy clients, stated at the time of Henslowe's death that he had in his possession all Daborne's manuscripts, together with a bond for 20l. as security for some loan; these Henslowe restored a few hours before he died (Rendle).

Fully two-thirds of the plays mentioned by Henslowe as being acted under his management are now lost. Although plays by Marlowe, Chapman, and Dekker were repeatedly performed at his theatres, no play mentioned by him can be identified with any by Shakespeare. Shakespeare belonged to and wrote almost solely for the lord chamberlain's company of players, and that company only on one occasion came into contact with Henslowe or his theatres, namely, in 1594. The lord chamberlain's men then combined with the lord admiral's men, a company always more or less associated with Henslowe, to give some performances under Henslowe's management at the theatre in Newington Butts.

Henslowe died on 6 Jan. 1615–16, and was buried in the chancel of St. Saviour's Church, Southwark, on 10 Jan. 1615–16, ‘with an afternoon knell of the church bell.’ By his will, dated 5 Jan. 1615–16, he left all his lands and tenements to Agnes, his wife, whom he admits not to have used very well, although he derived much of his fortune from her. The overseers of his will were Edward Alleyn, Robert Bromfield, William Austin (1587–1634) [q. v.], and Roger Cole. The will was disputed by Henslowe's nephew, John Henslowe, but depositions made by witnesses in connection with the dispute agree that, although Henslowe was suffering from the palsy, his mind was quite clear to the last.

The volume containing Henslowe's diary and accounts, with many of his letters and other papers relating to him, is now preserved in Dulwich College library. The diary deals mainly with the expenses of his management of the Rose and Fortune theatres between 1592 and 1603, but interspersed are memoranda, dated both earlier and later, of other commercial transactions, especially of his loans as money-lender or pawnbroker to the general public as well as to dramatists. Almost the whole is in his own crabbed handwriting, and the spelling is singularly bad. The theatrical entries between 1592 and 1597 supply the names of the plays performed at his theatres, with the dates of performance and his share of the receipts. After 1597 he added to the names of the plays only the sums advanced by him to authors, actors, or property-makers. The diary and some of the letters and papers were borrowed from the college about 1790 by Malone, who printed valuable extracts in his ‘Historical Account’ prefixed to the ‘Variorum Shakespeare.’ James Boswell the younger, Malone's literary executor, returned the volume to the college in 1812, but some of the inventories of Henslowe's theatrical properties and the like which Malone printed are now missing from the college library. The diary was (probably after Boswell returned it to Dulwich) much mutilated, chiefly by the excision of narrow slips. One of these cuttings, containing genuine signatures of George Chapman and Thomas Dekker, was purchased at a sale, and is now in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 30262. The diary was first printed at length by Mr. J. P. Collier for the Shakespeare Society in 1845, but while Collier had access to this and the other theatrical documents preserved at Dulwich, several forged entries were interpolated in the manuscript diary, and appear in the printed edition. Mr. G. F. Warner, in his ‘Catalogue of the Dulwich MSS.,’ pointed out forgeries which introduce the names of Nashe, Webster, and other dramatists. A letter at Dulwich purporting to be written by Marston to Henslowe is also a forgery.

[Henslowe's Diary, ed. Collier (Shakespeare Soc.); Alleyn Papers (Shakespeare Soc.); G. F. Warner's Cat. of MSS. at Dulwich College; Mr. William Rendle's Philip Henslowe, 1889; W. Rendle's and P. Norman's Inns of Old Southwark; Collier's Engl. Dramatic Poetry; Fleay's Annals of the Stage.]

S. L. L.