One third of a poundÂ does not go far today â itâs not even a small childâs pocket money. But in 1603, it helped Shakespeare secure his future.
Six shillings and eight pence is what Shakespeareâs company of actors, the Lord Chamberlainâs Men, were charged for the first stage of a bureaucratic process to gain a licence granting them the patronage of the new king, James I; henceforth, the company would be known as the Kingâs Men. It was expensive – at the time, actors in London were normally paid less than one shilling a day – but it was to prove a wise investment.
This information has recently come to light in a new examination of a document in The National Archives by Dr Hannah CrummĂ©.
On 24 March 1603 James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin, Elizabeth I, as James I of England; on 5 April he left his homeland to secure his new kingdom.
In one of his very first acts he granted a licence 1 allowing Shakespeareâs company to perform comedies, tragedies, and other stage plays at its usual home the Globe Theatre in London, at the royal court, and in all towns and universities for âthe recreation of our loving subjectsâ.
But before this could happen several interim drafts and instruments known as warrants or bills had to be drawn up by a series of government departments â the Signet Office, the Privy Seal Office, and the Chancery. Each charged its own fees for use of its own distinctive seal; 6s 8d was only the first round of payments.
The paper trail recording the creation of James Iâs licence to Shakespeare and his fellow actors has long been known and the documents can be viewed online. However, the search had not been taken back to the first stage of the process â the Signet Office itself â until now, very probably because the entry to the licence had not been indexed at the time under Shakespeareâs name. The cost of the first part of this almost tortuous administrative procedure was previously unknown.
The 6s 8d is listed in a docquet book, or register of fees, collected by the clerks of the Signet Office (SO 3/2). Continue reading »
- 1. This licence was in the form of a legal document known as a letters patent, issued under the great seal of the realm ^