The Henslowe-Alleyn Papers, Past, Present and Future

For over two hundred and fifty years, most of the Henslowe-Alleyn papers remained unbound and stored in the chest in which they had lain since the founding of the College by Edward Alleyn in 1619. Many individual documents, both large and small, were left in their original condition: folded up into small packets (a form of storage which preceded the use of envelopes). The volume comprising Henslowe’s Diary began to be borrowed from the library during the 18th and 19th centuries by the scholars Edmond Malone, John Payne Collier, and J. O. Halliwell-Phillips, among others. In fact, during this time, some of its pages were removed or otherwise destroyed (fragments have since been sold or auctioned and are now at the British Library, Bodleian Library, Belvoir Castle, and the Folger Shakespeare Library). In the early 19th century, staff at Dulwich were successful in reclaiming the play The Telltale and the plot of the Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins from an auction, but over the years many other items were dispersed (and have not yet been definitively identified), including about one hundred play manuscripts and a number of printed books bequeathed to the College in 1687 by the actor and bibliophile William Cartwright the younger.

In the 1870s, the Governors of Dulwich College asked George Warner, an expert at the British Museum, to catalogue the manuscripts. Warner spent many years assessing the contents of the archive as he found it, expertly opening, repairing and ordering the documents in the archive, finally having them bound into a set of 36 volumes which he named the ‘Alleyn Papers’. He left the muniments, some of which are extremely large in size, unbound. In 1881, he published The Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Muniments of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift at Dulwich (London: Longmans, Green, and Co.). Further discoveries at the archive were listed by Francis Bickley in the Second Series of The Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Muniments of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift at Dulwich (London: privately printed, 1903).

Half of these manuscript volumes and most of the muniments concern the private affairs and non-theatrical businesses of the Henslowe and Alleyn families, as well as the history of Dulwich College since its inception. It is the other half of these volumes, representing the theatrical affairs of Henslowe and Alleyn, that are the subject of this website and electronic archive.

Less than half of the theatrical items in the Henslowe-Alleyn Papers have ever been transcribed, and these transcriptions are largely available only in out-of-print editions. R. A. Foakes’s 1977 photographic facsimile edition of two volumes of manuscripts (The Henslowe Papers) had a limited printing and only covers 20% of the relevant archive. The 2002 reprinting of Foakes’s standard 1961 edition of Henslowe's Diary (Cambridge University Press) has widely encouraged scholars to pursue other material in the Dulwich archive. The archive is of value also to Museum of London archaeologists, who are now using new technology, such as radar scanning, to examine the original sites in Southwark and Shoreditch of various early modern playhouses, including the Theatre, the Globe, and the Rose, and who are radically re-evaluating their data about the building of these playhouses. Although transcriptions of the over 2200 pages of manuscripts are not yet available in this electronic archive and website, the members of the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project hope that making the manuscripts themselves available as photographic images will encourage further study and use of this very rich resource not just by literary, theatrical and manuscripts scholars, economic, social and regional historians and archaeologists but students, actors, directors and other theatre personnel, as well as all members of the general population of readers who are interested in the greatest age of English professional drama and theatrical production.

This Project is designed for research purposes only. For reasons of copyright, images and content are not downloadable from the website or the electronic archive, nor can any material be used, copied, circulated or reproduced in any format without permission and acknowledgement. The copyright of all the manuscripts in the Alleyn Papers belongs to the Governors of Dulwich College. For digital photographs or reproductions of any of the manuscripts, for permissions to reproduce them in any format, or for more information about the manuscript photography, the website and electronic archive, please use see Copyrights, Reproductions and Permissions.

The Project has been graciously supported by grants from The Leverhulme Trust, The British Academy, The Thriplow Charitable Trust, The Pilgrim Trust, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Folger Shakepeare Library, the British and American Bibliographical Societies, and The University of Reading, for which the members of the Project remain very grateful.