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 Strange's Men, they were performing in their own patron's household. Their performances would have definitely reflected on their patron, Ferdinando Stanley.
Ferdinando Stanley's official title was Lord Strange. His family, the Stanleys, were the most powerful and influential family in Lancashire and were also notable figures in London.
Ferdinando was born in London roughly around 1559-1560. In his youth, just like his father, he spent some time as a squire in the royal household. He proved to be a very popular courtier in the Elizabethan court. At the age of twelve, he matriculated from Oxford and assumed the title Lord Strange when his father became the Earl of Derby in 1572. As his father was called away on Privy Council business, Ferdinando was given increasing responsibilities: in 1585, he served as mayor of Liverpool, and later became lord lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire (David Kathman).
Although Ferdinando consistently responded to orders from the Privy Council to raise troops for defending the border and arrested potential recusants, he was always viewed suspiciously for his own religious allegiances (J.J.Bagley 57-58).When Henry Stanley died in 1593, Ferdinando briefly became the fifth Earl of Derby. Almost immediately Richard Hesketh (a Lancastrian neighbour) suggested Ferdinando usurp Elizabeth with his claim to the throne as the great grandson of Mary Brandon (Kathman). Ferdinando revealed the plot to government spies and Hesketh was executed. But Ferdinando was safe for only a short time as he died suddenly on 6 May 1594. Many suspect that his sudden death was caused by poison from angry Catholic sympathizers (John Stowe).
Why Patron an Acting Company?
Why did the Stanleys patron acting companies? Why did Ferdinando Stanley need to promote his own acting company, when his own father had a troupe touring the country at the same time?
1. Promote a Positive View of the Stanleys
Why were the company formed? Ferdinando Stanley and his father had a reputation as patrons of art. Ferdinando's company would have worn his livery and promoted their patron across the country. To have acting companies during this period was very fashionable. We can also see from the Strange's Men's repertory a possible campaign to show nobles as loyal subjects to their sovereign.
2. Promote a Positive View of Lancashire
It can surely be no mere coincidence that the one Lancastrian based play of the period, Fair Em, should belong to Strange's Men. Lancashire was often perceived as remote and therefore insignificant, but this play casts Lancashire as of central importance to the country. For more on Lancashire, see Culture in the County. Lancashire was the Stanley's family power base, and it would have been important to promote a view of the county as noble for the family's reputation.
3. Competition with other Nobles
To have an acting company perform in your own household in front of a carefully selected noble audience would have been very impressive. From the dates of Strange's Men's visits we can assume that these were carefully organized events. For example, in the Derby Household Book we see that immediately before the performances Lord Strange and Henry Stanley would return to the household. The performances also frequently occur around festive occasions like Christmas.
Nobles like the Stanleys were frequently competing with other noble families in the local area and across the country. Mary Blackstone explains that, “[a] prime motivation for any member of the gentry or nobility to patronize touring performers would have been the desire to participate in the construction of such neighbourhoods, to establish, promote and extend their influence” (189). Every notable Earl during this period patroned their own company. It was important for the Stanley family to show that they could provide lavish entertainment for their guests.
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