Queen Elizabeth I
It is the patrons (nobles who sponsored players as their household servants) of both of these companies that make their visits to the Stanley household noteworthy. For the Queen's Men, they were performing in an important northern noble household. Their performances would have definitely reflected on their patron, Queen Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1533 at Greenwich Palace, Kent, and died on 24 March 1603. She was the only child of the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (Patrick Collinson). There are many wonderful biographies on Elizabeth's early life, try the Luminarium for a brief overview. For this project, I am concerned with her later years.
She was crowned in 17 November 1558. Throughout her long reign of 44 years, she created a cult of Gloriana, where courtiers worshipped her as the "virgin queen." There was a flourishing of patronage in the arts, and courtly life was extravagant.
There were many political and religious difficulties for Elizabeth I to negotiate. She had to deal with the constant threat from those who felt her religious reformation did not go far enough, and those who called for the reinstatement of Catholicism (Cressy 5-6). With the help of the Privy Council she promoted a moderate Protestantism across the Realm (McMillin and MacLean 32), and was largely forgiving of religious deviations and extremes (Cressy 6-7).
During the time of the Queen's Men's visits to the Stanley household, Elizabeth was nearing the end of her reign, and there were continual rumours about the succession issue. Elizabeth expressly forbid discussion on the matter, but it was foremost on the nation's mind. Ferdinando Stanley was in fact one of the many names touted for the succession, as he had a claim through his maternal grandmother Mary Brandon (Findlay and Dutton 9). During this time England was also at war with Spain, a war in which the Stanleys proved themselves loyal and useful. Perhaps the visit of the company to the Stanleys was to thank them for their help, or perhaps, as some believe, it was to keep a watchful eye on this powerful family at a crucial stage in Elizabeth's reign.
Why Patron an Acting Company?
Why did the Queen decide to create and patron her own acting company in March 1583? Before this date the Queen had only patroned children's companies (McMillin and MacLean 2).
1. Control theatrical scene
Sally-Beth MacLean and Scott McMillin argue that the Queen chose to form the Queen's Men to gain control over the theatrical scene and limit the other acting companies. By taking the main famous actors from the other acting companies and by offering the highest commercial rewards to the Queen's Men, the theatrical scene was smaller and therefore easier to control after the Queen's Men were formed (1-17).
2. Self Promotion
The self promotion of patrons through a company's repertory another reason for Queen Elizabeth to have her own acting company. In the 1580s, the cultivation of "Gloriana" worship of the Queen Elizabeth was encouraged across court, and the country. The Queen's Men's tours were part of a "public relations campaign" to promote a cult of worship around Elizabeth. The company could visit parts of the realm that Elizabeth was unable to go to (McMillin and MacLean 26-27).
In addition to carrying Elizabeth's name across the county, the company spread a message of the Queen's politics through their repertory. Religion was a divisive topic during this period, and the Queen's Men repertory promoted Elizabeth's moderate regime of Protestantism. As Sally Beth MacLean and Scott McMillin have argued there is a Protestant text throughout the Queen's Men repertory (36).
There is some evidence that other patrons used their companies to carry messages and perhaps to report of suspicious activities (McMillin and MacLean 27-29). Whilst there is no concrete evidence that the Queen's Men acted as spies, they would still have given the impression to those that they visited of a “watchful monarch” (28). This is not necessarily negative. It could equally have been viewed as promoting the notion of an "involved Monarch," who cared about her subjects across the whole of the country. The Queen's Men coming to perform at the Stanleys could very well have been perceived positively in that the Queen valued and respected the family and rewarded them with a visit by her players.
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