Hampshire offers records of many varieties of dramatic and musical entertainment in venues ranging from monasteries and schools to towns, rural parishes, and private households. From Winchester comes the text traditionally considered the earliest example of drama in Britain, the late tenth-century Quem quaeritis trope performed on Easter morning by the monks of St Swithun’s Priory. St Swithun’s also celebrated the feast of the Holy Innocents with a boy bishop from the early fourteenth century until the Dissolution, as did Winchester College.
Winchester College also put on its own plays in the late sixteenth century, attested by accounts of the expenses of constructing the stage and by descriptions in Latin dictations given by one of the masters. A manuscript play performed at the college brought the professional theatre’s fashion for Senecan revenge tragedy into the academic setting, even appearing to echo some of Marlowe’s lines, if not his skill.
Hampshire is especially rich in evidence of the activities and routes of itinerant players, minstrels, musicians, jesters, jugglers, dancers, tumblers, and other performers. Southampton, Winchester, and Winchester College have nearly complete sets of accounts from the late fourteenth century to the early seventeenth, augmented by occasional records from monasteries and smaller towns like Andover and Newport (on the Isle of Wight). Many of these records provide details usually lacking in other such records, such as the size of visiting troupes, the exact dates of their visits, and even the names of some performers, as well as unusual combinations such as puppeteers travelling with a bearward. Two of the named playing places still stand: Winchester College Hall and Southampton’s hall above the Bargate.
Locally produced entertainments include rare evidence of a saint’s play of St Agnes at Winchester in 1409. Records of the seasonal festivity known regionally as a ‘king ale’ range from a late fourteenth-century coroner’s report of a stabbing during a performance to the details of the feasting and playing at Wootton St Lawrence in the early seventeenth century, decades after such activities had been prohibited by Bishop Cooper.
Among entertainments for aristocratic households were those for visiting royalty, such as those provided for the future Edward II by Sir Roger Pedwardyn at South Warnborough in 1302–3 and the elaborate pageantry the earl of Hertford put on at Elvetham when Queen Elizabeth visited in 1592. Sir John Oglander’s chatty notebooks tell us a good deal about the entertainments enjoyed by the aristocracy of the Isle of Wight as well as seasonal festivities on the island that had disappeared by the early seventeenth century. Records of Sir Richard Paulet and his adopted son, Sir Thomas Jervoise, include their activities in London, where they attended plays and court entertainments, and at home in Hampshire, where they rewarded visiting performers from musicians to maskers and a lord of misrule.
The earliest known dramatic activity in Hampshire took place in the monasteries. The Regularis Concordia, rules for life in Benedictine houses throughout England adopted at the council of Winchester between 965 and 975, contains the Visitatio Sepulchri, including the Quem quaeritis trope, a sung dialogue that was part of the liturgy for matins on Easter morning and is traditionally considered to mark the beginning of medieval drama in Britain. Although there are no records of specific performances of the Visitatio in Hampshire, the Regularis Concordia is thought to be largely the work of Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984, and the Visitatio text is also found in the Winchester Troper, a collection of music created at Winchester. The Visitatio Sepulchri was thus almost certainly performed annually from the late tenth century up until the Dissolution by the monks of St Swithun’s Priory, and probably at Hyde Abbey, Winchester’s other Benedictine house.
Another practice that brought dramatic elements into the liturgy was the festival of the boy bishop – choosing one of the cathedral choir boys to play the role of the bishop on the feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December). The obedientiary accounts of St Swithun’s Priory record gifts of wine to the boy bishop on Innocents’ Day from 1326-7 right up to the year of the priory’s dissolution, 1536–7. The St Swithun’s accounts consistently use the term 'episcopus iuuenum' ('bishop of the youths') rather than 'episcopus puerorum' ('bishop of the boys'), the phrasing used in the Winchester College records (see Winchester College Inventory, 1521–2, for example). It is unlikely, though, that the St Swithun’s phrasing means that its participants were older than usual; elsewhere the ceremony is known by several names, including 'episcopus innocentium' and 'episcopus elemosinarie.' (See School Drama for Winchester College’s boy bishop ceremonies.)
St Swithun’s also employed outside performers, mainly musicians, to augment the ceremonies on important feast days like Christmas, Easter, and the feast of the house’s patron saint, as did St Denys' Priory and Netley Abbey, both near Southampton, and Southwick Priory near Portsmouth (see Travelling Performers). Other Hampshire monastic houses probably enjoyed visiting performers too but no relevant records have survived from houses like the abbeys at Hyde, Mottisfont, and Beaulieu, or the Benedictine convents of Nunnaminster (Winchester), Romsey, and Wherewell.
Several stories about early dramatic and musical activity in Winchester first appeared in Thomas Warton’s 1774 History of English Poetry and have been repeated in Chambers’ Medieval Stage and other histories of English drama. The records of the boy bishop at Winchester College that Warton included come from extant manuscripts and are thus included with the main records of REED Online’s Hampshire collection. However, the manuscripts in which Warton claims to have found several of his most interesting stories have not survived – or never existed – and there is reason to think that the stories may be Warton’s inventions. These stories thus appear here in an appendix with an explanation of why they are problematic (see Appendix 4).
Churchwardens’ accounts have provided most of the evidence we have of drama at the local, parish level, although like most English counties Hampshire possesses surviving churchwardens’ accounts earlier than 1642 from only a small fraction of its parishes. Among that small fraction some accounts lack details, giving only total receipts and expenses, and others survive only from 1600 or later and thus are very unlikely to contain relevant records. If we restrict our analysis to parishes with pre-1600 accounts we find that six of the eight such parishes yield relevant records. The implication is that dramatic activity was quite widespread in the county before the Reformation took hold. Most of the evidence of drama comes from parishes in the northern half of the county, north of Winchester, with only Fordingbridge and Southampton St Lawrence's the exceptions, but we cannot infer much from that pattern as only one other parish in the southern half, Ellingham, has extant accounts, most of them summary. (These figures do not include the Isle of Wight, which is quite literally a place apart when discussing local dramatic activity.)
King ales were the most common form of seasonal festivity in Hampshire, turning up in the records of almost every parish with surviving churchwardens’ accounts earlier than 1600. Andover, Bramley, Crondall, Stoke Charity, Weyhill, Winchester St John’s, and Wootton St Lawrence all held king ales. Records that mention only summer games (Alton and Newton Valence) or church ales with minstrels and morris dancing (Herriard and South Warnborough) may also concern king ales. A single instance of a similar entertainment occurred at Southampton in 1554–5, when the mayor sent two men to Wilton to get ‘disgysinge apparrell ... in the Maye’ and paid for green satin ‘for the Mayes gowne.'
Several parishes (Hartley Wespall, Pamber, Stratfield Saye, Silchester, and Yately) contributed money to, and presumably took part in, king ales in nearby parishes in Hampshire and across the county border in Berkshire (see the king ales at St Laurence's, Reading). The term ‘king ale’ appears to be a regional one: though many counties held ales involving a king or lord figure, the event was called a ‘king ale’ most frequently in Hampshire and the surrounding counties. In addition to Reading, Sherborne (Dorset) called its festivity a ‘king ale,' as did Steyning (Sussex), but the phrase does not turn up in records from Kent, Devon, or Somerset.
The Hampshire records never explain exactly what a king ale involved, though we can infer that the custom involved at the least choosing a mock king or lord to preside over ale drinking, feasting, and other revelry. A 1580 consistory court case concerning a matrimonial dispute at Newton Valence identified John Smith as ‘somer lord’ and Clarice Baker as ‘sumer lady of newton.' The churchwardens of Wootton St Lawrence paid for the ‘Ladyes Lyueries’ and the ‘Lordes Lyueries’ for an elaborate king ale in 1600. Payments to minstrels for contributing to the festivities are common, there are occasional references to morris bells and dancing, and in the 1550s St John’s Winchester accounts, 11d was paid for ‘.' Hampshire king ales must have resembled the summer game at Wistow, Yorkshire West Riding, where a 1469 court case tells us, 'Iuuuenes ville de Wistow adinuicem habebant prout mos patrie ibidem vnum ludum estiualem vulgariter vocatum Somergame' ('The young people of the town of Wistow, according to a custom of the land, would together hold a summer game, commonly called "Somergame"'). The youth of the parish chose a king and queen who, led by a minstrel, processed to the barn called the ‘Somerhouse’ where they engaged in plays or games for the rest of the day.
The earliest records of king ales in the county come from Andover, where a coroner’s report of 1381 describes how a man was killed by falling on another’s knife during a ‘.' Andover accounts for a king ale in 1471 reveal that pairs of men and women (‘
Richard Curtes & Philypp Moranttes wiff’) collected donations to support the parish finances. The king ale records from other parishes come mostly from the sixteenth century, decreasing in number as the Reformation
spread across the county. Thomas Cooper, bishop of Winchester, issued a diocesan letter in 1585 that called for an end to ‘
Church Ales, maygames, morish daunces, and other vaine pastimes ... which they have pretended to be for the relief of their
Churches....’ The strongly Protestant Cooper was distressed by the number of those in his diocese who clung to such traditional popish
practices, complaining that it ‘is a straunge perswasion among Christians, that they can not by any other meane of contribution
repaire their Churches, and set forth the service of God, but that they must first do sacrifice to the Devill, with Dronkennes and dauncing, and other ungodly wantonnes.' Parishes that held king ales were among the most resistant to change: Wootton
St Lawrence saw its incumbent removed, Stoke Charity was one of the last churches to obey the 1559 directive to remove side
altars, and Bramley did not exchange its Catholic chalice for a Protestant communion cup until 1571. Some parishes may have continued their king ales, hiding what they were up to by recording the receipts only as ‘
clere gaines at whytsontide.' Bramley’s churchwardens did not call their ale a king ale after 1532–3, but records of Banbury, Oxfordshire, tell us that
Bramley’s players travelled there in 1555–6. Wootton St Lawrence engaged in no such subterfuge, however, recording the receipts and expenses for its 1600 king ale in
great detail, and it did much the same in 1603, 1605, and 1612.
Certainly Cooper was right that many parishes relied on king ales as their main source of income. Wootton St Lawrence’s churchwardens spent the considerable sum of £7 13s 10d on their king ale in 1600, including 23s 10d for minstrels and 8s 6d for the lords’ and ladies’ ‘Lyueries,' but they collected enough money from the participants that the event made a profit of £3 17s 1 1/2d, roughly four times as much as the 19s 4d the parish received in income from all other sources. Ronald Hutton notes that ‘as church ales became rarer, they also tended to be more spectacular when they were held’ and Wootton St Lawrence’s is his primary example. Many parishes had no other means of meeting their expenses, especially for poor relief and repairs to the church fabric, until they began to impose rates on all the parishioners, typically in the second or third decades of the seventeenth century.
The Isle of Wight had its own form of May game, described both in Newport’s 'Ligger Book' and in Sir John Oglander's commonplace book. On the first Sunday in May, the young people of Newport went in procession into nearby Parkhurst Forest, accompanied by a minstrel and morris dancers and led by a man called the ‘Vice’ and by a lord appointed by the town bailiffs. This custom, connected with the people’s right to gather wood in the royal forest, lasted as late as 1621. The island also had the more usual kind of May celebration, as Oglander tells of Sir John Leigh and his future wife, Elizabeth Dingley, first meeting when they were lord and lady of the maypole. Oglander’s description does not indicate whether these members of the gentry were joining in a festivity of the local folk or engaging in some kind of aristocratic imitation, much as one cannot tell exactly what was happening when the parish churchwardens of Crondall rewarded a minstrel for playing with some morris dancers ‘before my lady marques of Exeter’ in 1554–5.
The Christmas season also occasioned festive customs, though Hampshire offers less evidence for that time of year. A 1563 coroner’s report tells
us that one John Hypper of Houghton died after being struck in the testicles while ‘
playnge Christenmas games’ in his house. Lords of misrule commonly appeared at Christmas, such as the one fined by the mayor of Southampton in 1521 for taking geese and a boar in the street and the one rewarded by Sir Richard Paulet in 1600. Paulet was also visited by wassailers from villages near his houses at Herriard and Freefolk at Christmas time.
Hocking was another custom common in the county. Records of money collected at Hocktide come from rural parishes like Herriard and South Warnborough and from urban ones like St Lawrence’s Southampton and St John’s Winchester. Most of the records date to the middle of the sixteenth century, but at South Warnborough and Alton as late as the 1620s. Hocktide festivities were held on the Monday and Tuesday of the week following Easter week. The most common form of the festivity involved groups of men or women taking ‘prisoner’ individuals of the opposite sex and forcing them to pay a fine to be released. Regional variations appear to have been common, however, as Sir Francis Taverner describes the festivity in his parish of Hexton, Hertfordshire, as involving a contest between the men and women of the parish to pull a pole from the top of a hill to the bottom. The women were always the victors and in fact the women usually end up dominating the men at Hocktide and gathering the largest sum for the parish. The funds thus gathered were given to the parish especially for poor relief but also to pay for repairs to the church fabric and other parish expenses. The Bramley accounts for 1561–2 are notable in specifying that the hocking money was used to purchase two table cloths and a ‘treue vessell.' Taverner resembles Sir John Oglander of the Isle of Wight in writing regretfully in the 1630s or 40s of practices that have disappeared. Taverner sums up his description of Hexton’s hocking: ‘I think these nicer tymes of ours, would not only despise these sports, but also account them ymmodest, if not prophane, But those playne and well meaning people did Solace them selves in this manner, and that without offence or Scandall.'
Homegrown dramatic activity in Hampshire appears to have been sponsored almost exclusively by parishes; the towns instead
relied on the performances of itinerant troupes. The towns did however employ musicians for a range of entertainment and ceremonial
functions. Southampton’s records provide a great deal of detail about the town's musicians and their relations with the civic
government. The first mention of the town musicians, or waits, in Southampton’s own records comes in the steward’s accounts for 1433–4, but the town had employed musicians at least forty
years earlier, as Winchester’s chamberlains gave 18d to three ‘ministrallis de Hampton’ in 1394–5 and Salisbury rewarded Southampton’s musicians in 1398–9. The group mentioned in 1433–4 may have been adopted by Southampton in that very year. The 1428–9 accounts do not mention
any musicians of the town so the group of the 1390s must have died or moved on. In 1433–4, though, a rough set of steward’s
accounts includes among expenses for a feast in the guildhall on 13 January a reward of 20d the mayor gave to ‘
minstrellis de Wynchester qui modo sunt apud suthampton.' The fair copy of the accounts indicates that on 16 January ‘predictis minstrellis’ received 6s 8d as their wages for a quarter of the year and Robert Pyle of Salisbury was paid ‘pro vestitu Mynstrellorum de Suthamptonie.' In addition, the steward claimed expenses for going to Winchester on 11 May to go bail for three minstrels named Richard March, John Goddislond, and William Goldfynch. The mayor of Winchester, Walter Hore, had requested that the minstrels be arrested and both they and the steward were questioned by justices at the assizes. A
year later Southampton’s minstrels received both wages and new liveries and the wages were paid to Richard ‘Wayte,' John ‘Wayte,’ and William ‘Wayte.' It appears that this group of three musicians played for the mayor and council at the feast in January and were then adopted
as the civic waits by Southampton. The fact that they were 'de’ Winchester before they were ‘apud’ Southampton may only mean
they came ‘from’ Winchester, but their arrest by the mayor of Winchester shortly afterward suggests they were ‘of’ Winchester;
that is, they had previously been employed as Winchester’s waits and that city was not ready to part with them. Southampton went to considerable expense to employ these musicians, paying
for liveries as well as wages and protecting them at the assizes, but after a four-year gap in the accounts there is no trace
of them in the town’s records for 1438–9.
Town musicians then appear infrequently in Southampton’s records until the early seventeenth century. In 1493 the town paid
for liveries for three waits, probably the same ‘ministral' ville Southamptonie’ who played at St Denys' Priory, just north of the town, on the saint’s feast day in that year. Almost a century later there appears to have been only a single musician, as ‘’ was paid £4 in 1579 for ‘his ffredome of the keping of the waightes’ and he received his livery for several years. In 1587
the town gave him a poor boy as an apprentice. By 1594 there were multiple musicians, as the town gave liveries to ‘
In 1607 Southampton increased the size of the town consort, providing liveries for five musicians and also having two ‘Scuttchins’ of silver made for the waits to wear, ‘
impressed with the Townes Armes; Namelye, three Ross [Roses] the lettre H; and the forme of a Tonne.' From that time on the town musicians appear frequently in the records, up to and through the Interregnum. In the 1620s
and 1630s, when the town sent players away without allowing them to perform, it regularly gave the musicians new liveries
and in 1629 gave them three more silver scutcheons so that all five musicians had such badges. The musicians kept the ‘benevolences’ and other payments they received for performing in a box, from which one of their number
stole in 1633. The town also placed poor children with them as apprentices and did what it could to help the musicians make a living beyond
the official wages it paid, licensing them to keep alehouses and engage in ‘huckstering’ – buying up wares at the market before it opened and reselling them at higher prices. All these records give the musicians’ names, allowing us to keep track of the make-up of the consort.
At Winchester unidentified minstrels had been rewarded for playing at the annual dinners of the fraternity of St John as early as 1389–90, but the first definite evidence that the city employed musicians appears in the 1397–8 chamberlains’ accounts, which include
payments for cloth for liveries for ‘
ministrallis Ciuitatis.' The same year they were paid for getting the ‘Tron,' the city’s weighing machine that was taken up St Giles’ Hill each year at the time of the annual fair. The city again paid for cloth for its minstrels in 1406–7, but we only know that they continued for another sixty years
from the occasional rewards to entertainers of the city in the records of Winchester College, where they first appear in 1398–9. The college bursars refer to them variously as ‘ministralli,' ‘mimi,' ‘lusores,' and in the 1470–1 bursars’ accounts, as
le Waytys Ciuitatis Wintonie.' It seems probable that the minstrels who performed at the annual dinners of Winchester’s fraternity of St John were the
city’s own musicians but the fraternity’s accounts never provide a specific identification. From 1470–1 to the early seventeenth
century no entertainers identified as the city’s own appear in any of the extant records. Then in 1611–12 Winchester College
musicis de Civitate Wintonie,' and similar payments occur in the college accounts every year or two right up to 1642. These musicians first appear in
the city’s own coffer accounts in 1614 and they appear frequently in the records thereafter, including in 1638 when they received
new coats. Their leader in 1620 was James Beale, later replaced by someone named Combes by 1633.
The other Hampshire town with many records of musicians is Andover, which has the earliest record of an entertainer in Hampshire. The Domesday Book states that ‘Adelina joculatrix’ held one virgate of land in Upper Clatford in Andover hundred that was given to her by Earl Roger of Hereford. The record is an especially intriguing one since it refers to a female performer. (Another of the rare examples of female performers is the ‘' who visited Sir Richard Paulet in 1613.) She perhaps had been a performer in Earl Roger’s household. Munby’s edition translates ‘joculatrix’ as ‘Jester’ but the Latin word can mean ‘juggler’ and perhaps just entertainer in a generic sense – thus not distinguishing between juggler, jester, musician, minstrel, actor, or other more specific kind of performer.
Most of the evidence of musicians living at Andover comes from wills and inventories of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The 1558 will of William Calley does not specifically identify him as a musician but he had few possessions to leave other than a lute and gittern. William Glover, on the other hand, is called a musician and a 1638 inventory shows that he owned books of music as well as instruments. This Glover may well have been from a family of musicians, as a musician called ‘William Glover the elder’ leased two tenements in Charlton, near Andover, from Winchester College in 1593, so the William Glover who died in 1638 may have been his son, William Glover the younger. Nicholas Fishborne is also identified as a musician of Andover in a 1646 will and inventory. Perhaps Fishborne and the Glovers were among the musicians from Andover rewarded by Winchester College in 1629–30. Nothing in the extant records shows whether they served as town musicians like those of Winchester and Southampton. Given Andover’s location on the main road that led from London to Salisbury and Exeter, musicians there might have found their main occupation in playing for visitors at the town’s inns, much as the local musicians did at Ware where the town’s lord high steward protected the livelihoods of resident musicians by restricting ‘foren’ musicians from performing ‘in any Inn or vsuall resortinge place’ for more than a single night.
Most of the dramatic and musical activity mentioned in the records of Winchester College was provided by visiting entertainers but the boys themselves also performed. The records discussed here add a good deal to our understanding of school drama, which has not been studied as extensively as drama at the universities. Blewitt’s 1984 survey of the dramatic records of Winchester and Eton uses primary research but ends in 1576; it does not include the records of musicians (who may have ‘played’ in a variety of ways) nor the most interesting of the records examined here, those of the scholars’ own performances.
The earliest form of dramatic activity performed by the scholars themselves appears to have been the celebration of the boy bishop. That celebration was common before the Reformation at cathedrals, including Winchester’s, at religious houses, and at educational institutions, including New College, Oxford, with which Winchester College was linked by the founder of both, William of Wykeham. Winchester College followed St Swithun’s in staging its boy bishop celebration on the feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December, unlike Eton, which used St Nicholas’ Day, 6 December. The boy bishop was possibly chosen from among the junior scholars and held office for a single day. Rubric 29 of the Founder’s Statutes allows for scholars to say or sing vespers, matins, and other divine offices on that day. An inventory of 1521–2 includes the cloth-of-gold mitre that William of Wykeham had donated for the use of the boy bishop. Other donations for the office were a pastoral staff and the crozier of copper-gilt which was carried before him in procession. The statutes do not describe the exact form of the ceremony but it is likely that Winchester College followed the practice at Salisbury, which William of Wykeham specified in his statutes for New College. The Winchester waits, the bishop’s musicians, and other performers visited the college to join in the ceremonies. In 1405 the boy bishop paid the waits 8d for their performance and in 1412–13 men of Ropley were paid for dancing and singing in the hall before the scholars' bishop, so it is possible that the boy bishop took up a collection from which he could make such disbursements.
The Reformation brought an end to the boy bishop, but the greatest period of dramatic activity at Winchester College began in 1561 with the arrival of a new schoolmaster, Dr Christopher Johnson. The details of Johnson’s influence emerge from his dictated lessons, as written down by a scholar named William Badger between 1563 and 1567. These ‘Dictates’ are contained in a small booklet titled Themes at Winchester School (BL: Add. Ms 4379). Of the 422 dictates in Badger’s notebook, eight have particular significance for drama historians and give us a clear picture of how often and under what conditions plays were acted by the scholars. The plays were mostly in Latin and staged twice a year, at Christmastime and Shrovetide.
In a dictate concerning plays (‘spectacula’) at Christmas 1563–4 Johnson refers to characters who appear in Acolastus, a prodigal son play by Dutchman William Fullonius, written in Latin in 1529 (f 20v). During Shrovetide in 1564 the boys acted in a Greek play which – according to the wording of the dictate – was a rare occurrence (f 27v). The following Christmas (1564–5) the bursars’ accounts, under ‘Expenses for buildings and repairs,' record a sum of 11s 6d paid out for expenses regarding the plays in the Christmas holidays. In the corresponding dictate, Johnson comments favourably on the boys’ acting styles but his good temper seems not to have lasted, for in the dictate referring to the second of the plays performed at this time he comments somewhat irascibly on the nature of comedies and the difficulties of staging them: ‘Quid enim aliud est comoedia quam negotiosum nihil?’ ('For what else is comedy than a laborious nothing?') (f 89).
A manuscript tragedy called Pelopidarum Secunda has an epilogue indicating it was performed at Winchester College, probably for the annual Founder’s Day celebration. The play, which is written in English despite the Latin title, tells the well-known story of Agamemnon’s death and Orestes’ revenge on Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. The play is very long, written in several hands, and has thirty-six speaking parts, making it eminently suitable for school production.
Between 1615 and 1637 a Winchester scholar called Christopher Longland was killed by a sword wound while acting in another tragedy. A poem written by one of his friends and titled 'On ye Death of Longland slaine in acting a Tragedy' hints at the circumstances:
Deare heart that was so serious in ye rest! Of all his lyfe, he could not play in Iest! O too too true Tragaedian twas thy task! To practize to be murderd & to maske! A Deadman on ye stage...!
Southampton’s Free Grammar School also staged drama though the records are much less extensive than those of Winchester College. The mayor and council served
as the school’s governors and in 1565–6 the mayor gave 6s 8d to ‘
Mr Leythe Scholemaster for his play.' A decade later the mayor gave 20s to ‘
Mr Adrian for his charges and pains in his tragedie,' Adrian (or Hadrian) Saravia having been the school’s headmaster from 1571 to 1578. The word ‘tragedie’ suggests that the Southampton boys were performing
classical works, perhaps in Latin, like their Winchester counterparts. ‘
Mr Caliuers playe,' for which the town contributed 16d for paper and candles in 1581–2, must also have been a school play as ‘Mr Caliuer’ was John Calvert, vicar of St Michael’s and Saravia’s successor as schoolmaster. The records do not indicate whether the mayor actually saw the play performed; if he did, the boys may have performed in
the council chamber on the upper floor of the Bargate where itinerant performers entertained the mayor and council, or the
mayor may have gone to see the boys at the school itself in Winkle Street near the Watergate.
The most elaborate entertainments enjoyed by Hampshire’s aristocratic households occurred when royalty visited the county. Edward I and his son Edward, Prince of Wales, spent the Christmas season of 1302–3 in Hampshire, the king at Odiham Castle in the northeastern corner of the county and the prince some three miles south at Sir Roger Pedwardyn’s manor of South Warnborough. The royal wardrobe accounts paid for three clerks from Windsor to come to the court at South Warnborough to perform in an interlude before the future Edward II and for fabric and wire to make costumes to be brought from London (see Appendix 2).
Three centuries later Queen Elizabeth came to the same part of the county on progress in 1591, staying at Odiham before witnessing three days of pageantry at the
earl of Hertford’s nearby residence at Elvetham. The earl had been imprisoned for treason thirty years earlier for secretly marrying Lady Katherine Grey and was still trying to regain the queen’s favour. His principal residence was Tottenham Hall near Marlborough in Wiltshire
but Elizabeth’s 1591 progress never ventured that far west, so Hertford was forced into extraordinary efforts to make the
much smaller manor at Elvetham sufficiently impressive to ‘
shew his vnfained loue, and loyal duetie to her most gracious Highnesse.' Three hundred workmen were employed to construct temporary buildings to accommodate the queen and her train and to create
an artificial lake with three islands that would serve as the setting for the pageantry. Orations, pastoral poetry, and songs greeted the queen throughout her three days at Elvetham, all included in the printed description that was published shortly
after the event: The Honorable Entertainment geuen to the Quenes Maiestie in Progresse, at Eluetham in Hampshire, by the right Honorable the
Earle of Hertford.
King James too found entertainment in Hampshire when the court removed to Winchester in 1603 to escape plague in London. A Christmas entertainment for the court – variously called an ‘enterlude,' a ‘mask,' and ‘un ballet’ by witnesses from Lady Arbella Stuart to the French Ambassador – seems not to have been a success. Arbella Stuart wrote that it was ‘ridiculous’ and that ‘the mistress of the revelles ... compelled [her] ... to play the childe agine.’
A number of Hampshire aristocrats are known to have had connections to the drama but few have left records of performances at their residences in the county. Perhaps the best known is Henry Wriothesley, fourth earl of Southampton, dedicatee of at least two of Shakespeare’s poems (The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis). Unfortunately no records of Southampton’s household have survived to tell us whether Shakespeare’s company – or any other players, for that matter – visited the earl at his Hampshire residences at Titchfield or Beaulieu. Both manors were monastic houses given to Henry Wriothesley’s grandfather, Sir Thomas Wriothesley, by Henry VIII at the Dissolution. In fact the only evidence of dramatic activity by the Wriothesley household in Hampshire comes from the very first year of Sir Thomas’ residence at Titchfield, when Lady Wriothesley introduced herself to the local notables with ‘Cristmas pleys and maskes’ during the holiday season 1537–8.
The Sandys family of The Vyne, near Basingstoke, is another Hampshire family that has left no records of household entertainment, although the players of William, Lord Sandys appeared at Bridgwater in 1593 and 1602 and at Exeter in 1600.
The Paulet family of Basingstoke came to prominence when William Paulet became lord treasurer under Henry VIII and retained that position through the reigns of Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, until
his death in 1572. Though no doubt he attended numerous court entertainments, the marquess of Winchester left no relevant
household records nor have the other Paulets of Basing House. Sir Richard Paulet of Herriard and Freefolk has, however, provided us with a rich cache of records of dramatic and musical
entertainment that he enjoyed at his Hampshire residences, in London, and at the households of others. Sir Richard, a grandson
of the lord treasurer’s younger brother, became sheriff of the county and MP for Whitchurch from 1604 until his death in 1614.
Paulet welcomed a variety of entertainers to his household, including maskers, wassailers, musicians, a lord of misrule, and even on New Year’s Day 1613 a ‘
minstrell mayde.' He also gave rewards to musicians on visits to other Hampshire gentry, while acting as a justice of the peace at both Winchester
and Salisbury, and at Southampton when he was made a burgess. A diary that Paulet wrote in London for the parliament of 1610
mentions a number of court entertainments – a tilt, a masque, dancing, and a play – which Paulet himself does not appear to have attended. He does describe in detail the costumes of those involved in the tilt. Later he purchased the printed description of the creation of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales, which included the text of
the masque, Tethys Festival, by Samuel Daniel. He also bought play texts, including Middleton’s The Puritan, or the Widow of Watling Street. Paulet’s papers even include what appears to be part of an outline for a masque or morality play called ‘The Triumph of Love,’ in which a young prince named Philo is counselled by allegorical characters such as Reason and Nature. Richard Paulet’s adopted son and heir, Sir Thomas Jervoise, seems to have preferred a narrower range of entertainment: he continued only the rewards to musicians, mainly when he was
away from home.
We also know a fair amount about household entertainments on the Isle of Wight in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, thanks to the detailed notebooks of Sir John Oglander. We do have to distinguish carefully between Oglander’s accounts of events at which he himself was present and the stories he relates of entertainments that actually occurred before he was born. The former include a puppet play his family saw at Newport in 1630 and a gathering of the Isle’s gentry for music and dancing at Thomas Urry’s house at Thorley in 1631. On the other hand, Oglander’s story of elaborate pageantry that went comically wrong is almost certainly hearsay. The story claims to describe the celebration of the appointment of Sir George Carey, long the captain of the Isle of Wight, to be lord chamberlain of the queen’s household in 1596, when Oglander himself was only eleven.
Hampshire is particularly rich in records of the visits of travelling entertainers, partly due to the county’s relative proximity to London and the well-travelled road between London and the port of Southampton, but also due to the fortunate survival of manuscript records. Winchester, Winchester College, and Southampton all have financial accounting records that stretch back as far as the mid-fourteenth century and visiting minstrels appear in many of the earliest. The first recorded payment to travelling performers by the city of Winchester was made in 1377–8, by Winchester College in 1410–11, and by Southampton in 1428–9. Each place paid at least one travelling troupe in most years from the early fifteenth century until the early seventeenth. Even earlier records come from monastic institutions. The two surviving receiver’s accounts of St Swithun’s Priory record payments to unidentified minstrels in 1334–5 and 1337. Southwick Priory rewarded the minstrels of King Richard II and those of the earls of Kent and Arundel between 1391 and 1394. St Cross Hospital outside Winchester saw four different groups of minstrels and players in 1409–10.
The terms used in the records make it difficult to know exactly what sort of performances occurred in most cases. Occasionally
a performer will be identified specifically as a piper, a tumbler, or a bearward (or their Latin equivalents), but before the Reformation most of the performers were called minstrels. Southampton’s accounts, in English from 1440, use ‘minstrels’ and the chamberlains of Winchester and bursars of Winchester
College ‘ministralli,’ while the college hall books use ‘mimi’ for what appear to be the same performers. Occasionally, one
of the college bursars uses both ‘ministralli’ and ‘mimi’ for different troupes in the same year, giving the impression he
is differentiating between kinds of performers (see Winchester College Bursars' Accounts, 1468–9, for example), but he may just be using the terms interchangeably, like the 1459–60 bursar’s accounts that identify the earl
of Arundel’s performers as ‘
mimis siue ministrallis.' Only at the end of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth do more definite distinctions appear to be made
between minstrels and musicians on the one hand and actors on the other. The latter are called ‘stage players’ or simply ‘players’
in English, while the Latin accounts seem to be searching for the right term for this new phenomenon, trying ‘interludentes’
and ‘lusores’ as well as the classical ‘histriones.’
Players became the dominant type of travelling performer in the second half of the sixteenth century, only to decline in numbers in the seventeenth, all but disappearing by the late 1630s. Most of the itinerant entertainers are identified in the records by their royal and aristocratic patrons. As in most parts of the country, the royal minstrels and players showed up the most often; performers of every monarch from Richard II to Charles I came to Hampshire. The performers of the successive earls of Arundel came nearly as frequently, in fact outnumbering visits by royal performers to Winchester College and Southampton from the mid-fifteenth century through the first quarter of the sixteenth. The earls owned lands in Hampshire and held many offices there, including justice of the peace for Southampton and warden of the New Forest. The minstrels of Henry, Cardinal Beaufort, were rewarded frequently during his tenure as bishop of Winchester (1404–47) – four times by Winchester, five by Southampton, and seventeen times by Winchester College.
One puzzling early record may represent a visiting performer enlisting some locals to perform with him. A dispute in Winchester
city court in 1409 concerned four men who claimed they had been recruited to play a steward, a torturer, and two knights in a play of St Agnes (‘
ludo vocato pleye of synt agnes’) by a Richard Syngere. Syngere had promised to provide the costumes and props and the four expected to profit from taking part in the performance. When Syngere failed to keep his side of the
bargain, the four broke into his lodgings and stole the text of the play and a playing cloth – perhaps a backdrop or ground cloth (‘vnum originale sancte Agnetis & vnum pannum vocatum pleyngcloþ’). The court records do not tell how the case was decided and much about it is unclear, but several points stand
out. The four men all appear elsewhere in the Winchester records but Syngere does not, so he may have been a visitor to the
town. The play was to be performed on 16 July, not at all connected to St Agnes’ feast day, 21 January, but likely timed to
catch the crowds who visited Winchester for the feast of the cathedral’s patron saint, St Swithun, a day earlier on the fifteenth.
Moreover, the list of roles to be played by the four men do not include several of the most important characters in the story
of St Agnes. So Syngere may have been a visiting player who came to Winchester to make some money at St Swithun’s Day, perhaps
accompanied by other players who would have taken the more important roles, recruiting locals for the minor parts.
Of particular interest in the Southampton records are four licences to playing companies that were copied into the town’s ‘Books of Instruments.' In 1591 two licences were copied – one for Lord Beauchamp’s players and the other for John and Laurence Dutton, who were players of the queen leading a group of boys. The motive for copying these licences is uncertain, as players had been required to carry such licences – or risk arrest as vagabonds – at least since the Acte for the punishement of Vacabondes and for Relief of the Poore & Impotent was issued in 1572. The licences were granted by Edmund Tilney, master of the revels, rather than by the players’ own patrons and Tilney asserted that many troupes of actors were touring the country pretending to have noble patrons to the great detriment of the country. That may have been the usual rhetoric of such documents, but if there was indeed an epidemic of players on the road without licences, the authorities at Southampton might have wished to record Tilney’s language that gave them authority to refuse permission to play to any company that could not show such a licence.
The licence from the privy council to Lord Strange’s men in 1593 has long been known to scholars and its interest to the town was no doubt in its reference to the plague at London that prevented Strange’s company from playing within seven miles of the capital. An additional motive for copying licences and this one in particular would be so the mayor could prove he was obligated to allow these actors to perform, in case anything went wrong (such as plague breaking out in Southampton) and the mayor’s judgment was challenged. The 1606 licence to Queen Anne’s players may have been copied because the mayor doubted its legitimacy – as have modern scholars. Of the three actors named, only Robert Lee was named in the patent that created Queen Anne’s company in 1603, and Martin Slater was a rather doubtful character who was caught travelling with a fake or duplicate licence in 1616. (In 1616 Martin Slater appeared before the mayor of Norwich with a licence for Queen Anne’s players that named – among others – Thomas Greene, Thomas Swynnerton, and Christopher Beeston, but not Slater. The Norwich authorities noted that they had already seen this licence (or its twin) in the hands of Swynnerton and since Slater was not named, they denied him permission to play in the city. Slater appears to have been a marginal figure who moved from company to company, having been a member of the admiral’s men in 1597 and of Hertford’s in 1603, while in 1608 he was leading the boys of the king’s revels company.
A major attraction of these licences is that they name the principal actors in each of the companies. None of the actors in Lord Beauchamp’s company achieved prominence, but the Dutton brothers were active in important companies for several decades and Lord Strange’s troupe brought together some of the best-known actors of the time. Edward Alleyn had been and would shortly again become the star of the lord admiral’s men, while Kempe, Pope, Hemminges, and Phillips would join Shakespeare and Richard Burbage in the lord chamberlain’s men.
Beauchamp’s players did have a Hampshire connection, as their patron was Edward Seymour, son of the Edward Seymour who was earl of Hertford and who entertained Queen Elizabeth with lavish pageantry at his house at Elvetham in the northeast corner of the county in the same year that the son’s players had their licence copied at Southampton. Beauchamp’s principal residence was at Tottenham Hall in Wiltshire, but if we were to consider him a Hampshire man, he would have the most frequently attested performers of any Hampshire patron. Lord Beauchamp’s players are recorded at Norwich, York, Gloucester, and the Kent ports, as well as at Southampton, in the early 1590s. Performers with patrons whose principal residence was in Hampshire appear to have been relatively rare despite the prominence of some county nobility in the nation’s affairs in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Minstrels of Thomas Wriothesley, the second earl of Southampton, turn up in the records of Dover and Chichester in 1543–4, but the patronage of Shakespeare by the fourth earl, Henry Wriothesley, does not appear to have extended to travelling performers; there is only a single record of his trumpeters in 1599–1600 at Magdalen College, Oxford. William Paulet, first marquess of Winchester, was lord treasurer to three monarchs but only a single payment to his players at Cambridge in 1551–2 indicates he was a patron of drama. The three recorded appearances of the players of Baron Sandys of the Vyne – at Bridgwater in 1593 and 1602 and at Exeter in 1599–1600 – are the most yet known for any Hampshire patron.
Bearwards visited Hampshire, though less often than minstrels or players. The earliest record of a bearward was a bearward of George, duke of Clarence, who appeared in Southampton in 1469–70 and multiple times at Winchester and Winchester College in the early 1470s – as did the earl of Warwick’s bearward. Visits to Winchester were rare in the sixteenth century but Southampton saw bearwards every year or two, with the royal bearwards the most frequent visitors: Henry VIII’s bearward came to Southampton almost annually from 1512 to 1530 and Queen Elizabeth’s came four times in the 1580s. The bearward of Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, entertained the town five times in the 1520s. The latest record of a bearward was one whose patron was Lord Chandos, who visited Southampton in 1586–7.
A much earlier but perhaps related kind of entertainment is suggested by an entry in the Winchester pipe roll for 1265–6:
Et xii .d. pro urso passando ad Comitissam.' It seems a bear was being taken to a countess, or perhaps ferried to her, since the payment is in the accounts for the
manor of Bitterne, on the River Itchen just east of Southampton, and the countess was probably Isabella de Fortibus, dowager countess of Devon and Albemarle (July 1237–10 November 1293), who lived at Carisbrooke Castle and styled herself
‘Lady of the Isle of Wight.' Bearwards with performing bears are not known to have appeared as itinerant performers this early,
but the bear might have been displayed as a rarity, like the polar bear that was part of the royal menagerie in the Tower.
One intriguing record shows that many itinerant performers needed to offer a variety of entertainments in order to survive.
In 1578–9 Southampton rewarded a troupe under the patronage of Sir Matthew Arundel ‘
for shewing pastime with their beares & plaing that nighte with their poppettes.' Other puppet players toured through the county, notably the troupe led by William Sands in the 1620s, which had twelve puppeteers and performed an elaborate biblical play called 'the Chaos.' Despite the fact that they had been licensed by the master of the revels in 1623, the Sands puppet players were turned
away from Newport in 1628–9 due to fear of smallpox. They may well have been the puppet players John Oglander saw on the Isle of Wight in 1630, the same year that Sands and company ran afoul of the constable of Beaminster in Dorset and were ordered to leave the area by the Dorset Quarter Sessions court.
Jugglers travelled through the county, the earliest records coming from Winchester College where an unidentified ‘
ioculatori’ was rewarded in 1469–70 and the king’s juggler in 1499–1500. Thomas Brandon, King Henry VIII’s juggler, appears frequently in Southampton’s records for the 1520s and 1530s. He is one of the few travelling entertainers to be
identified by name in the records, as he is in the accounts for 1526–7, 1529–30, 1530–2, 1533–4, and 1534–5. The accounts
for 1518–19, 1521–2, 1523–4, 1524–5, and 1528–9 speak only of the king’s juggler, but we know from records of a number of
other towns that the king’s juggler in those years was indeed Thomas Brandon. His travels led him along the south coast from Kent and Sussex, through Hampshire and west all the way to Devon and Cornwall,
and also included Worcester, Shrewsbury, Oxford, Cambridge, and East Anglia – once even Thetford Priory. It is perhaps surprising then that Brandon does not appear in the Winchester city records, given Winchester’s close ties
to royalty, and he shows up only once – as ‘ioculatori regis’ in 1520–1 – in the bursars’ accounts of Winchester College. One of Brandon’s ‘tricks,' making a pigeon die on cue, is described
at length in Reginald Scot’s 1584 Discouerie of Witchcraft and Philip Butterworth argues convincingly that Brandon’s performances involved much more conjuring than what we think of
as juggling. Successful jugglers may have had a large array of ‘tricks’ they could perform, from juggling and magic to tumbling and tightrope walking. The 1563–4 visit of the queen’s juggler to Southampton was a successor of Brandon’s called ‘Stanney’ or, as he is identified in the Gloucester records of the same
year, ‘Stanweye the Quenes Iugler.'
Jesters also included Hampshire in their itineraries. The king’s jester rewarded by Southampton in 1550–1 was identified elsewhere as one James Lockwood. He continued in the position of royal jester under Queen Mary and into the reign of Queen Elizabeth. However, the Queen’s jester rewarded by Southampton in 1554–5 is identified in the accounts as ‘.' ‘Renerd’ suggests the character Reynard the Fox of Continental fables, a trickster figure and thus an appropriate name for a jester, or a persona that Lockwood (or someone else) took on for his performance rather than the jester’s own name. Another possibility is that ‘Mr Renerd’ was in fact King Philip’s jester rather than Queen Mary’s, as Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain took place on 25 July 1554 at Winchester Cathedral and her jester appeared with Philip’s jester at Canterbury and Faversham in 1554–5. In 1623 when Prince Charles waited at Portsmouth for favourable winds to sail to Spain, his considerable entourage included the king’s fool, Archibald Armstrong.
We can guess that itinerant performers also visited the houses of Hampshire aristocrats, although the surviving evidence is skimpy. Performing in a household, especially of a major noble like one of the earls of Southampton at Titchfield, or the marquess of Winchester at Basing, or the Lords Sandys of The Vyne, was usually a better deal than performing in a town like Winchester or Southampton. Not only did nobles often give larger rewards than towns, but the players would have been fed and lodged in the household, greatly reducing their expenses. People have often assumed that Shakespeare and his fellow players in the lord chamberlain’s men, later the king’s men, would have travelled to Titchfield to perform for Shakespeare’s patron, Henry Wriothesley, fourth earl of Southampton, but no records of Wriothesley’s household have survived to support the assumption.
The one household for which we do have extensive records is that of Sir Richard Paulet (cousin of the marquess of Winchester) and his adopted son, Sir Thomas Jervoise, at Freefolk and Herriard. Both Paulet and later Jervoise tended to reward entertainers more often when they themselves were travelling rather than when they were at home, for reasons that may have been mainly monetary. Neither man was lavish with rewards. The 5s Paulet gave to Lord Beauchamp’s musicians in 1609 was much the largest payment either gave to visiting entertainers; many received less than a shilling. Detouring four miles to Herriard from the main road at Basingstoke may not have seemed worth the trouble. Freefolk, on the other hand, was the residence both men seem to have preferred, and it lay just off the road that led from London through Basingstoke, Whitchurch, and Andover to Salisbury and further west – making it a logical stop for Sir Thomas Thynne’s musicians on their way from Longleat House to London in 1615. The most intriguing record of performers visiting Paulet and Jervoise is the earliest, a poem sent to Paulet in 1586 by six men with French names who offer to visit Paulet, labelled (perhaps by Paulet himself) ‘The Maskers lettre.' Paulet gave rewards to visiting musicians several times between 1586 and his death in 1614. He attended plays in London and bought play books but the extant records yield no evidence of players visiting Paulet in Hampshire. Jervoise received Sir Thomas Thynne’s musicians at Freefolk in 1615 shortly after he inherited the estate, but after that he rewarded entertainers only when serving as a justice at Salisbury or when visiting his estates in Shropshire.
Entertainers travelling through Hampshire used a few likely routes. An obvious one led from London southwest to Winchester, then south to Southampton before turning either east or west. Records of southeastern ports like Dover and Rye link up well with Southampton’s to show that many travellers followed a loop out from London to Southampton and then turned east along the south coastal road that led to Chichester, Arundel, Rye, and the Kent ports. Some travelled further west, to Salisbury, Poole, Dorchester, Lyme, Exeter, Plymouth, and Barnstaple before bending northwards toward Bristol, Coventry, and in rare cases as far north as Carlisle. The Sands family of puppet players travelled all the way from their base in Preston, Lancashire, to perform their play of biblical episodes called 'the Chaos' on the Isle of Wight in 1628 and 1630. In 1487–8, a rare year when the accountants of both Winchester College and Southampton provided precise dates for performers’ visits, the minstrels of King Henry VII, the queen, and the earl of Arundel were all paid at the college and then a few days later at Southampton. The earl of Derby’s minstrels, however, received a reward from the college on 18 January, but must have travelled elsewhere before they reached Southampton six months later on 16 July. Not every travelling troupe visited both towns and the college on the same trip. Southampton rewarded many more entertainers than either of the Winchester venues, no doubt due to the port’s better access. After 1400 the main road linking London to Southampton passed a few miles east of Winchester and the cathedral city’s declining financial fortunes must have meant that travellers did not anticipate making enough in the city to balance the extra effort to get there.
Hampshire’s receptiveness to visiting performers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had waned by the early years of
the seventeenth. Winchester College’s records show that plays performed by the scholars themselves became more popular than
those of itinerant actors, who were last rewarded in 1570–1. Southampton still gave occasional rewards to travelling companies at the beginning of the seventeenth century, though the
number had decreased to only one or two a year. Then a prohibition against allowing ‘
Stage players to acte their enterludes’ in the town hall was issued in 1620 (reiterated in 1624) and the only payments to visitors recorded during the 1620s and
1630s were to leave town without playing. Even royalist Winchester rewarded no players after 1623–4 and a 1617 Star Chamber
case over players performing in a church on a Sunday afternoon reveals the growing tension between traditionalists and zealous
reformers in the civic leadership. On the Isle of Wight visiting entertainers were welcomed somewhat longer, despite Sir John Oglander’s complaints about the
disappearance of traditional seasonal festivities. The prince’s players were allowed to play in Newport in 1624 and puppet players in 1630, though the latter had been turned away in 1628 due to fear of the pox.
The surviving records tell us little about many of the places where dramatic and musical activity took place in the county but we are fortunate that two playing places still exist in much the form they had in the late medieval and early modern period: the hall above the Bargate in Southampton and the hall of Winchester College. A third may perhaps be the choir of Winchester Cathedral, for the Visitatio Sepulchri performed by the monks of St Swithun’s Priory on Easter morning would have happened there. The priory’s boy bishop would also have gone in procession into the cathedral to deliver his sermon, though any feasting or other revelry attached to the boy bishop celebration would have occurred elsewhere, in monastic buildings that disappeared at the Dissolution.
Traditional seasonal festivities happened in a variety of spaces. The death at a 1381 king ale at Andover occurred in the ‘
alto vico’ (high street). Some parishes had structures designated by their use in such seasonal festivities, though we know nothing
more about them: St John’s Winchester had a ‘somerloge’ in the 1550s and a 1614 Star Chamber case from Alton describes men dancing at a place called the ‘somer howse.' Sir John Oglander describes places in Parkhurst Forest on the Isle of Wight where the youth of Newport celebrated May Day, as well as where an elaborate entertainment celebrated Sir George Carey’s 1596 departure from the island to succeed his
father as lord chamberlain of the queen’s household. Oglander does not tell us anything about performances in his own household at Nunwell House but does describe the island gentry dancing at Thorley House near Yarmouth and ‘
to ye foote of ye hill’ from Haseley House, which still exists just south of Newport and claims to be the oldest house on the Isle of Wight.
Private performances could of course happen anywhere, as in the case of the musicians rewarded by Sir Richard Paulet in the Southampton houses of his cousin Thomas Lambert, the town recorder Thomas Fleming, and former mayor Richard Beiston, and a few payments in Southampton’s mayor's accounts are for entertainments in the mayor’s own house or those of other local
dignitaries. However, nearly all the performances recorded in civic accounts – whether by visiting performers or by groups
like the musicians or waits that both Southampton and Winchester employed – took place in the town halls. Newport’s town hall, for instance, was the venue for players like Gilbert Reason and his fellows in 1624. Already called the ‘
old towne hall’ then, it is long gone but stood where the later guildhall stands, at the junction of High Street and Quay Street.
In Southampton’s records the town hall or guildhall is identified as the hall over the Bargate, where the town council met,
and it still stands today in the middle of the High Street.. The Bargate is a sturdy stone structure that originally spanned the main entrance through the town walls from the north.
John Leland described the Bargate around 1540 as ‘large and well embatelid. In the upper parte of this gate is domus civica
[town-hall]: and undernethe is the toun prison.’ The hall on the upper floor of the Bargate is 51 feet long (east to west) and 50 feet wide (north to south) at its widest
point, but narrowing to 32 feet at either end. The entrance to the hall is at the east end, roughly in the middle of the east
wall. The light comes mainly from four windows in the south wall. In 1620 the court leet ordered that the hall be cleaned and its tables and benches repaired, the damage having been ‘
Cheifelie occasioned by the sufferinge of Stage players to acte their enterludes ther, which draweth greate Concourse of disordered people bothe by daie and nighte.' That the town hall was the site of public performances and not just performances exclusively for the mayor and council
is confirmed by an order in the assembly book, which holds that allowing players to ‘
Act and represent theire Interludes playes and shewes in the townehall’ is still causing problems, chiefly that tables and benches were being broken, preventing the mayor and council from comfortably conducting the business of the daily piepowder court.
Players may also have performed in some of the inns in the town. The 1620 court leet order provides that ‘
yf anie suche stage Or poppett plaiers must be admitted in this towne That they provide their places for their representacions in their Innes or el<..> where they can best provide’ – rather than in the town hall. The only record placing players at an inn dates from almost a century earlier, however.
In 1539 the steward paid 6s 8d ‘
to the kynges pleyers at the dolffyne which pleyd nott.' The Dolphin Inn stood just north of Holy Rood Church in the High Street, where a more recent structure with the same name stands today. However, since the record indicates that
the king’s players ‘pleyd nott,' they may only have been staying at the Dolphin and not performing there.
The city of Winchester had several halls and it is not clear from the records which one was being used in many cases. The great hall of Winchester Castle was reserved for the use of royalty and their visitors and never used for civic functions. Those instead took place in the hall of St John’s Hospital. Minstrels performed there on Corpus Christi and the Nativity of St John the Baptist for feasts held by the fraternity of St John, an organization made up of the city’s ruling elite. The burghmote, Winchester’s assembly of freemen, met three times a year in the hall of St John’s, rather than in the smaller guildhall, and in the fifteenth century the city’s deeds and other records were kept in a chest there. Some the medieval buildings of St John’s Hospital survive, on the north side of the High Street, just inside the East Gate. The main building held two infirmaries on the ground floor with the hall on the floor above; at the east end were two chapels, only one of which remains.
The mayor and bailiffs met in several different spaces before 1361, when city administration moved to a building on the south side of the High Street where Calpe Street (now St Thomas Street) runs into the High Street, with Calpe Street on its west side and the White Hart Inn the major tenement on the east. The ground floor along the High Street comprised six shops, with a tavern in the cellar below. In 1361 the mayor paid £16 6s 8d for work to convert the upper floor into the new ‘hall of pleas’ ('nova aula plasitorum'). The hall was later also known as the common hall ('aula communis') and in the fifteenth century as 'le Motehall,' 'le Tounehall,’ and the guildhall. The new hall offered a larger space for performances than earlier guildhalls but since the building as a whole was no more than 55 feet in length, the guildhall remained smaller than the hall of St John’s Hospital.
At Winchester College performances took place in the college hall that still stands today. The building was part of the earliest construction at
the college, with the instructional space (‘School’) on the ground floor and the hall on the upper floor, with dimensions
of 63 feet by 30 feet. The many performances by visiting minstrels probably occurred with the hall set as usual for meals, but in the late sixteenth
century the bursars spent considerable funds for the construction of what they termed 'theatrum' and 'scena' for the plays
acted by the scholars. In 1589–90 the bursars paid for wood and 1,200 nails and for two carpenters to construct a theatre ('
pro theatro'). In 1573–4 '
scaffoldam' were built for three nights of comedies and tragedies, which may refer to a stage or scenery or to bleacher-style seating for the audience. Given Winchester College’s connection with New College, Oxford,
the stages and seating for performances at Winchester may have resembled those constructed at Oxford and Cambridge in the
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.