Henry the Una

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Anon. (William Rowley?) (c.1619)


Historical Records

Cotton MS. Tiberius E. X.

Marcham p14 Una.jpeg
Excerpt from p14 of Marcham (out of copyright)

In 1925 Frank Marcham transcribed and published the contents of the then British Museum manuscript, Cotton MS. Tiberius E. X. It contains the History of Richard III by the Master of the Revels, Sir George Buck, written on what appears to be “Revels Office waste,” sometime after 1617 (Chambers, RES 479). Amongst the papers are “four lists of plays, bare lists without any indication of their objects,” which may or may not be all in Buck’s hand (Chambers, RES 479). Chambers believes it “most likely that the lists represent plays which the Revels Office had at some time or times under consideration for performance at court” (RES 484).

The list designated ‘D’ by Chambers (f.247) contains “Henrye the vna…”.

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown Co. at Ct. (Harbage); Prince Charles's Men (Orbison, Steggle).

Probable Genre(s)

History (?) (Harbage); Historical tragedy.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The life of Henry IV of Castile (1425-1474), nicknamed "The Impotent". In the words of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica[1]:

HENRY IV. (1453-1474), king of Castile, surnamed the Impotent, or the Spendthrift, was the son of John II. of Castile and Leon, and of his wife, Mary, daughter of Ferdinand I. of Aragon and Sicily. He was born at Valladolid on the 6th of January 1425. The surnames given to this king by his subjects are of much more than usual accuracy. His personal character was one of mere weakness, bodily and mental. Henry was an undutiful son, and his reign was one long period of confusion, marked by incidents of the most ignominious kind. He divorced his first wife Blanche of Navarre in 1453 on the ground of "mutual impotence." Yet in 1468 he married Joan of Portugal, and when she bore a daughter, first repudiated her as adulterine, and then claimed her for his own. In 1468 he was solemnly deposed in favour of his brother Alphonso, on whose death in the same year his authority was again recognized. The last years of his life were spent in vain endeavours, first to force his half-sister Isabella, afterwards queen, to marry his favourite, the Master of Santiago, and then to exclude her from the throne. Henry died at Madrid on the 12th of December 1474.

References to the Play

One possible reference to the play:

Moreouer, great Emperours and Kings haue beene Bawdes [such as Tiberius, Domitian, and Heliogabalus]…. And of later yeeres a King of Castile, called Henry the vnable, because hee could not haue a childe by his wife to inherit after him, he kindly entreated one of his Lords to take the paines to beget an heire for him. [Marginal note: A king of Castile or Spaine, Bawd to his owne wife.]
John Taylor, A Bawd in All The Works, 93-4: discussed by Steggle, "A Lost Jacobean Tragedy".

Critical Commentary

Referring to Marcham’s transcription of the Revels Office waste paper playlist (Cotton MS. Tiberius E. X.), Chambers (RES 482) admits “[i]f Mr. Marcham has read the manuscript rightly, I cannot identify the play.”

Bentley (V.1350) notes that “[t]his mutilated title—whatever it may have been in its perfect form, the last three letters are doubtful—is known only from the Revels list. The particular list in which it occurs seems to be in the hand of a copyist and book-keeper of the King’s company (see R. C. Bald, ed., Hengist, King of Kent; or The Mayor of Queenborough by Thomas Middleton [1938], p. xxi, n. I), and this fact might suggest that Henry the Una… was a King’s men’s play, but unfortunately other plays in the list in his hand, like All’s Lost by Lust and A Fair Quarrel, belonged to other companies.” Orbison, however, observes that all the other plays on this section of List D seem to belong to Prince Charles's Men, and suggests that the same was probably true of this one.

Using evidence from EEBO-TCP, Matthew Steggle proposes that the damaged title should be reconstructed as Henry the Una<ble>. This would make it a historical tragedy about the career of Henry the Impotent of Castile, a figure of considerable interest to seventeenth-century England. Possible sources of such a play would include Matthieu's History of Louis XI (1614) and Mayerne's General History of Spain (1612), both of which contain detailed accounts of Henry's life and describe him using the title "Henry the Unable". Steggle adds:

In a projected court performance around 1619, Henry the Unable would have been intensely topical... Firstly, a dramatization of Henry's story, at this date, would be hard pressed not to remind contemporaries of perhaps the greatest of all Jacobean sex scandals, the annulment in 1613, on grounds of impotence, of the marriage between Frances and Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex... Secondly, Henry the Unable was in existence at a date when the marital conduct of Spanish royalty was of particular interest in England, given the ongoing negotiations over the proposed Spanish Match between Prince Charles and the Infanta.

For What It's Worth

(Information needed)

Works Cited

Chambers, E. K. (review author), “The King’s Office of the Revels, 1610-1622. Fragments of Documents in the Department of Manuscripts, British Museum, transcribed by FRANK MARCHAM, with a Preface by J. P. GILSON. London: Frank Marcham, 53, Chalk Farm Road, N.W.1. Pp. 50, including 19 Collotype Plates. £2. 2s. 1925.” The Review of English Studies, 1.4 (1925): 479-84. Print.
Marcham, Frank. The King's Office of the Revels 1610-1622: Fragments of Documents in the Department of Manuscripts, British Museum. London: F. Marcham, 1925. Print.
Orbison, Tucker. "Traces of Two Jacobean Dramatic Performances at the Middle Temple," Yearbook of English Studies 1 (1971): 55-62.
Steggle, Matthew. "A lost Jacobean tragedy: Henry the Una (c 1619)", Early Theatre 13 (2010): 65-81.
Taylor, John. All the workes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet. London: James Boler, 1630.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; revised by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University; updated, 24 Feb 2015.

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