Richard the Confessor

Anon. (1593)

Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 8v (Greg, I.16)

In a listing headed as follows:

In the name of god Amen begninge the 27 of
desembʒ 1593 the earle of susex his men

Res at Richard the confeser the 31 of desembʒ 1593 . . . ………. xxxviijs
Res at Richard the confeser the 16 of Jenewarye 1593 [i.e., 1594] ………. xjs

Theatrical Provenance

Sussex's Men at the Rose Playhouse. The play is not marked "ne". No other records of it are known apart from these two performances by Sussex's Men, one earning a very respectable 38 shillings,the second taking only 11 shillings. The other plays acted in this run by Sussex's Men were:

God Speed the Plough
Huon of Bordeaux
George a Greene
William the Conqueror
Friar Francis
Abraham and Lot
The Fair Maid of Italy
King Lud
Titus Andronicus
The Jew of Malta

Probable Genre(s)

History (Hazlitt, Harbage)
Saints play (Wiggins, Steggle)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The life of Richard of Wych, Bishop of Chichester (c.1197-1253), later canonized as Saint Richard of Chichester. Richard was a twelfth-century British bishop famous, primarily, for continuing to practise his ministry as a bishop even when Henry III had deprived him of all the assets of the bishopric. Richard continued to minister and to work, in particular, on behalf of the poor, until eventually Henry restored his possessions. A number of miracles were attributed to Richard's intervention, both during his life and after his death, and in the medieval era a sizeable cult grew up around him, centered at Chichester.

Francis Godwin provides a good summary of his reputation in the early modern period:

Richard de la Wich. After the death of Ralf Neuil, the Canons of Chichester to curry fauour with the king, chose a Chaplaine of his for their Bishop, one Robert Passelew, a man wise inough, and one that had done the king much good seruice, but so vnlearned, as the Bishops of the realme… procured his election to be disanulled, and Richard de Wiche to be chosen. This Richard de Wiche was borne at Wiche in Worcetershire, of which place he tooke his surname, and was brought vp in the vni|uersities of Oxford first, and Paris afterward. Being come to mans state, he trauailed to Bononia where hauing studied the Canon Law seuen yéeres, he became publique reader of the same. After that, he spent some time at Orleans in France, and then returning home, was made Chauncellour vnto Saint Edmund Archbishop of Canterbury as also of the vniuersity of Oxford. He was consecrate by the Pope him selfe at Lyons 1245. and so gouerned the charge committed to him, as all men greatly reuerenced him, not onely for his great learning, but much more for his diligence in preaching, his manifold vertues, and aboue all his integrity of life and conuersation. In regard of these things, as also of many mi|racles that are fathered vpon him, he was canonised and made a Saint some seuen yéeres after his death. He deceased Aprill 2. 1253. the ninth yeere after his consecration, and of his age the fifty sixt. He was buried in his owne church, and the yeere 1276 his body was remooued from the first place of buriall and laid in a sumptnous shrine. (Godwin, 386-7).

For a brief online overview of St. Richard's life, see Huddleston; for a full-length biography, see Capes; for a more specific discussion of early modern accounts of St Richard, see Steggle.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

For discussion of the run by Sussex's Men of which these performances formed part, see the LPD entry on The Fair Maid of Italy.

Malone assumed that Henslowe makes an error in recording the play with this apparently nonsensical title. Joseph Ritson disagreed, citing John Wilson's anthology The English Martyrology (1608) to conclude that Malone "does not know that there is such a personage as Richard the Confessor: whereas there are no less than Four Confessors of that name, any of whom might have been, and one certainly was, the hero of the above play." (Ritson, 29).

Collier, seemingly unaware of Ritson's work, makes a different guess:

[p]robably an error, although afterwards repeated, unless it were a play upon a story not historical. It might be in some way connected with the preceding entry of a play called Buckingham, which perhaps was founded upon the rise and fall of that favourite and dupe of Richard III. (31).

Collier's guess that this might have been a play about Richard III was widely influential.

W. C. Hazlitt, also seemingly unaware of Ritson's work, believed the play must have dealt with the reign of King Edward the Confessor, and indeed lists it under the title Edward the Confessor:

A play recorded by Henslowe under the doubtless erroneous title of Richard the Confessor, as having been performed by the Earl of Sussex's men, December 31, 1593. It immediately precedes a notice of the presentation of William the Conqueror. (70)

F. G. Fleay (BCED, 2.298) proposed that Richard the Confessor was simply a variant title for another, extant, play: "Query Alphonsus, Emperor of Germany." Fleay offers no supporting evidence.

Greg (2.158) rejects both Fleay's and Hazlitt's interpretations, and adds, "Nothing whatever is known of this play." Harbage, nevertheless, continues to list the genre as "History".

Wiggins and Steggle both independently argue that the eponymous character is St Richard of Chichester, the thirteenth-century bishop-saint. See Wiggins serial number 917, who suggests that it might be compared to other medieval-set plays of the period such as The Troublesome Reign.

Steggle adduces numerous medieval and early modern uses of the phrase Richardus Confessor, and its variants, to describe St. Richard of Chichester. Richard of Chichester was prominent in pre-Reformation liturgical calendars, and he was one of the relatively few saints whose feast-days survived into the protestant liturgical calendar. This made him "one of the elite group of prominent Elizabethan saints," and distinguishes him from the three other, comparatively obscure, Saint Richards discussed by Ritson. Steggle discusses the early modern reception of St. Richard of Chichester, and links Richard the Confessor to other extant and lost plays about British saints including Rowley's A Shoemaker, a Gentleman and the anonymous and lost "England’s First Happiness, or The Life of St. Austin". Steggle argues:

Richard the Confessor, in short, can be categorized as a member of the genre of the "regional medieval"; as a saints play; and as a play about bishops. And it gives a small but interesting sidelight on the two masterpieces, The Jew of Malta and Titus Andronicus. Whereas those two plays are foreign, Richard the Confessor was domestic and regional. Whereas those two plays revel in violence and cruelty, Richard the Confessor, with its vegetarian hero, had less scope for this. The Jew of Malta and Titus Andronicus are, among other things, explorations of human evil. In the circumstances in which we glimpse them in 1594, they were alongside a play which, having at its centre a saint, could hardly have avoided exploring the nature of human good.
(Steggle, 60)

For What It's Worth

Sally-Beth MacLean provides a civic and commercial context for plays in the West of England during the medieval period that featured saints. She argues that the most popular saints culturally were St. Nicholas and St. George, yet this popularity is not reflected in surviving evidence of plays featuring either one. Rather, the subject of the most saints' plays that survive in this area of England is "female martyr saints" (p. 51). According to MacLean, "Shrewsbury, home of an important shrine to a female virgin saint, is a likely urban centre for production of saint plays such as the two on record" (p.51). One of these featured Saints Feliciana and Sabina; the other featured St. Katherine of Alexandria (p. 55).

Works Cited

Capes, Mary Reginald. Richard of Wyche, labourer, scholar, Bishop and Saint (1197-1253). London and Edinburgh: Sands, 1913. Print. Internet Archive
Collier, John Payne (ed.) The Diary of Philip Henslowe, from 1591 to 1609. London: Shakespeare Society, 1845. Google Books
Fleay, F. G. A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642. London: Reeves and Turner, 1891. Print. Internet Archive
Godwin, Francis. A Catalogue of the Bishops of England. London: George Bishop, 1601.
Hazlitt, William Carew, ed., A Manual for the Collector and Amateur of Old English Plays. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1892.
Huddleston, Gilbert. "St. Richard de Wyche." The Catholic Encyclopedia 13 (1912) online at
MacLean, Sally-Beth. "Saints on Stage: An Analytical Survey of Dramatic Records in the West of England." Early Theatre 2 (1999). 45-62.
Ritson, Joseph. Cursory Criticisms on the Edition of Shakspeare published by Edmond Malone. London: Hookham and Carpenter, 1792.
Steggle, Matthew. Digital Humanities and the Lost Drama of Early Modern England: Ten Case Studies. Farnham: Ashgate, 2015.

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University; updated 09 September 2016.