or, The Conspiracy of Charles Duke of Byron
a play by George Chapman
first published 1608
About the Play
The historical Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron, was beheaded in 1602, for his role in a plot to depose Henry IV of France and crown himself king of an independent Burgundy.
Not ten years later, Gontaut featured as the tragic hero of two plays by George Chapman, The Conspiracy of Charles, Duke of Byron and The Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron. Together they tell the story of his pride, his plots, and eventually his capture, trial, and execution.
The inconsistent phonetic spelling of seventeenth-century English has been a particular source of confusion when it comes to this play and its French name. Various sources have identified references to plays called Borbonne, Burbon, and sometimes Berowne as referring to one or both of the Byron plays.
- The conspiracie, and tragedie of Charles Duke of Byron, Marshall of France. Acted lately in two playes, at the Black-Friers. Writted by George Chapman. Printed by G. Eld for Thomas Thorppe, and are to be sold at the Tygers head in Paules Church-yard. 1608
- The conspiracie, and tragœdie of Charles Duke of Byron, Marshall of France Acted lately in two playes, at the Black-Friers, and other publique stages. Printed by N. O. for Thomas Thorp. 1625
References from Secondary Sources
- Frederick Gard Fleay, Chronicle of the English Drama (1891)
16, 17. 1608, June 5, for Thomas Thorpe. The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, T., 1608, 1625.
Chapman received £3...[for] "two acts of a tragedy on Benjamin [Jonson]'s plot;" and 1599, Jan. 4, on "three acts of a tragedy," £3; and on Jan. 8, "in full payment for his tragedy," £3. This tragedy...was possibly the play which Jonson had engaged to write by Christmas 1597...A play called Berowne, or Burone is mentioned 1602, Sept.-Oct., but this is more likely to have been Bur[b]on, or The Trial of Chivalry, than Chapman's Byron. This entry, with its "scaffold," is too late for the present tragedy. Byron was executed in 1602.
16, 17. Byron's Conspiracy, 1607, and Byron's Tragedy, 1608, were entered S.R. 5th May 1608. They were published with a dedication to Sir T. Walsingham and his son, in which Chapman calls them his "poor dismembered poems." It appears from a despatch from Beaumont, the French Ambassador (Raumer, ii. 219, in the translation), dated 5th April 1608 (1605 in the translation, and so in the inaccurate editions of Chapman hitherto published. Chapman has never yet been really edited. Some future Dyce may accomplish this work.), that he cause the acting of this play to be forbidden, that wnen the "Court had left town they persisted in acting it; nay, they brought upon the stage the Queen of France and Mademoiselle Verneuil. The former, having first accosted the latter with very hard words, gave her a box on the ear. At my suit the three of them were arrested; but the principal person, the author, escaped." It is plain from iv. I of the Conspiracy that Queen Elizabeth was in the original play also represented on the stage, that scene being clearly a rewriting in narrative form of a scene at the English Court. Note especially the absurdity of the line in the present version spoken by Créqui to D'Aumont—
"The spake she to Crequi and Prince d'Auvergne;"
the change of person in—
"He said he was no Orator, but a soldier,
More than this air in which you breathe hath made me
My studious love," &c.;
and the peculiar printing of the first eightlines, followed by THUS, as if to point this word as the real beginning of the scene. No such type is used elsewhere in the play except at the beginning of i. I. The end of this scene and all the rest of Act iv. has been cut out. Again, in the final scene, from Enter Esp. to the end, great alterations have been made. The only remains of the original are Sav. "After—matter" (14 lines): Hen. "Well, cousin—happiness" (25 lines), and the final couplet. None of the characters, Espernoun, Vitry, Janin, D'Aumont, Créqui, Ladies, have been transferred from the original, so far as the present conduct of the play is concerned. Note also that in these altered passages Byron is called Duke of Býron, in the original Duke Byrón, except once in a doubtfully bombastic passage, iii. I, "Within my left hand*#8212;Duke of Býron forth," where "Duke Byrón" immediately precedes. If these alterations were made wholly or partly by Chapman at the order of the Master of the Revels, he has made them intentionally in such a clumsy way as to show where the sutures occur. A peculiarity of the play is, that nine actors only are required. In the Tragedy still greater mutilations have been made; the early part of Act ii. has been omitted, and a passage, "If this suffice—yours," has been inserted to partially fill the gap. The dance evidently ought to follow Cupid's last speech. Henry's utterance at the end of Act ii. about "the reconcilement of my Queen" is unintelligible as the play now stands. The part here omitted was that which offended the French Ambassador. In v. I. Duke of Býron occurs occasionally for Duke Byrón, but only by printer's error; never, as in the former play, by necessity of metre. In V. 2 is a compliment to the Scots by way of amendment for Eastward Ho.
In 1602, Sept.-Oct., Henslow mentions a play called Berowne or Burone which was acted by Worcester's men. It could not have been Chapman's play; the entries, which refer only to properties, were probably preparatory to the production of The Unfortunate General, the "French history" which was produced in Jan. 1603; or they may refer to Chettle's anonymous "tragedy" of Aug. 14. Byron was executed in July 1602.
A mask containing part of Byron is extant, Brit. Mus., Egerton MS., 1994, and ought to be reprinted.
The plays on Byron were, in my opinion, the last brought on the stage by Chapman. The attempt to imprison him a second time deterred him henceforth from the theatre.
Plays Acted by Pembroke's Men.
200. Burbon (Borbonne), 2nd Nov. Not the same play as Berowne.
Plays Acted by Worcester's Men at the Rose.
221. Burone, or Berowne, 21st Sept. 1602. Berowne was the English representation of the French pronunciation of Biron. See Love's Labor's Lost. But this was not Chapman's play; he did not write for Worcester's men. Possibly a play on the same subject belonging to these men before they came to the Rose; but see Anon., 249.
Plays Acted By Derby's Men
249. The history of The Trial of Chivalry, with the life and death of Cavaliero Dick Bowyer, 1605, was entered S.R. 4th Dec. 1604, for N. Butter, as "The life and death of Cavaliero Dick Boyer," and published as "lately acted." The chief tragic character in the play is Burbon, which would seem to identify it with the Burbon (also spelled Borbonne) acted at the Rose by Pembroke's men in 1597 Oct. There are certainly two hands in this play: cf. the spellings Sentronell, Sentinel; mordu, mort dew; &c.: for that of Sarlabois compare Sarlebois in The Captives, and Sarlois in Hoffmann. In Henslow's Diary, Sept. 1602, a play called Burone or Berowne is mentioned as revived by Worcester's men at the Rose. This name looks more like Biron than Bourbon, but as it is not quoted by Malone I cannot tell how far Collier's transcript is trustworthy. The "scaffold and bar" purchased for Burone would suit iv. I (but see Royal King and Loyal Subject). Immediately preceding this Henslow enters "additions of Cutting dick" by Heywood, which I think must refer to this play, if to any now extant. If so, the Pembroke play of 1597 (by Chettle?) may have passed with Heywood to Derby's men in 1599, and to Worcester's in 1602. In any case the extant copy is that performed by Derby's, without the Heywood 1602 additions. They probably contained the "Death of Dick Bowyer," which are not in the printed edition. The "copy" was a stage exemplar: a marginal direction for "pen, ink, and paper" in V. I. has got into the text, where Mr. Bullen's "own" repetition of it is quite unneeded.
- Walter Wilson Gregg, A List of English Plays (1900)
The Conspiracie, And Tragedie of Charles Duke of Byron, Marshall of France. Acted lately in two playes, at the Black-Friers. Written by George Chapman. G. Eld for Thomas Thorppe. 1608. The second part has a half-title, "The Tragedie of Charles Duke of Byron. By George Chapman." B.M. (C. 30. e. 2). Bold. Dyce.
[Another edition.] Acted lately in two Playes, at the Blacke-Friers, and other publique Stages. Written by George Chapman. N. O. for Thomas Thorpe. 1625. The second part has a separate titlepage with the same imprint. B.M. (644. d. 46). Bodl. U.L.C. Dyce.
- James O. Halliwell, A Dictionary of Old English Plays (1860)
1602 is likely too early for this play, which may have been based on a biography first printed in 1607, and the references given here by Halliwell are very likely from a different play, of which nothing is otherwise known.
BORBONNE. A play under this title is mentioned by Henslowe as amongst the stock of the Rose Theatre, in 1598. It is no doubt the same drama elsewhere called Berowne, or Byron, q.v. Henslowe also mentions it as the play of Burbon, as having been acted at the Rose, on November 2nd, 1597.
BYRON. A play whose title is spelt, in Henslowe's Diary, Berowne and Burone, under the year 1602, may be perhaps Chapman's Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron, printed in 1608. Byron was often spelt Berown, as in the early copies of Love's Labour's Lost.
- William Carew Hazlitt, The Play-Collector's Manual (1892)
Bourbonne [Bourbon]: A play under this title is mentioned by Henslowe as amongst the stock of the Rose Theatre in 1598. Henslowe also mentions it with the title of Burbon, as having been acted at the Rose, on November 2, 1597. It may have been some dramatization, no longer known, of the stirring struggle in France, in which Henry IV., of Bourbon, was the chief actor.
Byron: See Conspiracy.
The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron, Marshal of France. Acted lately in two plays at the Black Friars. Written by George Chapman. 4to, 1608, 1625.
These pieces are both founded on history; and their plots may be seen in Mezeray, D’Avila, and other historians on the reign of Henry IV. of France. Dedicated “to my honorable and constant friend, Sir Thomas Walsingham, Knight, and to my much-loved from his birth, the right toward and worthy gentleman, his son, Thomas Walsingham esquire.” Entered on the Stationers’ Registers, June 5, 1608. These plays, as originally written, were objected to by the French Ambassador, and certain incidents were consequently omitted.
Henry Oxinden, of Barham, inserts, probably in error, in his MS. Commonplace Book, 1647, “Byron’s Conspiracy,” 1594. Under the name of Byron, Burone, etc., it occurs in Henslowe’s Diary under 1602, the probable date of its composition.