Martin Swarte, His Life and Death

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Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 27 (Greg 1.53)

Under the heading, "Jn the name of god amen begininge the 25 of novembƺ 1596 as foloweth the lord admerall players":
S petters daye
[June 29]
|30| ne .. . . tt at liffe & death of marten swarte 02|08|01-11-06
July 1597
|6| tt at life & deth of marten swarte 02|10|01-13-09
|9| tt at life & death of marten swarte 01|03|02-13-01

Theatrical Provenance

"Martin Swarte, his Life and Death" was performed by the Admiral's men at the Rose playhouse; Henslowe's enigmatic "ne" indicates that the play was most likely new.

Probable Genre(s)

English/Foreign History

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

We can be reasonably sure of the subject matter of this lost play since Martin Schwartz was a historical figure of some renown. That Henslowe entered the title as ‘the life & death of marten swarte’ indicates that the play dramatized his career and, presumably, his death at or following the Battle of East Stoke in 1487. Martin Schwartz was a Swiss mercenary who, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography informs us, ‘made a name in the wars of the Low Countries. He gained a reputation for boldness but also for pitilessness’. It was from there that he was sent with a force of Swiss pikemen by Margaret, dowager duchess of Burgundy, to aid Lambert Simnel, the Yorkist pretender to the throne that had passed from Richard III to Henry VII following the Battle of Bosworth in 1585. The attempted coup was a disaster and Schwartz along with his fellows was killed, either in battle or subsequently (ODNB). The ODNB account does not mention this lost play but it is likely that the dramatist(s) drew on as well as contributed to the ‘posthumous literary fame’ Schwartz enjoyed in poetry such as John Skelton’s ‘Agaynst a comely coystrowne’ (c.1495-97?), ‘various ballads’ (Sibley, 103, citing Greg, Henslowe’s Diary, II:185), and William Wager’s interlude The Longer Thou Livest the More Fool Thou Art (c.1568) (Sibley, 103; ODNB). An EEBO search reveals that Schwartz is also mentioned in a number of historical accounts from the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth century, including Holinshed and Stow; similarities in phrasing indicate that these brief references were transmitted almost verbatim through these texts. This may in part establish the provenance of the next item.

References to the Play

John Ford’s play, Perkin Warbeck (c.1633), which also dramatizes an uprising against Henry VII, mentions ‘Swart’, which in the context can only mean Martin Schwartz but may not necessarily recall the play; though the identical spelling is suggestive, a number of printed accounts of the rebellion associate Swart and Sir Thomas Broughton syntactically, as does the play (‘Bold Martin Swart, with Broughton’ [1.1.94]), so we ought not to assume that Perkin Warbeck alludes to the lost play directly. In the opening scene of Ford’s play, as the king expresses concern that ‘for all this glorious work of peace / Ourself is scarce secure’ (1.1.13-14), Sir William Stanley includes in a list of adversaries ‘the German baron, / Bold Martin Swart’ (1.1.93-94). In his edition of the play Peter Ure glosses the reference as ‘the courageous leader of 2,000 mercenaries at Stoke’ (Ure, 18). If Ford is recalling the lost play, then ‘Bold Martin Swart’ might offer some indication of how the unknown dramatists treated the story. If so then this also points to a revival of the play, presumably by the Admiral’s Men at the Fortune, since Ford was only eleven years of age when the play is recorded as being staged at the Rose in 1597, and there is no record that it was ever printed.

Critical Commentary

Malone makes no comment on this play (p. 299). Collier offers a substantive footnote on the title character, not only with biographical details but also with the presence of Swarte in popular literature such as ballads (p. 89). Fleay, BCED repeats none of that, reverting instead to a bare bones listing (2.#197, p. 306). Greg II repeats Collier's informative entry almost in its entirety (#110, p. 185).

Sibley (p. 103) offers a brief, single-paragraph summary of the historical events in which Swartz participated and subsequent literary allusions (noted above).

Wiggins, Catalogue (#953) expands on Swarte's campaign in the service of the renegade Yorkist Earl of Lincoln and Lambert Simnel (whom the duke named as king). Taking the opportunity of the blurb on the "Swarte" play, Wiggins considers how the Admiral's men managed their repertory in mid-1597 given the influx of players and playbooks from the recently disbanded Pembroke's men; one issue he considers is what companies might have done with incoming secondhand plays that had been cast for a different number of players than the receiver-company had available.

For What It's Worth

How stable is the date of 1597?

The records Philip Henslowe kept may well provide a firm idea of the dating of this play, since it is designated ‘ne’, which theatre historians agree most likely signifies ‘new’ – in this instance, new to the Rose playhouse at least. Since the Admiral’s had been established at this playhouse at this time for fully three years, following the reorganization of the acting companies and London playing in 1594, it is perhaps unlikely that the ‘life & death of marten swarte’ was an old play being staged at Henslowe’s playhouse for the first time. However, if the play was composed earlier in the decade, then it may have been connected with the plays dealing with the reign of Henry VI that concluded with the accession of the first Tudor monarch, for the historical Martin Schwartz died in an uprising against the new king in 1487 (see 4. ‘Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues’ below). Although scholars have long debated the order of composition of the three Henry VI plays included in the First Folio (1 Henry VI is now credited partly to Thomas Nashe; see Taylor), there is general agreement that the plays were staged in 1592-93, and that in all likelihood the Shakespeare-Nashe collaboration is the play recorded by Henslowe as being performed by Strange’s Men seventeen times between March 1592 and January 1593 (Manley and MacLean, 96). This lost play dramatizing the life and death of Martin Schwartz may have been a hitherto unknown play belonging to the Lord Strange’s company, some of whose actors and plays were subsequently incorporated into the new configuration under the Lord Admiral. If so it lay dormant (at least according to Henslowe’s records) until it was revived in 1597. Alternatively it may have belonged to the Pembroke’s Men, alongside the plays now designated 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI: but if so it is unclear how it later came into the possession of the Admiral’s Men. The later Pembroke’s joined forces with the Admiral’s in 1597, but not until late July.

Possible Repertorial Context

There is no indication in the diary that the unknown dramatist or dramatists received payment from Henslowe for the play, but nevertheless a more likely scenario is that Henslowe’s entries refer to a new play. Roslyn Knutson has shown how Wars of the Roses plays featured in the repertories of the leading companies throughout the 1590s. In the period 1590-94 the Queen’s, Strange’s, Pembroke’s, Sussex’s, and subsequently Chamberlain’s Men staged plays, some lost (such as Sussex’s "Buckingham"), the others now designated the first tetralogy, that depict the traumatic events of the previous century. It may be particularly significant that ‘[a]t the end of the 1590s, three companies in competition with the Chamberlain’s Men also acquired plays on the subject. Admiral’s had "2 Henry Richmond" (1599-1600), as well as the three parts of "The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green" (1601-02). Derby’s Men had the two-part Edward IV. Worcester’s men made payments on a play called "Shore’s Wife"' (Knutson, 48-49). Henslowe’s record for performances of 'the life & death of marten swarte’ allows us to place it at the beginning of this late-1590s sequence, and it may be that this lost play influenced the other companies in their repertorial decision-making. At any rate, it would seem that a dramatization of Schwartz’s career fitted with the repertory offerings of the Admiral’s at this time, namely histories and adventure narratives. The company’s and the playhouse’s star actor Edward Alleyn retired at some point in 1597 (to return to the stage in 1600 to oversee the launch of the Fortune, where the Admiral’s Men were re-established): it may be that he played the role of Martin Schwartz. This play received three performances over a period of ten days; whether it was continued or revived later is unknown because for some reason Henslowe ceased to record the titles of plays staged at the Rose in November 1597. Nor, unfortunately, may we say with certainty whether the play was successful financially. As Carol Chillington Rutter observes, ‘at the end of January [1597] Henslowe changed his method of entering the receipts to a new system that has never been satisfactorily explained’ (Rutter, 107).

Edward Alleyn's part

If Edward Alleyn was yet to retire from playing when the Admiral’s Men staged ‘the life & death of marten swarte’ in July 1597 then it is more than plausible that he took the title role. Martin Schwartz’s ‘reputation for boldness but also for pitilessness’ (ODNB) hints perhaps at what we might think of as ‘Tamburlaine characteristics’, which scholars associate with other titles where Alleyn is believed to have played the protagonist, such as the Tamar Cham plays as well as the Marlowe staples, The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus, and the Tamburlaine diptych; that the historical character is referred to as ‘Bold Martin Swart’ may also be relevant in this respect. At any rate the titling of a play with a proper name provides some idea of the likely content, if not of course of the way it was treated; and its probable similarities, in formal and genre terms, with other plays in the Admiral’s repertory at this time further support the established view that the acting style and roles for which Alleyn became famous remained the backbone of the Rose’s offerings well into the second half of the decade.

Works Cited

Arthurian, Ian. "Schwartz, Martin (d. 1487)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.
Foakes, R.A., ed. Henslowe’s Diary. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. The Repertory of Shakespeare’s Company 1594-1613. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
Rutter, Carol Chillington. Documents of the Rose Playhouse. 2nd edn. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
Sibley, Gertrude Marian. The Lost Plays and Masques, 1500-1642. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1933.
Taylor, Gary. "Shakespeare and Others: The Authorship of Henry the Sixth, Part One," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 7 (1995), 145-205.
Ure, Peter, ed. The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck: A Strange Truth, London: Methuen, 1968.

Site created and maintained by Mark Hutchings, University of Reading; updated 16 February 2016