A Draft of the Royal Patent for the Mastership of the Game of Bears, Bulls, and Mastiff Dogs (November 24, 1604) - MSS 2, Article 5

MSS 2, Article 5 (MSS-2/Article-005/01r)

S. P. Cerasano

In 1604 Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn acquired the patent for the Mastership of the Royal Game, alternately known as the Mastership of the Bulls, Bears, and Mastiff Dogs. It was a patent they had sought for some years, possibly from the early 1590s, at which time they were already running the Bear Garden in Southwark. The office of ‘bearward’ is recorded in account books of various noblemen as far back as the middle ages, and the royal office existed as far back as 1484, if not well before this time. A bull-baiting ring—a predecessor of the bear-baiting arena—appears in a map of Southwark that can be dated around 1542. However, there is evidence that bears were baited during the twelfth century, at certain times of the year, in Paris Garden. The patent held by Henslowe and Alleyn allowed the men to procure animals for baiting and to bait bears and dogs at Court and at Paris Garden, as well as to license traveling bear wards and to breed, for their own purposes and for sale, English mastiffs, which were highly sought after as watchdogs. From all of these privileges Henslowe and Alleyn stood to earn quite a tidy sum. Owning the Bear Garden alone was similar to owning a modern racetrack where much of the profit is generated by the placing of bets.

In 1573 the patent for the Mastership of the Royal Game was held by Ralph Bowes whose brother, Sir Jerome Bowes, was ambassador to Moscow, and it was through this connection that several white bears (a great rarity) were procured for the Bear Garden. Despite the fact that Henslowe and Alleyn had been baiting bears at Paris Garden as licensees of Bowes since 1594, the patent reverted to Sir John Dorrington upon the death of Bowes in August, 1598. When Dorrington died, in July, 1604, the men were again unsuccessful in obtaining the patent. Instead the mastership was bestowed on Sir William Stuart, an associate of King James, who seems to have been uninterested in the opportunities provided by the grant. Therefore Henslowe and Alleyn were obliged ultimately to purchase the office.

MSS 2, Article 5—a scribal copy written on paper—follows a form that was typical of ‘letters patent’, i.e., a document that confers a privilege, office, title, or property upon its holder. In addition to outlining the holders’ privileges (summarized above), the fee for the office is listed as 10d per day, with the Crown paying an additional 4d per day to Henslowe and Alleyn as salary for their deputy. The manuscript is endorsed on the reverse side by Edward Alleyn who identified the document as ‘A draft off ye patent’. Although the manuscript in the Dulwich archive is imperfect (the first page is missing) an official copy would have been enrolled in the Court of Chancery, for which Henslowe and Alleyn would have paid a fee, in addition to paying for the scribal draft. Another noteworthy aspect of this manuscript is that the draft document is dated November 24, 1604, at ‘Westminster’, where the Court of Chancery was located. Also relevant is Article 6 (MSS-2/Article-006/01r), an acquittance dated four days later on November 28, from Sir Willam Stuart, who received a one-time payment of £450 in exchange for relinquishing his rights to the office with all ‘profits and appurtenaunces’. Other manuscripts relating to the Bear Garden, and its history and operation, can be found amongst the Henslowe-Alleyn papers. These include the diary of a traveling bearward, and documents relating to the rebuilding of the Bear Garden in 1613 as a joint playhouse-baiting arena called the Hope Playhouse.