Boar’s Head Playhouse c. 1599
Spitalfields Life

Susan Baskervile, née Shawe (bap. 1573, died 1649) was part owner of three London theatres during the period of English Renaissance theatre: the Boar’s Head Playhouse in Whitechapel; the Red Bull in Clerkenwell; and the Fortune Theatre in St Giles-without-Cripplegate.[1]

Susan was the daughter of Edmonde Shaw, and was baptised at St Botolph’s, Aldgate, London on 15 April 1573. In 1599 she married Robert Browne an actor with the Earl of Derby’s Men, with whom she had five children. By the following year Browne had become the actor-lessee of the Boar’s Head Playhouse. Browne died in 1603, reportedly “very pore”.[1]

Susan’s second husband was the leader and clown of the Worcester’s Men, Thomas Greene, who died in 1612.[1] In his will, dated 25 July 1612, he left his share in what had by then been renamed the Servants of Queen Anne, to his wife.[2] At the time of his death the company owed Greene £37 10s. But the company found it difficult to pay Susan the agreed three shillings and eight pence for every day they performed, and so in 1623 three of the actors took her to court.[1] The long and complex lawsuit, which Susan eventually won in 1626, generally called the Baskervile or Worth/Baskervile suit,[a]Ellis Worth was a leading member of the Queen Anne’s Men generated a documentary record that is valuable for scholars of English Renaissance drama:[3]

Her [Susan’s] legal actions have provided much of our knowledge of Queen Anne’s Company and of the duties, salaries, and grievances of hired men in the dramatic companies.

Susan had married her third husband, James Baskerville, in 1613, but by the the time the legal dispute was settled he had abandoned her, after possibly having married her bigamously.[1]

In his 1634 will Susan’s son, William Browne, made his mother his executor, and following his death in November that year she acquired control of his share in the Red Bull company, named after the theatre it occupied.[4]

Susan Baskervile also invested in the second Fortune Theatre, rebuilt after the original burned down in 1621. Another lawsuit, begun in 1637, reveals that she owned one of the twenty-four shares in that theatre at the end of the period of English Renaissance drama, when the theatres were closed at the start of the English Civil War in September 1642.[5]


a Ellis Worth was a leading member of the Queen Anne’s Men