The Killigrew and Davenant Patents


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'The Killigrew and Davenant Patents', Survey of London: volume 35: The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1970), pp. 1-8. URL: Date accessed: 20 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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The Killigrew and Davenant Patents

Alone among the theatres of London, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, enjoy the distinction of deriving their rights to present theatrical entertainments not from licences issued by the Lord Chamberlain or the local authority, but by direct grant from the Crown. These rights are of great antiquity. They were conferred by Charles II by two letters patent granted on 25 April 1662 to Thomas Killigrew (ref. 1) and on 15 January 1662/3 to Sir William Davenant. (ref. 2) Drury Lane Theatre exercises its rights under Killigrew's patent, the original document being now in the possession of the present lessees, Theatre Royal Drury Lane Limited. (ref. 3) The rights of the Royal Opera House stem from Davenant's patent, but the original document is now lost. (ref. 4)

The two patents severally conferred upon Killigrew and Davenant the right to build a theatre in London or Westminster and to establish and manage a company of actors to perform in it; Killigrew's actors were to be styled the King's Company, and Davenant's were to be known as the Duke of York's. All other companies performing in London and Westminster were to be suppressed forthwith.

The grants to Killigrew and Davenant thus established in London a dual monopoly of theatrical rights which, although frequently evaded in varying degrees, nevertheless survived as a powerful element in the history of the metropolitan theatre until the passing of the Act for regulating theatres of 1843. This Act ended the monopoly, but did not otherwise affect the rights conferred by the patents, which (as has been mentioned above) continue to be exercised down to the present day. (ref. 5) During this long quasi-monopolistic period from 1662–3 to 1843 the two patents therefore became a valuable form of property which could be and indeed frequently was bought, sold, divided, shared or bequeathed like any other property. The purpose of this chapter is to trace, so far as possible, the extremely complex history of their ownership.

When Charles II returned to England in May 1660 the theatrical affairs of London were in some confusion. In March 1660 Sir William Davenant, the dramatist and poet laureate, who still had in his possession a patent for a playhouse granted by Charles I, had taken a lease of Lisle's Tennis Court in Portugal Street near Lincoln's Inn Fields, for conversion into a theatre. (ref. 6) He had then departed to France, presumably to persuade the King to restore and confirm his rights. (ref. 7)

Already in France with the King was Thomas Killigrew, playwright, one of the grooms of the bedchamber, and according to Pepys, 'a merry droll, but a gentleman of great esteem with the King', (ref. 8) who may well have already promised him some theatrical preferment. (ref. 9) At all events, on 9 July, less than six weeks after the Restoration, a royal warrant required the issue of a patent under the Great Seal authorizing Killigrew to establish a company of actors and build a theatre. The warrant recognized Davenant's rights under his patent from Charles I, but all other companies of actors were to be suppressed. (ref. 10) Davenant, however, appears not to have been satisfied with this indirect authority and ten days later he drafted a second warrant which was to authorize by a patent the establishment of a theatrical monopoly to be shared by Killigrew and himself. (ref. 11)

This proposal evoked the hostility of Sir Henry Herbert, the master of the revels, who on 4 August presented a petition to the King opposing it on the ground that it would be 'destructive' of the authority of his office. (ref. 12) The question was referred to the attorney general, Sir Jeffry Palmer, who reported that he thought 'the matter more proper for A tolleration; than A Grant under the greate Seale of England'. (ref. 13) The grant nevertheless passed the privy signet on 21 August 1660, but did not reach the final stage of a patent under the Great Seal. This was probably because Davenant had decided not to press the matter in face of the opposition of the master of the revels, for in September Palmer added a note to Herbert's petition, stating that he had 'foreborne to proceede further haveinge alsoe receaved an intimacion by Letter from Sir William Davenant that I was freed from further hearing in this matter'. (ref. 12)

The grant under the privy signet authorized Killigrew and Davenant to build or hire two playhouses in London and to maintain two companies to act in them. But although the grant stated that there were to be no other theatrical establishments rival companies nevertheless continued to act, (ref. 14) and Killigrew and Davenant were not immune from the hostile authority of the master of the revels. So on 25 April 1662 Killigrew at last obtained from the King a patent under the authority of the Great Seal. This contained two vital new clauses, the first of which authorized him to enjoy his rights 'peaceably and quietly without the impeachment or impediment of any person or persons whatsoever' (i.e., including the master of the revels); the second categorically required the suppression of all other playhouses in London except Davenant's. (ref. 1) On 15 January 1662/3 Davenant was granted a similar patent, (ref. 2) and the joint monopoly of the London theatre which persisted, in theory at least, until 1843 had been established.

In later years Killigrew's patent was used as the authority for Drury Lane Theatre and Davenant's for Covent Garden. But in the seventeenth century theatrical affairs were still extremely fluid and it was not until the opening of Covent Garden by John Rich under Davenant's patent in 1732 that a more stable pattern began to emerge. For the first seventy years of their existence, therefore, the history of the patents is extremely confused, a major factor in this confusion being an agreement of 1682 between the then owners of the two patents whereby they united their two acting companies and Killigrew's patent, which was thus made redundant, became dormant. It remained in this ambiguous and perplexing condition, even its continuing legal validity being sometimes open to doubt, until as late as 1813, when its purchase by the owners of Drury Lane Theatre was finally completed.

When he received his patent in April 1662 Thomas Killigrew and his actors, known as the King's Company, were at a theatre in Vere Street, near Clare Market, but he was already building a new theatre in Brydges Street—the forerunner of, and occupying part of the site of the present Drury Lane Theatre—and in May 1663 he and his company removed to this new home. (ref. 15)

Until the union of 1682 the Killigrew patent provided the authority to act at this theatre in Brydges Street, which by the 1690's had become known by its modern name, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. As a valuable article of property the patent soon formed part of the consideration in a number of legal transactions. After the destruction of the theatre by fire in January 1671/2 Killigrew in 1673 mortgaged all his interests in the property, including the patent, and three years later these mortgages had been assigned to trustees for Richard Kent. (ref. 16)

In February 1680/1 Kent and a number of his associates filed a bill in Chancery (ref. 17) complaining that Charles Killigrew, one of Thomas's younger sons and manager of the theatre since 1677, had denied them the profits which were due to them under these assignments. The case was settled on 14 December 1682, when the Court decreed that the Killigrews should be 'for ever debarred and foreclosed of all Equity of Redemption' of the property which had been assigned to Kent's trustees, and that Kent should hold and enjoy it. (ref. 18)

Three months after being thus deprived of all his theatrical interests Thomas Killigrew died, bequeathing the bulk of his estate to his eldest son, Henry, (ref. 19) who in May 1683 instituted proceedings in Chancery in an attempt to recover his father's patent and other theatrical interests from Kent's trustees. He challenged Kent's title to the property and accused him of having made a secret agreement to assign all his interests to Charles Killigrew—Henry's half-brother. (ref. 20)

In his reply Kent quoted the decree which established his title, and the agreement which he had indeed made to sell his interest to Charles Killigrew 'in consideration of £500 and a greater sum to be thereafter paid'. (ref. 18) A copy of this agreement exists, and is dated 15 August 1682, (ref. 21) four months before the Chancery decree which confirmed Kent's title. There is no record of any judgment in this suit, but it appears that the agreement between Kent and Charles Killigrew, whether secret or not, was upheld, for the latter was in possession of the patent when he died in 1724. (ref. 22)

Meanwhile since 1661 Sir William Davenant and his actors, known as the Duke's Company, were acting in the Duke's Theatre, Lincoln's Inn Fields, a conversion of Lisle's Tennis Court. (ref. 15) The company was still there when Sir William died in 1668, intestate. The estate was administered for a few years by his widow (his eldest son, Charles, being still a minor), and during this period a new Duke's Theatre was built at Dorset Garden, fronting the Thames to the south of Fleet Street in the City. The company moved here in 1671, and prospered. (ref. 23)

By 1682 the King's Company at Drury Lane had declined to a very parlous condition, and on 4 May of that year Charles Killigrew entered into an agreement with Charles Davenant and his principal associates at Dorset Garden for the union of the two establishments. One clause of the agreement provided that the two patents were to be united. (ref. 24) In November 1682 the new amalgamated company opened at Drury Lane under the authority of Davenant's patent. Killigrew's was no longer needed and so became dormant, but the Killigrew family nevertheless retained possession of the actual document. (ref. 25)

From 1682 until 1695 there was only one company performing in London, sometimes at Dorset Garden but more usually at Drury Lane. On 30 August 1687 Charles Davenant sold his patent and theatrical interests for £2,400. (ref. 26) The purchaser was his brother, Alexander Davenant, but five-sixths of the money (£2,000) was supplied to him by Sir Thomas Skipwith, (ref. 27) a Lincolnshire baronet whose womanizing propensities had earned him an 'unenviable notoriety' at Court. (ref. 28) Less than two weeks later, on 12 September 1687, Skipwith agreed to lease the benefit of his five-sixths share to Alexander Davenant for seven years in return for certain ticket privileges and a weekly rent of £6. On 17 March 1689/90 Davenant sold his remaining one-sixth share for £400 to Christopher Rich, an attorney of inexhaustible guile who had previously been associated with Skipwith in building development in the area of Theobalds Road. On the following day Rich leased this share back to Davenant on terms similar to the arrangement already made with Skipwith, but at a weekly rent of £1 4s. (ref. 27)

These arrangements between Alexander Davenant on the one hand, and Skipwith and Rich on the other (subsequently confirmed by another deed in March 1691), had provided that at the end of the seven-year term Davenant was entitled to redeem his property on payment of £2,000 to Skipwith and £300 to Rich. (ref. 29) Davenant's management of theatrical affairs proved financially unsuccessful, however, and in October 1693 he fled to the Canary Islands to escape his creditors. (ref. 30) His weekly rents were a year in arrears, and in December 1693 Skipwith and Rich foreclosed on the equity of redemption of Davenant's patent and other theatrical property. (ref. 31)

At this time, therefore, Skipwith evidently owned five-sixths of the Davenant patent and Rich one sixth. But in a Chancery suit of 1704 Rich claimed to have bought three-eighths of the patent, and Skipwith five-eighths. (ref. 31) Four years later, however, Skipwith claimed only threefifths, 'ye Whole into five parts being divided'. (ref. 32) It is not known which of these various versions is correct, but in 1761 Christopher Rich's son, John, mentioned in his will that his father's share in the Davenant patent had only been one sixth. (ref. 33)

After Skipwith and Rich had asserted their rights at Drury Lane in 1693 the effective control of the theatre passed to Rich. (ref. 34) His treatment of the players soon provoked them to rebellion, and under the leadership of the veteran Thomas Betterton they obtained from the Lord Chamberlain a licence to act (not a patent) (ref. 35) and removed to the old theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields, where they opened on 30 April 1695. (ref. 36) The singlecompany monopoly which had existed since 1682 had been broken, and the grant of this licence also marked the first important breach of the monopoly rights claimed by the owners of the patents.

Both companies were soon in a state of considerable disarray, but until 1707 there was no change in the ownership of either of the patents, Skipwith and Rich being in possession of Davenant's, which was used at Drury Lane and occasionally at Dorset Garden, and Charles Killigrew still retaining his family's now dormant patent. The theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields was, however, smaller than Drury Lane, and in 1705 the company was therefore glad to remove to the larger new theatre in the Haymarket—the Queen's Theatre, recently erected to the designs of (Sir) John Vanbrugh, the architect and playwright, who with William Congreve was granted a licence in December 1704. (ref. 37)

Meanwhile at Drury Lane Sir Thomas Skipwith, far from profiting from his interest there, found himself obliged to pay out 'considerable sumes of money under pretence of carrying the businesse of the said Playhouse on'. He was apprehensive of being 'drawn in and subjected to Great Debts and demands on that account', (ref. 32) and on 6 October 1707 he therefore assigned his share in the patent to Colonel Henry Brett of Sandywell Park, Gloucester, M.P., for a nominal sum. (ref. 38) When some financial improvement had ensued Skipwith tried to recover his lost interests, and in February 1708/9 he filed a complaint against Brett alleging that he had intended the assignment of October 1707 to be only in trust and not absolute. Relying on Brett's integrity he had signed the document (which had been drawn up by Brett's attorney) before reading it through. In reply Brett claimed that the deed was an absolute assignment and that it had been intended to be so. (ref. 32) The case was not pursued because Brett withdrew from the management, being conscious, according to Colley Cibber, 'that as the World knew he had paid no Consideration for it, his keeping it might be misconstrued, or not favourably spoken of'. (ref. 39) The share in the patent evidently remained in Brett's possession until 8 August 1711 when he conveyed it to Sir George Bridges Skipwith, (ref. 40) the son of Sir Thomas, who was now dead. (ref. 28)

By this time Christopher Rich had fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain. Several orders had been issued by which Rich had been 'Silenc'd from acting', (ref. 41) but whether these orders also temporarily suspended the authority of the Davenant patent is not clear. From November 1709, (ref. 42) however, Drury Lane was acting under the authority of successive licences granted by the Lord Chamberlain, (ref. 43) a practice which continued there until the early nineteenth century. (fn. a) Rich, meanwhile, far from accepting defeat, acquired the lease of the now vacant theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields and started rebuilding. (ref. 49) But he died on 4 November 1714, (ref. 50) six weeks before the new playhouse at Lincoln's Inn Fields was opened (by his son John Rich) under the authority of the Davenant patent. (ref. 51) By his will his one-sixth interest in the patent was divided unequally between his two sons: John Rich inherited three-quarters (i.e., one eighth of the whole), and Christopher Moyser Rich one quarter (i.e., one twenty-fourth of the whole). (ref. 52)

From 1714 until his death in 1761 John Rich proved to be one of the most successful and longlived London theatre managers in the whole of the eighteenth century. In 1731–2 he was able to build a large new theatre in Covent Garden, to which he removed in the latter year, still acting under the Davenant patent, of which he himself only owned a very small part. The principal shareholder in the patent, Sir George Bridges Skipwith, with five-sixths, took no part in the management, and in August 1752 he assigned his share by deed of gift to Sir Francis Skipwith and the latter's son Francis William Skipwith, members of a collateral branch of the family. (ref. 53) Between 1752 and 1760 this share passed to another of Sir Francis's sons, (Sir) Thomas Skipwith, who by 1767 had sold it to John Rich's heirs. (ref. 54)

In 1759 John Rich had unsuccessfully attempted to buy his brother Christopher Moyser Rich's one twenty-fourth share of the patent. (ref. 55) John Rich died two years later and bequeathed to his brother an annuity of £200 or a capital sum of £4,000 on condition that Christopher Moyser Rich should within two months assign his share to John Rich's executors. (ref. 33) Christopher Moyser accepted these terms and on 2 January 1762 he executed the necessary deed. (ref. 53)

John Rich had already bought the whole of the dormant Killigrew patent, which after Charles Killigrew's death in December 1724 (ref. 55) had been inherited by his son, also Charles. (ref. 56) At that time the value of the patent must have seemed extremely small, for when Charles Killigrew junior sold it along with other obsolete theatrical interests to Rupert Clarke of Kensington, gentleman, on 17 September 1729, the price was only £63. (ref. 57) On 9 June 1733 Rich and his trustee, Richard Wolfe, bought the patent from Clarke, and in January 1741/2 it was conveyed into Rich's sole possession. (ref. 58) How much Rich paid for it is not known but on the day of its purchase from Clarke, Wolfe and Rich mortgaged it for £400. (ref. 59) The Killigrew Patent 1767–1813: The Davenant Patent 1767–1793

Thus by the latter part of the 1760's John Rich's heirs owned the whole of both patents, Killigrew's being still dormant and Davenant's being the authority for Covent Garden Theatre. This straightforward situation did not last long, however, for in July 1767 John Rich's widow and four daughters sold their entire interest in both the lease and contents of Covent Garden Theatre and the freehold of the two patents for £60,000. The purchasers were Thomas Harris, John Rutherford, George Colman and William Powell, each of whom thus possessed one quarter share of the whole property. (ref. 60) Neither Harris, described as of Holborn, esquire, nor Rutherford, described as of Newman Street, esquire, appears to have had any previous theatrical experience, but Colman was an established dramatist and Powell was a successful actor at Drury Lane. This division of ownership produced a series of extremely complex transactions in which, until 1793, shares in the leasehold of Covent Garden Theatre and the freehold of both the Killigrew and Davenant patents were always bought and sold as one property. Ultimately Harris acquired the two quarter shares which had originally belonged to Rutherford and Colman, and one fifteenth of Powell's quarter, thus bringing his holding up to 46/60 of the whole.

These transactions began in July 1767 when all four partners mortgaged their respective shares. (ref. 61) In September 1768 Rutherford sold two-thirds of his quarter (i.e., one sixth of the whole) to Henry Dagge of the Inner Temple, esquire, and the remaining one third (i.e., one twelfth of the whole) to James Leake of the Strand, esquire, for £18,500. (ref. 62) On 1 July 1774 Leake bought Colman's quarter share for £20,000, (ref. 63) but five days later he sold his one third of Rutherford's quarter (i.e., one twelfth of the whole) to Harris. (ref. 64) By 1784 Harris had bought the quarter which Leake had acquired from Colman (ref. 65) and in the following year he signed articles of agreement for the purchase of Dagge's one sixth. (ref. 66) (fn. b) Harris's interest had thus risen to three-quarters of the whole—¼+1/12+¼+1/6.

But this calculation excludes the descent of William Powell's quarter share, in which Harris had also acquired a small interest. Powell had died suddenly in 1769 at the early age of thirtyfour, and his widow, Elizabeth, had subsequently married John Abraham Fisher, the violinist. (ref. 68) In September 1778 the Fishers leased the use of their quarter share to Harris and Richard Brinsley Sheridan for twenty-one years at a rental of £1,600 per annum. (ref. 53) In 1780, however, Fisher conditionally assigned the equity of redemption in one fifteenth of the quarter (i.e., one sixtieth of the whole) to Robert Kilbye Cox (or Cocks), esquire. (ref. 69) This mortgage was evidently not redeemed, for in 1781 Cox assigned his rights in this one-sixtieth share to Harris, (ref. 70) whose share in the whole property thus amounted in 1785 (after the other purchases described above) to 46/60 (¾+1/60), plus a twenty-one-year leasehold interest in the remaining 14/60. The freehold of the 14/60 descended in undivided moieties to Powell's two daughters, Ann (who married as her second husband John Martindale, (ref. 71) proprietor of White's in St. James's Street), and Elizabeth Mary, who married George White, esquire, a clerk at the House of Commons. (ref. 72)

Ever since 1777 Sheridan and Harris, as the principal proprietors of Drury Lane and Covent Garden respectively, had been planning to build a new theatre which they intended to manage jointly under the authority of the Killigrew patent. (ref. 73) By this means their theatrical monopoly would have been preserved, and by the establishment of a new theatre the public criticism of the monopoly would, they hoped, have been abated. For the proprietors of Drury Lane (who possessed neither the Killigrew nor the Davenant patent, and who had for many years acted under the more precarious authority of a series of twenty-oneyear patents), the danger of the long unused or dormant Killigrew patent being sold away from Covent Garden and revived as the basis for a new theatre in competition with Drury Lane would have been averted.

By 1784 Harris had acquired the lease of a piece of ground near Hyde Park Corner for the proposed new theatre, but two years later the scheme had been altered to the establishment of a new opera house there—probably because the quality of the opera then being presented at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket was very poor. (ref. 74) In 1789, however, the King's Theatre was destroyed by fire, and the Pantheon in Oxford Street was granted a four-year licence for the presentation of opera. By 1791 the King's Theatre had been rebuilt, although it now had no licence, and large debts had accumulated at the Pantheon. (ref. 75)

To settle these intricate difficulties Sheridan, in October 1791, put forward an 'Outline for a General Opera Arrangement', (ref. 76) most of which was subsequently implemented. Several provisions were concerned with the patents. The King's Theatre was to have a monopoly in the presentation of opera. The proposed new opera house near Hyde Park Corner would therefore be abandoned, and the King's Theatre was to compensate Harris with an annuity of £250 redeemable for £5,000 for giving up the right to use the dormant Killigrew patent (of which he was the principal proprietor) for opera. Lastly, the dormant patent was to be 'annexed inseparably' to Drury Lane Theatre.

In order to implement this last proposal Sheridan, as the principal proprietor of Drury Lane Theatre, began in the autumn of 1791 to negotiate with Harris for the purchase of the dormant Killigrew patent. (ref. 77) Sheridan was then about to rebuild Drury Lane Theatre, where the last performance in the old theatre had taken place on 4 June 1791, and was intending to raise the necessary capital sum by three hundred subscriptions of £500 each. (ref. 78) Immediate possession of the dormant patent and the permanent authority to act which it conferred was therefore essential for his plans, for no one would subscribe to the costly rebuilding of a theatre which only possessed a patent limited to twenty-one-years' duration. Harris, however, 'readily consented to dispose of the Killigrew patent for £15,000, (ref. 79) and everything was proceeding smoothly when George White (who through his wife owned the reversionary freehold in 7/15 of Powell's one quarter share of Covent Garden Theatre and of both the patents, i.e. 7/60 of the whole), objected to the sale. After a stormy meeting with Harris 'both parties separated with mutual displeasure' and in March 1792 White filed a bill of complaint against Harris. The Drury Lane subscribers at once refused to pay their subscriptions, and in July it was reported in the newspapers that 'all the proceedings towards erecting the new Theatre are of course stopped'. (ref. 80)

Despite this set-back Sheridan proceeded with the purchase of the patent. By the end of May 1792 he had agreed terms with Harris in the confident expectation that White ('a very goodfor-nothing Fellow') must 'in common sense soon come in' to the sale. (ref. 81) And so it quickly proved, for in June Charles James Fox, acting as an intermediary between Sheridan and White, arranged that the proprietors of Drury Lane (Sheridan and his father-in-law, Thomas Linley) should pay £5,000 for the freehold reversion of the 14/60 of the Killigrew patent controlled by White (in right of his wife, 7/60) and by Powell's other daughter, Ann (the other 7/60). (ref. 82) In 1793 the trustees of Drury Lane bought Harris's interest (46/60) for £11,667 (the purchase being for the ultimate use of the proprietors, Sheridan and Linley), but Sheridan's contract for the purchase of the remaining 14/60 was not completed, perhaps because by the terms of the 'General Opera Arrangement' the purchase money was intended to be charged on the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, which was already so deeply in debt that its proprietor was either unable or unwilling to pay. (ref. 83)

At the end of 1793, therefore, the ownership of the two patents was as follows: Harris held 46/60 of the freehold of the Davenant patent under which Covent Garden acted, and also (in conjunction with Sheridan) the remainder of the twenty-one-year leasehold interest created in 1778 in the other 14/60, of which White and his sister-inlaw held the reversionary freehold. The Killigrew patent was owned, as to 46/60, by the trustees of Drury Lane for the use of the proprietors, while the other 14/60 were held in the same way as Davenant's.

By 1801 Sheridan had acquired the interests of the heirs of his former partner Thomas Linley (who had died in 1795), and therefore claimed to own inter alia the whole 46/60 of the Killigrew patent, subject to large financial encumbrances administered by the trustees of Drury Lane. In 1802 Sheridan sold (inter alia) one quarter of his interest in the Killigrew patent to Joseph Richardson, who had assisted him for some years in the management of the theatre, and in 1806 he conveyed another quarter to his son, Thomas Sheridan. (ref. 84)

Meanwhile Drury Lane, not being in full possession of the Killigrew patent, continued to act under its twenty-one-year patent, which after the destruction of that theatre by fire in 1809, was extended to 1837. This grant (ref. 85) was made in 1812 to trustees for the newly formed Theatre Royal Drury Lane Company of Proprietors which, by an Act of 1810, had been authorized to raise a capital sum of £300,000 for the rebuilding of the theatre and the purchase of the outstanding shares in the Killigrew patent. (ref. 86) By October 1813 the new company had bought the entire theatrical interests of the two Sheridans and of Richardson's heirs (including their share of the Killigrew patent); (ref. 87) and after further negotiation the company at last also bought the outstanding 14/60 share of the Killigrew patent from George White and his sister-in-law (now Ann Martindale) in December 1813 for £9,561 19s. 8d. The Killigrew patent—the original document itself— was at last lodged in the strong-room of Drury Lane Theatre, and a few days later George White died. (ref. 88) (fn. c)

Since 1813 the Killigrew patent has remained annexed to Drury Lane Theatre, and although it has changed hands more than once its ownership has never again been sub-divided.

Later History of the Killigrew Patent from 1813

In July 1812 the ground landlord, the sixth Duke of Bedford, had granted an eighty-two-year lease of Drury Lane Theatre to the Company of Proprietors. A condition of this lease required that the Killigrew patent and any other patent which the company might acquire should 'be continued and go along with the said new Theatre' throughout the whole term granted. (ref. 90) The patent therefore remained in the possession of the company until 1894. By this time, however, its value had been greatly diminished by the Act of 1843 for regulating theatres, which, by requiring the Lord Chamberlain to licence theatres in London, had finally put an end to the monopoly conferred in 1662–3 by the Davenant and Killigrew patents. In April 1894, when the renewal of the lease to Sir Augustus Harris, manager of the theatre since 1879, was being considered, the Lord Chamberlain informed the eleventh Duke of Bedford that he was strongly of opinion that Drury Lane should in future be subject to annual licence like all other places of amusement in London (ref. 91) (except Covent Garden). The authority under which the theatre performed was, however, no concern of the Duke, and in negotiating the agreement with Sir Augustus for a lease, 'all reference to the question of the Patent' was 'carefully avoided and it has been left to Sir Augustus either to purchase the existing Patent or to place himself under the Lord Chamberlain's Licence whichever he finds most advantageous'. (ref. 92)

After the death of Sir Augustus Harris in 1896 his executors surrendered his seven-year interest in the theatre to the Duke. (ref. 93) Harris had bought the patent from the old Company of Proprietors, and after his death his stage manager, Arthur Collins, who was acquiring an interest in the lease (see page 28), bought the patent. In May 1897 Collins contracted to sell all his interest in the theatre, including the patent, to the newly formed Theatre Royal Drury Lane Limited, which still owns both the lease and the patent. (ref. 94) In 1964 the patent was included among the company's assets at the nominal figure of one hundred pounds. (ref. 3)

Later History of the Davenant Patent from 1793

It will be recalled that at the end of 1793 Thomas Harris owned 46/60 of the freehold of the Davenant patent, under which Covent Garden acted, and also (in conjunction with Sheridan) the remainder of the twenty-one-year leasehold interest created in 1778 in the other 14/60. The freehold of these 14/60 belonged to the descendants of William Powell—his daughter Ann (later Ann Martindale) and his son-in-law, George White. In 1803 Harris took John Philip Kemble, who had been for many years the leading actor at Drury Lane, into partnership and sold him a onesixth share of the theatre and the Davenant patent for £22,000. (ref. 95) Three years later he granted a moiety of 1/60 of the patent to George White and the other moiety to White's sister-inlaw, now Ann Martindale, (ref. 96) thus increasing their share to one eighth each. By these transactions he reduced his own share to seven-twelfths (46/60-1/6-1/60=7/12), and at about the same time he gave one twelfth of his remaining holding to his son, Henry Harris. (ref. 97)

George White died in 1813, (ref. 98) and his oneeighth share in the patent passed to his two daughters, Elizabeth and Letitia Mary, who therefore held one sixteenth each. (ref. 99) They married, respectively, John Saltren Willett and John Forbes. (ref. 100) Ann Martindale, by her will proved in 1822, bequeathed her one-eighth share to Francis Const, esquire, chairman of Westminster Sessions, for life, with discretionary power to sell it if he thought fit. (ref. 101) This he evidently did, between 1825 and 1832, to Willett and Forbes, whose shares were stated in the latter year to be one eighth each, and not one sixteenth as had originally been the case. (ref. 102)

In the meantime Henry Harris, through the death of his father in 1820, had become possessed of seven-twelfths, and in the same year J. P. Kemble had given his one sixth to his much younger brother Charles. (ref. 97) Henry Harris died in 1839, leaving all his property on trust for his two daughters to William Harry Surman of Lincoln's Inn, esquire. (ref. 103) Charles Kemble died in 1854, leaving his estate to his three children. (ref. 104)

Thus when Covent Garden Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1856 the Davenant patent was owned as to seven-twelfths by Surman in trust for the Harris family, as to one sixth by the Kemble family and as to one eighth each by Willett and Forbes. But by this time its value, like that of the Killigrew patent, had been greatly diminished by the Act of 1843 for regulating theatres. (ref. 5) The competition from the new theatres which quickly multiplied in the metropolis had greatly impoverished the proprietors of Covent Garden, none of whom was able to attempt to rebuild the theatre. (ref. 105) Within a few weeks of the fire the ground landlord, the seventh Duke of Bedford, obtained a judgment in the Court of Queen's Bench for possession of the site (ref. 106) and in due course he granted a new lease, for ninety years, to Frederick Gye, (ref. 107) who had managed the theatre for some years previous to the fire. Gye rebuilt the theatre and re-opened it on 15 May 1858 without a licence from the Lord Chamberlain. His authority to perform must therefore have been the Davenant patent, although no evidence has been found that he ever owned it during his long association with Covent Garden, which lasted until his death in 1878.

It seems certain, however, that Gye did acquire at least a share in the patent, for at the sale of the ground lease to the Grand Opera Syndicate Limited in 1899 'all the interest' of the vendor in the patent was included in the sale. (ref. 108) This vendor was George Denison Faber, later Lord Wittenham, who had inherited the lease (and therefore presumably his interest in the patent) from Gye's principal mortgagee; and nearly thirty years later he recalled that the Davenant 'Letters Patent granted by King Charles II . . . were certainly existing when I owned the lease of the house, and of course they still are'. (ref. 109) The present whereabouts of the patent is not known, (ref. 4) but the theatre still operates under the authority originally granted to Sir William Davenant in 1662/3.


a Between 1709 and 1714 the authority to act at Drury Lane was provided by the licences granted to William Collier, M.P., and some of the actors. (ref. 44) When the last of these licences terminated automatically on the death of Queen Anne in August 1714 the actor-managers dropped the Tory Collier and invited a Whig, (Sir) Richard Steele, to join them and use his influence at Court to obtain a new licence. (ref. 45) Steele immediately procured a licence dated 18 October 1714, (ref. 46) which was superseded on 19 January 1714/15 by a patent granted to Steele alone for a term expiring three years after his death. (ref. 47) Steele shared his patent with the actor-managers Cibber, Wilks and Booth and when it expired in 1732 they obtained a new but similar patent for twenty-one years from the Lord Chamberlain, the first of a series of five granted to Drury Lane, the last of which expired in 1837. (ref. 48)
b This latter acquisition appears not to have been legally completed until 1800–1, probably because Harris had not paid the full purchase money. (ref. 67)
c It may be noted here that between December 1813 and the summer of 1837 Drury Lane Theatre possessed two separate concurrent patents—Killigrew's and the twenty-one-year patent mentioned above. The Lord Chamberlain appears to have been unaware of the purchase of the former in 1813, and after the expiry of the latter in 1837 he questioned the theatre's right to re-open. Alfred Bunn, who was then the manager, relates that 'The harpies of the Lord Chamberlain's office, with noses as sensitive for a fee as a ferret's for a rat, despatched a missive to Drury Lane Theatre to inquire by what authority I had presumed to announce its reopening'. Bunn replied that he did so under Killigrew's patent, 'and producing a tin box entrusted to me for the occasion', he 'displayed before the wondering eyes of the disappointed official the document itself, bearing the signature of "Howard", with the appendage of his lordship's ponderous seal of power'. (ref. 89)


1. P.R.O., C66/3013, no. 20.
2. Ibid., C66/3009, no. 3.
3. Company House, file 52738.
4. Harold Rosenthal, Two Centuries of Opera at Covent Garden, 1958, p. 675.
5. 6 and 7 Vict. c. 68, public general.
6. Leslie Hotson, The Commonwealth and Restoration Stage, 1928, p. 124.
7. John Freehafer, 'The Formation of the London Patent Companies in 1660' in Theatre Notebook, vol. xx, 1965, p. 13.
8. The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 24 May 1660.
9. A. Harbage, Thomas Killigrew: Cavalier Dramatist 1612–1683, 1930, p. 116.
10. P.R.O., SP44/5, p. 158.
11. Ibid., SP29/8, no. 1.
12. B.M., Add. MS. 19256, ff. 47–8.
13. P.R.O., SP29/10, no. 108.
14. Freehafer, op. cit., p. 29.
15. The London Stage 1660–1800, Part 1, 1660–1700, ed. William Van Lennep, 1965, p. xxxv.
16. B.M., Add. MS. 12,201, ff. 130–5.
17. P.R.O., C7/194/57.
18. Ibid., C7/194/47.
19. P.C.C., 36 Drax.
20. P.R.O., C7/194/47; C7/194/51.
21. B.M., Add. MS. 12,201, f. 142.
22. Ibid., Add. Ch. 9320; P.C.C., 13 Romney.
23. Hotson, op. cit., pp. 226–9, 232, 238.
24. Percy Fitzgerald, A New History of the English Stage, vol. 1, 1882, pp. 154–8.
25. P.R.O., LC7/3, ff. 119–20.
26. Ibid., C8/348/95, confirmed by B.M., Add. Ch. 9299.
27. B.M., Add. Ch. 9299.
28. Fulwar Skipwith, A Brief Account of the Skipwiths of Newbold, Metheringham and Prestwould, 1867, pp. 29–30.
29. P.R.O., C5/284/40; B.M., Add. Ch. 9302.
30. Hotson, op. cit., p. 293.
31. P.R.O., C5/284/40.
32. Ibid., C8/481/66.
33. P.C.C., 444 Cheslyn.
34. P.R.O., C10/261/51.
35. Ibid., LC7/3, ff. 8–9.
36. Van Lennep, op. cit., p. 445.
37. P.R.O., LC5/154, p. 35.
38. Fitzgerald, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 252–7.
39. An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber Written by Himself, ed. R. W. Lowe, vol. 11, 1889, p. 59.
40. P.R.O., C12/1728/34.
41. Ibid., LC5/154, ff. 224, 437.
42. Ibid., LC7/3, f. 40.
43. Ibid., LC5/155, pp. 44, 157, 261; LC5/156, p. 31; LC5/157, p. 282.
44. Ibid., LC7/3, f. 40; LC5/155, pp. 157, 261.
45. John Loftis, Steele at Drury Lane, 1952, pp. 35–6.
46. P.R.O., LC5/156, p. 31.
47. Ibid., C66./3501, no. 13.
48. Ibid., C66/3586, no. 5; C66/3621, no. 15; C66/ 3682, no. 45; C66/3806, no. 4; C66/4124, no. 4.
49. B.M., Add. Ch. 9303; The London Stage 1660– 1800, Part 2, 1700–1729, ed. Emmett L.Avery, 1960, p. xxxii.
50. Modern Language Notes, vol. lxiv, Baltimore, 1949, pp. 19–21.
51. Avery, op. cit., p. 334.
52. P.C.C., 228 Aston.
53. P.R.O., C12/1728/34.
54. B.M., Collection of Memoranda . . . relating to Drury Lane Theatre arranged by James Winston, vol. v. (B.M. pressmark C 120 h 1). See also MS. note in the theatre collection now in the possession of Mr. Robert Eddison.
55. B.M., Add. Ch. 9320.
56. P.C.C., 13 Romney.
57. M.L.R. 1730/1/190.
58. B.M., Add. Ch. 9320; Add. MS. 12201, ff. 4–12.
59. Ibid., Add. Ch. 9311.
60. M.L.R. 1767/6/50–1.
61. Ibid., 1767/6/245–6; 1767/7/307–8.
62. Ibid., 1768/6/187–8.
63. P.R.O., C54/6378, no. 11.
64. M.L.R. 1774/5/331–4.
65. Ibid., 1784/3/279.
66. Ibid., 1786/3/477.
67. Ibid., 1801/3/380–2.
68. D.N.B.
69. M.L.R. 1780/2/498.
70. Ibid., 1782/4/271, confirmed by 1796/1/470.
71. Ibid., 1792/5/718; 1806/4/621.
72. Ibid., 1792/5/718; Orlo Cyprian Williams, The Clerical Organization of the House of Commons, 1660–1850, 1954, p. 77; D.N.B.
73. The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, ed. Cecil Price, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 116–21.
74. Ian Donaldson, 'New Papers of Henry Holland and R. B. Sheridan', in Theatre Notebook, vol. xvi, 1962, pp. 117–25.
75. Survey of London, vol. xxix, 1960, pp. 233–6; vol. xxxi, 1963, pp. 276–8.
76. The full text is printed in Fitzgerald, op. cit., vol. 11, pp. 334–8 and in P.P., Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the Laws affecting Dramatic Literature, 1831–2, vol. vii, appendix 4, pp. 241–3.
77. Sheridan Letters, vol. 1, pp. 229–32; The London Chronicle, 28–31 July 1792.
78. Sheridan Letters, vol. 1, p. 268n.
79. The London Chronicle, 28–31 July 1792.
80. Ibid., loc. cit.; P.R.O., C12/1728/34.
81. Sheridan Letters, vol. 1, p. 256.
82. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 248n.; Enthoven, Drury Lane legal documents.
83. Enthoven, Drury Lane legal documents; B.M., Add. MS. 42720, f. 22.
84. M.L.R. 1806/4/525; Enthoven, Drury Lane legal documents.
85. P.R.O., C66/4124, no. 4.
86. 50 Geo. 111, c. 214, local and personal.
87. Enthoven, Drury Lane legal documents.
88. Ibid., loc. cit.; The Gentleman's Magazine, vol. 84, 1814, p. 96; Williams, op. cit., p. 77.
89. Alfred Bunn, The Stage: both before and behind the Curtain, vol. 11, 1840, pp. 280–1.
90. E/BER., lease of 11 July 1812 to the Company of Proprietors of Drury Lane Theatre.
91. Ibid., Drury Lane Theatre papers.
92. B.O.L., London Reports, vol. 11, p. 429.
93. E/BER, surrender of 14 July 1897.
94. Ibid., Solicitors' Papers, no. 61.
95. M.L.R. 1803/5/461; P.R.O., C54/7757 no. 7.
96. M.L.R. 1806/4/620–1.
97. The Law Journal, vol. v, 1827, Easter Term, pp. 131–9 (B.M. pressmark PP1345).
98. Williams, op. cit., p. 77.
99. P.C.C., 45 Bridport.
100. P.R.O., C13/2587, Const v. Kemble; E. R. Brayley, Accounts of London Theatres, 1826, pp. 13–20.
101. P.C.C., 90 Henschell.
102. P.R.O., C13/2587, Const v. Kemble; P.P., Report of Commons Committee on Laws affecting Dramatic Literature, 1831–2, vol. vii, p. 98.
103. P.C.C., 692 Vaughan.
104. Ibid., 1855/50; D.N.B.
105. The Times, 18 March 1856.
106. P.R.O., KB 122/1418, f. 31.
107. M.L.R. 1858/9/606.
108. Ibid., 1916/7/969.
109. The Times, 4 July 1928.