English dramatist and wit
Born 1612 Died 1683
Thomas Killigrew, son of Sir Robert Killigrew, was born in Lothbury, London, on the 7th of February 1612. Pepys says that as a boy he satisfied his love of the stage by volunteering at the Red Bull to take the part of a devil, thus seeing the play for nothing. In 1633 he became page to Charles I, and was faithfully attached to the royal house throughout his life.
In 1635 he was in France, and has left an account (printed in the European Magazine, 1803) of the exorcizing of an evil spirit from some nuns at Loudun. In 1641 he published two tragi-comedies, The Prisoners and Claracilla, both of which had probably been produced before 1636. In 1647 he followed Prince Charles into exile. His wit, easy morals and accommodating temper recommended him to Charles, who sent him to Venice in 1651 as his representative. Early in the following year he was recalled at the request of the Venetian ambassador in Paris
At the Restoration he became groom of the bedchamber to Charles II, and later chamberlain to the queen. He received in 1660, with Sir William Davenant, a patent to erect a new playhouse, the performances in which were to be independent of the censorship of the master of the revels. This infringement of his prerogative caused a dispute with Sir Henry Herbert, then holder of the office, but Killigrew settled the matter by generous concessions. He acted independently of Davenant, his company being known as the King's Servants. They played at the Red Bull, until in 1663 he built for them the original Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Pepys writes in 1664 that Killigrew intended to have four opera seasons of six weeks each during the year, and with this end in view paid several visits to Rome to secure singers and scene decorators.
In 1664 his plays were published as Comedies and Tragedies Written by Thomas Killigrew. They are Claracilla; The Princess, or Love at First Sight; The Parson's Wedding; The Pilgrim; Cicilia and Clorinda, or Love in Arms; Thomaso, or the Wanderer; and Bellamira, her Dream, or Love of Shadows. The Parson's Wedding (acted c.1640, reprinted in the various editions of Dodsley's Old Plays and in the Ancient British Drama) is an unsavoury play which displays nevertheless considerable wit, and some of its jokes were appropriated by Congreve. It was revived after the Restoration in 1664 and 1672 or 1673, all the parts being in both cases taken by women. Killigrew succeeded Sir Henry Herbert as Master of the Revels in 1673. He died at Whitehall on the 19th of March 1683.
He was twice married, first to Cecilia Crofts, maid of honour to Queen Henrietta Maria, and secondly to Charlotte de Hesse, by whom he had a son Thomas (1657-1719), who was the author of a successful little piece Chit-Chat, played at Drury Lane on the 14th of February 1719 with Mrs Oldfield in the part of Florinda.
Killigrew enjoyed a greater reputation as a wit than as a dramatist, John Denham
said of him: "Had Cowley ne'er spoke, Killigrew ne'er writ, Combined in one, they'd made a matchless wit
". Many stories are related of his bold speeches to Charles I
(12 Feb. 1668) records that he was said to hold the "title of King's fool or Jester, with a cap and bells at the expense of the king's wardrobe, and that he might therefore revile or jeer anybody, even he greatest, without offence
His elder brother, Sir William Killigrew (1606-1695), was a court official under Charles I and Charles II. He attempted to drain the Lincolnshire fens, and was the author of four plays (printed 1665 and 1666) of some merit.
A younger brother, Dr Henry Killigrew (1613-1700), was chaplain and almoner to the Duke of York, and master of the Savoy after the Restoration. A juvenile play of his, The Conspiracy, was printed surreptitiously in 1638, and in an authenticated version in 1653 as Pallantus and Eudora. He had two sons, Henry Killigrew (d. 1712), an admiral, and James Killigrew, also a naval officer, who was killed in an encounter with the French in January 1695; and a daughter, Anne (1660-1685), poet and painter, who was maid of honour to the Duchess of York, and was the subject of an ode by Dryden, which Samuel Johnson thought the noblest in the language.
A sister, Elizabeth Killigrew, married Francis Boyle, 1st Viscount Shannon, and became a mistress of Charles II.
Being the entry for KILLIGREW, THOMAS in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.