Anon. (1604)

Historical Records

Letter: John Chamberlain

John Chamberlain to Ralph Winwood, 18 December 1604:

… the tragedie of Gowrie with all the action and actors hath ben twise represented by the Kings players, with exceding concourse of all sortes of people, but whether the matter or manner be not well handled, or that yt be thought unfit that princes should be plaide on the stage in theyre life time, I heare that some great counsaillors are much displeased with yt: and so is thought shalbe forbidden (Chamberlain, I.199).

Theatrical Provenance

The King's players acquired "Gowrie" by late autumn of 1604. Chamberlain does not specify the venue of the two performances to which he refers, but the tenor of his report—mostly gossip—implies a recent event. There is no documentary confirmation that the play was in fact taken down.

Formerly the Chamberlain's men, the King's men had acquired the patronage of James I in the spring of 1603; the royal patent is dated 19 May 1603. At about this time, the ban on performances that had been imposed by the privy council on 19 March 1603 in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth's death (24 March) was extended indefinitely due to rising death tolls from plague. Consequently unable to perform in London (the restraint was officially lifted on 9 April 1604), the King's players performed for their patron a few recorded times in the winter of 1603-4. They were at the Wilton estate of Lord Pembroke in Mortlake on 2 December 1603, during a visit by King James; between 26 December and 19 February 1604 (Shrove Sunday), the players performed eight plays for the court.

Probable Genre(s)

History Harbage?

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The Official Narrative

(under construction)

The Counter Narrative

(under construction)

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

(under construction)

For What It's Worth

The great oddity about this play is that the King's players put it on during their second year as servants of King James, yet it is rumored to have upset enough nobles to risk being taken down. Why put it up if it was a risk?

The Gowrie conspiracy, like so many luridly popular events, spawned jests, as in the following:

When Gowry (who attempted to kill King James) was led to the Tower, a friend of his told him, Ah, my Lord, I am sorry you had no more Wit. Tush, (quoth he) thou knowest not what thou sayst, when sawest thou a fool come hither?

Additional editions of John Chamberlain's letters include Sawyer, 1725; the "Gowrie" letter is in vol. 2, p. 41.

Works Cited

Anon. Poor Robin's Jests; or, the Compleat Jester. London, 1667.
Chamberlain, John. The Letters of John Chamberlain. ed. Norman Egbert McClure. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, v. 12, pts. 1 and 2; rpt. 2 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979.
Cowan, Samuel. The Gowrie Conspiracy and its Official Narrative. London: Sampson Lowe, Marston & Co., Ltd., 1902.
— — —. The Ruthven Family Papers. London: Simpkin, Markshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd., 1912.
Davies, J. D. Blood of Kings: The Stuarts, the Ruthvens and the 'Gowrie Conspiracy'. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan, 2010.
Forde, Thomas. Virtus Rediviva: a Panegyrick on our Late King Charles the I .... London, 1661.
Foxe, John. Christs Victorie ouer Sathans Tyrannie. .... London, 1615.
Hacket, John. A Century of Sermons upon Several Remarkable Subjects .... London, 1675.
Hart, William. The Examinations, Arraignment & Conuiction of George Sprot ...'. London, 1608.
Holyday, Barten. A Sermon Preached at Pauls Crosse, August the 5. 1623. London, 1626.
Lang, Andrew. James VI and the Gowrie Mystery. New York: Longmans, 1902.
Mackie, J. D., ed. Calendar of the State Papers Relating to Scotland and Mary, Queen of Scots 1547-1603. 13 Vols. Edinburgh: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1969. Vol. 13, part 2.
Sawyer, E. ed. Memorials of Affairs of State in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I. 3 vols. London: 1725.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 18 February 2012.