Thomas Radcliffe, third earl of Sussex (1557-1583) and Lord Chamberlain (1572-83), was the patron of a company of players apparently from 1569 to his death in 1583. The company had a high profile both on tour and at court. Appearing in provincial records as early as 1568-9, the company performed under the name of Sussex at Cambridge, Gloucester, Bristol, Folkestone, Faversham, Bath, Norwich, Oxford, and Coventry (REED PP); at Ipswich (MSC II.3, pp. 267-9); at Canterbury, Dover, Faversham, and Folkestone (MSC VII, 14, 44, 60, 70); at Hengrave and Sudbury (MSC XI, 166, 197); and at Nottingham, Leicester, Abingdon, and Southampton (Murray I.307). During the middle 1570s the company was often called the Chamberlain's players, as at Coventry, Fordwich, Rye, Bath, Bristol, Faversham, and Norwich (REED PP), Ipswich (MSC II.3, pp. 269-70, 272), and Canterbury and Faversham (MSA VII.15, 61). At Bristol, the company performed The Red Knight (REED PP). The company's appearances at court coincide with their patron's becoming Lord Chamberlain. The players performed at court thirteen times between Shrovetide 1573 and January 1583, often on Candlemas (2 February). The Revels Accounts record some titles of their plays: Phedrastus, Phigon and Lucia, Philemon and Felicia, The Cynocephali, The Cruelty of a Stepmother, The Duke of Milan and the Marquis of Mantua, Murderous Michael, The Rape of the Second Helen, Portio and Demorantes, Sarpedon, and A History of Ferrar. The company had the two most talented clowns in the profession: Richard Tarlton and John Adams. Both men joined the Queen's players at their formation in March 1583, a shift in loyalties that preceded the death of their patron by several months (June). The instantaneous hegemony of the Queen's players and the demise of the third earl of Sussex closed this period of the company's history.
Henry Radcliffe acceded to the earldom (1583-93) at his father's death, and players advertising his patronage were touring by 1586. They too had a vigorous presence in the provinces, visiting many of their predecessor's favorite venues but extending their reach by traveling on the southwest circuit to Winchester (Murray I.308), Lyme Regis, and Exeter; on the West Midlands circuit to Kendal; on the Northern circuit to York and Newcastle upon Tyne (REED PP). In addition the records document additional stops on the southeastern circuit at Hythe, Lydd, and New Romney (MSC VII. 88, 109, 140). The company toured not only widely and often but also in good company. On three occasions Sussex's players performed with the Queen's men: Gloucester, 1590-1; Bristol, between 28 February and 6 March 1592; and Coventry, 24 March 1592 (REED PP). The names of players with Sussex's, 1586-93, are not known. When they joined the Queen's men intermittently in 1590-92, their old fellow, Tarlton, had died in 1588; but another, John Adams, might still have been acting with the Queen's men. Sussex's appeared at court on 2 January 1592. On 29 April 1593 the company acquired a license to travel "where the infection is not" (Chambers, IV.314) but by 27 December they were in London. Their patron, the fourth earl of Sussex, had died less that two weeks before (14 December), yet they were poised for a lengthy run at the Rose playhouse.
At the Rose, 1593-4
Scholars have been puzzled that Sussex players acquired the lease of the Rose in late December 1593 because they had no apparent ties to Philip Henslowe (owner) and Edward Alleyn (lead player of Strange's men, the company most recently at the Rose). McMillin suggests that Alleyn had temporarily joined Sussex's (220); Andrew Gurr suggests that "conceivably … Richard Burbage and even Shakespeare" had also (28n). What is certain is that Sussex's players—now under the patronage of the fifth earl, Robert Radcliffe (1593-1629)—arrived at the Rose with twelve plays already in production, and they opened the run "with ten days of uninterrupted performance" (Knutson 463). Only one of these twelve certainly survives: George a Greene (S. R. 1 April 1595, Q1599). The lost plays are listed below. It is possible that William the Conqueror is now in print as Fair Em, the subtitle of which advertises a love plot involving William the Conqueror (Knutson 465, 466n). The company also played The Jew of Malta at what turned out to be the end of their run; and they introduced Titus Andronicus, which Henslowe marked as "ne." Following a hiatus of two months, Sussex's players were again at the Rose for Easter Week (1 -8 April), now "to geather" with the Queen's men (Foakes 21). The joined companies repeated The Jew of Malta, but only one of the remaining four plays performed was a carry-over from Sussex's earlier 1594 run: The Fair Maid of Italy.
1602 and following
In currently available theatrical records (REED PP), a company under the patronage of Robert Radcliffe, fifth earl of Sussex, may be found intermittently on tour in the provinces in 1602-3 (Coventry), 1608-9 (Norwich, Bristol), and 1616-18 (Leominster, Carlisle, Kendal, Hythe). In 1606-8, they also visited Canterbury and Dover (in Dover, they were paid 5s. not to play [MSC VII. 18, 49]); and Dunwich (MSC XI. 158). In 1615, they visited Leicester (Murray I.308). Some configuration of Sussex's players had had a long history with these towns except for Leominster and Carlisle. Nothing is known of the company players or their repertory over these years.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "What So Special About 1594?" Shakespeare Quarterly 61 (2010): 449-67.
Malone Society Collections II.3. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1907.
Malone Society Collections VII. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1965.
Malone Society Collections XI. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980-1.
McMillin, Scott,"Sussex's Men in 1594: The Evidence of Titus Andronicus and The Jew of Malta." Theatre Survey 32 (1991): 214-23.
Murray, John Tucker. English Dramatic Companies 1558-1642. 2 vols. 1910, New York: Russell & Russell, 1963. Vol. I