Play marred by an affray at Norwich

Anon. (1583 or earlier)

NB. "Play marred by an affray at Norwich" is a descriptive assignation for this otherwise untitled play. The name is used here for convenience.

Historical Records

Affray at Norwich (15-17 June 1583)

A number of witnesses gave their accounts of an affray that took place at a performance by the Queen's Men at the Red Lion in Norwich. They are reproduced in PRO KB29/219, mbs 150-2* (15-17 June 1583), and transcribed in REED Norwich, 70-76 and in Halliwell, "Contemporary Depositions", 9-26. The accounts include those by:

Henry Brown: who was at the play that afternoon and noted that "one of her maiesties seruauntes was abused at the gate", whereupon Brown "with others went owt and one in blew cote Cast Stones at Bentley and brocke his heade". Brown challenged the man, saying "villan wilt thowe murder the quenes man", but the man in turn called Brown "villan", so that Brown "stroke hym with his Sworde and hyt hym on the legg ... at Bloomes backgate betwne the red lyon & mr davyes howse" (70-71).
Subsequently, upon further examination on 17 June 1583, Brown was asked "how manye of the players went from of the Stage on Satturdaye to Stryke the man wych was Slayne" and Brown replied that "there were but two of the players wich went viz Bentley and one other in a black dublyt called Synger and Tareton also was going but he was Stayed by the way". When asked who else struck the murdered man, Brown responded "the other man wyche went owte with bentley Strake the man with an Armynge Sworde one blowe vppon the shoulder & followed the fellowe wiche fled ffrom the whyte horse gate in St Stephans vnto mr Roberte Davyes howse". He added that after he had struck the man, "Synger dyd Stricke the man" but Brown had "sayed to hyme give hym noe more for he dowted he had ynoughe already and wen they came from the man agayn Synger sayed to this examynate [i.e. Brown] be of good Chere for yf all this matter bee layed on the thowe shalt haue what ffrendshipe we can procure thee". Brown further added that "before he dyd Strycke the man he dyd see Bentley thrust at hym twice with his naked Raper the one thrust was about the kneee but hee knoweth not where the other thrust was" (71).

William Kylbye of Pockthorpe, worsted weaver: who said that "on satturnday last in the after noone he was at a play in the yard at the red lyon in St Sephans and hee dyd see three of the players rvnne of the Staige with there Swordes in there handes being in the scaberdes and hard a noyse of Skufflinge at the lyon gate wherevpon this examynate [Kylbye] went out of the gate to se what the matter was and he dyd see a man at mr Robert Davyes howse leaninge agaynst a Stone bledinge" (71). One Edmund Kerrie told Kylbye "that two of the players dyd Rvnne after the man withe there wepons drawn and kerrie tooke one of the players in his armes & woold haue Stayed hym but one ran at hym with his sowrde and he feering some daunger to hym selfe lett thother goe and ffled hym selfe" (72).
Kylbye adds the detail that "they had begonne the play & one of them Ran owt in his playing apperell but he knoweth not the names of the players" (72).

Thomas Holland of Norwich: who said "That on Satturday last in the after noone he being without the Red lyon gate dyd ^˹see˺ one of the quenes players in his playinge apperell in the gate howse Stricke a man vppon the heade withe the hyltes of his Sworde and brake his heade but what his name was whose heade was broken he knoweth not but as he hard he was Called mr wynsdon ANd the sayde wynsdon and a man in a blew cote went from the gate and STode over the way and the people Standing at the gate dyd Stay the quenes seruante and desyred hym to be content wherevpon he havinge his raper drawen out of the Skaberd dyd ^˹put˺ yt vp and sayde he had doone and withdrawing hym selfe a lyttle frome the peple ran over the way towardes wynsdon and hym that had the blewe cote and they Ran away but the PLayer overtooke hym that had the blewe cote at the cockey nere mr Davyes howse with his raper drawn and thrust at hym that had the blew cote into the legg whereat hee that ^˹had˺ the blew cote cryed oh you haue mayned me and at the cockey tooke vp a Stone and therwe at the quenes seruaunt but whether he dyd hurt hym or not he knoweth ˹not˺" (72).
Holland proceeds to note that "then came | one Browne Sir william Pastons seruaunt & Strake a Blaw at hym that had the blew cote with his Sworde drawen but whether he dyd hurt hym or not he knoweth not Then agaynst mr Davyes corner one in a black dublet with an Arminge Sworde drawnen Straike at hym in the blew cote vppon the shoulder wherevpon he that had the blewe cote fell downe and then they all three wiche pursued hym that had the blewe cote came backe agayne & Browne sayde to the other two hee is sped I warrant hym and the other two men sayed what soeuer thous hast doen wee will bere the out" (72).

Edmund Brown of Norwich, draper: who noted "That on Satturday last he was at the play at the reed lyon and ^˹while˺ the players were in playeng one wynsdon would have intred in at the gate but woold not haue payed vntyll he had been within & therevpon the gage keper and hee Strykynge Tarleton came out of the stayge and would haue thrust hym out at the gate but in the meane tyme one Bentley he wich played the duke came of the Stage and wyth his hiltes of his Sworde he Strooke wynsdon vpon the heade and offered hym an other Strype but Tarleton defended yt wherevpon wynsdon ffled out of the gate and Bentley pursued hym and then he in the blacke dublet wich kept the gate ran vp into the stayge and brought An Armynge Swrode and as he was goinge out at the gate he drew the Sworde and ran out at the gate" (72-73).
Edmund Brown then went out into the street and saw the man in the black doublet strike two blows on the shoulder of the man in the blue coat, but after examining him, "dyd see his cote cut but not his ffleshe in that place but he sayeth that he that had the blewe cote had received his deathes wounde before blacke dublet Strooke hym but whoe gaue hym hys deathes wounde he knoweth not" (73). He believed the death wound was "a Thrust a bove his knee" (73).

Edmund Knee of Yelverton, yeoman: who adds that in forcing his way into the yard, Wynsdon "in Thrustinge spilt the monye out of the gate kepers hand", but Knee didn't see much further because "he dyd see the monye when yt laye vppon the grounde and was in gathering vp whervpon one Bentley whoe played the Duke in the play havinge a raper in his hand beinge vpon the stage and vnderstanding of the Stryffe at the gate went of the Stage and one Tarleton an other of the Players went of the staige also and one in a blacke dublet and an other in a tawnye cote but wynsdon ran out of the gate" (73). He reports that Tarlton tried to stop Bentley but gave up when they reached the gate; he saw the man in the blue coat throw stones but didn't see if the stones hit anyone; he did subsequently see Bentley's bleeding head, and saw "bothe the man in the blacke dublett and hym in the tawnye cote stricke | with there naked Swordes and the man in the tawnye cote dyd stricket at his legg but wheter he dyd hurte the man in the blew cote or noe he knoweth not" because he was too far away to see (73-74). He nonetheless identified the man in the tawny coat as being Mr Paston's servant, Henry Brown.
Knee reports hearsay (from Thomas Osborne of Kyrbye Bydon, gent.) that Brown admitted having "sped" the man.

Elizabeth, wife of Robert Davy of Norwich, grocer: who saw the wounded man at her gate and "for pyttye sake shee tooke into comforte hym" (74). She identifies the wounded man as "George" who claimed to be servant to Wynsdon, but Wynsdon admitted only that George had been his servant some fifteen or sixteen years past.

Margery, wife of Thomas Bloome: who reported discovering the wounded man and "shee went to hym and stopped his wounde wyth her fyngar and the<.> sent for a Surgeon" (74). She reports that he asked for his master Wynsdon, and when she asked him "whoe dyd hurt hym" he replied "a fellowe in a red cote"; when he said this, "shee thought it had been one of the Quenes seruantes but no<..> of them had one [i.e. worn] there cotes at that tyme" (74).

George Jackson of Norwich, beer brewer: who said that "he went toward the red lyon in St Stephans and he dyd se a man rvnninge hastylye owt of the lyon gate and an other man in a blacke dublytt dyd rune owte"; he also saw "one of the players in his players apperrell with a players berd vppon his face with a Sworde or a raper in his hand drawen", who chased the man in the blue coat -- but Jackson could not say if he did hurt him (75).

William Drake of Norwich, grocer: who heard from his brother Stephen, who attended the play, that "a man in a white hat <...> misvsed the players and was thrust out at the dores and dyd owt rvn the players and the man wiche was slayne dyd quarrell with the players and threw Stones at hym and as hee thought the player was dazeled for he could not Stricke hym wherevpon one of mr Pastons Seruantes sayed wilt thou misvse the Quenes men and therewith ran after the man and strake hym as he ran from hym wherevpon the people cryed out to Browne ^ ˹mr pastons man sayeng˺ houghe hym not then he turned his blowe to a thruste and gave hym that thrust and one other with his naked sworde and this examynate sayeth that his brother sayed he never sawe man bleed so muche as hee hee dyd after mr Pastons man had pricked hym" (76).

Norwich Quarter Sessions Minute Books VI

The session minutes, in Latin, for 17 June 1583, appear in NRO 20.a, f.44v-45r, f.48r-49r, f.53(b)v, f.56r-57v; and transcribed in REED Norwich 66-69. Bentley and Singer are committed to and released from prison, but do not appear at the court hearing; Henry Brown is ultimately left alone to face the charges, and pleads benefit of clergy on 23 September 1583.

Theatrical Provenance

This play was performed on the afternoon of Saturday 15 June 1583, by the newly formed Queen's Men (at the time only a month old) in the yard at the Red Lion in Norwich. Players present included John Bentley (in the role of a Duke), John Singer, and Richard Tarlton. When a playgoer (Winsdon) attempted to enter the venue without paying admission, he scuffled with Singer at the gate, causing Singer to spill the contents of his moneybox. An affray followed and another man ("George", claiming to be Winsdon's servant) was killed. Bentley had a rapier with him as part of his role as a duke, and used it in the fight. He chased George out of the playhouse and wounded him; George retaliated by throwing stones at Bentley and injuring him. Singer took a large "Armynge Sworde" from the stage, caught up with the wounded George and struck him. George subsequently died of his injuries. Bentley and Singer were held in prison for two days, and failed to appear at the associated court hearing on Monday 23 September 1583.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Unknown. The reference to swords in scabbards and costuming including a beard and a black doublet do not shed any light on the possible subject matter.

References to the Play

See Historical Records above.

Critical Commentary

Wiggins (744), referring to this simply as "Play", notes that "Attempts to identify the play on the basis of the known repertory of the Queen's Men are futile, since most of the extant plays are almost certainly not early enough"; he therefore classifies this as a lost play.

Keenan (104-05) believes the play was The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, a play whose nationalism may have inspired rowdy behaviour, though she does acknowledge the possibility that "the play was one (now lost) with a duke as its leading role or authority figure" (105). (Wiggins, though, suggests a 1586 date from a possible range of 1583-87).

Roberts-Smith offers an account of the venue itself, and conjectures that a mistaken assumption about Winsdon's motivations may have sparked the fracas:

Although an inn the size of the Red Lion probably had a spacious indoor hall suitable for entertainments, on a June afternoon, when spectators would not mind being outdoors, the possibility of accommodating a much larger audience while still controlling access through the ‘gate’ made the yard attractive. The gate money that Syngar was guarding could have been a very substantial sum, large enough that when Tarlton and Bentley saw it land on the ground, they might have thought Wynsdon was trying to steal the money rather than merely enter without paying. ("The Red Lion" 115)

J. O. Halliwell provided a transcript of the depositions in 1864: (PDF, CC-BY licence‎)

For What It's Worth

(Information welcome)

Works Cited

Halliwell, J. O., ed. Contemporary depositions respecting an affray at Norwich in the year 1583. London, 1964.

(PDF‎, CC-BY licence)

Keenan, Siobhan. Travelling Players in Shakespeare’s England (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)
Roberts-Smith, Jennifer. "The Red Lion and the White Horse: Inns Used by Patronized Performers in Norwich, 1583-1624". Early Theatre 10.1 (2007): 109-44.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 22 March 2017.