On the naughty step - Conduct that deserves a ticking off

21st June 2013 at 01:00

This week: Queen Elizabeth I

These days, child protection issues are taken very seriously, especially in the entertainment industry. The role of Matilda in the eponymous musical, for example, is played by several girls, who perform on rotation to avoid exhaustion. And in the all-conquering Billy Elliot the Musical, three ballet-dancing boys prance on rotation.

But in Elizabethan England, it emerges, no such consideration was shown. And the Virgin Queen herself may have been responsible for overlooking some pretty key child protection issues.

An academic revealed this week that child performers of the era were abducted from the street by theatre troupes, forced to perform and subjected to cruelty. Their parents were legally obstructed from rescuing them.

Theatre owners had licences to force children on to the stage, under powers granted by Elizabeth herself. The powers, it seems, were in theory intended to help find choristers for the royal chapel, but in reality they were used to recruit children into theatre companies.

We do not know for certain if Elizabeth knew exactly what was going on. But that, as school inspectors might say, is not an excuse. To the naughty step, Your Majesty!

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