George Buck

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For other people named George Buck, see George Buck (disambiguation).

Sir George Buck (or Buc) (1560–1622) was an antiquarian who served as Master of the Revels to King James I of England.

Buck was baptised on 1 October 1560 in Holy Trinity, Ely, Cambridgeshire.[1] He was the eldest son and probably second of the four children of Robert Buck (d. January 1580) and Elizabeth Nunn, née Petterill, of Brandon Ferry, Suffolk.[2]

George Buck was educated at the Middle Temple, and served on the successful Cádiz expedition of 1596 under Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. He had some connection with the powerful William Cecil, Lord Burghley.[3]

Competition for position[edit]

In the mid-to-late 1590s Buck was in competition with playwright John Lyly for the reversion of the office of the Master of the Revels, then held by Buck's relation Sir Edmund Tylney ("reversion" meaning that the candidate would obtain the office when the present office-holder vacated it — usually by death). Many sources, depending on the Dictionary of National Biography, identify Tilney and Buck as uncle and nephew, but their true familial relationship seems to have been more distant.[4]

Lyly was vocal in his distress at facing competition for an office he thought he'd been promised; his letters of protest and supplication to Queen Elizabeth and to Cecil are still extant.[5] Heartfelt thought they may have been, Lyly's complaints had no effect. Sometime in this period, Buck also obtained the office of Esquire of the Body (likely an honorary distinction for him); it was an office he held when Elizabeth died in 1603.

Master of the Revels[edit]

Upon the start of the new Stuart dynasty in 1603, Buck was knighted (on 23 July) and formally received the reversion to the office of Master of the Revels with an appointment as Deputy Master, by a royal patent (on 23 June). He worked as Tilney's assistant until his predecessor's death in 1610, when Buck assumed the office.[6] Unfortunately for posterity's knowledge of English Renaissance theatre, neither Tilney nor Buck kept the detailed records that would be produced by their successor, Sir Henry Herbert. Buck did record that he consulted Shakespeare about the authorship of one old anonymous play, George a Greene. Shakespeare could only remember that it was written by a clergyman.[7]

The Master of the Revels was responsible for supervising and censoring the plays performed in the public theatres, and for arranging performances of those plays at Court. (Curiously, he had relatively little to do with the sumptuous performances of masques that were such noteworthy features of the Stuart court.) Scholars have disagreed about Buck's role during the years he was Tilney's assistant, 1603–10. It has been argued that Buck had no role in censoring plays prior to 1610.[8] Yet starting in 1606, Buck licensed plays for publication, a function that had not previously been the responsibility of the Master's office. George Chapman's The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1608) was censored when it appeared on the stage, and caused a scandal when the players violated that censorship; Buck has been associated with the scandal,[9] and it is certainly true that Buck licensed the publication of the censored text later in that year.

Once he assumed the full office in 1610, Buck clearly was the primary censor for public drama. The extant manuscript for The Second Maiden's Tragedy (1611) shows censorship notes in Buck's hand, as do a few other surviving manuscripts from the era, like that of Sir John van Olden Barnavelt (1619).[10]

Scholarly work[edit]

Buck was also a minor poet and prose writer. He published "A Discourse or Treatise of the third universitie of England" (1615), an account of the Inns of Court. His major work, his History of the Life and Reign of Richard III, would not be published until 1646.

As an antiquary, Buck was noted for his discovery of the copy of the act of Parliament, Titulus Regius, which brought Richard III to the throne. He found it in the Croyland Chronicle, one of the sources for his History of King Richard III. (Sir George was a descendant of Sir John Buck, an adherent of Richard III who had been executed following the Battle of Bosworth Field.)

Buck also claimed to have seen a letter written by Elizabeth of York to John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, shortly before the death of Queen Anne Neville, in which Elizabeth declared her love for Richard III and her hope of becoming his wife. In Buck's words, the letter asks Norfolk "to be a mediator for her to the King, in behalf of the marriage propounded between them", who, as she wrote, was her "onely joy and maker in this world", and that she was his in heart and thought: "withall insinuating that the better part of February was past, and that she feared the Queen would never die." The letter, if it ever existed, is now lost.

Buck fell from favour, was overwhelmed by debt, and died insane.


  1. ^ Kincaid, Arthur. "Buck (Buc), Sir George (bap. 1560, d. 1622)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Online edn., May 2008 (subscription required), accessed 23 Jan 2012.
  2. ^ Eccles, Mark (1933). "Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels". In Sisson, Charles Jasper. ‘’Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans’’. Harvard University Press. pp. 409-506; pp. 418-9; Kincaid.
  3. ^ Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923; Vol. 1, p. 96.
  4. ^ Eccles, Mark. "Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels." In: Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans. Edited by Charles J. Sisson. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1933; pp. 409–506.
  5. ^ Chambers, Vol. 1, pp. 96–8.
  6. ^ Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p. 74.
  7. ^ Shapiro, James, Contested Will, Faber, 2010, p.254.
  8. ^ Dutton, Richard. Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama. London, Palgrave Macmillan, 1991.
  9. ^ Auchter, Dorothy. Dictionary of Literary and Dramatic Censorship in Tudor and Stuart England. London, Greenwood Press, 2001; p. 65.
  10. ^ Auchter, pp. 334–5.