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Civic London – Bath Spa University

Civic London 1558-1642

Records of Early English Drama: Civic London 1558-1642

London’s dramatic records from the age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe, and Middleton are of unparalleled importance.

"Despite its reputation as the domain of puritan killjoys, the City of London was in fact a place with vibrant – if overlooked – theatrical traditions."

Indeed, writers and performers from famed playhouses like the Globe and the Rose, such as Jonson, Middleton, Dekker, and Webster, as well as high-profile actors Richard Burbage and Edward Alleyn, participated in City pageantry and performance. Our AHRC-funded research project Civic London 1558-1642 foregrounds such connections and reveals the depth and richness of London’s performance culture in the hey-day of English drama.

The City of London (to be distinguished from the City of Westminster and the counties of Middlesex and Surrey) was not only the capital and major economic driver of early modern England with its own discrete form of governance, but it was also a community with rich and enduring cultural traditions. Civic London 1558-1642 investigates the City of London’s archival records pertaining to drama, music, festivity, entertainments and pageantry performed between 1558-1642, i.e. from the accession of Elizabeth I to the Parliamentary Order that stage plays should cease, issued at the outset of the Civil Wars. The project will for the first time bring the entirety of the extant early modern City of London performance material into the public domain, and its major output will be the first ever scholarly edition of this archival material.

The project team are accordingly undertaking research in the City archives in order to transcribe, edit, and publish all the surviving records of dramatic, ceremonial, and musical activity from the early modern City of London, including details of performers, musicians, artificers, pageant poets, dramatists, and other protagonists, playing spaces, civic participation and regulation, and the expenditure and income of the various bodies involved. Civic London 1558-1642 represents a major advance in knowledge, one which will provide a necessary corrective to previous thinking about the relationship between the City and theatre, and an unparalleled stimulus to, and resource for, future research.

Handwritten historic document

Extract from the Pewterers’ Company accounts, showing their payments for the civic pageantry held for Queen Elizabeth in 1571. (Reference CLC/L/PE/D/002/MS07086/002, f 325r.)

Project details


Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Leadership Fellows scheme (ref. AH/S012974/1, £202,048)

School of Humanities academics
  • Tracey Hill (Principal Investigator), Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture
  • Dr Charlie Berry, Project PDRA

Linked Bath Spa University programmes

Linked courses
Linked modules
  • Texts in the City – Print Culture and Early Modern London
  • Shakespeare and his Contemporaries 
  • Writing, Gender and Politics, 1500-1750
  • Musical Theatre History 
  • Communicating the Past

Project-linked publications

This project builds on and develops several years of research and publishing:

Award-winning publications by Professor Tracey Hill
  • Tracey Hill, Pageantry and Power: A Cultural History of the Early Modern Lord Mayor’s Show, 1585-1639 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010 hbk, 2013 pbk). Winner of the David Bevington Award for the Best Book in Early Drama Studies, Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society, 2011.
  • Tracey Hill, Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004 hbk, 2008 pbk). Shortlisted for the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize, Renaissance Society of America, 2005.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘“The Grocers honour”: or, taking the City seriously in The Knight of the Burning Pestle’, Early Theatre, 20(2) (2017), 159-178.
    Winner of the Early Theatre Prize for Best Note, 2019.
Additional project publications
  • Tracey Hill, ‘The merchant as adventurer in civic pageantry, in Civic Performance: Pageantry and Entertainments in Early Modern London, ed. by J. Caitlin Finlayson and Amrita Sen (London: Routledge, 2020), pp. 13-31.
  • Charlotte Berry, ‘“Go to hyr neybors wher she dwelte before”: reputation and mobility at the London Consistory Court in the early sixteenth century’, in Medieval Londoners, ed. by Elizabeth A. New and Christian Steer (London: University of London Press, 2019), pp. 95-116.
  • Charlotte Berry, ‘Locating marginality in the city: the extramural neighbourhoods of fifteenth-century London’, in Subaltern City? Alternative and Peripheral Urban Spaces in the Pre-modern Period, ed. by Denis Menjot and Peter Clark (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018), pp. 113-136.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘“Ever obedient in his Studies”: Thomas Middleton and the City, c. 1621’, The London Journal, 42(2) (2017), pp. 1-14.
  • Charlotte Berry, ‘“To avoide all envye, malys, grudge and displeasure”: sociability and social networking at the London wardmote inquest, c.1470-1540’, The London Journal, 42(3) (2017), pp. 201-217.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘Speechwriters of the Lord Mayor’s Show’; ‘“To dazle and amaze the common Eye”: spectators of the Lord Mayor’s Show’; ‘The Elizabethan Lord Mayor’s Show’; ‘“The Golden Fishing”: the 1616 Lord Mayor’s Show’; ‘Plague, storms and “the Dreadful Fire”’, in The Lord Mayor’s Show: 800 Years 1215-2015 (London: Profile Books, 2015), pp. 86-93, 96-97. Commissioned to accompany the 800th anniversary of the City of London mayoralty.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘Festivals’, in Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Culture in Early Modern England, ed. by Andrew Hadfield, Matthew Dimmock and Abigail Shinn (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 43-58.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘“Tendred into your hands”: owners and collectors of the printed books of the early modern Lord Mayors Shows’, Library and Information History, 30(3) (2014), pp. 151-171.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘“On the most Eminent seate thereof is Gouernement Illustrated”: the critique of power in the Lord Mayor’s Show’, in Staged Transgression in Shakespeare’s England, ed. by Rory Loughnane and Edel Semple (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013), pp. 24-36.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘“Representing the awefull authoritie of soueraigne Maiestie”: monarchs and mayors in Anthony Munday’s The Triumphes of re-united Britania’, in 1603: The Historical and Cultural Implications of the Accession of James I, ed. by Glen Burgess, Rowland Wymer and Jason Lawrence (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006), pp. 15-33.
  • Tracey Hill, ‘“The Cittie is in an uproare”: staging London in The Booke of Sir Thomas More’, Early Modern Literary Studies, 10(4) (2005).

Project partners

  • The Guildhall Library, City of London
    The Guildhall Library hosts the largest collection of books about London history in the world, and it also looks after the majority of the livery company records, a central resource for the Civic London project.
  • London Metropolitan Archives
    The LMA holds the records of the City of London from the medieval and early modern periods, which are another important resource for the project.
  • The Pageantmaster of the Lord Mayor’s Show
    The project PI, Professor Tracey Hill, has a long-standing connection with the Lord Mayor’s Show, having written for its official programme on two occasions. There are plans to develop the Civic London project in tandem with the Pageantmaster.

‘Civic London’ also has links with some of the City’s livery companies, including the Founders, the Pewterers, the Cordwainers and the Ironmongers.


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