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Account of the Master of the Great Wardrobe, with grant of red cloth to Shakespeare and the King’s Men, 1604

Account of the Master of the Great Wardrobe, with grant of red cloth to Shakespeare and the King’s Men, 1604

When James I inherited the English throne in 1603 he made theatrical patronage a privilege of the royal family. Shakespeare’s company became ‘the King’s Majesty’s Servants’.

As royal servants, Shakespeare and his fellow actors were expected to take part in the royal procession in March 1604. This was a late instance of the medieval tradition of the ‘Royal Entry’, a ritual endorsement of a new monarch by inhabitants of the kingdom’s capital city.

To create a unified spectacle during the event, servants to the Royal Household were issued with red livery (uniform) to wear; the length and type of cloth given depended on status. Shakespeare and eight of his colleagues were granted four and a half yards of red cloth.

The account book lists the names of over 1000 royal servants, from stable boys to bakers to apothecaries, who received red livery for the procession.

(The National Archives: LC 2/4/5 p.78)

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By me William Shakespeare © Crown copyright and King's College London. Images reproduced courtesy of The National Archives.
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