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Gabriel Spencer
Birth: c. 1572
Death: Sep. 22, 1598
Greater London, England

Actor. A rising star of the 16th Century English stage, associated with London's Rose Theatre. He is remembered today for being killed in a duel with playwright Ben Jonson. Nothing is known of Spencer's early life. He first appears in London as a player with the Earl of Pembroke's Men in "The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York" (1592), and in spotty financial records of theatre impresario Philip Henslowe. In December 1596 he fatally stabbed a man named James Feake in a brawl, but was apparently cleared on grounds of self-defense. The likely source of bad blood between Spencer and Jonson was "The Isle of Dogs" (1597), a satirical comedy co-written by Jonson and Thomas Nashe. The Privy Council banned it as seditious and ordered the arrest of the entire company, though only Jonson, Spencer, and actor Robert Shaw were taken into custody. They spent eight weeks in Marshalsea Prison surrounded by government informers. The controversy ruined the Earl of Pembroke's Men and Spencer moved on to Henslowe's the Admiral's Men, led by the great Edward Alleyn. We don't know what important roles he played but he was evidently a popular and esteemed actor. When Alleyn took an extended trip to Sussex in the Summer of 1598, he was confident enough to leave Spencer in charge of the Admiral's Men. The young thespian would savor the spotlight only a few months. On September 25, 1598, Henslowe wrote to Alleyn: "Since you were with me I have lost one of my company which hurteth me greatly, that is Gabriell, for he is slain in Hoxton Fields by the hands of Benjamin Jonson...". The duel had taken place three days earlier. One story asserted that Jonson challenged Spencer for calling him "a bricklayer", his hated former profession and a very touchy subject. Jonson later claimed that Spencer not only initiated the fight, he arrived with a sword 10 inches longer than agreed upon. He managed to wound Jonson in the arm before he was killed by a single thrust into his right side. Convicted of manslaughter for Spencer's death, Jonson narrowly escaped execution by pleading "benefit of clergy", meaning he could read and write in Latin. He was branded on his left thumb as a felon and his property was forfeited to the Crown. In his play "Satiromastix" (1601) Thomas Dekker alluded to the incident by suggesting that Jonson "shouldst have been hang'd", but otherwise Jonson's many enemies kept silent on the matter. Thomas Heywood's "An Apology for Actors" (1612) names Spencer among other deceased performers whose "deserts yet live in the remembrance of many". He was interred in an unmarked grave at St. Leonard Churchyard in Shoreditch. In 1913 the London Shakespeare League dedicated a memorial honoring Spencer and other notable theatre men who were buried there. The site of his violent end - now the Arden House on Pitfield Street, Hackney - is marked by a commemorative plaque. It reads in part: "Ben Jonson, poet, playwright and writer of court masques, fought a duel here". Spencer is not mentioned. (bio by: Bobb Edwards) 
St Leonard Churchyard *
London Borough of Hackney
Greater London, England
*Memorial Site [?]
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Sep 03, 2000
Find A Grave Memorial# 12236
Gabriel Spencer
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Gabriel Spencer
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Gabriel Spencer
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