The Foundation Deed of God’s Gift College (1619)
Muniment 584 (mun-3/584/01r)
On September 13, 1619, Edward Alleyn read aloud his Deed of Foundation in the College chapel. The chronicler Edmund Howes (fl. 1602-31) was a witness and a signatory; in his continuation of John Stow’s Annales (1631), he described how the great actor ‘very publiquely and audibly’ read the document, and ‘did subscribe his name and fix his seal’. 1 Alleyn set down in his Diary (MSS-9/038r): ‘They first Herd a sermond, & after ye Instrument of Creacion wase by me read, & after an anthem They went to dinner.’ 2 He had ridden twice in August to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury at his Palace in Croydon and to discuss the arrangements (09-036v), but on the day itself the Archbishop was indisposed.
Alleyn issued invitations across the Thames in person: ‘I rode to London to Envit Lordes to ye Creacion’ (Alleyn's Diary, MSS-9/037v). From this ‘Instrument’ it appears that Alleyn intended the title of his College--‘God’s Gift’-- to refer to what he had personally received, dedicating it ‘to the honour and glorie of Almightie God, and in a thankfull remembrance of his Guift and blessings bestowed on me the said Edward Alleyn’ (In 1858 by Act of Parliament under the Scheme to turn the College into a ‘public school’ it was renamed Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift; by a further act in 1882 it became Dulwich College). The menu for the dinner is itemised in the Diary, and includes beef, capons, pigeons, venison, mutton, oysters, neat’s tongues, duck, eels, partridges, rabbits and artichoke pie (Alleyn's Diary, MSS-9/038r).
The signatories to the Deed of Foundation included the great and the good: Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Lord Verulam and Lord Chancellor, who signed himself ‘F. Verulam Canc’; Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, the great connoisseur (1585-1646); Inigo Jones ‘Suyor’, the architect and the King’s Surveyor (1573-1652); the local magnates Sir Thomas Grymes of Peckham, and Sir Edward Cecil (later Viscount Wimbledon) who was a Deputy-Lieutenant for Surrey, together with other local magnates, the Sheriff of Surrey and a notary public. Alleyn signed the Deed above his seal showing the crest: a hand holding aloft a flaming heart, a likely reference to his performance in Ben Jonson’s masque The Magnificent Entertainment (1604) when Alleyn on behalf of the City of London raised high to King James a heart (an emblem of charity) from a flaming altar.
Alleyn’s signature seems the stiffest and the least polished on the document, particularly among the elegant new ‘Roman’ hands of Arundel and Jones, who were present as associates of Alleyn from court entertainments and also as Commissioners for New Buildings. It is likely that Alleyn was involved with these men in 1613 in the two months of celebrations involving masques, feasts and revelry for the marriage of James’s daughter Princess Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine. Alleyn perhaps accompanied Arundel and Edward Cecil (who was Treasurer to the Princess) in the suite of forty-one that then followed the princess to Heidelberg. Ten years later and just two years before Alleyn’s death, he and Inigo Jones were involved in preparations for the reception of the Infanta Maria as bride of Prince Charles, which was called off. On 5 June 1623, Dr. Meddus wrote to Joseph Mead: 'Allein, sometime player, now Squire of the Beares, and Inigo Jones, surveyor of the King’s works, rode hence on Tuesday towards Winchester and Southampton to take order for his Majestie’s entertainment, with the Prince’s and Ladie Marie’s . . . for shows’. 3 The Deed addresses greetings to all true Christian people, and refers back to the Letters Patent from James I of June 21, 1619 (Muniment 581, with the Great Seal of England, mun-3/581/01r) licensing Alleyn to consign his property to relieve and maintain poor men, women and children and to educate the children.
The Deed specifies that the College is to be staffed by one Master and four Fellows, including an organist; six Poor Brethren, six Poor Sisters and twelve Poor Scholars are to be maintained, sustained, educated, guided, governed and ruled according to statutes made in his life time or amendments made after his decease. All are to form ‘one body corporate and politique and one perpetual cominality [corporation]’. He consigns property to the College. The almsfolk are to come from the parishes connected with his career: St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate (where his father kept an inn and owned property); St. Saviour’s, Southwark (with Bankside, the site of the Rose, Paris Garden and the Hope); St. Giles, Cripplegate (the Fortune); Camberwell (in which Dulwich was included). The resonant phrase ‘for ever’ recurs. Alleyn names the first officers and beneficiaries, including his two relatives Thomas and Matthew as Master and Warden. Four copies of the document were signed, and one was to remain in the common chest of the College. 4
Alleyn had needed the support of Francis Bacon, who initially opposed the scheme on the grounds of tax evasion and showed a rather callous attitude towards such charitable foundations. As Solicitor General he had opposed in 1611 the founding of the Charterhouse by Thomas Sutton, arguing that the salaries of university lecturers in the ‘universities of this realm, which I take to be of the best endowed of Europe’ were the best endowment for education to flourish rather than investing in the teaching of children. 5 He was against settling estates in ‘mortmain’, i. e., avoiding death duties, because of the loss of revenue to the state (Magna Carta forbad the conveyance of property to corporations without royal sanction). Alleyn rode from Dulwich four times in five days to see Bacon. Alleyn must have been in a high state of anxiety at this point, as the College was already built, with the poor scholars, brethren and sisters in place. Bacon pressed Alleyn to spend part of his bounty to endow two new lectureships at Oxford and Cambridge, but Alleyn held fast to his scheme.
Alleyn noted in his diary for August 17, 1618 that he called on the ‘Lo: Chancellor’ ‘about staying [holding up] ye pattent’ (Alleyn's Diary, MSS-9/019v). The next day Bacon wrote to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and mentioned Alleyn’s appeal for a ‘license to give in mortmain £800 land, though it be of tenure in chief, to Allen, that was the player, for an Hospital. I like well that Allen playeth the last act of his life so well; but if His Majesty give way thus to amortize his tenures, the Court of Wards will decay, which I had well hoped should improve’. Bacon appears to have failed to see the point of Alleyn’s charitable intentions to return to London the bounty he had earned there: ‘Hospitals [in the sense of almshouses or schools, e.g. ‘Christ’s Hospital’ and ‘Chelsea Hospital’] abound, and Beggars abound never a whit less’. 6
- Stow, Annales, or a General Chronicle of England (London: R. Meighen, 1631), p. 1032. Back to context...
- Alleyn’s Diary was transcribed in volume II of The History of Dulwich College, ed. William Young (Edinburgh: Morrison & Gibb, 1889), pp. 51-255. Back to context...
- British Library Harley MSS 389, f. 337. Back to context...
- For further discussion of the history of the College, see Jan PiggottDulwich College: a History, 1616-2008 (London: Dulwich College, 2008). Back to context...
- The Life of Sir Francis Bacon in The Works of Sir Francis Bacon, ed. Basil Montagu (London: 1834), vol. 16, p. clii. Back to context...
- The Works of Francis Bacon, 5 volumes (London: A. Millar, 1765, III:365; the original letter has disappeared. Back to context...