Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Philip Henslowe c.1555-1616

Philip Henslowe provides a link between the area of a cluster of early Beggars Bush place names in Sussex and many of the early authors who used Beggars Bush in their works. He is best known for his “Diary”, which is the main primary source for the day to day workings of Elizabethan theatre. He was an entrepreneur with wide business and family links in London and Sussex. I cannot show that he ever used the phrase, but he must have been aware of it. <h3>Biography</h3>

His father Edmund Henslowe appointed Master of the Game for Ashdown Forest, Sussex, from 1539, and lived at Maresfield, between from then until his death in 1562.  A survey of the bounds of the Forest dated 1565 records an early Beggars Bush place-name at Hartfield on the road from Lewes to East Grinstead and London. By the time of Edmund Henslowe’s death his daughter Margaret had married Ralph Hogge, an iron founder who had interests foundries around Buxted and Duddleswell, the nearest village to the Hartfield Beggars Bush.

Philip Henslowe himself is recorded working as assistant to Henry Woodward, reputed to be the bailiff of Viscount Montague, owner of Cowdray Park and Battle Abbey in Sussex. Henslowe married Woodward’s widow, Agnes, and from 1577 was living in Southwark, opposite the Clink Gaol. His elder brother Edmund, a merchant, also owned property Southwark. Philip developed extensive business interest, including dying, starch-making, pawn-broking, money lending and trading in goat-skins. He owned property in East Grinstead and Buxted, Sussex, where his brother in law Ralph Hogge lived. However, his main activity was as a landlord in Southwark.  One of his authors, Henry Chettle, described him as unscrupulously harsh with his poor tenants, even though Henslowe made many loans to him.

In 1584 Henslowe purchased a property known as The Little Rose, in Southwark, a playhouse but also reputedly a brothel. Henslowe managed this, and enlarged it in 1592, in which year he went into partnership with Edward Alleyn, already an established actor with the Admiral’s Men, and the husband of his step-daughter. They built the Fortune theatre north of the river in 1600, against which John Taylor petitioned the King on behalf of the Watermen’s Company, because of the expected loss of business transporting theatre patrons across the Thames. Henslowe and Alleyn also ran the Paris Garden, a venue for bear-baiting. They purchased the office of Keeper of the Royal Game, namely the bulls, bears and mastiffs using for baiting. They later opened the Hope playhouse on Bankside, with a movable stage so it could be used for both plays and bull-baiting. At this time such bloody sports were not only popular and profitable, but were socially acceptable. Indeed it was unlawful for butchers not to have baited a bull before killing it, as it was believed this improved the quality of the meat. Henslowe served as a vestryman, churchwarden and overseer of the poor in St Saviour’s ward, a collecter of the Lay Subsidy and had connections with the court.  He died in 1616, still actively involved in the theatre.

His “Diary” is an account book covering the period 1592-1603. It contains records of plays, costumes and properties, money loaned, receipts from performances, and other theatrical transactions. It mentions twenty-seven Elizabethan playwrights, but not Shakespeare, who was associated with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Henslowe variously commissioned, bought and put on plays by, or made loans to Robert Greene, John Day, Henry Porter, Henry Chettle, John Fletcher and Philip Massinger all of whom use Beggars Bush in their works. His diary shows him to have been a careful man of business, obtaining security in the form of rights to his author’s works, and holding their manuscripts, while tying them to him with loans and advances.

Between 1576 and 1586 Henslowe was actively involved in the trade in timber from Ashdown Forest. The famous “Diary” is in fact written on the reverse of pages of a book of accounts of Hogge’s ironworks kept by his brother John Henslowe for the period 1576-1581. Hogge was also a warden of Ashdown Forest, and The Queen’s Gunstonemaker. He produced both iron cannon and shot for the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London. If these were not delivered to London by road they were sent to Lewes for onward transport by boat. John Henslowe appears to acted loosely as Hogge’s agent, staying with Philip in Southwark when in London on business. His entries relate not just to the products but the wood and other raw material produced from the Forest. Philip also maintained close contacts with his other family who remained in Sussex, including actively caring for and trying to advance the careers of his nephews. He left an annuity to one sister and a legacy to Mary, his youngest sister, who with her brother William was probably brought up in the Hogge household. After 1591 William was Philip’s contact over the family property in Sussex, over which there was litigation. This included a case in the Duddleswell court, and another that required Philip to go to East Grinstead.

From his close connections with the area it seems highly likely that Henslowe would encountered the Hartfield Beggars Bush, if not some of the other Beggars Bush place names in Sussex. We also know that the phrase was in use in the area by 1609, (see Brian Twyne). Henslowe must also have been aware of the literary use of the phrase, as it was used by many playwrights with whom he was associated. The phrase might have had a special attraction to a careful businessman who spread his investments and risk, and who was not averse to taking advantage of others when their folly brought them close to ruin. The strong correlations between the many writers who used it and Henslowe suggest that he may have introduced some of them to the phrase from Sussex.  One can almost hear him saying to some supplicant writer; “Well you’ve brought yourself to Beggars Bush, but I could see my way to helping if . . .”

Further Reading

Old DNB & DNB Philip Henslowe

Teesdale, Edmund, The Queen’s Gunstonemaker, being an account of Ralph Hogge, Elizabethan Ironmaster & Gunfounder, Lindel Publishing, Seaford, 1984.

Crossley, D.W., Ralph Hogge’s Ironworks Accounts, 1576-1581, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 112 (1974), pp. 48-79

Posted: June 27th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, Speculations, The Play | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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