Harry of Cornwall

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Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Philip Henslowe recorded the following performances of "Harry of Cornwall" in his book of accounts (familiarly known as "Henslowe's diary") in the spring of 1592:

Fol. 7 (Greg I, 13)

Res at harey of cornwell the 25 of febreary 1591 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxxijs
Res at harey of cornwell the 23 of marche 1591 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiijs vjd

Fol. 7 v (Greg I, 14)

Res at harey of cornwell the 29 of aprell 159[1]2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxvjs
Res at harey of cornwell the 18 of maye 1592 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxvjs


Philip Henslowe's papers in the Dulwich college Library

Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe exchanged letters in 1592-3 while Alleyn was touring with Lord Strange's men and Henslowe was holding the business (and household) together during plague closures in London. Alleyn had married Joan Woodward, Henslowe's stepdaughter, on 22 October 1592; and in the following letter addressed to her (undated, but assigned by Greg, Papers (MS. I, art. 11, pp. 35-6) and Foakes, 276-7 to 1 August 1593), he gives information on his touring itinerary so that her letters will reach him: "send to me by the cariers of shrowsbery or to west/ chester or to york to be keptt till my lord/ stranges players com" (Foakes, p. 276). Alleyn then mentions an upcoming performance of "Harry of Cornwall" at Bristol, where he and the company currently are:

… and thus sweett hartt
wt my harty comenda[tions] to all or frends I sess
from bristo this wensday after saynt Jams his day
being redy to begin the playe of hary of cornwall …

Theatrical Provenance

Lord Strange's men performed "Harry of Cornwall" at the Rose in 1592 and on the road at Bristol in August 1593. Unfortunately, the civic records from Bristol make no mention of that performance, though they do record the presence of the company at that time.

Wiggins, Catalogue #905 assigns the play to 1591 within a range of 1576-92. Basing his argument on its run in 1592 and touring in 1593, he considers the play "in the middle of its repertory life" compared with other plays performed by Strange's Men that also were not marked "ne" (see a discussion of the problem of non-ne plays in Henslowe's playlists @ Wiggins #878).

Probable Genre(s)

History (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Manley and MacLean identify the sources of "Harry of Cornwall" as "the obvious chronicle sources in English as well as the Historia maior of Matthew Paris (1571) and the Flores historiarum of Matthew of Westminster (1570)" (p. 135). These chronicles include Holinshed.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Neither Malone, Collier, nor Fleay, BCED comments on "Harry of Cornwall," except that Malone formalizes the name in parentheses (Henry of Cornwall). Greg II flirts with Henslowe's entry as a mistake for "Richard of Cornwall" (and thus another name for Alphonsus of Germany), but decides that "nothing is known of this piece" (#6, p. 151).

Manley and MacLean provide a detailed identification of the title character. Henry of Cornwall (who inherited the earldom from his father, Richard), also known as Henry of Almaine (a title he received when his father became king of the Germans), "was raised at court as a companion to his cousin, the young Prince Edward, and the fortunes of the two were to remain intertwined throughout the Barons' War" (p. 135). In that war, he reversed allegiance more than once. Simon de Montfort, "leader of the barons," showed him mercy at one stage and was rewarded by Henry's taking up arms against him again, but he did not participate in de Montfort's defeat at the battle of Evesham in 1265 (p. 136). Edward "Longshanks" (not yet Edward I) killed de Montfort and his son, dismembering and desecrating de Montfort's corpse. Henry of Cornwall paid for this dishonorable act with his life: sons of de Montford murdered Henry at the cathedral in Viterbo as he knelt in prayer "'afore the high altar'" (p. 136 [qtd. Holinshed]). The sons are themselves "immortalized" in ignominy in Dante's Inferno, where Guy suffers "in the fiery Phlegeton" (p. 136).

Manley and MacLean also suggest a repertorial context for "Harry of Cornwall." They include it in a category of plays staged by Lord Strange's Men that were "designed to complement, by way of prequel or sequel, preexisting plays, some of which were in the possession of other companies" (p. 94). A contemporary (and in some sense sequel) was Edward I (S. R. 8 October 1593, Q 1593, 1599 [company affiliation uncertain]); it opens with a "coronation procession" that includes Guy and Charles Montfort as prisoners (pp. 136-7). Manley and MacLean interpret this staging as "some unexplained business" from "Harry of Cornwall," observing further that the brothers' display "achieves a poetic justice that history denied, as Edward enters London holding captive the two murderers of his beloved companion Henry" (p. 137).

Manley and MacLean consider it likely that "Harry of Cornwall" was "a large-scale chronicle play" not unlike "harey the vj" current also in Strange's repertory; in its own thirteenth century, "Harry of Cornwall" had ties to The Troublesome Reign of King John, Q1591, in the repertory of the Queen's men (p. 138).

Manley and MacLean provide a context for the performance of "Harry of Cornwall" at Bristol early in July 1593, pointing out that Alleyn's letter mentions St. James's Day, and "Bristol's nine-day St. James fair was still in progress" (261). Further on the topic of touring, Manley and MacLean acknowledge that the Bristol performance of "Harry of Cornwall," plus the likelihood that the play was an episodic chronicle suggests it had "a full cast," whereas theater historians traditionally have thought such plays required too many players and theatrical paraphernalia to be taken on tour (pp. 272-3).

Manley and MacLean include the detail that one of de Montfort's supporters, Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, lost his life and title in continued rebellion against Edward (specifically in a battle led, ignominiously, by Henry of Cornwall), implying a certain historical piquancy in that Cornwall's play was acquired and staged by the company whose patron would become the earl of Derby in September 1593 (p. 136)

Wiggins, Catalogue #905, though unimpressed with the historical significance of "the Cornish Harries," nonetheless suggests that de Montford and his son (Guy), as well as Edward I, were characters in the play.

Knutson extends the family of plays to which "Harry of Cornwall" belonged beyond Edward I to include the latter's sequel, Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, which the company of the earl of Pembroke's men owned and staged in the same year that Strange's men performed "Harry of Cornwall." Indeed, if Pembroke's men took Edward II on tour, it was fresh in the provincial mind in the summer of 1593. However, a month before the Bristol show, Edward II was in the hands of stationers (S. R. 6 July 1593), and Pembroke's men were preparing to abandon their tour (2017, p. 134). If the stage history ofEdward III were better known, it too might have had a familial and repertorial connection with plays earlier in the chronological narrative of the early and royal lives of Edward I and Edward II.

For What It's Worth

Theater historians have very few clues about the relationship of a company's London repertory and the plays taken on the road. It is therefore noteworthy that Strange's men gave "Harry of Cornwall" its last recorded showing at the Rose on 26 May 1592; they did not offer it at Christmastide at the Rose, 1592-3. Yet they took it on the road in the summer of 1593, playing it at Bristol in early July. The gap between the London and provincial performances appears significant; however, "Harry of Cornwall" might have been in the touring repertory for the summer of 1592 (granted, a plague time), in which case its reappearance in the summer of 1593 is not so odd.

Works Cited

Knutson, Roslyn L. "Edward II in Repertory" in Edward II: A Critical Reader, The Arden Shakespeare (London: Bloomsbury), 2017. 119-44.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 20 July 2020.