Abducted - Elizabeth I's Child Actors
Tuesday 7 August 2018
Shakespeare - Young people
Available on BBC iPlayer for the next 4 weeks, this BBC 4 documentary examines the story of a young boy kidnapped to act in plays at the Blackfriars Theatre in the last years of Elizabeth I's reign.
Image: c BBC
You pack your surly and grumpy adolescent son off to school one morning only to find, come the end of day, that he never reached his desk, but instead got kidnapped by a grasping stage impresario to act in plays on the London stage ... and all legally done, thanks to a royal warrant.
Well, it might not happen today, but back in the days of Elizabeth I it seems to have been pretty common.
Apparently, that particular monarch had a penchant for plays acted by children and there were producers more than eager to make fortunes out of the fashion, which seems to have been enjoyed by many wealthy London toffs of the period.
In 1600, Henry Clifton, a nobleman, packed his son Thomas off to school, but though the boy only had a fairly short walk to his studies, he never arrived.
On his way to school, Thomas was abducted by Henry Evans - an unsavoury character who ran the Blackfriars Theatre.
Evans planned to force Thomas to act in plays.
When his father discovered his son's whereabouts, he confronted Evans demanding the return of his boy.
Evans refused, showing his authority to kidnap the boy in the form of a royal document called an Impressment Warrant.
Henry Clifton wasn't going to leave it at that - he secured the support of Sir John Fortescue, a member of the Privy Council, who provided a warrant to secure the release of young Clifton, who was duly released back into the care of his father.
That wasn't the end of it, though.
Clifton took the matter to court - The Star Chamber - and won a huge sum of damages from Evans.
This fascinating case - and associated theatrical background of the times - is covered in a documentary presented by acclaimed children's author and academic Katherine Rundell on BBC 4.
Broadcast on 6 August, the programme is available on BBC iPlayer for the next 29 days - and well-worth viewing if you're interested in theatrical history, or just a good (if a little chilling) story.