Children of the Chapel

Children of the Chapel

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The Children of the Chapel were the boys with unbroken voices, choristers, who formed part of the Chapel Royal, the body of singers and priests serving the spiritual needs of their sovereign wherever they were called upon to do so.

The Children of the Chapel Royal

Sometime in the 12th century or earlier, a distinct establishment known as the Chapels Royal
Chapel Royal
A Chapel Royal is a body of priests and singers who serve the spiritual needs of their sovereign wherever they are called upon to do so.-Austria:...

 was created within the English Royal Court and its musical establishment now claims to be the oldest continuous musical organization in the world. Children sung in church because their high voices were considered closest to the angels.

The Choir's, now just ten, boys are traditionally known as the Children of the Chapel Royal, and wear the distinctive State uniform introduced at the Restoration. Their special school within St James's Palace no longer operates, the boys all attend the City of London School and receive a choral scholarship from The Queen. In former times when educated within the court they were very much a part of court life and by ancient tradition were entitled to many small special privileges.

The Choir's duties remain to sing the regular services in the chapel of the Monarch's home and to otherwise attend as commanded. It is based in the two chapels of St James's Palace and services are also sung in the chapels of Kensington and Buckingham Palaces. The Choir also takes part in many State and National ceremonies and at private events within the Royal Household. It consists of six Gentlemen in Ordinary and ten choristers and a Sub-Organist.

The troupes of child actors

The Children of the Chapel (if from the establishment of the Chapels Royal also known as the Children of Her Majesty's Chapel Royal, the Children of the Chapel Royal, the Children of the Queen's Revels, the Children of the Revels)

and the Children of the Blackfriars Theatre or Children of the Blackfriars, and finally the Children of the Whitefriars Theatre or Children of the Whitefriars were troupes of child actors
Boy player
Boy player is a common term for the adolescent males employed by Medieval and English Renaissance playing companies. Some boy players worked for the mainstream companies and performed the female roles, as women did not perform on the English stage in this period...

 in Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 and Jacobean
Jacobean era
The Jacobean era refers to the period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of King James VI of Scotland, who also inherited the crown of England in 1603 as James I...

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...


By the accession of James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 in 1603, the Chapels Royal was staffed by a dean, a sub-dean, and 32 gentlemen (both priests and laymen); it also had a choir of 12 boys. William Cornish, who was Master of the Children
Master of the Children
Master of the Children is a title awarded to an adult musician who is put in charge of the musical training, and in some cases the general education of choir boy , as was common in major church choirs, often attached to a cathedral,...

 from 1509 to 1523, first began the practice of having the boys' choir perform dramatic interludes at Court. William Hunnis was Master of the Children of the Chapel from 1566 to 1597; under his stewardship the boys played repeatedly at Court until 1584.

In 1576 (the same year James Burbage
James Burbage
James Burbage was an English actor, theatre impresario, and theatre builder in the English Renaissance theatre. He built The Theatre, the facility famous as the first permanent dedicated theatre built in England since Roman times...

 built The Theatre
The Theatre
The Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Shoreditch , just outside the City of London. It was the second permanent theatre ever built in England, after the Red Lion, and the first successful one...

 and began the era of popular Elizabethan drama), Hunnis's deputy Richard Farrant rented space in the old Blackfriars priory, and began public performances by the boys. For unknown reasons, the troupe did not act at Court after 1584 (though they did give some performances outside of London). When the Children of Paul's
Children of Paul's
The Children of Paul's was the name of a troupe of boy actors in Elizabethan and Jacobean London. Along with the Children of the Chapel, the Children of Paul's were the most important of the companies of boy players that constituted a distinctive feature of English Renaissance theatre.St...

 were suppressed in 1590, due to their playwright John Lyly
John Lyly
John Lyly was an English writer, best known for his books Euphues,The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England. Lyly's linguistic style, originating in his first books, is known as Euphuism.-Biography:John Lyly was born in Kent, England, in 1553/1554...

's role in the Marprelate controversy
Marprelate Controversy
The Marprelate Controversy was a war of pamphlets waged in England and Wales in 1588 and 1589, between a puritan writer who employed the pseudonym Martin Marprelate, and defenders of the Established Church....

, the fashion for troupes of child actors went into abeyance for the next decade — inevitably affecting the Children of the Chapel.

(When Marlowe's
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

 Dido, Queen of Carthage
Dido, Queen of Carthage
Dido, Queen of Carthage is a short play written by the English playwright Christopher Marlowe, with possible contributions by Thomas Nashe. The story of the play focuses on the classical figure of Dido, the Queen of Carthage...

was published in 1594
1594 in literature
-Events:*The London theatres re-open in the spring, after two years of general inactivity due to the bubonic plague epidemic of 1592–94. Many of the actors who used to be Lord Strange's Men form a new organization, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, under the patronage of Henry Carey, 1st Baron...

, it was described as "Played by the Children of Her Majesty's Chapel." The uncertainty of that play's date clouds the question of when those performances occurred.)

In 1600 the Children of the Chapel returned to the public stage with regular performances. Nathaniel Giles, their Master from 1597 to 1634, became one of the lessees (with Hugh Evans) of the Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre was the name of a theatre in the Blackfriars district of the City of London during the Renaissance. The theatre began as a venue for child actors associated with the Queen's chapel choirs; in this function, the theatre hosted some of the most innovative drama of Elizabeth and...

 that James Burbage
James Burbage
James Burbage was an English actor, theatre impresario, and theatre builder in the English Renaissance theatre. He built The Theatre, the facility famous as the first permanent dedicated theatre built in England since Roman times...

 built in 1596, and brought the Children to play there. The boys performed at Court on January 6 and February 22, 1601. They had a big hit that year with Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

's The Poetaster
The Poetaster
The Poetaster is a late Elizabethan stage play, a satire written by Ben Jonson, and first performed in 1601. The play formed one element in the back-and-forth exchange between Jonson and his rivals John Marston and Thomas Dekker in the so-called Poetomachia or War of the Theatres of...

. Nathan Field, John Underwood
John Underwood (actor)
John Underwood was an early 17th century actor, a member of the King's Men, the company of William Shakespeare.-Career:Underwood began as a boy player with the Children of the Chapel, and was cast in that company's productions of Ben Jonson's Cynthia's Revels and The Poetaster...

, and William Ostler
William Ostler
William Ostler was an actor in English Renaissance theatre, a member of the King's Men, the company of William Shakespeare....

, all of whom would later join the King's Men
King's Men (playing company)
The King's Men was the company of actors to which William Shakespeare belonged through most of his career. Formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it became The King's Men in 1603 when King James ascended the throne and became the company's patron.The...

, were in the cast.

Even in the early years of this period, the Children of the Chapel were mired in controversy: Giles drafted, and sometimes nearly kidnapped, boys that he wanted in his troupe. (Incredibly enough, he had a legal right to use such techniques — but only for the boys' choir, not for acting.) Solomon Pavy, the young actor eulogized by Ben Jonson upon his premature death in 1603, was one boy "pressed" into service in this high-handed way. So, reportedly, was Nathan Field. In one notorious instance, a man named Henry Clifton brought a complaint before the Star Chamber
Star Chamber
The Star Chamber was an English court of law that sat at the royal Palace of Westminster until 1641. It was made up of Privy Counsellors, as well as common-law judges and supplemented the activities of the common-law and equity courts in both civil and criminal matters...

 in December 1601, maintaining that Giles had in fact kidnapped Clifton's young son Thomas while the boy was walking home from grammar school. (Giles was censured; Clifton got his son back.)

The Children of the Chapel performed plays by Jonson, George Chapman
George Chapman
George Chapman was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets...

, John Marston
John Marston
John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...

, Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

, and others during the next several years; they specialized in the satirical comedy that appealed to Court wits and a "Gentle" audience, in contrast to the more popularly-oriented drama of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood was a prominent English playwright, actor, and author whose peak period of activity falls between late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre.-Early years:...

, Thomas Dekker, and similar writers. The company experienced popularity and success in the first years of the century; when the House of Stuart
House of Stuart
The House of Stuart is a European royal house. Founded by Robert II of Scotland, the Stewarts first became monarchs of the Kingdom of Scotland during the late 14th century, and subsequently held the position of the Kings of Great Britain and Ireland...

 inherited the monarchy, the Children of the Chapel, like other troupes of actors, received royal favor — they became the Children of the Queen's Revels (1603–5).

Yet they also experienced the downside of this brand of drama: when the play Eastward Hoe
Eastward Hoe
Eastward Hoe or Eastward Ho, is an early Jacobean era stage play, a satire and city comedy written by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, printed in 1605. The play was written in response to Westward Ho, an earlier satire by Thomas Dekker and John Webster...

(1605) won official censure and landed two of its authors, Jonson and Chapman, in jail, the actors earned a share of the disapproval. They lost their Royal patent, and became simply the Children of the Revels (1605–6). After another scandal, this one involving The Isle of Gulls
The Isle of Gulls
The Isle of Gulls is a Jacobean era stage play written by John Day, a comedy that caused a scandal upon its premiere in 1606.The play was most likely written in 1605; it was acted by the Children of the Revels at the Blackfriars Theatre in February 1606. It was published later in 1606, in a quarto...

by John Day
John Day (dramatist)
John Day was an English dramatist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.-Life:He was born at Cawston, Norfolk, and educated at Ely. He became a sizar of Caius College, Cambridge, in 1592, but was expelled in the next year for stealing a book...

 (1606), they were known as the Children of the Blackfriars. They managed to offend the King a third time, in 1608, in regard to their production of George Chapman's two-part play The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron
The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron
The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, Marshall of France is a Jacobean tragedy by George Chapman, a two-part play or double play first performed and published in 1608...

The double play offended the French Ambassador, who got it banned from the stage. (The Ambassador was particularly bothered by a scene in which the French Queen slaps the face of the King's mistress — a scene that was omitted from the printed texts of the plays.) When the Court was not in London, however, the Children of the Blackfriars performed the plays again, in their original offensive form. The angry James swore that the boys "should never play more but should first beg their bread." Yet the King liked plays too much to maintain this resolve over the long term, and the Children were eventually able to continue. They even performed at Court the following Christmas season.

Also in 1608, the King's Men took over the lease of the Blackfriars Theatre, effectively evicting the previous tenants. The children's company moved to the new Whitefriars Theatre
Whitefriars Theatre
The Whitefriars Theatre was a theatre in Jacobean London, in existence from 1608 to the 1620s — about which only limited and sometimes contradictory information survives.-Location:...

, and became, perforce, the Children of the Whitefriars (1609). In 1610, however, they regained royal favor, due to the influence of Philip Rosseter
Philip Rosseter
Philip Rosseter was an English composer and musician, as well as a theatrical manager. From 1603 until his death in 1623 he was lutenist for James I of England. Rosseter is best known for A Book of Aires which was written with Thomas Campion...

, lutenist to the Royal household and their new manager; they were the Children of the Queen's Revels once again.

The company performed Jonson's Epicene
Epicoene, or the Silent Woman
Epicœne, or The silent woman, also known as The Epicene, is a comedy by Renaissance playwright Ben Jonson. It was originally performed by the Blackfriars Children, a group of boy players, in 1609...

in 1609; in 1611 they acted Nathan Field's A Woman is a Weathercock, both at Whitefriars and at Court. Field was in the cast of both productions. They played at Court four times in 1612–13, performing plays by Beaumont and Fletcher
Beaumont and Fletcher
Beaumont and Fletcher were the English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, who collaborated in their writing during the reign of James I ....

. For a time around 1613, the boys' troupe was linked with the Lady Elizabeth's Men
Lady Elizabeth's Men
The Lady Elizabeth's Men, or Princess Elizabeth's Men, was a company of actors in Jacobean London, formed under the patronage of King James I's daughter Princess Elizabeth. From 1618 on, the company was called The Queen of Bohemia's Men, after Elizabeth and her husband the Elector Palatine had...

. After losing their Whitefriars lease at the end of 1614, they moved to Rosseter's short-lived Porter's Hall theatre (1615). The last play they are known to have acted was Beaumont and Fletcher's The Scornful Lady
The Scornful Lady
The Scornful Lady is a Jacobean era stage play, a comedy written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, and first published in 1616, the year of Beaumont's death...

. The company apparently collapsed around 1616.

A warrant, granted in 1626 to Dr. Nathaniel Giles to take up singing boys for the service of the chapel royal, contained a proviso that the children so to be taken should not be employed as comedians or stage-players, or act in stage plays, interludes, comedies, or tragedies, "for that it is not fitt or decent that such as sing the praises of God Almighty should be trained or imployed on such lascivious and prophane exercises."