Queen’s Men History and Times

Queen’s Men History and Times

[…] even if we know significantly less about the Queen’s Men and their plays than we know about Shakespeare, it is certain that our theatrical inheritance would be considerably less rich if not for the twenty years they spent touring England as servants of their monarch (Para 7)
Para1Recognizing the significance of the Queen’s Men’s theatre history at the beginning of the 21st century requires digging and diligence. Most extant records dealing with them are dryly fiscal, their dramatic accomplishments have been overshadowed by the theatre scene of late sixteenth-century London, and none of their extant plays were written by a Shakespeare, a Marlowe, or a Jonson. But while they may fall below the radar of many contemporary audiences and readers of Renaissance drama, their accomplishments were stunning, and from the beginning of their career, the Queen’s Men were destined to be—if nothing else—remarkable.


Para2The Queen’s Men were, from their inception, a unique company. Founded in 1583 under the aegis of Queen Elizabeth I, the players who became members of the Queen’s Men were drafted from existing troupes such as Leicester’s Men and Sussex’s Men to form an all-star company. Several explanations exist as to why the Queen’s Men were formed—perhaps the theatre-loving Elizabeth granted her imprimatur to protect great players from anti-theatrical civic authorities, or perhaps she did so as part of an effort to regularize playing companies—but their subsequent role and success are clear.


Para3Until the beginning of the 1590s, they performed regularly at court during the annual Christmas festivities. They were popular among London’s discerning theatre audiences, and they were certainly the most prestigious and popular company in the nation. Travelling well-worn routes through the provinces, the Queen’s Men would regularly appear in cities and towns, be granted permission to play, and would be paid—more than any other contemporaneous company—to perform. Even after the famous London companies such as the Admiral’s Men became more popular than the Queen’s Men at court and in the city, the Queen’s Men continued to tour the provinces, and they remained the most successful company outside London until they finally disbanded in 1603, upon the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Ideological Work

Para4Apart from entertaining Elizabeth at court, the Queen’s Men also performed political and ideological work on her behalf. As one might expect of a company who travelled under the queen’s protection their plays espoused political views in line with royal policy when they toured the country: they idealized moderate Protestantism, they celebrated English nationalism, and they occasionally included encomiastic tributes to Elizabeth and her forebears. Indeed, their plays mostly lend themselves easily to this ideological work: regular doses of comedy no doubt contributed to their myth-making history plays that dealt with national monarchs including King Leir, King John, Henry IV, Henry V, and Richard III.
Para5Quite possibly the Queen’s Men also served as informants to the queen and her privy council, gathering information from the provinces when they travelled. Considering that Elizabeth’s so-called spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham was integral to the founding of the Queen’s Men—even though he otherwise showed little interest in drama—such questions about their work as informants seem inevitable.

Impact on Shakespeare

Para6At the beginning of the 21st century, it takes considerable digging and diligence to understand the Queen’s Men. Nonetheless, their dramatic legacy was substantial and it remains quite familiar. For instance, though we’re more likely to see one of Shakespeare’s histories on stage than we are to see one of the Queen’s Men’s histories, it was the Queen’s Men who invented the form of history play that Shakespeare reproduced to such great effect.
Para7Shakespeare’s professional relationship with the Queen’s Men is unclear and it is likely to remain unclear unless new evidence is discovered, but Shakespeare certainly relied on the Queen’s Men’s plays when writing his own histories, taking plots, characters, and occasionally phrases from The True Tragedy of Richard III, for instance, or The Famous Victories of Henry V. Less precisely, the Queen’s Men’s plays also seem to have influenced Shakespeare’s comic sensibility and they perhaps suggested to him the dramatic effectiveness of the juxtaposition of high and low scenes—a device that the Queen’s Men use to great effect in most of their plays. Indeed, even if we know significantly less about the Queen’s Men and their plays than we know about Shakespeare, it is certain that our theatrical inheritance would be considerably less rich if not for the twenty years they spent touring England as servants of their monarch.

Queen’s Men Timeline and Touring


Para8 Queen’s Men Formed: In late March, The Queen’s Men are formed under the direction of Sir Francis Walsingham and the Earl of Leicester, composed of the finest actors from existing companies. Founder members include: John Adams, John Bentley, Lionel Cooke, John Dutton, John Garland, William Knell (poss. joined in 1585), John Lanham, Tobias Mills (or Myles), John Singer, Richard Tarlton, John Towne, and Robert Wilson.
Para9 The Affray at Norwich: June 15. An affray involving members of the Queen’s Men and a recalcitrant, unpaying audience member breaks out at The Red Lion in Norwich during a performance, leaving the audience member dead. Two members of the company, John Singer and John Bentley, are involved in the ss subsequent court case which seems to have been resolved without a trial and without recorded punishment for Singer or Bentley. For a detailed account of this moment in Queen’s Men history, see Jennifer Roberts-Smith, The Red Lion and the White Horse: Inns Used by Patronized Performers in Norwich, 1583-1624, Early Theatre 10:1 (2007) 110-111.
Para10 Clyomon and Clamydes : Possible date for the composition of Clyomon and Clamydes, though some argue that it was written as early as 1570, and our editor suggests 1594/5 is more likely.


Para11 John Bentley dies: The register at St. Peter’s Cornhill gives his age as 32.
Para12Tobias Mills dies: July. Buried at St. Olave’s, Southwark in 1585.


Para13William Knell marries


Para14Richard Tarlton made Master of Fence
Para15Famous Victories: The latest possible date for The Famous Victories of Henry V. Tarlton’s Jests includes a story about Tarlton and Knell performing a scene from Famous Victories, and Knell died in June of this year.
Para16William Knell killed in Duel: A coroner’s inquest reports that on 13 June, 1587, between 9 and 10 pm, Knell entered a close called White Hound in Thame, Oxfordshire and assaulted John Towne, his fellow actor. Towne, fearing for his life, took to the high ground of a nearby “mound” and put his sword through Knell’s neck in self-defence. Knell was dead within the half-hour. The Queen pardoned Towne on 15 August after it was determined he acted in self-defense (Eccles 82–83, 157–158).
Para17 Selimus: The earliest possible date for a performance of Selimus because Selimus is clearly a response to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. It was first published, without being entered in the Stationers’ Register, in 1594 by Thomas Creede.


Para18 Richard Tarlton dies: September 3. He was buried in St. Leonard’s Shoreditch.
Para19 Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay: Probably first performed before Tarlton’s death on September 3; the part of Miles was likely written for him.


Para20 Lawrence Dutton has joined the company: John Dutton’s brother Lawrence Dutton reported as a member of the Queen’s Men.
Para21 Three Lords and Ladies of London : Wilson composes Three Lords and Ladies of London. The play refers explicitly to The Spanish Armada and to the death of Tarlton, and it was first entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1590 before being published by Richard Jones.
Para22 Queen’s Men Tour Ireland: In July, a branch of the Queen’s Men, in their most ambitious tour, visits Ireland.
Para23 Queen’s Men perform in Edinburgh: In October, the Queen’s Men travel to Edinburgh to perform at the wedding of James VI to Anna of Denmark; the wedding is postponed when Anna is trapped by adverse winds at Oslo.


Para24Three Lords and Ladies of London: The play is entered in the Stationers’ Register, and is published in the same year, by Richard Jones.


Para25 The Troublesome Reign of King John Published: The Troublesome Reign of King John was published by Sampson Clarke without prior entry in the Stationers’ Register.
Para26 Old Wives Tale : Earliest possible date for the composition of Old Wives’ Tale. In Old Wives Tale, Peele continues a public squabble with Gabriel Harvey that probably began in 1591.


Para27 Last Recorded Queens’ Men Appearance at Court: On January 6, the Queen’s Men make their final recorded appearance at court. The company continues to tour the provinces.
Para28 Titus Andronicus : January 24. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is entered in Henslowe’s diary, though it may have been written as early as 1589.
Para29 Queen’s Men at the Rose: April 1–8. The Queen’s Men appear with Sussex’s Men at the Rose; this is their final recorded performance in London or the suburbs.
Para30 Queen’s Men Plays published: May 14. The Famous Victories of Henry V entered in the Stationers’ Register for Thomas Creede. King Leir and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay are registered for Adam Islip, though Islip’s name is struck through and replaced with Edward White’s name.
Para31 True Tragedy of Richard III : June 19. The True Tragedy of Richard III is entered in the Stationers’ Register for Thomas Creede, and is published by Creede in the same year.
Para32 Selimus published: By Thomas Creede without an entry in the Stationers’ Register.


Para33 Old Wives Tale published: April 16. The Old Wives Tale is entered in the Stationers’ Register for Ralph Hancock. The play was printed in the same year by John Danter to be sold by Hancock and John Hardie.
Para34Actor John Garland granted annuity: Company player John Garland was granted an annuity of 2 shillings a day by the Queen.


Para35 Famous Victories published: The Famous Victories of Henry V published by Thomas Creede. We believe it was performed before 1587 because Edward Knell is reported to have played Henry V and he died that year.


Para36 Clyomon and Clamydes: The play is published by Thomas Creede, but some believe it was part of the Queen’s Men repertoire for many years.


Para37 Final Recorded Performance by the Queen’s Men: In Congleton, the Queen’s Men perform their final show of which there is a record, some time between Christmas 1602 and Elizabeth I’s death.
Para38 The Queen Dies: 24 March. Elizabeth I dies.

Interactive Map

Para39This site will eventually include an interactive map showing routes and places visited on tour, with local information supplied from Camden and other historiographer pop-ups; and links to other websites, such as The Map of Early Modern London

Queen’s Men Actors

John Adams (fl. 1576-1588)
John Bentley (c.1553-1585)
Lionel Cooke (fl. 1583-1588)
John Dutton (d. 1614)
John Garland (d. 1624)
William Knell (d. 1587)
John Lanham (fl. 1571-1591)
John Singer (d.1609)
John Towne (d. 1617)
Robert Wilson (d. 1600)

Patrons and Performances Website

Para40To explore the company in more detail, visit the Records of Early English Drama (REED) website that documents all references of theatrical activity found in the historical documents of the period. There are many references to the Queen’s Men and the Queen’s Player or Players. This particular page will give you a quick impression of the extent and reach of the company: The Queen’s Players.


Janelle Jenstad

Janelle Jenstad is a Professor of English at the University of Victoria, Director of The Map of Early Modern London, and Director of Linked Early Modern Drama Online. With Jennifer Roberts-Smith and Mark Kaethler, she co-edited Shakespeare’s Language in Digital Media: Old Words, New Tools (Routledge). She has edited John Stow’s A Survey of London (1598 text) for MoEML and is currently editing The Merchant of Venice (with Stephen Wittek) and Heywood’s 2 If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody for DRE. Her articles have appeared in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Elizabethan Theatre, Early Modern Literary Studies, Shakespeare Bulletin, Renaissance and Reformation, and The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. She contributed chapters to Approaches to Teaching Othello (MLA); Teaching Early Modern Literature from the Archives (MLA); Institutional Culture in Early Modern England (Brill); Shakespeare, Language, and the Stage (Arden); Performing Maternity in Early Modern England (Ashgate); New Directions in the Geohumanities (Routledge); Early Modern Studies and the Digital Turn (Iter); Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers (Indiana); Making Things and Drawing Boundaries (Minnesota); Rethinking Shakespeare Source Study: Audiences, Authors, and Digital Technologies (Routledge); and Civic Performance: Pageantry and Entertainments in Early Modern London (Routledge). For more details, see janellejenstad.com.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is LEMDO’s Consulting Programmer and Designer, a role he assumed in 2020 after three years as the Lead Developer on LEMDO.

Martin Holmes

Martin Holmes has worked as a developer in the UVicʼs Humanities Computing and Media Centre for over two decades, and has been involved with dozens of Digital Humanities projects. He has served on the TEI Technical Council and as Managing Editor of the Journal of the TEI. He took over from Joey Takeda as lead developer on LEMDO in 2020. He is a collaborator on the SSHRC Partnership Grant led by Janelle Jenstad.

Navarra Houldin

Project manager 2022-present. Textual remediator 2021-present. Navarra Houldin (they/them) completed their BA in History and Spanish at the University of Victoria in 2022. During their degree, they worked as a teaching assistant with the University of Victoriaʼs Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies. Their primary research was on gender and sexuality in early modern Europe and Latin America.

Peter Cockett

Peter Cockett is an associate professor in the Theatre and Film Studies at McMaster University. He is the general editor (performance), and technical co-ordinating editor of Queen’s Men Editions. He was the stage director for the Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men project (SQM), directing King Leir, The Famous Victories of Henry V, and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (2006) and he is the performance editor for our editions of those plays. The process behind those productions is documented in depth on his website Performing the Queen’s Men. Also featured on this site are his PAR productions of Clyomon and Clamydes (2009) and Three Ladies of London (2014). For the PLS, the University of Toronto’s Medieval and Renaissance Players, he has directed the Digby Mary Magdalene (2003) and the double bill of George Peele’s The Old Wives Tale and the Chester Antichrist (2004). He also directed An Experiment in Elizabethan Comedy (2005) for the SQM project and Inside Out: The Persistence of Allegory (2008) in collaboration with Alan Dessen. Peter is a professional actor and director with numerous stage and screen credits. He can be contacted at cockett@mcmaster.ca.


Eccles, Mark. Shakespeare in Warwickshire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1961. WSB aav113.



The LEMDO Team is based at the University of Victoria and normally comprises the project director, the lead developer, project manager, junior developers(s), remediators, encoders, and remediating editors.

QME Editorial Board (QMEB1)

The QME Editorial Board consists of Helen Ostovich, General Editor; Peter Cockett, General Editor (Performance); and Andrew Griffin, General Editor (Text), with the support of an Advisory Board.

Queenʼs Men Editions (QME1)

The Queen’s Men Editions anthology is led by Helen Ostovich, General Editor; Peter Cockett, General Editor (Performance); and Andrew Griffin, General Editor (Text).