Christopher MARLOWE

Born: 1564

Christened: 26 Feb 1564, St. George, Canterbury, Kent, England

Died: 30 May 1593, Deptford, Near London, England

Buried: St. Nicholas, Deptford, Near London, England

Father: John MARLOWE

Mother: Catherine ARTHUR



Baptised at the Church of St George the Martyr on 26 Feb 1564, one of nine children of John Marlowe from Ospringe, - a quarrelsome and impecunious cobbler who worked as a shoemaker, an actor, and a bondsman - and Catherine Arthur from Dover. Fiery homosexual; atheist; died in pub brawl at Deptford; may have written the plays ascribed to Shakespeare.

On 14 Feb 1578/9 he entered to The King's School for two years. The school fees may have been a pension for a choirboy whose voice had broken. He might have been sponsored by local worthy, Sir Roger Manwood, for whom Marlowe wrote a Latin eulogy at Manwood's death, and curiously before whom he appeared in Court after a fight in London. Manwood was a friend of Dr. John Parker, son of Archbishop Parker, who administered the scholarship awards. Another explanation states that he was the illegitimate son of Archbishop Mathew Parker and one of his maids.

At seventeen, he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, paid for by a Mathew Parker scholarship. He gained his BA in 1584 and was admitted for an MA in 1587. He absented himself several times from the University as shown in the Buttery Books, a record of meal payments, exceeding the number of absences permitted him by statute and putting his degree in jeopardy. As a result the College authorities withheld his MA. However, a letter from the Privy Council, Queen Elizabeth's closest advisers, told the University to give Marlowe his degree: 'Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Rheims and there to remain, Their Lordships thought good to certify that he had no such intent, but that in all his actions he had behaved himself orderly and discreetly wherebie he had done her Majestie good service and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing'. The letter is signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift; the Lord Treasurer, Lord Burghley; the Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton; the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey, 1st Lord Hunsdon; and Mr. Comptroller, Sir William Knollys. It is not known whether Marlowe's government service was confined to carrying dispatches to and from Ambassadors and courts abroad, or whether he was one of Sir Francis Walsingham's regular spies. It was most likely that he was a spy.

Marlowe may have fought in the wars in the Low Country after graduation.

In 1587, Tamburlaine, Marlowe's first play was performed in London. Revolutionary in its use of blank verse, a form developed and perfected by Marlowe, it forced plays previously written in prose to he rewritten in blank verse. Algernon Swinburne called Marlowe 'the father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank verse'. Plays of Elizabeth's men, such as 'The Troublesome Reign of King John' were revised into blank verse. Other plays followed, Doctor Faustus', The Jew of Malta, Edward II, The Massacre at Paris, Dido Queen of Carthage, and a lost play George Scanderbeg. He also translated Ovid's Elegies, Lucan's Pharsalia and wrote poetry, Hero and Leander and The Passionate Shepherdess. The young poet plunged himself into a social circle that included such colorful literary figures as Sir Phillip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. He shared a room with fellow playwright Thomas Kyd and was often seen frequenting the taverns of London with the likes of Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe. His magnificent appearance, impulsiveness, and bejeweled costumes soon became the talk of the town.

He had the advantage of having his plays presented by the Lord Admiral's company. While his contemporaries were watching their work performed by church boys, Marlowe saw his dramas staged by full-chested men such as the seven-foot-tall, majestic Edward Alleyn.

Marlowe was the kind of man who could not help making enemies. He seems to have lived, as he thought, dangerously. The history of Marlowe's remaining six years of his life traces a series of violent clashes with the law. By 1589 he was living in Norton Folgate, near the theaters, close to Thomas Watson, the poet. In Sep, Marlowe and William Bradley fell to fighting in Hog Lane, where upon Watson came to Marlowe's rescue. In the ensuring brawl Watson fatally stabbed Bradley. Though Marlowe fled the scene, both he and Watson were imprisoned in Newgate, Marlowe for two weeks and Watson for a longer time. On 3 Dec 1589 Marlowe and Watson appeared for trial and discharged with a warning to keep the peace. This he failed to do, for three years later he was summoned to appear at the Middlesex sessions for assaulting two shoreditch constables in Holleywell Street. The constables said that they went in fear of their lives because of him. There is no evidence that Marlowe ever answered this particular charge.

In the early part of 1592 Marlowe appears to have been at the siege of Roven, where English troops had been sent to uphold the Protestant cause against Catholic League, for on 12 Mar a 'Mr Marlin' arrived at Dieppe with a letter from English Garrison at Roven to Sir Henry Unton. From Dieppe, Unton sent Marlowe back to England with a letter to Lord Burghley.

By the beginning of 1593, the apprentices of London were rioting, as posters appeared accusing foreigners (refugees from the Low Countries) of taking their jobs. One extant poster reads:

You strangers that inhabit in this land,
Note this same writing, do it understand;
Conceive it well, for safe-guard of your lives,
Your goods, your children and your dearest wives

The Privy Council responded by arresting Thomas Kyd, as a potential writer of the seditious notices. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London where he was tortured. His lodgings at Southwark were searched and 'certain atheistic papers' were seized. When asked whose they were he replied that they belonged to Marlowe with whom he had once shared the lodgings. The papers contained the basics of a lecture given by Sir Walter Raleigh.

In England Raleigh, the young Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, (also born in 1564), and Ferdinando, Lord Strange, led a group of intellectuals, a select band of advanced thinking noblemen, courtiers and educated commoners, including mathematicians, astronomers, voyagers who had explored the New World, geographers, philosophers and poets. They formed an esoteric club nicknamed "The School of Night", which met secretly to discuss this forbidden knowledge, always 'behind closed doors'. Marlowe became a member of this close circle, who were called Free-Thinkers and were all stigmatised as "Atheists" in order to blacken them in the eyes of the ignorant.

Kyd was released, a broken man (he died a year later), and clearly was an embittered, vengeful man as seen in his poison-pen letters to Lord Pickering desperately trying to clear himself of the fatal taint of "Atheism," which had led to his dismissal from the patronage of his former lord and master, the Earl of Sussex, and left him destitute.

Marlowe was arrested on the same charge as Kyd but not imprisoned. He was released on bail and ordered to report to the Court once a day. A week later, 30 May 1593, he kept an assignation at Deptford Strand at the house of Eleanor Bull, a respectable woman, widow of Richard Bull. Dame Bull had court connections. Her sister, Blanche, was the goddaughter of Blanche Parry, who had been the much loved nanny of the infant Elizabeth and was a "cousin" of Lord Burghley. Now widowed, Dame Bull hired out rooms and served meals. It was likely that her home was a safe house for Government Agents (not the brothel of urban legend).

All of those present at the meeting were in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham, creator of the Elizabethan intelligence network. Thomas Walsingham can be seen to be connected with all four of these men. Robert Poley, a senior member, instrumental in the entrapment of William Babington leading to Babington's execution for plotting the assassination of Elizabeth, Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Frizer, both Elizabethan con-men. They met at noon and by six o'clock there was an argument over 'the reckoning', Marlowe drew Frizer's dagger from Frizer's belt and hit him over the head. Frizer grabbed the dagger and plunged it into Marlowe's eye. Marlowe died, blaspheming - or so the Puritan spin-doctors reported it later.

There appears to be so many things wrong with the scene at Deptford. The death was not reported until next day. The Queen's Coroner, Sir William Danby convened the Coroner's Court of 16 jurors. Danby's appointment was unusual as the Queen was at the time at Nonesuch Palace at Cheam and therefore Deptford was not 'within the verge', i.e. 12 miles of the person of the Queen. The Deptford Coroner would normally have convened the Court. There was a corpse that Danby could have access to, the Marprelate activist, John Penry who had been executed the evening before. With his death now officially recorded, the body of Christopher Marlowe was hurriedly buried in an unmarked grave in St. Nicholas churchyard, Deptford. Frizer went to prison to await the Queen's pardon, which arrived in the extraordinarily brief space of twenty eight days probably the shortest on record. On his release, a free man, Frizer immediately returned to the service of his master, Thomas Walsingham, whose dear friend and "admired poet" he had just murdered. He remained in the service of Walsingham for the rest of his life.

The Inquisition on Marlowe's death said:

About the tenth hour before noon (the afore said gentlemen) met together in a room in the house of a certain Eleanor Bull, widow; and there passed the time together and dined and after dinner were in quiet sort together and walked in the garden belonging to the said house until the sixth hour after noon of the same day and then returned from the said garden to the room aforesaid and there together and in company supped; and after supper the said Ingram and Christopher Morley were in speech and uttered one to the other divers malicious words for the reason that they could not be at one nor agree about the payment of the sum of pence, that is le recknynge, there; and the said Christopher Morley then lying upon a bed in the room where they supped, and moved with anger against the said Ingram ffrysar upon the words aforesaid spoken between them, and the said Ingram then and there sitting in the room aforesaid with his back towards the bed where the said Christopher Morley was then lying, sitting near the bed, that is, nere the bed, and with the front part of his body towards the table and the aforesaid Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley sitting on either side of the said Ingram in such a manner that the same Ingram ffrysar in no wise could take flight; it so befell that the said Christopher Morley on a sudden and of his malice towards the said Ingram aforethought, then and there maliciously drew the dagger of the said Ingram which was at his back, and with the same dagger the said Christopher Morley then and there maliciously gave the aforesaid Ingram two wounds on his head of the length of two inches and of the depth of a quarter of an inch; where-upon the said Ingram, in fear of being slain, and sitting in the manner aforesaid between the said Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley so that he could not in any wise get away, in his own defence and for the saving of his life, then and there struggled with the said Christopher Morley to get back from him his dagger aforesaid; in which affray the same Ingram could not get away from the said Christopher Morley; and so it befell in that affray that the said Ingram, in defence of his life, with the dagger aforesaid to the value of 12d, gave the said Christopher then and there a mortal wound over his right eye of the depth of two inches and of the width of one inch; of which mortal wound the aforesaid Christopher Morley then and there instantly died; and so the Jurors aforesaid say upon their oath that the said Ingram killed and slew Christopher Morley aforesaid on the thirtieth day of May in the thirtyfifth year named above at Detford Strand aforesaid within the verge in the room aforesaid within the verge in the manner and form aforesaid in the defence and saving of his own life, against the peace of our said lady the Queen, her now crown and dignity; and further the said Jurors say upon their oath that the said Ingram after the slaying aforesaid perpetrated and done by him in the manner and form aforesaid neither fled nor withdrew himself; But what goods or chattels, lands or tenements the said Ingram had at the time of the slaying aforesaid, done and perpetrated by him in the manner and form aforesaid, the said Jurors are totally ignorant.

In witness of which thing the said Coroner as well as the Jurors aforesaid to this Inquisition have interchangeably set their seals.

Given the day and year above named andc.

'by WILLIAM DANBY Coroner'

There is reason to believe, however, that Marlowe may have been deliberately provoked and murdered in order to prevent his arrest. Had he been brought before the Privy Council, he might have implicated men of importance such as Raleigh.

So, did Marlowe survive? Calvin Hoffman published The Man who Murdered Shakespeare. He was convinced that the death at Deptford was a fake. That Marlowe escaped down the Thames and probably ended up in Italy, maybe in Padua or Mantua where the Gonzaga Family welcomed artists on the run. How could such a talent be silenced? Marlowe continued writing plays and sent them via the Walsingham intelligence network hack to England where they were copied and passed to the actor William Shakespeare.

More recently, A.D. Wraight wrote the standard biography of Marlowe, In Search of Christopher Marlowe. In her book Shakespeare, New Evidence, from her research of the papers of Anthony Bacon at Lambeth Palace, she suggests that Marlowe did not die at Deptford.

This is not such a startling idea. Francis Tresham, one of the more ambiguous figures involved in the Gunpowder plot was apparently allowed to withdraw abroad after his spurious death in the Tower. She identifies the exiled Marlowe as an English intelligencer, Monsieur LeDoux, living in France. LeDoux is a Huguenot name, only found in England at Canterbury. On his death LeDoux left a coffer containing his library of some 40 books. Many of these books can be directly related to plays of Shakespeare, such as Les Harangues Militaires de Cesar. Compare this to England's greatest living playwright describing no books in his will and leaving his second best bed to his widow, Anne Hathaway.

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