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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: July ::
Re: Legal Status of Boy Actors
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1725  Tuesday, 30 July 2002

From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Jul 2002 21:20:55 -0600
Subject: 13.1717 Query: Legal Status of Boy Actors
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1717 Query: Legal Status of Boy Actors

David Evett wrote:

>I take it that the legal status of the boys in the adult acting
>companies was similar to that of apprentices to tailors or
>grocers--governed by an indenture signed by their parents or guardians
>binding the boys to serve the sharers for some fixed period, at the end
>of which they could become journeymen.

In many cases, the boys in the adult acting companies *were* apprentices
to tailors or grocers, in the legal sense -- they were apprenticed to
adult players who were freemen of one of the livery companies of London,
such as the Merchant Taylors or the Grocers, and their apprenticeships
were recorded in the records of those companies.  If such a boy served
out the term of his apprenticeship, he could become free of the company
in which he had been apprenticed, even if his training had been entirely
in the theatre.  Many of the leading adult players were free of a livery
company -- just within the King's Men, John Heminges, Alexander Cooke,
and William Trigge were Grocers (the latter two were Heminges'
apprentices), Robert Armin and John Lowin were Goldsmiths, John Shank
was a Weaver, Ambrose Beeland was a Draper, and numerous others may have
been free of other companies whose records do not survive.  John
Heminges bound ten apprentices as Grocers over a span of 33 years, and
most of them can be traced as boy players with the Chamberlain's-King's
Men.  I discuss all this in some detail in a paper I wrote for this
year's SAA, and which I will finish revising for publication in the near
future after I've done some further research.

>Does anybody know what
>conditions governed the boys in the boy companies--Paul's, the Children
>of the Chapel Royal, etc.?

It was basically the same, except that the boys were generally bound for
a period of 3 years rather than the 7-10 years of the adult companies.
We know of two specific contracts for boys in the boy companies, both of
which survived by being entered into the record in lawsuits.  In both
cases, the boy was bound to someone who was free of a livery company
(Thomas Kendall, Haberdasher, for the Children of the Chapel in 1606,
and Martin Slater, Ironmonger, for the Children of the King's Revels in
1608), and in both cases the term of indenture was three years.

>And whether boys sometimes moved from one
>type of company to the other?

Yes, or at least they moved from the boy companies to the adult
companies.  In the 1635 "Sharers' Papers", Cuthbert Burbage, Winifred
Burbage Robinson, and William Burbage mention "the Boyes commony called
the Queenes Majesties Children of the Chappell", and write that, "In
process of time the boyes growing vp to bee men, which were Vnderwood,
Field, Ostler, and were taken to strengthen the King's service..."
Independently, James Wright wrote in *Historia Histrionica* (1699) about
"the Children of her Majesty's Chappel" and wrote that "Some of these
Chappel Boys, when they grew Men, became actors at the Black-friers;
such were Nathan Field, and John Underwood."

Dave Kathman

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