The Diary of Edward Alleyn (1617-1622) - MSS 9, 32r

MSS 9, 32r (MSS-9/032r)

Grace Ioppolo

While Philip Henslowe’s Diary records an extraordinary professional life, Edward Alleyn’s Diary records a largely ordinary, and occasionally extraordinary, private life. In his Diary, Alleyn documents nearly every day from September 29, 1617 to October 1, 1622, long after his retirement from acting. He illustrates how he lived his life on a daily basis: where he travelled, whom he knew and dealt with, what he ate (as well as how and where he ate it), what he and his wife Joan wore, and even what medicines they took. Thus the Diary reveals aspects of his domestic life and household, his social and political circle, his personal friends and professional contacts, and how he spent his considerable wealth.

Alleyn probably purchased the Diary as an bound book of blank pages (its tight modern binding does not allow for further study). Unlike his Memorandum Book (MSS 8), the tall and heavy Diary could not have been carried in Alleyn’s pocket. At the top of each page, Alleyn writes out a heading with the month and year (using the ‘old style’ calendar), with the day written out flush left with the astrological symbol for that day of the week, followed by a detailed entry. Flush right, he provides three main columns to record pound, shilling and pence expenses. Some expenses are broken down into three extra columns of figures to the left of the main columns (for example, for his wife’s clothing expenses on May 7). At the end of each page (and sometimes elswhere), he tallies up the ‘some’, or sum, in order to keep a running account. He calls attention to particular entries with his drawing of a hand with a pointed index finger, either to the left or right of the date.

Alleyn lists expenses for an astonishingly wide variety of goods and services, including the acquisition and maintenance of land, buildings and gardens, the care of livestock (including pigeons), and the purchase and preparation of food (especially for dinner parties), as well as the costs of everyday household items. For example, here he notes that ‘li’ (i.e., one pound) of sugar cost him 1 shilling. His purchase of screws (‘skrwes’), binding rods, leather stirrups, herbs and seeds appear alongside those of various types of clothing and textiles—including whalebone for Joan’s ‘bodyes’ (i.e. bodice). On May 7 he has itemised his expense of £1 17s 11d for the coats to be worn by the ‘poore schollers’, probably at the opening in September of Dulwich College, where Alleyn will provide them with with a free education. His wife’s red petticoat with expensive black velvet and his cloth jerkin and a cloak with silk basting may also have been ordered for the College’s opening. Joyous celebrations of birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and religious feast days are particularly noted in the Diary, as on May 16, Whitsunday (i.e. Pentecost), when he and his wife invited to dinner the poor, for whom he provided almshouses, which still stand today alongside the Chapel in Dulwich in which Alleyn and Joan are buried.

Alleyn also itemises his frequent travel to London from his home in Dulwich, including the cost of crossing the Thames by ferry from the south to the north bank. On May 10, for example, he travelled by horse to Gray’s Inn, near Holborn, at the cost of 4d; an added expense is for ‘horse-standing’ (i.e. holding a horse), as on May 15, when he paid Matthias 1s. Throughout, Alleyn cites dinners at a number of pubs, whose locations, often near the playhouses, he specifies. Yet other entries record his receipt of rent for the Fortune Theatre and other leased properties, as well as visits to theatres such as the Red Bull, where on October 3, 1617, he received the sum of £3 6s 4d as his share in the play The Younger Brother (MSS-9/002r). He maintained contact with his colleagues and collaborators in the theatre, for example, dining frequently over the years with the actor Charles Massey.

Not least of Alleyn’s expenditure was on the writing and use of manuscripts. He often lists the full costs of having various documents copied, engrossed and enrolled in Chancery and elsewhere, with prices ranging from 8 to 12 pence per page, as well as what he has paid for a ream of paper (4s 4d on one occasion). He also refers to the ‘fayer copies’ that he is having made (adding yet one more example of the contemporary use of the term, as distinct from ‘foul papers’). Alleyn’s friendship and compassion stretched beyond his former theatrical colleagues, for he names at least one scrivener, ‘Bowlton’, who has been incarcerated for debt in the Marshalsea prison and has appealed to Alleyn for relief. Alleyn eases Bowlton’s ‘great povertye’ by sending him 10s (MSS-9/031r).

Alleyn apparently wielded considerable influence not only over those who broke laws but those who made and enforced them. He notes on a number of occasions that he dined with Privy Councillors and their clerks before, as well as after, they ruled on his own cases in the Star Chamber, as on October 31, 1617 when he ‘went to London to ye Lord Treasurers, supper att youngs ordinary [pub] with ye starr chamber men’ (MSS-9/003v). Alleyn also admits to manipulating the legal system in more minor ways, for example by giving 5s to a bailiff on December 19, 1617 ‘in gratuitie for keeping me off Juries’ (MSS-9/005v).

In fact, the Diary suggests that Alleyn possessed the sort of prestige and stature that ambassadors, clerics, and government officials recognised and, perhaps, sought to share. At the very least, he was a popular companion or guest, whether of the Mayor of London or the notorious Spanish Ambassador, Count Gondomar. Alleyn records his acquisition of books, on theology, witchcraft and languages, for example, and paintings, of Plantagenet kings, as well as his visits to the collections of others, including Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, who on April 17, 1618 showed Alleyn ‘all His statues & picktures that came from Italy’ (MSS-9/013r).

Alleyn’s other invitations, either in his official capacity as the master of blood sports or as a private individual, were to even more prestigious places, ranging from the Bishop of Westminster’s palace in the Clink to Greenwich and Whitehall Palaces and other residences of King James I. On July 13, 1618, Alleyn rode ‘to wansted wher ye markques off buckinghame [George Villiers, the King’s favourite] vndertooke ye Kings hand’ for him on the letters patent for Dulwich College (MSS-9/018r). Alleyn still had to negotiate the College’s tax status with Sir Francis Bacon, the Lord Chancellor, but finally on May 27, 1619, Alleyn reported that he ‘rode to grenewich & gott ye King’s Hand’ (MSS-9/032v). Bacon’s signature as a Dulwich College Governor on the Foundation Deed, Muniment 584 (mun-3/584/01r), and his frequent presence in the Diary on less formal occasions testify to Alleyn’s ability to maintain personal friendships with some of the King’s most trusted officials.

The Diary was also a place for Alleyn to record those remarkable historical events to which he had a personal, and familiar, connection, as on January 12, 1619 when Whitehall Palace burned down (MSS-9/027v); he had often performed in its Banqueting Hall. On March 1, 1619, he tersely writes in the margin, ‘4 in ye morning q. Ann died’ (MSS-9/029r); on 6 April, he explains: ‘[I went] with my wife to somersett Howse to see ye Hearse of Queen Anne’ (MSS-9/031v). In the page illustrated here, he carefully states on May 13: ‘memorandum; the quens funeral was this day, after diner my wife & I went to see itt’. Given Alleyn’s role as actor-manager of the Queen’s Men, and his frequent performances at court over the years in front of Anne, this would have been a poignant day for him. But also apparent here is Alleyn’s sense that his Diary was a witness to history.

Numerous other notable figures come to life in the pages of Alleyn’s Diary, including John Taylor the Water Poet, Sir Robert Sidney, brother of Sir Philip Sidney, and John Donne, whom Alleyn heard preach in Camberwell on three occasions. Alleyn also records going to dinner on September 4, 1622 with a group of friends including Donne’s ‘dafter’, that is, his daughter Constance (MSS-9/061r). About a year later, and five months after the death of Joan, Alleyn married Constance, who was nearly forty years his junior. Donne’s apparent refusal to pay Constance’s dowry, called by Alleyn in a draft letter to Donne an ‘vnkind vnexspeckted and vndeserved denial of yt common curtesie afforded to a frend’ (MSS-3/102/01v), caused a breach between Alleyn and Donne. Even such breaches allow us to connect the world of the early modern theatre with the world outside it, bringing both of them into vivid focus. With its minutiae and richness of detail, The Diary of Edward Alleyn is a remarkable bridge between and testament to those worlds.