Edward Alleyn, 1566-1626

Edward Alleyn was born on 1st September 1566 in London, England. He was one of the greatest actors of Shakespearian England and he was the lead member of the Admiral's Players. As is testified by Thomas Nashe:
"Not Roscius nor Aesope, those admired tragedians that have lived ever since before Christ was borne, could ever perform more in action than famous Ned Allen" - (Pierce Penilesse, 1592)
His rival for the title of the greatest actor in England was Richard Burbage, leader of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. This rivalry extended to the playwrights that they performed for, Burbage primarily acting for Shakespeare and Alleyn for Marlowe. Alleyn was most noted for his performances as the title roles in Tamburlaine and Dr Faustus and his role as Barabas in The Jew of Malta all by Marlowe.

Alleyn was the son of an innkeeper in Bishopsgate and at the age of 17 he joined the provincial touring company, the Earl of Worcester's Men, and for a few years he toured the areas outlying London until 1585 when he decided that he wasn't happy to merely be part of this provincial troupe, so he journeyed to London with the aim of performing before the Royal Court of Elizabeth I.

Not long after his arrival Alleyn joined the Admiral's Men. He quickly rose to prominence and became the lead actor of the group. He continued to perform in London and on 22nd October 1592 he married Joan Woodward. Woodward was the step daughter of theatre owner and business man Philip Henslowe.

Henslowe owned the Rose theatre, the Paris Garden (a bearbaiting arena) and other smaller ventures. Alleyn became Henslowe's business partner and managed his theatre and produced plays for him. It was at the Rose theatre, which became the troupes home on returning to London in 1593 after a year long outbreak of the plague had kept them away, that Alleyn made his name and that of his company truly famous. They performed fifty five new plays there over the next three years.

Alleyn decided to retire from the stage in 1598, happy with his role as theatre manager. However he was so popular that Queen Elizabeth I requested he return to acting because of his great popularity. Alleyn continued to perform at irregular intervals for Her Majesty but otherwise did no acting work.

In 1600 Alleyn and Henslowe embarked on a joint venture to construct another theatre, to be called the Fortune. The Fortune was a replica of the Globe theatre which had been built the year before. Meanwhile Henslowe and Alleyn continued to expand their bearbaiting arenas and business. Elizabeth I died on March 29 1603 and Alleyn never acted again.

In 1605 Alleyn, now an extremely wealthy man, bought the Manor of Dulwich for £5000. This was to be the beginning of a long, historical association with Dulwich. As Alleyn aged, he was now living in Dulwich permanently, he decided that he should give back to the community. Some claim that he saw the error of his ways, with his bear pits and brothels that he ran, and decided that he must atone for his sins. There is even a story that says he saw a thirteenth devil whilst performing Faust in Dulwich when there were only twelve devils cast. However there is unlikely to be any truth in this as Alleyn had stopped acting by this time.

Whatever Alleyn's reasons the upshot was the founding of Edward Alleyn's College of God's Gift in 1613 at a cost of £10,000. The College was officially recognised on 21st June 1619 with a Royal Charter from King James I. This foundation became known as the school of Dulwich College and the Foundation of Alleyn's College of God's Gift. It spawned Christ's Chapel of God's Gift, Alleyn's School and James Allen's Girls School. The foundation also lead to the setting up of Dulwich Picture Gallery the first public art gallery in England.

On June 28th 1623 Joan, Alleyn's wife, died. She was buried on the grounds of the College of God's Gift Chapel. Alleyn then remarried to the daughter of John Donne, the poet. His marriage to Constance Donne took place on December 3rd 1623 when Alleyn was 58 and Constance just 20.

Alleyn died three years later on November 25th 1626 while on a business trip to Yorkshire. He left his entire to estate to the Foundation Alleyn's College of God's Gift and it is this bequeathal that supplies the foundation to this day.


Alleyn was featured as a character in Shakespeare in Love played by Ben Affleck.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.