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The Salisbury Court Theatre is shown to the west of St Paul's Cathedral in this London street map. Enlarge

The Salisbury Court Theatre was a theatre in 17th-century London. It was in the neighbourhood of Salisbury Court, which was formerly the London residence of the Bishops of Salisbury. Salisbury Court was acquired by Richard Sackville in 1564 during the last seven years of his life when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Queen Elizabeth; when Thomas Sackville was created Earl of Dorset in 1604, the building was renamed Dorset House. (His grandson, Edward Sackville, 4th Earl of Dorset, was Queen Henrietta Maria's Lord Chamberlain in the 1630s, and was a prime mover in theatre and drama in London in that era, including the force behind the founding of this theatre.)

According to contemporary chronicler Edmund Howes, "a new faire Play-house" was erected in 1629, just to the west of the medieval walls of the City of London, between Fleet Street and the River Thames, in a building converted from a barn or granary in the grounds of Dorset House. An enclosed "private" venue like the Blackfriars Theatre, it was a successor to the earlier Whitefriars Theatre (which had been just on the other side of Water Lane) and the short-lived Porter's Hall Theatre, and catered to an upscale and elite audience—in contrast to the open-air theatres like the Globe, Fortune, and Red Bull theatres that served a mass audience (especially in the latter two cases).

Little is known about the actual form and shape of the Salisbury Court Theatre. Yet since it was on a plot of land 42 feet (13 meters) wide, it may have resembled, to some greater or lesser degree, the plan for a small theatre drawn by Inigo Jones in the later Jacobean or Caroline era, which adheres to a very similar scale.[1]

The Salisbury Court was built at a cost of £1,000 by Richard Gunnell, a veteran actor and the manager of the Fortune, and William Blagrave, deputy to Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels. At some point in the middle of the 1630s, control of the theatre passed to the "dictatorial management"[2] of Richard Heton, who was in charge by October 1635. (Gunnell died in late 1634 or early 1635, while Blagrave would die in 1636.) During the 1630s, the theatre was occupied at various times by the King's Revels Men (1630–31 and 1633–36), by Prince Charles's Men (1631–33), and by Queen Henrietta's Men (1637–42); for a time it was a major locus of dramatic activity, a main rival to the theatrical establishment run by Christopher Beeston at the Cockpit and Red Bull theatres. [See: Richard Brome.]

Salisbury Court was the last theatre to be built before the closing of the theatres in 1642, during the Puritan era. After the theatres were closed, Salisbury Court was sometimes used for other purposes – and sometimes, as through much of 1647, it was used for theatrical performances in contravention of the local authorities. (The players played when they could get away with doing so—which was not always: the London authorities raided the Salisbury Court on 6 October 1647, breaking up a performance of A King and No King by Beaumont and Fletcher.) On 1 January 1649, the London authorities raided all four of the London theatres simultaneously; the actors at the Salisbury Court Theatre and the Cockpit Theatre were arrested, as was a "rope-dancer" or trapeze artist performing at the Fortune Theatre—but the actors at the Red Bull Theatre managed to escape. In March 1649, the authorities destroyed the interior of the Salisbury Court theatre, and the Fortune and the Cockpit too, making them useless for public performances.

After years of being banned in the Interregnum, theatre was again permitted on the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, with the grant of two Letters patent to two companies to perform "legitimate drama" in London. The Salisbury Court Theatre was refurbished by William Beeston and used for a time by the Duke's Company, patronised by the Duke of York (later James II), from November 1660 to June 1661, when they moved to the nearby Lisle's Tennis Court next to Lincoln's Inn Fields, which they found a better venue. George Jolly's troupe also played there for a time. Samuel Pepys records visiting it several times in his diary for early 1661 (often calling it the Whitefriars Theatre).

Pepys' famous Diary provides information on the plays acted at the Salisbury Court Theatre immediately after the theatres re-opened. He saw Fletcher's The Mad Lover on 9 February 1661; Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling on 23 February (Thomas Betterton played De Flores); Massinger's The Bondman on 1 March (Betterton again); Fletcher and Massinger's The Spanish Curate on 16 March; Heywood's Love's Mistress on 2 March; and Fletcher's Rule a Wife and Have a Wife on 1 April.[3] (All dates new style.)

The building burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was replaced in 1671 by the Dorset Garden Theatre, which was built slightly further south to a design by Christopher Wren. The theatre is commemorated by a plaque on the Dorset Rise (east) side of the corporate building on the south side of Salisbury Square.


  1. ^ Andrew Gurr with John Orrell, Rebuilding Shakespeare's Globe, New York, Routledge, 1989; p. 139. See also pp. 129–38.
  2. ^ Kinney, p. 161.
  3. ^ John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, 1708; Ayer Publishing (reprint), 1968; pp. 68–9.


  • Bentley, G. E. The Jacobean and Caroline Stage. 7 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1941–68.
  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964 Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  • Kinney, Arthur F. A Companion to Renaissance Drama. London, Blackwell Publishing, 2002.
  • Stevens, David. "The Staging of Plays at the Salisbury Court Theatre, 1630–1642." Theatre Journal, Vol. 31 No. 4 (December 1979), pp. 511–25.
  • Thomson, Peter, Jane Milling, and Joseph W. Donohue, eds. The Cambridge History of British Theatre. 3 Volumes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • 'Whitefriars', Old and New London: Volume 1 (1878), pp. 182–99.

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51°30′47.9″N 0°6′22.4″W / 51.513306°N 0.106222°W / 51.513306; -0.106222

9 Annotations

First Reading

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Salisbury Court Theatre, which was re-opened in 1660 by Rhode's company.
---Wheatley, 1896.

Bill  •  Link

SALISBURY COURT THEATRE, Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, was built in 1629, by Richard Gunnell and William Blagrove, players, and was originally the "barn" or granary at the lower end of the great back yard or court of Salisbury House.

"In the yere one thousand sixe hundred [and] twenty-nine, there was builded a new faire Playhouse, near the White-Fryers. And this is the seauenteenth stage or common Play-house which hath beene new made within the space of threescore yeres within London and the suburbs."— Homes, ed. 1631, p. 1004.

"The Play-house in Salisbury Court, in Fleete Streete, was pulled down by a company of souldiers, set on by the Sectaries of these sad times, on Saturday, the 24th day of March, 1649."—MS. Notes by Howes, quoted in Collier's Life of Shakspeare p. ccxlii.

It was bought by William Beeston, a player, in 1652, and rebuilt and re-opened by him in 1660. The Duke's company, under Davenant, played here till their new theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-fields was ready to receive them. Salisbury-court Theatre was finally destroyed in the Great Fire, and not rebuilt. The Duke's Theatre in Dorset-gardens, opened Nov. 9th, 1671, stood facing the Thames, on a somewhat different site.
---Handbook of London. P. Cunningham, 1850.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Largely taken from British History Online's pages on the disreputable Whitefriars neighborhood:…
Old and New London: Volume 1. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

The first theater in Whitefriars seems to have been built in the hall of the old Whitefriars Monastery. It was in business from 1586 to 1613.
A memorandum from the manuscript-book of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels to King Charles I, notes: "I committed Cromes, a broker in Long Lane, the 16th of February, 1634, to the Marshalsea, for lending a Church robe, with the name of Jesus upon it, to the players in Salisbury Court, to represent a flamen, a priest of the heathens. Upon his petition of submission and acknowledgment of his fault, I released him the 17th February, 1634."

From entries of the Wardmote Inquests of St. Dunstan's, it appears the Whitefriars Theater (erected in the precincts of the monastery, to be out of the jurisdiction of the mayor) had become disreputable by 1609, and ruinous in 1619, when it is said "the rain hath made its way in, and if it be not repaired it must soon be plucked down, or it will fall."

The Salisbury Court Theater, which took its place about 1629, when the Earl of Dorset somewhat illegally let it for a term of 61 years and £950 down.

The Salisbury Court Theater was destroyed by Puritan soldiers in 1649, and not rebuilt until the Restoration.

At the outbreak of pleasure and vice, after the Restoration, the actors, long starved and crestfallen, brushed up their plumes and burnished their tinsel.

Thomas Killigrew, a Court buffoon, with a troop called the King's Men, opened a new theater in Drury Lane, Covent Garden in 1663.

Sir William Davenant (rumored to be Shakespeare's illegitimate son) opened the long disused theater in Salisbury Court, the rebuilding of which commenced in 1660, on the site of the granary of Salisbury House, with a troop called The Opera, under the patronage of the Duke of York.

Later Davenant migrated to the old Tennis Court in Portugal Street, on the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields.

The Great Fire erased the Granary Theater [aka Salisbury Court Theater].

In 1671, on Sir William Davenant's death, the company (managed by his widow) returned to a new theater in Salisbury Court, designed by Wren and possibly decorated by Grinling Gibbons. It opened with Dryden's "Sir Martin Marall", which had already played in 1668.

On Thomas Killigrew's death, the King's and Duke's Servants united, and removed to Drury Lane, Covent Garden, in 1682; the Dorset Gardens Theater/Salisbury Court Theater only flourished for 11 years in all.


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Wikipedia clarifies somewhat the above annotation:

Pepys records visiting Salisbury Court Theatre in early 1661 (often calling it the Whitefriars Theatre), where he saw:
Fletcher's "The Mad Lover" on 9 February 1661;
Middleton and Rowley's "The Changeling" on 23 February (Thomas Betterton played De Flores);
Massinger's "The Bondman" on 1 March (Betterton again);
Fletcher and Massinger's "The Spanish Curate" on 16 March;
Heywood's "Love's Mistress" on 2 March;
and Fletcher's "Rule a Wife and Have a Wife" on 1 April.

The building burned down in the Great Fire of 1666.

It was replaced in 1671 by the Dorset Garden Theatre, which was built slightly further south to a design by Christopher Wren.…

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