The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

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51°31′27″N 0°06′12″W / 51.524259°N 0.103336°W / 51.524259; -0.103336

Plan of London in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, showing the locations of playhouses: the Red Bull lies to the north-west of the City

The Red Bull was an inn-yard conversion erected in Clerkenwell, London, operating in the 17th century. For more than four decades, it entertained audiences drawn primarily from the City and its suburbs, developing a reputation over the years for rowdiness. After Parliament closed the theatres in 1642, it continued to host illegal performances intermittently, and when the theatres reopened after the Restoration, it became a legitimate venue again. There is a myth that it burned down in the Great Fire of London but the direct reason for its end is unclear.


The Red Bull was constructed in about 1605 on St John Street in Clerkenwell on a site corresponding to the eastern end of modern-day Hayward's Place.[1][2] Contemporary documents reveal that it was converted from a yard in an inn.[3] This origin accounts for its square-ish shape, shared, for example, by the original Fortune Theatre among playhouses of the time. The Red Bull inn's name may relate to drovers bringing cattle down St John Street toward the markets at Smithfield. The conversion was undertaken by Aaron Holland, owner of the inn from 1602, on land he (along with an actor named Martin Slatier or Slater) had leased from Anne Bedingfeild, the inheritrix of a wealthy local brewer.[4] Evidence indicates that its size was comparable to Globe Theatre and Fortune, its competitors. W. J. Lawrence argued that the theatre was roofed over in the early 1620s, but this idea was largely refuted by Leslie Hotson and G. E. Bentley. The Red Bull was most likely similar to the other outdoor theatres against which it competed, with an uncurtained thrust-forward stage backed by a tiring house and balcony, surrounded by standing room, and overlooked by galleries on three walls. It may well have held more than the capacity of The Globe.[5]


Jacobean and Caroline

With the abatement of the plague epidemic in 1604, entrepreneur Aaron Holland (a servant of the Earl of Devonshire) secured a lease on the Red Bull inn for conversion to a theatre. At the end of that year he agreed with the actor Martin Slatier to form a new company of players, and secured the essential aristocratic patronage from Ulrik, Duke of Holstein, younger brother to Queen Anne. (Perhaps because they had learned from Philip Henslowe's recent problems with neighbourhood opposition in building the Fortune, they did not approach the court for approval until they had already placated their parish neighbours—as Henslowe had—by contributing to poor relief.) Thus, the royal patent was in the name Queen Anne's Men.[6] In addition to Martin Slatier, Thomas Swinnerton and Christopher Beeston were known to have owned shares in the enterprise.[7][8] The company's clown was to be Thomas Greene. The Queen Anne's Men's repertoire included works by prominent playwrights: Thomas Heywood, an actor in the company, contributed the greatest part. John Webster's The White Devil and The Devil's Law-case, Thomas Dekker's If This Be Not A Good Play, the Devil Is in It, and John Cooke's well-known The City Gallant (Thomas Greene's Tu Quoque) were also included. They came into possession also of some older plays, including Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. The audience appears to have disapproved of The White Devil in 1611, and in later years the Red Bull as the cause of, or scene of, noted riots which are recorded in court cases.[9]

In 1616, the Queen's men, now directed by impresario Christopher Beeston, moved into Beeston's new indoor Cockpit Theatre.[10] This was in emulation of the King's Men's acquirement of the Blackfriars, the company now having both the outdoor Red Bull and the Indoor Cockpit. On Shrove Tuesday 1617, a mob of apprentices attacked the Cockpit but the theatre was re-established and was a successful venue into the Restoration. The first company was succeeded at the Red Bull by Prince Charles's Men. The disintegration of Queen Anna's men after Anne's death in 1619 produced a little-understood reshuffling of these companies. In the decline of the Jacobean period, this company produced plays including Dekker and Massinger's The Virgin Martyr, Thomas May's The Heir, and Gervase Markham and William Sampson's Herod and Antipater.

After James's death, Charles assumed patronage of the King's Men, and the former Prince Charles's Men disbanded. From this date, an even less reputable company took up residence at the Red Bull. Scholars generally call this troupe the Red Bull company, as the actors called themselves when in London; when touring, as they did frequently, they styled themselves the King's Players. In 1627, Henry Herbert, acting on a request from John Heminges, ordered this company to cease performing Shakespeare's plays. In November 1629, the theatre hosted visiting French actors who had earlier played at the Fortune and Blackfriars Theatre; a contemporary reference may indicate that this troupe, which included women, was poorly received in Clerkenwell.

By 1634, the Red Bull housed a new company patronized by the child Prince Charles II. By this point, the Red Bull's reputation was tarnished. But the new company boasted a popular comedian, Andrew Cane, and it was able to survive the Privy Council's anger over the slanderous play The Whore New Vamped, which mocked an alderman by name and complained of recently levied taxes.

After 1642

Along with all the other theatres in London, the Red Bull was closed for plays in 1642 by the Commonwealth. In the short term, the prohibition was of limited effect; as late as 1648, the Red Bull hosted a performance of Fletcher's Wit Without Money; advertisements for the performance were thrown into gentlemen's carriages. There followed a crackdown on performances by Parliament, which grew wiser to the real implications of advertisements for "rope dancing" and other entertainments at the old theatres. On 20 December 1649, the Red Bull was successfully raided, a number of actors arrested and imprisoned, and their clothes and properties confiscated.

The Red Bull is the only theatre incontestably associated with drolls, brief farces taken from the most popular older plays. In 1653, Robert Cox was arrested at the Red Bull for a performance which crossed the line and was deemed a play. Sir William Davenant and Sir George Fletcher reportedly watched a play at the Red Bull in February or March 1655.[11] In September 1655, the Red Bull was raided again as part of the same sterner attitude that led Cromwell's soldiers to deface the Fortune and Blackfriars, and actors were arrested for performing there in 1659.

A collection of drolls was published by Francis Kirkman, some attributed to "the incomparable Robert Cox", as The Wits (1662, and enlarged 1672–73). Kirkman said many had been performed at the Red Bull; however, the frontispiece to his volume does not necessarily represent a performance at the venue, as was once assumed—the drawing shows footlights and a candelabra, whereas the Red Bull mounted only open-air, daylight performances.[12][13]

The theatre was re-opened in 1660 upon the Restoration of the monarchy, as home for Michael Mohun's company and George Jolly's troupe. Its new management returned to the business of staging crowd-pleasing drama; on 23 March 1661 Samuel Pepys recorded seeing a revival of William Rowley's All's Lost by Lust there, but he notes that the work was "poorly done, with…much disorder". By the following year the building was given over to prize fights and public demonstrations of fencing.[14][15] The Red Bull came to an end around 1665 or 1666, but this had nothing to do with the Great Fire of London, which stopped some distance south.

Buildings were constructed on the site of the playhouse, and the outline of its structure, including the passageway from the auditorium to St John Street, can still be traced at its location off Woodbridge Street.


Founded in 2003, Red Bull Theater of New York City takes its name and inspiration from the original Red Bull.[16]


  1. ^ Wickham, Berry & Ingram 2000, p. 564.
  2. ^ Griffith 2001, pp. 5–23.
  3. ^ Griffith 2011, p. 577.
  4. ^ Griffith 2008.
  5. ^ Griffith 2001, p. 15.
  6. ^ Berry, Herbert (2005). "Building Playhouses, the Accession of James I, and the Red Bull". Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England. 18: 61–74. ISSN 0731-3403.
  7. ^ Wickham, Berry & Ingram 2000, pp. 570–579.
  8. ^ Griffith 2009, pp. 611–612.
  9. ^ Wickham, Berry & Ingram 2000, pp. 569–570.
  10. ^ Griffith 2013, pp. 232–233.
  11. ^ Deborah C. Payne, "Patronage and the Dramatic Marketplace under Charles I and II", in Brown 1993, p. 167
  12. ^ Astington, John H. (1993). "The Wits Illustration 1662". Theatre Notebook. 47: 122–40.
  13. ^ Wickham, Berry & Ingram 2000, p. 567.
  14. ^ Latham, Robert; Matthews, William, eds. (1970). The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Vol. 2. London: Bell & Hyman. p. 58. ISBN 071351552X.
  15. ^ Pinks, William J.; Wood, Edward J.; Bromhead, A. C. (1865). The History of Clerkenwell. pp. 194–195. OCLC 940376181.
  16. ^ "About". Red Bull Theater. Retrieved 20 October 2019.


  • Brown, Charles Cedric, ed. (1993). Patronage, Politics, and Literary Traditions in England, 1558–1658. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  • Griffith, Eva (2001). "New Material for a Jacobean Theatre: The Red Bull Theatre on the Seckford Estate". Theatre Notebook. 55.
  • —— (2008) [2004]. "Bedingfeild [née Draper], Anne (1560–1641)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74436. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • —— (2009). "Christopher Beeston: his Property and Properties". In Dutton, Richard (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199287246.
  • —— (2011). "Martin Slatiar and the Red Bull Playhouse". Huntington Library Quarterly. 74 (4): 553–574. doi:10.1525/hlq.2011.74.4.553.
  • —— (2013). A Jacobean Company and its Playhouse: The Queen's Servants at the Red Bull Theatre (c.1605–1619). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107041882.
  • Wickham, Glynne; Berry, Herbert; Ingram, William (2000). English Professional Theatre 1530–1660. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521230124.

Further reading

1893 text

This well-known theatre was situated in St. John’s Street on the site of Red Bull Yard. Pepys went there on March 23rd, 1661, when he expressed a very poor opinion of the place. T. Carew, in some commendatory lines on Sir William. Davenant’s play, “The just Italian,” 1630, abuses both audiences and actors:—

There are the men in crowded heaps that throng
To that adulterate stage, where not a tongue
Of th’ untun’d kennel can a line repeat
Of serious sense.

There is a token of this house (see “Boyne’s Trade Tokens,” ed. Williamson, vol. i., 1889, p. 725).

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

10 Annotations

First Reading

Susanna  •  Link

There is a short history of this playhouse "noted for the vulgarity and obstreperousness of its patrons" from the Encyclopedia Brittanica:…

Paul Brewster  •  Link

"at this time [3 August 1660] used by a troupe headed my Michael Mohun."
per L&M

"MOHUN, MICHAEL (c. 1625-1684), English actor, played at the Cockpit in Drury Lane before the Civil War. He served on the king's side with credit and was promoted captain, and subsequently, in Flanders, major. At the Restoration he returned with Charles II. and took up his former profession, playing a great variety of parts, usually as second to Charles Hart."
per 1911 Encyclopedia

Glyn  •  Link

The Red Bull was at 181-183 St John Street, Clerkenwell: north of the junction with Aylesbury Street. Early in the Diary it stages plays but by the middle of the Diary it was holding prizefights instead.

Pauline  •  Link

"it was holding prizefights instead."

Perhaps following the realization on March 23 1661 that the musique room provided the perfect "arena" in which to stage a fight:
From that day's Diary entry: "in the musique-room the boy that was to sing a song, not singing it right, his master fell about his ears and beat him so, that it put the whole house in an uprore."

Sjoerd  •  Link

Samuel thought worth mentioning this story about Thomas Killigrew:

"The other, Thos. Killigrew’s way of getting to see plays when he was a boy. He would go to the Red Bull, and when the man cried to the boys, ‘Who will go and be a devil, and he shall see the play for nothing?’ then would he go in, and be a devil upon the stage, and so get to see plays."

Terry F  •  Link

The Red Bull shows on the 1746 map where Glyn has it, sc. at 181-183 St John Street, Clerkenwell: northwest of the junction with Aylesbury Street 3/5 east and near the north edge of this segment of the map (south of the White Horse Yard).…

Pedro  •  Link

Red Bull Yard.

On the map above that Terry mentions you can see Red Bull Yard that was named after the Theatre.

(Book of Days)

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Red Bull Theatre stood at the upper end of St. John Street, on what was until recently called "Red Bull Yard," and Woodbridge Street, St John's Street Road. Mr. Payne Collier conjectures that it was originally an inn-yard, converted into a regular theatre late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Prynne speaks of it in 1633 as a theatre that had been "lately reedified and enlarged." It was closed during the plague of 1636-1637.
The King's players, under Killigrew, performed within its walls till a stage in Drury Lane was ready to receive them. "The Red Bull stands empty for fencers, "writes Davenant in 1663; "there are no tenants in it but old spiders."
It was afterwards employed for trials of skill. Mr. Collier possessed a printed challenge and acceptance of a trial at eight several weapons, to be performed betwixt two scholars of Benjamin Dobson and William Wright, masters of the noble science of defence. The trial was to come off " at the Red Bull, at the upper end of St. John's Street, on Whitsun Monday, the 30th of May, 1664, beginning exactly at three of the clock in the afternoon, and the best man is to take all." The weapons were: "back-sword, single rapier, sword and dagger, rapier and dagger, sword and buckler, half pike, sword and gauntlet, single faulchion."
---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891.

Bill  •  Link

... presently after the Restoration, the King's Players acted publickly at the Red Bull for some time, and then removed to a new-built Playhouse in Vere-Street, by Clare-market. There they continued for a Year or two, and then removed to the Theatre Royal in Drury-lane ...
---An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber. Colley Cibber, 1750.

The King's Players were Thomas Killegrew's company.

The "Playhouse in Vere-Street" was the King's House (Theatre Royal, Vere St).…

Bill  •  Link

The actors who had performed at the Red Bull, acted under the direction of Mr. Killigrew during the years 1660, 1661, 1662, and part of the year 1663, in Gibbon's tennis-court in Vere-street, near Clare-market; during which time a new theatre was built for them in Drury Lane, to which they removed in April 1663. The following list of their stock-plays, in which it is observable there are but three of Shakspeare, was found among the papers of Sir Henry Herbert, and was probably furnished by them soon after the Restoration.

Names of the plays acted by the Red Bull actors.

The Humorous Lieutenant. Elder Brother.
Beggars Bushe. The Silent Woman.
Tamer Tamed. The Weddinge.
The Traytor. Henry the Fourthe.
Loves Cruelty. Merry Wives of Windsor.
Wit without Money. Kinge and no Kinge.
Maydes Tragedy. Othello.
Philaster. Dumboys.
Rollo Duke of Normandy. The Unfortunate Lovers.
Claricilla. The Widow.

---The Plays of William Shakspeare: In Fifteen Volumes. v.2, 1793.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


  • Aug