The Tudor Society

16 March – Richard Burbage, actor and friend of Shakespeare

On this day in history, 16th March 1619, actor Richard Burbage was buried at St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch.

Burbage was a famous actor in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, peforming for royalty and even being in King James' company of players. Burbage was also a good friend of William Shakespeare, and the two men were involved in the building of the famous Globe Theatre.

Find out more about Richard Burbage, his life and career, in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 16th March 1589, two Roman Catholic priests, Robert Dalby and John Amias, were executed as traitors at York. Find out more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:


On this day in history, 16th March 1619, actor Richard Burbage was buried at St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch.

Burbage was born in London in July 1568, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and was the son of James Burbage, a touring actor and builder of The Theatre, a playhouse in Shoreditch which was the first permanent theatre in England. Richard began his acting career in 1584 when he was about 16, and carried on until his death at the age of 50. In the early 1590s, Burbage worked in Lord Strange’s company of players and may also have worked at the Rose Theatre, Philip Henslowe’s theatre. But, in 1594, he was the leading actor of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors under the patronage of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, Queen Elizabeth I’s cousin and Lord Chamberlain. This company, which included Richard’s father, had his father’s theatre as their base.

In the late 1580s, Stratford-upon-Avon man William Shakespeare arrived in London and lodged in Shoreditch. It was there that he must have met Richard Burbage and the two men became lifelong friends. Both men participated in the entertainment put on by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men at Greenwich Palace for the royal court’s Christmas season.

In 1596, the Burbages moved from Shoreditch to Blackfriars due to the lease expiring on the Theatre, but James’s death in 1597 ended plans to build a roofed theatre there. In 1599, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, including Burbage and his brother Cuthbert, and William Shakespeare, built the Globe Theatre on Bankside using timber from the Shoreditch Theatre. One of the first plays put on there is thought to have been Ben Jonson’s “Every Man out of His Humour”, in which Richard Burbage was listed as a “comedian”.

Burbage married Winifred Turner around this time and they had 8 children together, although only one survived childhood, a son called William who was born a few months after his father’s death and was probably named after William Shakespeare.

Following his accession to the throne in 1603, King James I became patron to a company known as the King’s Men, which included Burbage and Shakespeare, and at the king’s first Christmas in England, Burbage played the lead in Ben Jonson’s “Sejanus”. In 1604, Burbage and Shakespeare accompanied the king on his progress through the city of London, and in 1610, Burbage participated in a water pageant held in honour of the king’s son, Prince Henry.

In 1608, Burbage and his brother regained the lease of the theatre at Blackfriars and opened it in 1609. In 1613, the Globe caught fire during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII” and sadly burnt to the ground. However, it was rebuilt the following year.

The King’s Players were busy entertaining at court and in London in 1613 and 1614, staging Shakespeare’s plays and John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi”.

On 12th March 1619, Burbage made a verbal will and he died on 13th March, aged 50. One epitaph to the actor reads simply “Exit Burbage”, while part of the poem “A Funerall Elegye on the Death of the famous Actor Richard Burbage who died on Saturday in Lent the 13 of March 1619”, written by an unknown poet, reads:

“He's gone and with him what a world are dead.
Which he review'd, to be revived so,
No more young Hamlet, old Hieronimo[a]
Kind Lear, the Grieved Moor, and more beside,
That lived in him have now forever died.”

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