Tartarian Cripple, The (Emperor of Constantinople)

Anon. (1600?)

Historical Records

Book Trade Records

Stationers' Records

S. R. I, 3.63/169 (CLIO)

14 Augusti [1600]
master Burbie Entred for his copie vnder ye handes of Master HARSNET, and ye wardens. The Famous Tragicall history, of ye Tartarian Crippell Emperour of Constantinople ……… vjd

S. R. I, 3.188b-189/420-1 CLIO)

16. Octobris [1609]
Master Welby Assigned over vnto hym by mistres Burby in full Court holden this day with the consent of the master wardens and Assistentes here present in Court All her right in these copies folowinge vnder this condycon that yf there shalbe found any indirecte Dealinge herein by any of the parties to the same Then these copies to be at the disposicon of the Company and this entrance to be void ……… xixs
(Under this heading is a list of 38 items, a mix of prose tracts, drama, and poetry; the 32nd item in the list is below.)
32. Tertarian Criple Emperour of Constantinople

Theatrical Provenance

It is not certain that Cuthbert Burby was registering a playbook when he registered "The Tartarian Cripple." And if it was a play, there is no reliable information on its theatrical provenance. It is not in Henslowe's book of accounts; inferentially, therefore, it was not in the repertory of the Admiral's men c. 1598-1600, when it is most likely to have been current. For the conjecture that it might have been owned by the Chamberlain's men, see For What It's Worth, below.

Probable Genre(s)

Heroical History, but see For What It's Worth, below.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The title of this work appears to point toward the historical figure, Tamerlane, or Timur the Lame (1336-1405), better known to students of early modern English drama as Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine. By implying a fusion of historical and dramatic characters (Tamerlane/Timur the Lame/Tamburlaine/Tartarian Cripple) and a city (Constantinople) repeatedly in the sights of some ambitious warlord, the title creates a semi-historical fictional situation. Tamburlaine was never emperor of Constantinople. Nevertheless, he enjoyed imperial status with the Greeks because he defeated the Turks and thus protected Constantinople from invasion (however temporarily). The bible of Turkish history in the early modern period is The Generall Historie of the Turks by Richard Knolles (1603). That work is too late to be literally a source for "The Tartarian Cripple," but it does provide a version of Tamburlaine's contact with Constantinople (EEBO, 221-22). Knolles dates the episode in 1397, just following Tamburlaine's defeat of Bajazeth, fourth king of the Turks (by Knolles's accounting). The episode has three major components: (1) Tamburlaine approaches Constantinople; (2) he reacts to the Greeks' peace offering; (3) he visits Constantinople.

Tamburlaine approaches Constantinople (Knowles, EEBO 221)

After he had defeated Bajazeth, Tamburlaine sent his captain, Axalla, ahead to Prusa (Bursa) with 40,000 horse and a 100,000 foot soldiers to round up the rest of the Turkish army along with Bajazeth's bassas and children. These had fled, but Axalla took prisoner Bajazeth's "wiues & concubines," including Despina [Marlowe's Zabina], Bajazeth's "best beloued wife." The Greek emperor, Emanuell, hearing of Tamburlaine's approach and knowing his recent success, sent ambassadors to yield his territory without a fight: "the Greeke emperour submitted all his empire together with his person, vnto Tamerlane the great conquerour, as his most faithfull subject and vassaile." Emanuell's professed reason for doing so was that Tamburlaine had "deliuered [him] from the most cruell tirant in the world [Bajazeth]." Emanuell pledged his loyalty and praised Tamburlaine for "his so many vertues, and rare accomplishments, which made him famous throughout the world." Because of these accomplishments the Greek emperor delivered not only "his cheefe citie" but also "all the empire of GREECE."

Tamburlaine reacts to the Greek emperor's peace offering (Knowles, EEBO 221-2)

The Greek ambassadors expected "to fall into bondage to Tamerlane, thinking that which they offred to be so great and delicate a morsell, as that it would not be refused, especially of such a conquering prince as was Tamerlaine" (221). They thought "the best bargaine they could make" would be Tamburlaine's acceptance of their offer "in kindnesse, and friendship." They were therefore shocked by his reaction:
For he with a mild countenance beholding them, answered them, That he was not come from so farre a countrey, or vnderaken so much paines for the enlargement of his dominions alreadie large inough, (too base a thing for him to put himselfe into so great danger and trauaile for) but rather to winne honour, and thereby to make his name famous vnto all posteritie for euer.
In a grand gesture, Tamburlaine claimed that he had come to aid his friends and allies, that his power had come from God above to bruise "the head of the greatest and fiercest enemie of mankind that was vnder heauen," and that he to get himself "an immortall name, would make free so great and flourishing a citie as was CONSTANTINOPLE, gouerned by so noble and ancient an house as the emperours." After further praise of the Greek emperor, Tamburlaine, sounding for all the world like some idealistic Christian knight out of a medieval romance, finished his statement with magnanimity:
That vnto his courage, hee had alwaies faith joyned, such as should neuer suffer him to make so great a broach in his reputation, as that it should be reported of him, That in the colour of a friend, he came to inuade the dominions of his allies: That he desired no more, but that the seruice he had done for the Greeke emperour, might be euer be ingrauen in the memorie of his posteritie, to the end that they might for euer wish well vnto him and his successours, by remembring the good he had done them (221-2).
The Greek ambassadors, rejoicing at this answer, accepted the offer of a feast with Axalla.

Tamburlaine visits Constantinople (Knowles, EEBO 222)

The Greek emperor, equally astonished that Tamburlaine "refused an empire offered vnto him," initiated celebrations in Constantinople Including "bonfires and all other signes of joy and pleasure." He then paid Tamburlaine a visit in Bursa to express his thanks; the two "great princes" spent the day together. When the Greek emperor prepared to leave the next day, Tamburlaine expressed "a secret desire to see this so famous a citie as was CONSTANTINOPLE." He insisted, though, that he wanted to visit the city "as a priuat person," not "as a conquerour." The Greek emperor, "with all familiaritie possible," became an enthusiastic and obliging host. He showed Tamburlaine "all the rare and excellent things that were therein to be seene," including "the faire gardens alongst the sea coast, a league or two from CONSTANTINOPLE." These tours took five or six days, and the visit generally was interspersed "with all the mirth that might be possible." Tamburlaine responded to the sites with the effusive praise appropriate to a gracious guest, saying that
he had neuer seene a fairer citie: and that it was indeed the citie (considering the faire and rich situation thereof) of right, worthie to commaund all the world. He wondered at the costly buildings of the temples, the faire ingrauen pillars, the high pyramides, and the making of the faire gardens, and oftentimes afterwards said, That he nothing repented him of his so long and dangerous a voyage, if it had been onely but to haue preserued from fire and sword so noble a citie as that was.
The two great men exchanged a "solemne oath" of friendship on parting. Emanuell, knowing Tamburlaine's "pleasure in faire seruiceable horses," gave him "thirtie of the fairest, strongest, and readiest, … all most richly furnished." In addition, he "sent … faire presents vnto all the princes and great commaunders of the armie, and bountifully caused to bee deliuered vnto them all things which he thought to be necessarie for the armie." Tamburlaine, thus refreshed, returned to the march across Asia, where he "wasted and spoiled" all Bajazeth's remaining territory, "no man daring to make head against him."

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Greg (BEPD, 1.16; 2.970) included "The Tartarian Cripple" among his list of lost plays despite his concern that the work was "not necessarily dramatic."

Knutson, trusting Greg's instinct that the "The Tartarian Cripple" was a playbook, considers the repertorial competition in which the play would have engaged if it belonged to the late 1590s as its registration date implies. That competition included the revival of Marlowe's Tamburlaine plays, parts one and two, for the Admiral's men at the Rose in 1594-5; the revival of the two-part Tamar Cham in the spring of 1596, also at the Rose; and perhaps revivals of The Turkish Mahomet and Hiren the Fair Greek and The Battle of Alcazar, both of which Shakespeare's Pistol alludes to in 2 Henry IV in context with a garbled line from Tamburlaine, part two.

Wiggins, Catalogue, not entirely convinced that "The Tartarian Cripple" was a play, does consider Cuthbert Burby's "relationship" with the Chamberlain's Men in the late 1590s to make plausible an assignment of the play to that company. He calls it "a good chance" that Burby received the playbook from the Chamberlain's Men, if indeed the title represents a play (#1181).

For What It's Worth

Company Ownership

On the day that Cuthbert Burby entered "The Tartarian Cripple" into the Stationers' Register (14 August 1600), he also entered Every Man In his Humour. However, for that entry he was joined by Walter Burre. The Burby-Burre entry for Jonson's play immediately precedes the entry for "The Tartarian Cripple," and it has a separate payment of 6 pence. Therefore, only the proximity of the entries and the coincidence of Burby's participation implies that the two works were obtained from the same company. That company would have been the Chamberlain's men, to whom the Jonson play indisputably belonged. If it was also approximately the same age as Jonson's play, it would have been performed at the Curtain c. 1598 and the Globe subsequently.

Not Marlowe's Tamburlaine

If the author/s responsible for "The Tartarian Cripple" followed sources compatible with Knolles's history, the play depicted a Tamburlaine with a very different reputation from Marlowe's. Knolles does not ignore the image of the warrior that justified epithets such as "The wrath of God" and "The Terrour of the World" (211), but he tempers this image with admiration, even praise. For example, in an aside on Tamburlaine's courteous response to the peace offering of the Greeks, Knolles observes: "Few princes (I suppose) would performe such a part: but so there be likewise but few Tamerlanes in the world" (222). Knolles attributes the harsh treatment of Tamburlaine to English historiographers who "seeme too much to haue followed the report of the Turks, who by him brought low, and their kingdome almost in one battell subuerted, report ... many vntruths" about him to construct "a very monster in nature ... a lumpe of earth tempered with blood" (212). Knolles takes an anti-Turk perspective, relishing Tamburlaine's treatment of Bajazeth "shackled in fetters and chaines of gold, and ... shut vp in an iron cage made like a grate" so that he could be seen from every side as he was carried "vp and downe ... through ASIA" (220). Knolles adds that "vpon festiuall daies [Tamburlaine] vsed him for a footstoole to tread vpon, when he mounted to horse" (220) and "fed him like a dogge with crums fallen from his table" (221). Even so, Knolles justifies Tamburlaine, claiming the punishment was done "not so much for the hatred to the man, as to manifest the just judgment of God against the arrogant follie of the proud" (221). In Knolles's account, Bajazeth remains in his cage throughout the Constantinople interlude, his wife now a prisoner of Tamburlaine also.
Modern historians such as Prawdin acknowledge that Tamburlaine, though he did not become Emperor of Constantinople, earned the gratitude of the Greeks for his defeat of the Turks: "Tamerlane's renown as the saviour of Christendom spread throughout Europe" (496).


Given the nature of the Constantinople episode, it is possible that "The Tartarian Cripple" story focused on recreations rather than combat; its genre therefore would have leaned toward the comedic, quasi-pastoral formula of royals on R & R with their inferiors in political but rarely in moral stature. However, the entry in the Stationers' Register does provide the generic signals of "Tragicall history" when Burby registered the work.

Play title

If it seems odd that the title calls attention to Tamburlaine's lameness, perhaps it is no more so than Ben Jonson's play on Richard III being called Richard Crookback; Shakespeare uses this Richardian epithet in The First Part of the Contention and The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York. It is omitted from 2 Henry VI, but some instances are retained in 3 Henry VI.

Works Cited

Knolles, Richard. A Generall Historie of the Turkes. London 1603. EEBO
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Evidence for the Assignment of Plays to the Repertory of Shakespeare's Company," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 4 (1989): 63-89.
Prawdin, Michael. The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy. trans. Eden and Cedar Paul. London: Allen & Unwin, 1940.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 23 May 2017.