The Blackfriars Theatre was located in the City of London on the site of the dissolved 13th-century Dominican monastery. The original monastery was built in 1275 and was located between the River Thames and Ludgate Hill. The monastery estates came to be commonly known as "Blackfriars" due to the black robes worn by the Dominican monks. Blackfriars served as a general meeting place for many Parliaments and for the Privy Council. Blackfriars was the location of many historic events, such as the 1529 divorce hearing of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and King Henry VIII (1491-1547).
The First Blackfriars Theatre
In 1538 the monastery was closed due to the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII. The monastery estates, which consisted of many different buildings on a vast area of land, were divided up and sold or leased. In 1576, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, some of the buildings were leased to Richard Farrant who was Master of the boy choristers called the Children of the Chapel Royal. These children doubled as child actors and the buildings were used for play rehearsals and private performances prior to the 'Chapel Children' acting troupe performing at court. This was, therefore, the first Blackfriars theatre. Plays were staged there until 1584 when the first 'Blackfriars Theatre' was closed due to various objections from City officials.
The Blackfriars Theatre - The Elizabethan Playhouse
In February, 1596, James Burbage, already having difficulty with the landlord of the Theatre, bought Blackfriars. Blackfriars was purchased from the executors of Sir Thomas Cawarden estate, who was the previous owner, for £600. These buildings, were in the old precinct of the Dominican monks or “Blackfriars preachers”, and had formed part of their monastery. The freehold was for a "collection of rooms, large and small, cellars and yards and including seven great upper rooms”, which had formerly been one great room. Burbage turned these rooms into an indoor or “private” playhouse. Although under the control of the crown, and not the city officials, who were staunchly against the theatre, the Chamberlin's men were unable to use Blackfriars as their winter venue due to the local residents determined protests.
In 1600, Richard Burbage leased the Blackfriars to Henry Evans for 21 years for £40 per annum, but in August 1608, Richard Burbage took back the lease from Evans, and William Shakespeare and other players became part owners of what was to become the Blackfriars Playhouse. Unlike the public open amphitheatres theatres, private theatres such as the Blackfriars had roofs and catered to the wealthy, although 'commoners' were also allowed, but the price was 2d, double the cost of the Globe.
Blackfriars was equipped with artificial lighting and other amenities that the other playhouses did not possess. Although smaller than the Globe, only seating 700, Blackfriars was still able to present various special effects due to its trap doors and wires and belts to hang props and lower actors. The troupe performed at Blackfriars during the winter months while continuing to spend the summers at the Globe. In 1619 the local residents again tried to close the theatre but due failed due to the intervention of the Privy Council.
The Closure of the Blackfriars Playhouse
The King’s Men continued to use Blackfriars, without interruption, until 1642 when, as with the majority of theatres, it was closed during the English Civil War. The Blackfriars playhouse fell into disrepair, and was demolished on the 6th of August, 1655. The site is still commemorated by Playhouse Yard, close to Apothecaries' Hall.