Edward ‘Ned’ Howard and a Restoration cause célèbre.
Edward ‘Ned’ Howard (1624 - c.1700) was one of four Restoration playwright brothers with a reputation for being difficult and demanding. He particularly disliked actors improvising their parts, and in 1667 became embroiled in a controversy involving his play The Change of Crowns, in which comic actor and fellow playwright John Lacy, regarded as the greatest comedian of his day, was performing.
It all happened on Monday 15 April 1667 at the King’s House theatre. It was the first performance of the play and the house was packed. King Charles II and the Queen were there, along with the King’s brother the Duke of York and the Duchess, and various members of the Court. Also present was Admiralty official Samuel Pepys, who was unable to find a seat and had to stand by the door. But he found the play ‘the best that ever I saw at that house’, and that Lacy ‘did act the country-gentleman come up to Court, who do abuse the Court with all the imaginable wit and plainness about selling of places, and doing every thing for money’ like no-one else. Everyone in fact seemed to enjoy the play. Everyone that is except for one person: the King.
Charles, in fact, was furious with Lacy for the liberty he had taken in apparently improvising his part, and in his anger had the actor incarcerated. Lacy spent several days confined, and on his release he met with Ned Howard. He blamed Howard’s play for his ill treatment, accused him of being more a fool that a poet, to which Howard replied by slapping Lacy’s face with his glove. Lacy responded in striking Howard on the head with his cane, and some there wondered that Howard did not run Lacy through. Instead Howard complained to the King, and the King’s response was to the close the theatre.
Samuel Pepys heard about the confrontation and recorded it in his Diary. He next saw Lacy on stage on 1 May 1667 in a play titled Love in a Maze, which he described as 'a sorry play: only Lacy's clowne's part, which he did most admirably indeed; and I am glad to see the rogue at liberty again'.