Salomon Pavey (some sources quote his name as Salathiel) lived in England towards the end of Queen Elizabeth Tudor's reign. He died in 1602, at the age of thirteen. The cause of his death is uncertain; probably as a result of "Consumption" (now known as Tuberculosis). This is a disease which wastes away or "consumes" its victims.
One of the symptoms of the disease - night sweating, for example - would have been relieved, as Jonson points out, by offering a cold or tepid bath, "(to give new birth) In bathes to steep him;". As a relaxation from severe exertions, bathing would also have helped; the water being infused with the various medications and useful herbs of that time.
People who suffer from TB can be both hyperactive and animatedly successful. D. H. Lawrence was one such sufferer in the modern era - as were George Orwell and Robert Louis Stevenson. They had the benefit of being able to travel and to live in warmer climates; something denied to Salomon.
To die from Consumption is a gradual process - and a messy one. In the late Tudor era, it killed thousands. When Salomon died, he was famous throughout London for his skills as an actor. We talk today of someone's life as being no more than a candle in the wind; so, too, was Salomon's. His brief life may well be mirrored in the timeless children's verse...
The Chapel Royal was not a place as such; it was an organisation, an institution, and the "Children of The Chapel Royal" were a select group of young choristers whose sole duty it was to sing at divine service exclusively for the monarch. As they grew older, and if their voices were still of merit, they would be elevated to join 'The Gentlemen' of the Chapel. So select a group was this that the Master of The Chapel was empowered, by Royal Warrant, to "take up" - impress - any boy in the land for the choral service of the monarch. It was a warrant that could not, normally, be denied.
The rising popularity of dramatic entertainments during the Tudor period had seen the formation of several new, and often travelling, companies of actors. Noble patronage followed. However, in performing within the City of London, (in taverns and ale houses) it brought players into conflict with the City Fathers who, apart from any concern they may have had over the possible spread of disease (plague) where large crowds gathered, tried to raise revenue from them on the back of their successes.
In 1576, the conflict led to the construction of the first venue specifically designed to house public audiences for plays - "The Theatre" - and so began the history of the London stage. Ground was leased in Holywell (St. Leonard's in Shoreditch) by James Burbage of The Earl of Leicester's Men and because it was built outside the City walls it was wholly beyond the jurisdiction of the City Fathers. Noble patronage not only remained but increased and play-going became an accepted and important avenue of popular entertainment for all classes.
The demand for entertainment did not go unnoticed by William Hunnis, the Master of the Chapel of the time, who was more than aware of the successes being achieved by Sebastian Westcott at St. Paul's. Hunnis recognised a growing market and took the opportunity to found his own theatre and have his choristers mount plays and perform entertainments there. Thus, also in 1576, with a partner, Richard Farrant, formerly Master of the Windsor Chapel children, he leased buildings from the Burbage family and set up a playhouse at Blackfriars to be used by the Chapel Children. Whilst they were not ostensibly supposed to put on public performances there, rehearsals could be viewed and those rehearsals were soon at performance pitch - and charged for! So, in their refurbished and comfortable, candle-lit theatre at Blackfriars, the Children of the Chapel Royal prepared and presented entertainments which delighted Queen Elizabeth, her nobles and a privileged, affluent, middle class - and all within the city walls which was forbidden to the "common players".
At the height of their success, they excited the jealousies of those common players. It was no less a common player than William Shakespeare who was moved to write of them in fury...
"There is, Sir," says Rosencrantz, "an eyrie of children, little eyases that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for it. They are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages - so they call them - that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither." Hamlet later asks whether the boys are successful. When Rosencrantz replies that they are, Hamlet comments...
"'Sblood! There is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out." (Hamlet II.ii)
Indeed, there was something "more than natural" in this. The child actors enjoyed unparalleled acclaim and commanded the impressive, goose-quill bearing talents of such as Middleton, Fletcher, Marston, Chapman, Lyly and, of course, Jonson, all of whom wrote for them but each, no doubt, with an eye to the politics of Queen and Court.
Whilst it would have been true that the children were, by comparison, privileged and clearly enjoyed many of their performances, they were unquestionably exploited. Their masters, men like Hunnis, Giles and, later, Henry Evans, were to use them cruelly. Creditable choirmasters they may have been but they were only too aware of the potential commercial value of their charges and, with all the money of the Court to beckon them, they did not hesitate to trade.
Eventually, the success of the Chapel Children as performers took more and more choristers away from their prime duty - to sing at divine service for the monarch. The need to augment the Chapel became apparent. History records the kidnapping of a boy named Thomas Clifton who was taken from the London streets. It was only the noble standing and political power of his family that circumvented the intrinsic power of the Chapel's Royal Warrant.
The use of the Chapel Children as performers brought about religious and political conflict with the Puritans who maintained that the choristers were being suborned - God's work was being defiled. It was an argument that took a strong hold towards the end of the century and one which eventually proved uppermost in the demise of the acting tradition of the Chapel Royal during the reign of King James 1st.
Whilst major school foundations, such as Eton, Westminster and Merchant Taylor's, involved themselves in presenting plays, masques and interludes, the Chapel Royal was steeped in pageantry and music tradition. However, the extraordinary popularity of the child acting companies of the sixteenth century had its beginning in the centres of choral and ecclesiastic service.
Windsor, St. Paul's and The Chapel Royal set themselves up as performance companies and specifically furnished players and singers to present entertainments for royal and noble households. The "founding father" of these was Sebastian Westcott, a man from the West Country, who died in 1582 having guided the "Paul's Pigeons" through a period of some thirty years of successful presentations. He became known simply as "Mister Sebastian" and was held in high regard by the young Queen Elizabeth when she came to the throne in 1558.
Records show that Westcott first appeared at Court in 1545 and that by 1547 he was a vicar choral when the children of St. Paulís were under the tutelage of John Redford and John Heywood. The former died soon after and Westcott took over as Almoner and Master of the Choristers. However, during the reigns of Edward and Mary, few entertainments were mounted and those few that were presented in front of the young King Edward were by other groups, amongst them, the Chapel Royal.
The struggle between Catholicism and the new religion of the Reformation made for difficult times for a man in Westcott's position. His leaning was to the old faith which, in latter years, under Queen Elizabeth, was to land him in trouble with church authorities. Nevertheless, Wescott is known to have taken groups of Paul's Boys to put on entertainments for the young Princess Elizabeth at Hatfield House in 1551/2 when Edward was alive and possibly also in 1554 or in 1557, during Mary's reign despite the fact that she had enforced a special licensing system on all plays in order to monitor religious content. In fact, her espousal of the Catholic faith saw all her choristers, in the main, returning to the choir stalls in pursuit of their divine duty as opposed to providing earthbound entertainments for mere mortals!
Under Queen Elizabeth however, with the changing religious climate, it would seem that groups of choristers such as those of St. Paul's and the Chapel Royal had more freedom to pursue "the drama" once more. Their ecclesiastical duties were considerably reduced and, by 1560, Westcott was well set for a long and illustrious career as Master of St. Paul's.
For many years, Elizabeth gave her preference to Wescott as a provider of entertainments at court and soon the Paul's Boys were unrivalled in their list of performances. Hampton Court, Whitehall, Richmond and Greenwich were frequently on their arduous itinerary. They were renowned for their sumptuous costumes, their props and the quality of the entertainments provided for them by a long succession of writers. It brought them wealthy patronage into the bargain. By 1575, Sebastian Westcott was running a well-established, small private theatre within the precinct of St. Paul's. It was well attended and financially successful.
The rise and rise of the Paul's Boys was made easier by a drop in standards experienced by The Chapel Royal group over a period of some twelve or so years. Then, in the following year, 1576, Richard Farrant, who had been Master at St. Georgeís Chapel, in Windsor, went into partnership with William Hunnis of the Chapel Royal and they set up their own theatre at Blackfriars. Four years later, in 1580, Farrant died and Hunnis continued to build on the strengths of his enterprise. The aging Wescott died in 1582. St. Paul's became unsettled and Hunnis was left with a clear field. He courted patronage, hired (and poached) well-known writers and mounted extravagant entertainments. In 1583 the Chapel Royal and St. Paul's performed a joint entertainment on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's birthday. The rivalry between St. Paul's and the Chapel Royal was keen and lasted throughout the remainder of the century.
Elizabeth loved the entertainments provided by the chorister groups. But, more than that, she adored the children themselves. As Queen she became regarded as capricious and temperamental but she was also known to admire quick wit, intelligence and style. She loved youth and youthful zest. Religion, politics, diplomacy, celibacy and sovereignty had soon crowded out her own youth - but the japes and fun of those days were deeply etched in her memory.
The child actors who entertained her were highly trained (by fair means or foul) and provided for her exactly the kind of qualities and quality she craved. As a politician she was an experienced practitioner and as an interpreter of the social condition, she was adept. Whilst the words may have been written and put into the mouths of the children by adult machination, the delivery of those words, the "flair" of performance, the songs, the music and acrobatics were all of their own talent. Elizabeth respected that and she would have been more than aware (and dismissive if necessary) of any political or verbal acrobatics in sub-text.
Cares of state, in a dangerous and plotting world, would have been dissipated for a brief moment as she and her court came alive through their performances. After their entertainments (and often during them) she would hand them coins and candies. Above all, although she may have been married to England and to no man, these were her children; the only children who could approach her so nearly and with such irrepressible, pardonable, cheek and fun.
After Salomon's death in 1602, the Children of the Chapel Royal and the boys of St. Paul's were nearing the end of a twenty-five year story of unequalled success. During those twenty-five years, they first created and then dominated the world of private theatre and were in every way as professional and as experienced as the adult actors of the time who worked across the river. Men, such as Hunnis, were quick to see the potential of their boys and they were soon lured by the riches and success offered by such an enterprise. They did not hesitate to trade and, like so many talented youngsters in every century, the boys were soon manipulated for commercial and political gain.
Queen Elizabeth died shortly after Salomon, in 1603 and when James came to the throne, he extended his patronage to William Shakespeare and created his company, "The King's Men". Although Burbage allowed Giles and Oxford to continue for a while at Blackfriars, the theatre was taken over by The King's Men in 1610. Perhaps the final irony is that for some time, Shakespeare himself lived over the gatehouse of Blackfriars.
The Earl of Oxford died in 1604 at the age of fifty-four, having, during his life, spent more than three times his fortune and often been in the debt of the Queen herself.