Randall, Earl of Chester (Chester’s Tragedy)

Thomas Middleton (1602)


Historical Records

File:Randall Earl of Chester MSS 7, 108 recto.jpg
See the relevant MS entry in the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project site here.

F.108r; Greg I, 171; Foakes, 205:

pd at the apoynt of wm Jube the 21
of octobʒ 1602 vnto mr medelton in pte of
payment ffor his playe called [felmelanco] Chester
tragedie the some of iiijli

(The title 'felmelanco' is crossed out, and 'Chester' inserted underneath.)

F.108r; Greg I, 171; Foakes, 206:

Lent unto Edward Jube the 9 of novmbʒ 1602
to paye vnto mr mydelton in fulle paymente
of his playe called Randowlle earlle of chester
the some of xxxx s

Theatrical Provenance

Admiral's Men.

Probable Genre(s)

Described as a tragedy in the first record. However, Greg suggests that the word 'tragedie' could have been part of the 'felmelanco' title and inadvertently left to stand (II, 225).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Greg notes that Holinshed's Chronicles mentions three Earls of Chester called Ranulf. Doris Feldmann and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador note that two of these men had lives colourful enough to stimulate the interest of a dramatist: Ranulf de Gernons (d. 1153) and Ranulf de Blundevill (d.1232) (330).

Other writers had already represented Randalls or Ranulphs of Chester. Feldmann and Tetzeli von Rosador point to a line in Piers Plowman (V.395) which mentions the existence of "rymes about Robyn hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre". They further note that Anthony Munday included a "Ranulphe, Earl of Chester" in John a Kent and John a Cumber, and an Earl of Chester in both The Downfall and The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon (the latter Earl is de Blundevill). Another appears briefly in the Admiral's Men's play Look About You. The popular lost play The Wise Man of West Chester may also have been an influence (329-30).

Ranulf de Blundevill

(Text to be included)

Ranulf de Gernons

The following references to Ranulf de Gernons, Earl of Chester appear in Holinshed's Chronicles:

In the moneth of Iulie the empresse Maud lan|ded here in England at Portesmouth,The empresse landed here in England. & went strait to Arundell, which towne (togither with the countie of Sussex) hir mother in law Adelicia king Henries second wife, wedded to William de Albenay, held in right of assignation for hir dower. There came in with the empresse hir brother Robert and Hugh Bi|got, of whom ye haue heard before.
Some write that the empresse brought with hir a great armie, to the intent that ioining with Ra|nulph earle of Chester (who tooke part with Robert erle of Glocester, bicause the same Rob. had maried his daughter) she might fight with king Stephan, and trie the battell with him.


The king followed hir verie earnestlie, and comming vnto Lincolne besieged it, assaieng on e|uerie side which waie he might best find meanes to win it, & enter into the same. At length the empresse found shift to escape from thence, and within a little while the king got possession of the citie. But short|lie after, Robert earle of Glocester, and Ranulph earle of Chester, Hugh Bigot, and Robert of Mor|ley assembling their power, aswell of Welshmen as others, to come to the succour of those that were thus besieged, came to Lincolne, & pitching downe their tents néere to the enimies, they rested the first night without making any great attempt.


Now on the aduersaries side, the earle of Chester led the fore ward, and those whome king Stephan had disherited, were placed in the middle ward. In the rere ward the earle of Glocester with his compa|nie had the rule. And besides those thrée battels, the Welshmen were set as a wing at one of the sides.
Here the earle of Chester (to vtter the good will which he had to fight) appointed in faire armour as he was, spake these words in effect as followeth, dire|cting the same to the earle of Glocester, and other the capteines, saieng:
I giue you hartie thanks, most inuincible chiefteine, and you my fellow soldi|ers, which declare your hartie good wils towards me, euen to the ieoparding of your liues at this my re|quest and instance. Sith then I am the occasion of your perill, it is conuenient that I make the first en|trance, and giue the onset of the battell vpon that most disloiall king, who granting a truce, hath bro|ken the peace; and swearing to be a subiect, is now prooued a most wicked vsurper: I therefore trusting both vpon reuenge of the vniust dealings of this king, and also vpon mine owne force and courage, shall straitwaies breake in sunder the arraie of his armie, and make waie through the middest of the e|nimies with sword in hand. It shall be your parts then to follow me, who will lead you the waie: for e|uen now my mind giueth me, that I shall passe tho|rough the battels, tread the capteines vnder foot, and run the king through with this my sharpe sword.


The wing of the disherited men ouerthrew and bare downe their aduersaries, which were led by the duke of Britaine, and the forenamed earles. On the contrarie part, the earle of Albemarle and William de Ypres put the Welshmen to flight, but by the earle of Chester and his retinue, the same earle and William de Ypres were fiercelie assailed afresh, and put out of order. Thus was the kings side put to the worse, namelie his horssemen, who being placed in the forefront, and there ouermatched, fell to galoping. Which thing when the king beheld, he was not yet any whit therewith abashed, but like an har|die captein (as he was no lesse indéed) comforted his footmen whom he had about him, and rushing vpon his enimies, bare them downe, and ouerthrew so manie as stood before him, so that with the point of his weapon he made himselfe waie. His footmen, who were but a few in number to the multitude of his enimies, counteruailed in all points the prowes and manlike dooings of their king and capteine, in|somuch that few battels had beene better fought, nor with greater slaughter on both sides, if the kings fore ward (which in maner at the first shranke backe and was disordered, not without some supicion of treason) had staied the brunt of the enimies a while, as it had béene requisite. At length the king encoun|tring with the earle of Chester, being ouercharged with multitude, was taken prisoner by one William de Cahames.


Likewise Robert Marmion, who had attempted the semblable robberie & spoile in the abbeie church of Couentrie, was slaine before the same abbeie by a like mischance. For going foorth to encounter with the earle of Chester (his mortall enimie, and being approched as then towards the citie) he fell with his horsse into a ditch, which he caused to be couertlie made for the destruction of his enimies: and before he could be relieued, a souldier of the earles part stept to him, and stroke his head from his shoulders in sight of both armies.


About the same time aduertisement was giuen, that the citie of Lincolne, which the earle of Chester had in keeping, was but slenderlie manned. Where|vpon the king conceiuing some hope to win the same, hasted forward: and comming thither in the night, laid siege therevnto, and began to cast a trench to stop them within frõ making any salies without.
The earle at the first being somewhat amazed with the sudden approch of the enimie, yet beholding from the walles the maner of them without, he perceiued the rankes to be verie thin: and thereby gessing their number to be but small, suddenlie issued foorth at the gates to encounter with them. The king a|bode not the giuing of the charge, bicause he was but weake and therefore fled;The siege raised. neither could the earle follow the chace conuenientlie, for the like cause; but setting vpon those that were about to make the trench, he slue 80. of the workemen, and then retired into the castell.


In the yeare following; namelie, in the 10. yeare of king Stephans reigne, Robert earle of Glocester and other capteins tooke in hand to build a castell at Faringdon. But king Stephan assembling an ar|mie of Londoners and other, came thither, and besie|ged them within. Now whilest earle Robert and o|thers of the empresses capteins remaining not far off, taried for a greater power to come to their aid, the king with sharpe assaults (but not without losse of his men) wan the fortresse:The king winneth it by force. whereby his side be|gan to wax the stronger, and to be more highlie ad|uanced. After this he came with a mightie armie vn|to Wallingford, and there builded a strong castell ouer against the other castell which his aduersaries held against him.
Thither also came the earle of Chester with a great traine of knights and gentlemen vnto the king, and so at length they were not vnfeignedlie accorded and made freends, but in apperance on the kings behalfe. For shortlie after, the earle was craftilie taken at a parlement holden at Northampton, by the practise of K. Stephan, and could not be deliuered, till he had surrendred the citie and castell of Lincolne, with o|ther fortresses perteining to the crowne into the kings hands. About that time did the Welshmen destroie the prouince of Chester, but at last they were distressed. This yeare also the lord Geffrey earle of Aniou sent thrée Noble men into England, accom|panied with certeine men of warre, vnto earle Ro|bert, requesting him to send ouer his sonne Henrie into France, that he might sée him, and if need requi|red, he promised to send him backe againe with all conuenient speed. Earle Robert was contented to satisfie his request: and so with a good power of ar|med men brought the lord Henrie vnto Warham, where he tooke leaue of him, neuer after to sée him in this world. For when the child was transpor|ted, earle Robert returned spéedilie to the parties from whence he came, and there falling into an ague, departed this life about the beginning of Nouem|ber, and was buried at Bristow. The lord Henrie comming to his father, was ioifully receiued, and re|mained in those parties for the space of two yeares and foure moneths.
In the meane season, the vniust procéedings of K. Stephan against the earle of Chester, purchased him new hatred of his old aduersaries, and like supicion of such as were his freends, for it sounded not a little to his dishonor. Euerie man therefore was in doubt of his dealing, K. Stephan entreth into Lincolne with his crowne on his head. and iudged that it stood them vpon to take héed to themselues. But he (as one that thought he had atchiued some high exploit) in triumphant wise shortlie after entred into Lincolne in his roiall robes, and his crowne on his head, whereas it had not béene heard that any king had doone the like ma|nie yeares before.
¶ It is reported by some writers, that he did this, to root out of mens minds a foolish superstitious con|ceit, which beléeued that no king with his crowne vp|on his head might enter that citie, but some mis|chance should light vpon him: wherevpon he seemed by this meanes to mocke their superstitious imagi|nation.
About the same time manie of the Nobles of the realme (perceiuing the kings authoritie to represse violent wrongs committed by euill dooers to be de|fectiue) builded sundrie strong castels and fortresses vpon their owne grounds, either to defend them|selues, or to make force vpon their enimies néere adioining. After the departing of the king from Lincolne, the earle of Chester came thither with an armie, to assaie if he might recouer that citie. But his lieutenant that had the leading of his men, was slaine at the entring of the northgate, and so the erle was beaten backe with the losse of manie of his men: and the citizens hauing got the vpper hand, re|ioised not a little for the victorie.


The lord Henrie Fitzempresse after all these businesses returned into England, in the moneth of May, with a great companie of men of warre both horssemen and footmen: by reason whereof many re|uolted from king Stephan to take part with him: whereas before they sat still, and would not attempt any exploit against him. But now incouraged with the presence of the lord Henrie, they declared them|selues freends to him, and enimies to the king. Im|mediatlie after his arriuall, he tooke with him the earles of Chester and Hereford, Ranulfe and Roger, and diuers other Noble men and knights of great fame, beside those whom he had brought with him out of Normandie, and went vnto Carleil, where he found his coosin Dauid king of Scotland, of whome he was most ioifullie receiued.


About the same time also that noble and valiant earle of Chester called Ranulfe departed this life, a man of such stoutnesse of stomach, that death could scarselie make him to yeeld, or shew any token of feare: he was poisoned (as was thought) by Willi|am Peuerell. After him succeeded his sonne Hugh, a man likewise of passing strength and vertue. Now although earle Ranulfe fauoured the part of duke Henrie, yet in these later yeares he did but little for him: wherefore it was thought that the death of this earle was not so great a losse to the duke, as the deaths of Eustace, earle Simon, and other the kings fréends deceasing about the same time seemed to fur|ther him: so that his part became dailie stronger, and the kings weaker.

(Holinshed's Chronicles, 1587 ed., volume 6, pp. 51-65)

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Henslowe's Diary

Greg states that "there can be no reasonable doubt" that the entries transcribed above in Historical Records refer to the same play (Greg II, 225), and subsequent commentators have agreed. Where "felmelanco" has been crossed out and "Chester" supplied in its place, Foakes notes that the play title seems to be in Thomas Downton's hand, although Greg thought it was Robert Shaa's.

Possible additional historical record

The following entry for an unnamed play by Middleton appears in Henslowe's diary as follows:

f.116v; Greg I, 181; Foakes, 217)

Lent at the a poyntment of John ducke
in earnest of A playe called [title left blank]
the some of xxs 3 of octobʒ 1602
to mr mydellton

Doris Feldmann and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador argue that this is an early reference to Randall, due to "[t]he progressive concretization of the title, the proximity of dates, [and] the complementary nature of the statements about the payments" (328). They suggest that if the untitled Middleton play of 3 October is Randall, it must have changed buyers during the process of writing from Worcester's to the Admiral's Men (328). They acknowledge that the resulting total of £7 is large, but they do not find the sum outside "Henslowe's limits" or the move to what they term "Henslowe's other company ... [an] uncommon procedure" (328).

Subject matter

Greg thought Ranulf de Blundevill was the likeliest subject of the play (Greg II, 225).

Feldmann and Tetzeli von Rosador suspect that Middleton's play was about Ranulf de Gernons. While de Blundevill's life has dramatic potential, involving opposition to England paying tithes to Rome, and a rescue from a besieged castle, it does not seem suited to tragedy. They argue that de Gernons, a baron who pursued his personal autonomy over the rule of King Stephen, took him captive, but was then captured himself and forced to surrender, is closer to the pattern of tragedy. They imagine that Middleton's play might have depicted de Gernon's opposition to the King, his capturing of him, and his subsequent surrender after being captured himself. They suggest that although Holinshed describes further events in de Gernon's life - other "alliances, intrigues and battles" - Middleton could have created a tragic structure by having Ranulf be summarily killed after his surrender, perhaps "poisoned by William Peverell, whom, it is said, he had robbed of his land". They further speculate that an appearance by Empress Matilda could have provided the "element of sexual violence or violent sexuality" that Middleton often favoured (330).

Identifications with other plays

Greg suggests that Randall may have been Middleton's refashioning of The Wise Man of West Chester, which he believes to be the same play as John a Kent and John a Cumber, since a Ranulph, Earl of Chester appears in that play. However, Greg acknowledges that Ranulph does not play an important part in that play (Greg II, 225).

Greg also notes the contention of F.G. Fleay that Randall may be connected with William Rowley's The Birth of Merlin (which Fleay believed to be related to the lost Uther Pendragon). Fleay's justification is the presence in Birth of a character named "Edol, Earl of Chester", but Greg finds the names too different to indicate a connection (Greg II, 225).

For What It's Worth

(Information welcome.)

Works Cited

Doris Feldmann and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador, "Lost Plays: A Brief Account", in Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 328-333.

Site created and maintained by David Nicol, Dalhousie University; updated 20 May 2011.