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M.A. (Hakvaed), Ph.D. (Yale)

Instructor in English in Yale University



rm 6dc



Published November iqob


ON the 22(i of August, 1843, royal sanction
was given to the Theatre Regulation Bill,
depriving the two patent theatres — Drury Lane
and Covent Garden — of the monopoly they had
possessed, for nearly two centuries, of playing
Shakespeare and the national drama, and extend-
ing the privilege to the minor, or independent,
theatres which had sprung up and multiplied in
London in spite of the " inviolable rights " of
the patentees. The monopoly had been bolstered
up by special legislation, revivals of vagrant acts,
chicanery, and evasions of every sort, in the face
of a growing public demand for an unrestricted
stage for the regular drama. The subject of this
volume is the story of the long struggle to free
London of the theatrical monopoly, a struggle
which began almost within the lifetime of the
second Charles himself, and culminated in the
parliamentary act of 1843.



From the necessities of the case, I have gone
to the sources for my materials. The most valu-
able of these have been the theatrical columns
of the London newspapers and magazines con-
taining playbills, stage criticisms, police court
records, and correspondence ; memoirs, diaries,
biographies, and letters ; copies of documents in
the Lord Chamberlain's office, of theatrical pat-
ents and licenses, of proceedings in Parliament,
King's Bench, and Privy Council ; pamphlets
relating to the stage, contracts between mana-
gers and actors, petitions to King and Parlia-
ment, minutes of meetings, reports of commit-
tees, etc, etc.

As a result of this research among the sources,
naturally, much new material has been un-
earthed, mistakes of former historians have been
corrected, and new relations of well-known facts
established. Even when treating of epochs of
theatrical history perfectly familiar to the stu-
dent of the drama, it has been my aim to throw
more light on the field, and to bring into promi-
nence the main significance of the events. For
example, in the first chapter, the Union of 1682,


Betterton's revolt, the rise of Vaubrugh's Opera
House, the ejectment of Christopher Rich from
Drury Lane Theatre, and Steele's contest with
the Crown over his patent, have not only had
additional materials gathered to them, but they
have all been interpreted in relation to the mean-
ing of monopolistic rights and crown prerogative
over theatrical amusements.

Again, to single out a few prominent topics
at random, the revolts of the actors from the pat-
ent theatres in 1733 and 1743 have been placed
in the light of new evidence ; the relation of
Henry Fielding to the other causes which brought
about the Licensing Act of 1737 has been given
a coherent place in the political and theatrical
events of the eighteenth century ; the story of
John Palmer's Royalty Theatre has been given
a logical connection in the struggle for a free
stage in London; the so-called " O. P." riots of
1809 have been examined with a view to their
real meaning in the struggle ; the development
of that dramatic hybrid, known as "burletta,"
has been traced from its innocent beginning to
its final importance as a monopoly breaker.


Among the more general topics of interest to
the student of English dramatic history may be
mentioned the account of the warfare of en-
croachments between the summer and winter
theatres, and the importance of the English
opera in this contest ; the attempts to establish
a third theatre in London under the protection
of Grovernment; the spirited struggle between
the majors and minors (^. e. patent and inde-
pendent theatres) ; the parts played by dramatic
authors and actors against the monopoly; the
various roles taken by the different Lord Cham-
berlains ; and the final downfall of the patent
houses as the combined result of all the influ-
ences waged against them for nearly two cen-

In every instance, I believe, where the source
of my authority for statements of fact is not
apparent from the context, a footnote reference
will be found. For the convenience of scholars
desiring further knowledge of the subject than
would be possible to present in a volume of lim-
ited size, I have collected these references in
an Appendix. I have in my possession copies of


many of the original documents used in this
investigation, and these may be published in
a separate volume, should it appear advisable, at
some future time. While I have included Wynd-
ham's " Annals of Covent Garden Theatre " in
my bibliography, I have not examined it, being
unable to secure a copy before the present work
was in press.

Relative to the Index, it has been my object to
furnish as complete analysis as possible for the
more important lines of investigation, and to give
perspective, so to speak, to the various topics com-
prising the work. If I have succeeded in this, a
mere glance at this part of the book should serve
to reveal the comparative importance to the sub-
ject of the various titles therein contained. This
method, it would seem, is better calculated to
guide the reader to the real contents of the book
than a senseless repetition of the pages which
happen to contain proper names. It should not
be surprising, therefore, if Charles II, though
appearing scores of times in the pages of the
book, should be mentioned in the Index only
in relation to some act of importance connected


with his name. On the other hand, the monopoly
which he created, forming one of the main in-
terests of the investigation, should be found
exhaustively analyzed. For similar reasons, the
titles of farces, operas, etc., which bear but
slightly on the larger features of the subject
have been omitted from the Index.

In the way of acknowledgments, my sincere
thanks are due the entire staff of the Yale Uni-
versity Library ; to Professor Henry A. Beers,
who read and criticised the first draft of the
manuscript ; to Professors W. L. Cross and
W. L. Phelps, both of whom read and criticised
portions of the book in manuscript ; to Mr. An-
drew Keogh, whose expert knowledge of biblio-
graphical materials saved me many hours of
labor ; to Professor George P. Baker, who read
critically the entire manuscript ; and to Professor
Thomas R. Lounsbury, who first aroused my
interest in the subject, and has been my constant
adviser and sympathetic critic during the prog-
ress of the work.

Watson Nicholson.

New Haven, Conn.,
September 7, 1906.


I. Introductory. The Theory and Practice
of Theatrical Monopoly during the First
Half Century of the Patent Theatres . . 1
II. The Rise of the Haymarket and Goodman's
Fields Tieatres ; and their Effect on the
Question of Patent Rights 20

III. The Licensing Act : The Causes producing

it, and the Attempts to regulate the Stage
before the Passage of that Act 46

IV. The Licensing Act in Practice, 1737-1787 . 72
V. The Royalty Theatre 98

VI. A Summary of the Conflicting Theatrical
Legislation in England at the Close of the

Eighteenth Century 124

VII. From the Rebuilding of Covent Garden and
Drury Lane to the Burning of the Great

Theatres 141

VIII. The Attempt to establish a Third Theatre ;

Privy Council Proceedings 175

IX. The Attempt to establish a Third Theatre ;

Proceedings in Parliament ...... 225

X. The Rise of English Opera, and the War of

Encroachments 247

XI. Majors vs. Minors . . . 281

XII. The Dramatists vs. the Monopoly ... 323
XIII. The Lord Chancellor's Opinion and Knowles's

Petition for a Third Theatre 356


XIV. The End of the Struggle 389

XV. Summary and Conclusion 421

Bibliography 435

Index 461






OF all the follies committed by Charles II,
after his restoration to the throne of his
father, "of glorious memory," none seemed
more innocent than the creation of the monopoly
over the acted, national drama in London and
Westminster. And none, probably, was of more
far-reaching consequences, either a.s to the diffi-
culties involved, or the duration of the contro-
versies arising out of the simple, irresponsible
act of the King, when, on August 21, 1660, he
granted his letters patent to Thomas Killigrew
and Sir William Davenant, making them the
sole guardians of theatrical amusements in the
metropolis. For the monopoly thus created lasted
until near the middle of the nineteenth century;
and the train of strifes which it entailed gathered
in size and momentum to the end of the long


struggle waged against it. The causes alleged
by King Charles for this particular act form
not only a humorous commentary in themselves,
— when we recall the character of the brilliant
dramas written for the delectation of the Merrie
Monarch and his Court, — but they also, inad-
vertently as it were, contain the fulcrum on
which, later, the opponents to the monopoly op-
erated to oust all patent rights connected with
the London theatres. In the preamble to the
grant to Killigrew and Davenant appears the
ostensible raison d^etre of the theatrical mono-
poly created by Charles. "Whereas wee are
given to understand," so runs the document,
" that certain persons in and about our City of
London, or the suburbs thereof, doe frequently
assemble for the performing and acting of Playes
and Enterludes for reevards, to which divers of
our subjects doe for their entertainment resort,
which said Playes, as wee are informed, doe con-
tain e much matter of prophanation and scurril-
ity, soe that such kinds of entertainment, which,
if well managed, might serve as morall instruc-
tions in humane life, as the same are now used
doe for the most part tende to the debauchinge
of the manners of such as are present at them,
and are very scandalous and offensive to all pious
and well-disposed persons."

It is of little import to the later history of the


London stage, that the real reason why Killi-
grew was given such great privileges was that he
was " our trusty and well-beloved, . . . one of
the Groomes of our Bed-chamber," or that Sir
William Davenant was included in the grant be-
cause he had been a stanch supporter of Charles
I ; the essential facts are the monopoly itself,
and the purposes for which it was created, as
recorded in the preamble just quoted. For al-
though the separate patents issued to Killigrew
and Davenant on the l5th of January and 25th
of April, 1662, respectively, did not contain the
references to " morall instructions in humane
life," nevertheless, the grant of 1660 has ever
been looked upon as the origin of the theatrical
monopoly, and its enemies constantly made use
of it in after days as a weapon against the thing
they would destroy.

But the story of the struggle against the the-
atrical monopoly in London, to be understood,
must be followed in the order of its progress.
And, although the opposition to the monopoly
began almost within the second Charles's own
lifetime, it should be pointed out at once that for
the first fifty years of the history of the Patent
Theatres (the two built by Killigrew and Dave-
nant, and designated as Drury Lane and Covent
Garden), there was no concerted action against
the monopoly, as such ; for it is doubtful whether


many concerned themselves about theatrical
privileges at that time. So long as the theatre-
going public were supplied with sufficient en-
tertainment in kind and quantity, they cared
little, and knew less, about the principle on which
that entertainment was founded. Furthermore,
private speculation (as understood to-day) in
theatricals was a thing unknown in the period of
the Restoration, and this was a strong negative
factor calculated to support the monopol3\ How-
ever, the practical operation of the monopoly, as
created by Charles, had its obstacles to contend
with, and these are as truly episodes in the strug-
gle for a free stage in London, as if they had
been consciously aimed at the monopoly itself.
It is my purpose in this chapter to pass over in
review those incidents in the first fifty years of
the Patent Theatres, which tended to weaken the
monopoly and laid the foundation for the later,
conscious attacks upon it.

Killigrew's company of actors at Drury Lane
were taken under the fostering care of Charles
himself, while the Duke of York acted as patron
to Davenant's theatre. Both the King and his
brother exercised an active interest in the wel-
fare of their respective " servants," and, to avoid
friction between the two theatres, the patents
themselves provided that the manager of neither
company should be permitted to receive actors


from the other house. To insure further the
amicable relations between the two theatres,
Gibber tells us in his "Apology," that " no play-
acted at one house, should ever be attempted at
the other ; " to accomplish which, the plays of
the old dramatists, Shakespeare, Jonson, etc.,
were divided between the two companies. Under
such favoring conditions, both theatres prospered
for some years on equal terms. But as soon as
the stock plays were exhausted, this parity was
broken, the public showing its preference for
the King's company, which included the veteran
actors Hart and Mohun, Lacy, Kynaston, and
many others. To counteract the disadvantage in
which he found himself, Davenant had recourse
to music and dancing, expensive scenes, ma-
chines, and spectacles ; but as soon as the novelty
of these attractions wore off, he was left in the
same situation as before.

Over at the King's theatre, too, a reaction
was going on : the two greatest actors there,
Hart and Mohun, were growing too old to re-
main longer on the stage, and their exits were
sure to leave the Drury Lane Theatre in a crip-
pled state. The success of both companies being
thus decidedly on the wane, to save them, the
King, by suggestion or command, caused them
to be merged into one in 1682. Every precau-
tion taken in 1660 to avoid a destructive compe-


tition had proved of little avail in the face of
human nature and practical affairs. Relative to
the situation as thus brought about, Gibber,
with his usual critical acumen, makes the fol-
lowing summary conclusion. It is directly op-
posed to the argument used the next century for
a free stage, but it is none the less applicable to
the conditions in 1682. He says : " I know that
it is the common Opinion, That the more Play-
houses, the more Emulation ; I grant it ; but
what has this Emulation ended in? Why, a
daily Contention which shall soonest surfeit you
with the best Plays ; so that when what ought
to please, can no longer please, your Appetite,
is again to be raised by such monstrous Pre-
sentations, as dishonour the Taste of a civiliz'd
People. If, indeed, to our several Theatres we
could raise a proportionable Number of good
Authors, to give them all different Employment,
then, perhaps, the Publick might profit from
their Emulation : But while good Writers are so
scarce, and undaunted Criticks so plenty, I am
afraid a good Play and a blazing Star, will be
equal Rarities."

The union of 1682 is the real beginning of the
theatrical monopoly in practice ; for although
it had existed in fact before, it was not until
the patents were in one hand that the evil ef-
fects of the monopoly could appear. Then, for


the first time, the patentees might impose their
own terms on the actors. But the combined
companies were scarcely more successful than
before the union ; for the same causes which led
to a falling-off in the audiences in the first in-
stance were still operative after 1682. To correct
the deficit in the treasury, the patentees adopted
the foolish policy of reducing the salaries of their
leading actors, the mainstays of the theatre, and
of shelving them for the feeble reason of giving
young aspirants a chance in the leading parts. *

In a wild endeavor to better the financial sit-
uation of the theatre, shares were sold to specu-
lators, who, knowing nothing of the dramatic
and histrionic arts, favored a still further reduc-
tion of salaries. This step was looked upon as
tyrannous by the actors, and, led by Betterton,
Mrs. Barry, and Mrs. Bracegirdle, they revolted
and laid their grievances before the chief officer
of the King's Household, the Lord Chamberlain,
then the Earl of Dorset, who, in the words of
the old prompter, John Downes, " Espousing the
Cause of the Actors, with the assistance of Sir
Robert Howard^ finding their Complaints just,"
carried the petition of the seceders to King

A series of accidents greatly aided the cause

* Apology, pp. 152 fF.

2 John Downes, Boscius Anglicanus, 1st ed., 1708, p. 43.


of the revolters. Before the matter could be
fully investigated by the King, the death of
Queen Mary, on the 28th of December, 1694,
necessitated a postponement of action on the
memorial. Meantime, public opinion gathered
on the side of the actors, so that, early in 1695,
when Betterton and his colleagues secured an
audience of his Majesty, it was not difficult to
convince him of the justice of their complaint.
The legal questions involved were submitted to
the King's lawyers, who gave it as their opinion,
" that no patent for acting plays given by one
Prince could prevent a succeeding one from
granting a similar privilege to those with whom
he could trust it." ^ Thereupon, King William
authorized a license to be issued to Betterton
and a select number of actors to erect a theatre
and establish a company independent of the pa-
tentees. A subscription was immediately filled,
a theatre was constructed out of Gibbon's Tennis
Court, and, from its location, named the " New
Theatre in Lincoln's - Inn - Fields." ^ Another
circumstance favorable to the revolters was the
enlistment of Congreve to the venture, who
brought with him his new play. Love for Love^
with which the new house was opened on the last

^ Gibber, Apology, p. 157.

^ Thus Dowries ; but The Daily Courant (e. g'. December 28,
1702) invariably speaks of this theatre as the " New Theatre in


day of April, 1695, and which proved so success-
ful that " it took 13 Days successively." Downes
forgets to state, however, that Love for Love
had been written for the patent house, and that
on the secession of the leading actors, for whom
the chief characters had been written, Congreve
had no choice, thus causing a double blow to the

The revolt of 1694-95 forms the fu-st land-
mark in the history of resistance to the theatri-
cal monopoly created by Charles II. What the
ultimate effect of this revolt might have been
on the monopoly, had the success of Betterton's
company, which started out so auspiciously, con-
tinued indefinitely, is a question which belongs
to the domain of unprofitable conjecture. The
facts are that Betterton was too old to manage
a theatre with vigor ; democracy was rampant
among his performers ; and to hasten the dis-
integrating influences already at work, Betterton
fell a victim to the public demand for novelty,
and imported, at enormous expense, dancers and
singers decked out in French furbelows. It is
no surprise, therefore, to read that the patent
house soon led in the' estimation of the public,
and that within five or six years after the revolt,

"... the peaceful tattle of the town
Is how to join both houses into one." ^

^ Prologue to The Unhappy Penitent.


At this juncture in the declining state of the
new company, Sir John Vanbrugh came forward
and offered to relieve Betterton from his diffi-
culties. Vanbrugh had but recently completed
his fine, new Opera House in the Haymarket,
and had opened it with an Italian troupe on the
9th of April, 1705. But the foreigners proved
a failure, and so for both Vanbrugh and Better-
ton it was an opportune time to transfer the
Lincoln's-Inn-Fields actors and license to the
Opera House in the Haymarket. The building,
however, was too large for the regular drama,
and within a year from the opening, Vanbrugh
abdicated, leaving his actors to manage for them-
selv^es. During the following summer (1706),
Vanbrugh succeeded in unloading his theatrical
burdens on the shoulders of one Owen Swiney,
who, in all probability, was acting merely as the
agent of Christopher Rich. Rich had purchased
the theatrical patents from the Davenant heirs
in 1690, and this clandestine move, as proved
by events, was for the purpose of once more
securing single control of the two companies.
Wilks, Johnson, Mills, and Mrs Oldfield were
permitted to join the company at the Opera
House, though to outward appearances their
abandonment of Drury Lane looked like a revolt.
Foreseeing the trend of circumstances, Rich
availed himself of the situation, and, to all in-


tents and purposes, the dramatic companies were
again united at this time (October, 1706), though
the fact was not generally known until 1708,
when the actors, in despair, left the big house
in the Haymarket and returned to Drury Lane.
It was at this time that the arrangement was
made between the managers, whereby the Opera
House was to be appropriated exclusively to
Italian opera, the patent house to waive all
claims to that species of entertainment.

By the union of 1708 theatrical management
in London was brought back to the situation of
1682, and, as then, the monopoly was once more
complete. Betterton's revolt was a failure, due
to the inherent weaknesses of the management,
on the one hand, and to the tact and pertinacity
of Rich, on the other. One victory, however, of
inestimable value had been won against the prin-
ciple of exclusive privilege in theatrical manage-
ment, namely, that a tyrannical exercise of that
privilege might be successfully resisted. And
this position was supported by the legal sanction
of the King's counselors, a precedent better un-
derstood and used in later conflicts than could
have been foreseen in 1694.

It was an overweening confidence in the effi-
cacy of his monopoly that had led Rich to op-
press his actors in 1694 ; and now, with supreme
power once more in his hands (for the original


patents were presumably still in his possession),
he began to assume his old-time arrogance.
Once more he arbitrarily reduced the salaries of
his players, and once more they appealed to the
Lord Chamberlain for redress, with the result
that Rich was commanded to pay his actors in
full. This he stubbornly refused to do. Queen
Anne at once issued a silencing mandate (June
6, 1709), and ordered the Drury Lane Theatre
closed until further instructions. The unpaid
actors again resorted to the Opera House and
reengaged with Swiney, who, it seems, after all,
had not played into Rich's hands. Just what
factors were at work in the present case different
from those which elicited King William's inter-
ference in 1694-95, it is not my purpose to in-
quire into here. There can be little doubt that
the declining state of theatrical representations
was sufficient cause for the crown to bring pub-
lic amusements once more within the jurisdiction
of the Lord Chamberlain. And it is quite as cer-
tain that political influences cooperated to work
Rich's downfall. A short time before the troubles
of 1709, Captain Brett had been a shareholder in
the patent ; but Rich's penchant for sole power
soon forced him out of the management. Brett's
political influence may have had something to
do with closing the patent house. But the essen-
tial thing is that Queen Anne did not hesitate


to silence the patents issued by Charles II, and
that the restriction was not removed during her
lifetime. The patents were null and void from
June 6, 1709, until after the accession of George
I in 1714, when John Rich, son of Christopher,

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