Self-Defence, Murder or Fake?

Peter Farey



On 11th July 2002, a little over four centuries since his untimely end, Christopher Marlowe was finally given some formal recognition as one of the finest poet-dramatists of his day by the dedication of a memorial window to him in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey. Some controversy over the event was stirred up, however, by the inclusion of a question mark against the year of his death, 1593. This essay - a revised and updated version of earlier ones - considers the facts surrounding his reported killing, and concludes that the addition of that question mark is fully justified.

In particular we discover that the Coroner's report, the source of most people's understanding of how and when Marlowe died, was invalid, and the verdict it reached therefore legally null and void.


An event of major literary significance took place on 30th May 1593, when, at the age of twenty-nine, the famous poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed. Or at least, this is what is generally agreed to have happened.

The news of his death was certainly circulating at the time, there being several mentions of it during the following month. George Peele wrote:

"Why hie they not, unhappy in thine end,
Marley, the Muses darling, for thy verse
Fit to write passions for the souls below." (1)
and another friend, Thomas Nashe, wrote, using the past tense:
"His pen was sharp-pointed like a poignard. No leaf he wrote on but was like a burning-glass to set on fire all his readers." (2)
In rather different circumstances, Thomas Kyd wrote at about the same time:
"He wold perswade with men of quallitie to goe unto the King of Scotts whether I heare Royden is gon and where if he had livd he told me when I sawe him last he meant to be." (3)
That Autumn, a poem by Thomas Edwards - referring to Thomas Watson and Christopher Marlowe - said that "Amyntas and Leander's gone",(4) and many people have believed that the first line of Gabriel Harvey's strange poem Gorgon, "Weepe Powles, thy Tamberlaine voutsafes to dye", published that September, must also refer to him.(5)

A document submitted to the Privy Council at the time of the killing, however, had the words "a sudden and violent death" referring to it altered before it went to the Queen to read "a sudden and fearful end of his life".(6) It is therefore of interest to wonder just why this revised, and somewhat more equivocal, wording might have been preferred.


Given that Marlowe was at the height of his fame, and perhaps of his notoriety as well, one would have expected his death to be hot news. The man responsible for the portrayal of so many violent deaths on the stage had evidently himself now died in a similarly violent way. The public, particularly his friends in the theatre, would have been eager to know just how and why it happened, and to learn every detail. It may therefore seem strange that nothing has come down to us as having been said about it at the time and that, when eventually the details started to appear in writing, the descriptions were so different from each other and from what now seems to have happened. With one exception, stabbing is always involved - more often than not involving only one dagger and a fatal injury to the head - but beyond that few details match.

The first public description we have came from Thomas Beard in 1597, who spoke of it being "in London streets", and by "one whom he ought a grudge unto".

"It so fell out, that in London streets as he purposed to stab one whome hee ought a grudge unto with his dagger, the other party perceiving so avoided the stroke, that withall catching hold of his wrest, he stabbed his owne dagger into his owne head, in such sort, that notwithstanding all the meanes of surgerie that could be wrought, hee shortly after died thereof." (7)
In the following year, Francis Meres wrote that he
" was stabd to death by a bawdy Serving man, a rivall of his in his lewde love".(8)
This view presumably held sway until William Vaughan - who may have been better informed because of certain family connections - wrote in 1600:
" so hapned, that at Detford, a little village about three miles distant from London, as he meant to stab with his ponyard one named Ingram, that had invited him thither to a feast, and was then playing at tables, he quickely perceyving it, so avoyded the thrust, that withall drawing out his dagger for his defence, hee stabd this Marlow into the eye, in such sort, that his braines comming out at the daggers point, hee shortlie after dyed." (9)
This Deptford version, however, did not appear to gain ground. By 1618, the fire-breathing Puritan, Edmund Rudierde, following Beard's account, could still write:
"But harken...what fell upon this prophane wretch, having a quarrell against one whom he met in a streete in London, and would have stabd him: But the partie perceiving his villany prevented him with catching his hand, and turning his owne dagger into his braines, and so blaspheming and cursing, he yeelded up his stinking breath." (10)
An astonishing accusation against Ben Jonson appeared in John Aubrey's Brief Lives, some time in the second half of the century. Having placed Jonson in the army in the Low Countries, he writes:
"Then he came over into England, and acted and wrote, but both ill, at the Greene Curtaine, a kind of Nursery or obscure Playhouse, somewhere in the Suburbes (I thinke towards Shoreditch or Clarkenwell). He killed Mr Marlow, the poet, on Bunhill, coming from the Green-curtain play-house." (11)
But in 1691, Anthony à Wood returned, with embellishment, to a combination of the two original versions:
"For it so fell out, that he being deeply in love with a certain Woman, had for his Rival a bawdy serving-man, one rather fit to be a Pimp, than an ingenious Amoretto as Marlo conceived himself to be. Whereupon Marlo, taking it to be a high affront, rush'd in upon, to stab, him, with his dagger: But the serving-man being very quick, so avoided the stroke, that withal catching hold of Marlo's wrist, he stab'd his own dagger into his own head, in such sort, that notwithstanding all the means of surgery that could be wrought, he shortly after died of his Wound..." (12)
Things changed very little until 1820, when a literary antiquary, James Broughton, picking up on Vaughan's reference to Deptford, wrote to the parson there, wondering if there might be some record of Marlowe's burial. His effort was fully justified, as he received the following transcript from the Minister, a Mr. D. Jones.
Extract from the Register of Burials in the Parish of St. Nicholas, Deptford: 1st June, 1593. Christopher Marlow, slaine by Ffrancis Archer.
Broughton first published this finding pseudonymously in 1821, and under his own name in the January 1830 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine (p.6).

Some voices were raised, however, in opposition to the transcription of the slayer's name as 'Archer'. Taking Vaughan's reference to "one named Ingram", the name "Francis Ingram" seems to have been the one favoured in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and many fanciful ideas as to his occupation were explored.(13) In his Dictionary of National Biography, however, Sidney Lee put it another way:

"In the register of the parish church of St. Nicholas, Deptford, appears the entry which is normally transcribed thus: 'Christopher Marlow, slain by ffrancis Archer 1 June 1593'. Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps read the surname of the assailant as 'Frezer'" (14)
Fortunately for us, Leslie Hotson took an interest in this, made a careful examination of the original, and gave us - other than his putting it in italics, where the original is not - what is the correct transcript:
"Christopher Marlow slaine by ffrancis ffrezer; the -1- of June" (15)


Hotson's interest was doubly fortunate, in fact, because it led to his discovering the full details of what had happened that day according to the report of an inquest. He already knew (as he put it):

"...that the only two names for his assailant which have a right to be considered are Vaughan's 'one Ingram' and the 'Francis Frezer' of the burial register. Of the two, 'Frezer' is doubtless the more trustworthy. The foregoing considerations were in my mind during a recent search which I made (though for ends quite different) among the Elizabethan documents preserved in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane. As I turned over the leaves of the Calendar of Close Rolls, my eye fell upon the name Ingram Frizer. I felt at once that I had come upon the man who killed Christopher Marlowe." (16)
And he was apparently right. Further lengthy searches eventually led him to the Queen's pardon of Ingram Frizer, to a writ of certiorari, summoning the case into Chancery, and to the coroner's report, or 'inquisition', of the inquest. The inquisition tells us what William Danby, Coroner of the Queen's Household, and sixteen jurymen found to have happened at Deptford Strand on 30th May 1593.(Appendix I)

Stripped of the legal and somewhat archaic terminology of Hotson's translation, it says that four men - Christopher Marlowe (here spelt 'Morley'), Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley (the last three described as 'Gentlemen') met at ten o'clock in the morning in a room in the house of a widow called Eleanor Bull. They passed the time in this room until dining, then spent a quiet afternoon together and walked in the garden until about six o'clock. They then returned from the garden to the original room, and had supper together. After supper, Marlowe lay down on a bed in the same room, while the other three remained at the table, which was near to it. ('nere the bed' in English follows the words prope lectum vocatum in the original Latin.) They all had their backs to him, with Frizer seated in the middle.

At some point, an argument broke out between Marlowe and Frizer, concerning the payment of the bill ('le recknynge' as it appears in the original document). 'Malicious' words were spoken, whereupon Marlowe, 'moved by anger', drew Frizer's own dagger, which was 'at his back', and wounded Frizer twice on the head with it. The wounds were about two inches long and a quarter of an inch deep. Frizer feared for his life but, hemmed in by the others, he was unable to get away. He was able to struggle with Marlowe, however, and in that struggle Marlowe was stabbed by the same dagger. The wound was above his right eye, two inches deep and one inch wide, and death was instantaneous.

Armed with this information, Hotson went on to find out more about the people there that day: that Eleanor Bull was the widow of Richard Bull, Gent.; that Ingram Frizer was a servant of Marlowe's patron Thomas Walsingham and worked closely with Nicholas Skeres (who is also described as 'servant to the Earl of Essex'); and that Robert Poley had been in the service of the late Sir Francis Walsingham as a spy.

It is worth noting that, although the original Latin gave the location as domus (a house) rather than taberna or caupona, Hotson was the first to employ the word 'tavern' to describe the place, thus giving rise to the misleading story that still persists of Marlowe having been killed in a 'tavern brawl'.

He did give some thought to how true the report was, but came down on the side of honesty:

"Two courses are open to us: (a) to believe as true the story of Marlowe's attack on Frizer from behind, corroborated in so far as it is by the wounds on Frizer's head, which wounds must have been inflicted before Marlowe received his death-blow; or (b) to suppose that Frizer, Poley, and Skeres after the slaying, and in order to save Frizer's life on a plea of self-defence, concocted a lying account of Marlowe's behaviour, to which they swore at the inquest, and with which they deceived the jury. The latter seems to me a possible but rather unlikely view of the case. In all probability the men had been drinking deep (the party had lasted from ten in the morning until night!); and the bitter debate over the score had roused Marlowe's intoxicated feelings to such a pitch that, leaping from the bed, he took the nearest way to stop Frizer's mouth." (17)
It was therefore with obviously heartfelt relief that Prof. G. L. Kittredge felt able to write:
"The mystery of Marlowe's death, heretofore involved in a cloud of contradictory gossip and irresponsible guess-work, is now cleared up for good and all on the authority of public records of complete authenticity and gratifying fullness".(18)
As we shall see, this optimism was to be somewhat premature.


One might indeed have thought that Hotson had now solved the problem, but objections to this report were raised almost immediately, and continue to be raised to this day. Among the first to object was Eugénie de Kalb, who wrote in the Times Literary Supplement:

"Marlowe (says the evidence) snatches a dagger from the rear of Friser's belt and deals him two futile flesh-wounds on the head: such insignificant cuts (on the evidence) as might be self-inflicted to corroborate a put-up story: or such as a man, fighting for his life against heavy odds, might get in, slashing wildly, before he was overpowered. But is it conceivable that any man in mortal earnest would recline on a bed to hack at an antagonist who is sitting upright and certain to retaliate? Friser, though seated between Poley and Skeres, "so that he could not in any wise get away", is able to grapple with Marlowe, who is behind him on the bed, to struggle with him for the dagger, and to give him a mortal wound - and this without interference from the other two men who (apparently) waited passive. These two inactive observers were exceedingly competent to keep Friser within the reach of Marlowe; but as for separating them no such reasonable effort is recorded." (19)
As might be detected here, de Kalb goes further than Hotson did by suggesting that what we are talking about is a deliberate murder. Her candidate for the person behind it all was Audrey Walsingham, the wife of Thomas Walsingham.

It has to be said that the 'self-defence' story is not as implausible as de Kalb suggested. What is rather implausible, however, is the description of Frizer's wounds. That these should be a quarter of an inch deep on the scalp without the skull being broken sounds rather improbable. Although the Latin (profunditatis quartii unius policis) is clear enough, could he perhaps have intended to say a quarter of an inch wide? In either case it is quite possible that Marlowe attacked Frizer with the hilt of the knife rather than the blade. With the blade thus pointing upwards, and Marlowe - as seems rather more likely than de Kalb's interpretation - now standing over him, it would have been quite feasible for Frizer, without turning round, to have grabbed Marlowe's wrist and, almost as a reflex action, to have thrust it away from his own scalp and, probably unintentionally, straight into Marlowe's eye-socket.

Another to follow the 'murder' version shortly after this was Samuel Tannenbaum, who favoured Sir Walter Ralegh as the eminence grise - afraid that under torture Marlowe might incriminate him. Tannenbaum wrote:

"One who knows the anatomy and pathology of the human brain knows that it is impossible for death to follow immediately upon the infliction of [such a wound] ... To have caused instant death, the assassin would have had to thrust his dagger horizontally into Marlowe's brain to a depth of six or seven inches - and that could not have happened if Frizer and Marlowe had been wrestling as the witnesses described." (20)
Another author more recently to believe that a murder had been committed was Charles Nicholl, who saw it resulting from an attempt by the Earl of Essex to destroy Sir Walter Ralegh:
"The sum of it - my nearest hit at what really happened - is this. Marlowe did not die by mischance, and he was not killed in self-defence. He had become an impediment to this shoddy enterprise against Sir Walter Ralegh which had been promoted by Cholmeley and Baines, manipulated by Drury and Phelippes... The plotters had sought to frame him; to get him imprisoned and tortured; to use him as their 'instrument' against Ralegh. They had tried all this and failed. He had proved elusive, a potential projector against them. His mouth - if it could not be made to say what they wanted it to say - must be 'stopped'." (21)
Nicholl's original 1992 version, in which he had accused Essex as being behind it, but withdrew this in his 2002 revision, was followed by Curtis Breight who, in 1996, found the Cecils - Lord Burghley and his son Sir Robert Cecil - behind it.
"Marlowe, I believe, was killed because he was perceived as misusing proscribed materials in his drama. Marlowe encoded, or was seen to be encoding, Catholic propaganda in at least two plays - The Massacre at Paris (1593) and Edward II (1592). Crudely put, his political conscious (sic) may have resulted in his being rendered permanently unconscious by a henchman of the regime ... Marlowe began to use his knowledge not in the service of the Cecilian position but to pen subversive political allegory discerned as giving aid and comfort to the Catholic enemy." (22)
Also in 1996, Paul E. J. Hammer concluded that, rather than it having been politically motivated, it might have arisen from the occupation of Frizer and Skeres as loan sharks, with Marlowe having possibly defaulted.
"Despite Nicholl's suggestion that Marlowe's killing "was a decision" (p.328), the actual stabbing of Marlowe may well have been a momentary blunder. Dead men cannot pay their debts, so (according to this scenario) Frizer and Skeres may have intended only to frighten and brow-beat him. Perhaps drink and Marlowe's own notorious temper caused an overreaction, just as the participants deposed at the coronial (sic) inquiry." (23)
And still they come. In June 2001 M. J. Trow published his decision as to what 'really' happened - that Marlowe was murdered at the behest of not only the Cecils, but of the Lord Admiral ('Effingham'), and the Lord Chamberlain ('Hunsdon') too, all of them fearful that he would reveal them to be atheists.
"Marlowe was a maverick, a rebel, a whistle-blower. He was a dangerous man "whose mouth must be stopped". And in the corridors of power, men like Burghley and Cecil, Effingham and Hunsdon had all the apparatus of government to do just that. Key documents were carefully fabricated and preserved; witnesses were told what they saw; juries were nobbled. In the paranoia of the Elizabethan police state, great men bent the law to their own ends. There were many people who suffered as a result; Christopher Marlowe was only the most famous of them." (24)
Another recent supporter of the murder scenario was David Riggs of Stanford University, who proposes that Marlowe was in fact assassinated at the command of the Queen herself.(25)

Finally, the latest in this long line of murder theorists is Park Honan who, in his biography of Marlowe, has Ingram Frizer as the prime suspect:

"He meant to thrive as a business agent, but his chances - as well as Scadbury's solvency, and Walsingham's life as a courtier - were affected by Christopher Marlowe. At Mrs Bull's, Frizer provoked and killed the poet (later in the presence of the royal coroner, he confessed to the homicide). On 30 May he had bided his time until he had a chance to maim or kill with impunity." (26)


Nevertheless, it may fairly be said that Hotson's assessment - that the story as told in the inquisition is the most likely - has been, and maybe still is, the prevailing view among literary historians. Some biographers have implied that it is by leaving the question unaddressed, while others seem simply to take it as read by quoting snippets from the story. Some, however, have with apparent reluctance accepted it, whilst expressing their reservations about the report itself.

Bakeless, for example, said that

"some scholars have been inclined to question the truthfulness of the coroner's report. There is something queer about the whole episode." and, later, "Doctor Hotson's brilliant discovery of the documents relating to Marlowe's death, raises almost as many questions as it answers." (27)
Charles Norman complained:
"Frizer found it impossible, he said, to get away from Marlowe's sudden attack, but the table could have been pushed forward or overturned, or Poley and Skeres could have shoved the table aside, or rushed in, between the bed and the table, to separate the two men. What were they doing while the fight was in progress, for apparently it was not a matter of seconds? If this question was asked of them, the answer was not thought worth setting down." (28)
and, going even further, A. D. Wraight and Virginia Stern said that
"The mystery of Marlowe's death remains a challenge awaiting the fortitude of unbiased scholarship." (29)
A few have come out in opposition to any 'murder' theory. Henderson, for example, said:
"But there is really no evidence for supposing the story of Marlowe's death to be concocted." (30)
and A. L. Rowse put his views in a typically robust way:
"Marlowe's last day is lit by a lurid glow, with a great deal of unnecessary conjecture and, in consequence, argumentation." (31)
J. A. Downie - quoting Boas - continued to support this line:
"After duly weighing all the documentary evidence for the historical Marlowe which has been presented over the years, I see no reason to contradict Frederick S. Boas's admirably balanced judgement on the death of Marlowe: 'Is it legitimate, from the natural desire to shield the name of a great poetic playwright, and to redress the balance of contemporary prejudice against a revolutionary thinker, on account of some difficulties in the case, to reverse the verdict in posterity's court of appeal?' (32) I think not." (33)
Most recent is Constance Brown Kuriyama, who argues:
"Some of these conjectures are more plausible than others, but without exception they are highly speculative theories or outright fictions based on tenuous, selective, or nonexistent evidence. As a result, the conspiracy-and-assassination scenarios…never agree on the alleged instigator of Marlowe's murder. It is of course possible that a number of people…, known and unknown, might have wanted Marlowe dead. But until we have direct evidence that someone not only wanted him dead but acted on this desire, we are only guessing." (34)


There is a third group of people who say that the body examined that day at Deptford was not that of the playwright Christopher Marlowe at all.

Della Hilton, for example, claimed that the body was that of a different 'Christopher Morley', and that the poet/dramatist himself lived on for a fairly short time after this date, eventually committing suicide at Thomas Walsingham's home at Scadbury.(35)

This is a fairly unique view, however, as in virtually every other case the writer has started with a conviction that Marlowe wrote the works of Shakespeare, and concluded that Marlowe's death therefore must have been faked. They then look for evidence to support that view. In effect, most of them then decide that, if it is possible for the three witnesses to have been lying about what happened, it is equally possible for them to have been lying about whose body was laid out before the jury.

An exception to the last part of this was Archie Webster, who wrote the first serious essay proposing this theory in September 1923, and therefore before Hotson's discovery of the Coroner's inquisition in 1925. Having shown how he found the Sonnets to match what either we know of, or might surmise about, Marlowe's life far better than he could find for Shakespeare, he simply stated:

"It is my conclusion that Marlowe, reported dead in 1593, not only lived to see the sonnets printed in 1609, but was alive to make many revisions of the plays that appeared in the first folio, 1623." (36)
Calvin Hoffman proposed that Thomas Walsingham had helped his friend (Hoffman thought his homosexual lover) escape, by faking his death, killing in his place some unlucky seaman who happened to be both convenient and unknown locally. With complete confidence, he asserted that
"Every bit of evidence surrounding the case points to Christopher Marlowe's reported 'death' as having been concocted in order to save him from execution. That someone was killed at Deptford - and that this unknown victim was falsely affirmed to have been Marlowe, our poet - cannot be doubted." (37)
David Rhys Williams(38) and Louis Ule(39) arrived at a similar conclusion, as did A. D. Wraight, writing alone this time, although she vehemently rejected Hoffman's suggestion of a homosexual element. Restricting herself to only three options as to what happened, Wraight plumped for 'option 3' which, she claimed, "fits all the problems raised by the inquisition and precisely reflects the historical context". Option 3 was:
"That Thomas Walsingham acted as a true and loyal friend and summoned all his skill, ingenuity and expertise in espionage to stage a faked murder, using Frizer, Poley and Skeres in a subtle plot; substituting another body whose face was disfigured by the facial wound, to enable Marlowe to escape." (40)
At this point we may find ourselves, with some justification, agreeing with Kenneth Friedenreich:
"The right metaphor for Marlowe's ending is no Grecian urn, it is a can of worms." (41)


As was mentioned in the Introduction, information concerning the legality of this inquest has been noticed fairly recently.

The rules governing the holding of inquests in those days were based upon statutes going back to the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, when, amongst other things, special restrictions pertaining to those held within 'the verge' - i.e. within twelve miles of wherever the sovereign's court happened to be at the time - were laid down. The first of two similar statutes (5 Edward I, chap. 3) says:

"It is ordained, that from henceforth in cases of the death of men, whereof the Coroner's Office is to make view and Enquest, it shall be commanded to the Coroner of the County, that he, with the Coroner of the (King's) House do as belongeth to his office, and inroll it."
According to R. Henslowe Wellington:
"By this statute (the whole of which is repealed by Coroner's Act, 1887), the Coroner of the county had to join with the Coroner of the Verge [i.e. of the Household]; but, without the assistance of the latter officer, the Coroner of the county could not act within the Verge. So neither could the Coroner of the Verge act in such cases, unless he be associated with the Coroner of the county; and this had to appear upon the inquisition, or otherwise it would be erroneous and void." (42)
Proof that this statute was still operative in Marlowe's time is found among the Middlesex inquisitions, at least two of which have William Danby officiating jointly with one of the two Middlesex coroners, Iuone (John? Ivan?) Chalkhill and Richard Sheppard, at inquests on deaths within the verge.(43)

It is only fair to point out, however, that there are several cases in these records where the County Coroner seems to have gone ahead and done it on his own - and that he presumably got away with it - even though these incidents can be calculated as also having taken place within the verge. However, it would have been relatively easy for the County Coroner, whether truthfully or not, to claim that he had not realised it was within the verge (and who would notice anyway?), whereas the Coroner of the Queen's Household could never employ such an excuse as - unless within the precincts of the Court itself - it must nearly always have taken place within the jurisdiction of one County Coroner or another. A full explanation of this is given in my essay Was Marlowe's Inquest Void?.

The norm must therefore have been for the County Coroner - who would need to be there anyway - always to be told first, and for him to bring in the Coroner of the Queen's Household if he believed it to be appropriate. So why did that so obviously not happen this time? It turns out that there is another possible explanation, which I discovered only after I had written "Was Marlowe's Inquest Void". This is that it was possible for the Coroner of The Queen's Household to preside on his own in such cases, provided that he was also a coroner of the county in question. The problem is that in order for it to be legal it had to be stated in the inquisition, which it wasn't, and no inquests from Kent survive to confirm that he did have this dual role. On the other hand we know that his predecessor as the Queen's coroner, Richard Vale, was also a county coroner for Middlesex, and such a duplication of roles continues to this day. I give much more detail of this in my Was Marlowe's Inquest Void? (2).


It is usually acknowledged that Marlowe was already in a dangerous position at the time of that meeting in Deptford. Under torture, Kyd was accusing him of atheism,(44) and he had been arrested and required to appear before the Privy Council some ten days earlier.(45) He had apparently not been held in custody, being required instead to return daily, but far worse accusations against him in the form of the 'Baines Note' (Appendix II) and the 'Remembrances' (see below)(46) were already being delivered to the authorities, and he was unlikely to remain free for much longer.

Just how much danger this represented to him is uncertain. The version of the Baines note that would have gone to the Privy Council and to the Queen had been edited to remove all except the accusations of blasphemy and atheism, and this was not necessarily enough to have hanged him. True, he may well have been tortured to 'persuade' him to recant, but assuming that this persuasion worked - and it usually did - he would not have been executed.

If we examine other documents related to this event, however, we discover that a far more serious charge was facing him - of having written material that was seditious. And for this crime no fewer than three people had been executed already within only the past two months.

We saw earlier what Thomas Beard had to say about the nature of Marlowe's death. Before this, he had claimed that Marlowe

"...fell (not without just desert) to that outrage and extremitie, that hee denied God and his sonne Christ, and not only in word blasphemed the trinitie, but also (as it is credibly reported) wrote bookes against it..." (47)
With the possible exception of the plural he uses, it seems from what follows that this was almost certainly true.

'The Atheist Lecture'

Among the accusations being levelled at Marlowe at the time of his death was the one in the 'Note' by Richard Baines:

"That one Ric Cholmley hath confessed that he was persuaded by Marlowe's reasons to become an atheist".
This accusation is echoed in the anonymous document referred to as the 'Remembrances' (Appendix III), also in the hands of the authorities at this time, and in which this Richard Cholmeley's atheism is again portrayed as being the result of Marlowe's reasoning.(48)

In August 1974, S. E. Sprott discussed a letter written by a certain Thomas Drury to Anthony Bacon on 1st August 1593,(49) transcribed it (an extraordinarily difficult job, given Drury's appalling handwriting) and showed how it indicated that Drury had probably been responsible for the 'Remembrances'.(50) (Appendix IV)

His argument was that, in the letter to Anthony Bacon, Drury had complained that he had not been rewarded for certain work he had done, which included:

"a libel by my means found out and delivered, a vile book also by my deciphering taken and a notable villain or two which are close prisoners and bad matters against them of an exceeding nature"
Sprott pointed out that these 'bad matters' could well have been the 'Remembrances', since they start off with the description of 'certain libellous verses' for which Cholmeley had been responsible, and tell of the taking of the banned book An Epistle of Comfort into 'Custody'. He also noted that Cholmeley and his sidekick Henry Young had indeed been arrested a month earlier.

In his book The Reckoning, Charles Nicholl in fact added to this the details of another letter from Drury, written to Sir Robert Cecil a little later, which - if he noticed it, Nicholl fails to mention clearly - did actually confirm Sprott's finding.(51)

In a letter written from prison, to Sir Robert Cecil, some time between 1st and 17th August, Drury said:

"I am committed from my Lord Chamberlain for abusing him unto you, as also for wicked speeches that could say I was able to make any counsellor a traitor: only this I do presume, that I told your honour it was others' practices and lies also and not my own..." (52)
and this clearly relates to that part of the 'Remembrances', which says of Cholmeley that
"he saith he doth entirely hate the Lord Chamberlain & hath good cause so to do" and that "no men are sooner devined & abused than the Counsel themselves; that he can go beyond & cozen them as he list".
No doubt at all - Thomas Drury wrote the 'Remembrances', and apparently discussed them with Sir Robert Cecil as well as letting the main addressee, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, Sir John Puckering, have them.(53)

His letter to Bacon continues:

"Then, after all this, there was by my only means set down unto the Lord Keeper (&) the Lord of Buckhurst the notablest and vilest articles of Atheism that I suppose the like was never known or read of in any age, all which I can show unto you. They were delivered to her Highness and command given by herself to prosecute it to the full."
Nicholl thinks that this means the Baines Note, and Kuriyama and Riggs agree, but this can't be right. It clearly refers to a letter,(54) filed right next to the 'Remembrances', giving details of Cholmeley's 'atheism' - 'feareful horrible and damnable speeches' which Drury 'fears to rehearse'. It was initially addressed to Justice Young, who was reporting to the Lord Keeper about this particular matter and who had indeed been responsible for Cholmeley's arrest. (Appendix V). This letter - unlike the Baines Note - is all about Cholmeley and his 'damnable crew', and in his letter to Bacon he carries on speaking of the same 'damnable sect', saying that, since the arrest of the 'notable villain or two' (i.e. Cholmeley and Young),
"there is old hold and shove for to get the book that doth maintain this damnable sect which book I presume there would be given great sums for and large promises offered in like manner, but none of those will I trust. But if I may secretly confer with you, I and one that I have brought with me, a merchant, will give you such light as he and I can bring you to the man that doth know who did write the book and they to who it was delivered as also who read the lecture and where and when".
He therefore believes that a book exists which is crucial to Cholmeley's plans, which are: "to draw Her Majesty's subjects to be atheists" and "after Her Majesty's decease to make a king among themselves & live according to their own laws". Such a book had probably not been printed, but was being disseminated by being read aloud to others. In this letter to Anthony Bacon he pretends not to know who wrote it, or who had been reading it as a lecture,(55) but he is obviously referring to what he himself had written about Cholmeley to Sir Robert Cecil in the 'Remembrances':
"That he saith & verily believeth that one Marlowe is able to show more sound reasons for Atheism than any divine in England is able to give to prove divinity", and "that Marlowe told him that he hath read the atheist lecture to Sir Walter Ralegh & others".
There is no doubt, therefore, that Drury - and others - believed Marlowe had been responsible for an atheistic book which "maintains this damnable sect".

This was certainly an idea that gained currency somehow, as we have seen by Beard's words, above, and it was much later picked up by Vaughan in his The Golden Grove:

"Not inferior to these was one Christopher Marlowe, by profession a play-maker, who, as it is reported, wrote a book against the Trinity." (56)
Marlowe's friend, Thomas Nashe, in his The Unfortunate Traveller (and using Pietro Aretino as an analogy for Marlowe) felt compelled, rightly or wrongly, to deny such rumours, saying:
"Some dull-brained maligners of his accuse him of that [atheist] treatise, De Tribus Impostoribus Mundi... I am verily persuaded it was none of his..." (57)
But in Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, the author had addressed Marlowe thus:
"Wonder not, (for with thee will I first begin) thou famous gracer of Tragedians, that Greene, who hath said with thee (like the fool in his heart) there is no God, should now give glory unto his greatness...The broacher of this diabolical atheism [Machiavelli] is dead ... and wilt thou my friend be his disciple?" (58)
So one cannot help wondering if Marlowe might have had his own writings in mind when, earlier, he had Machevill (Machiavelli) say, in his prologue to The Jew of Malta (lines 28-30),
"...I come not, I,
To read a lecture here in Britannie,
But to present the tragedy of a Jew.."
Further support for such a book's existence also appears much later in the commonplace book of Henry Oxinden.(59) He tells of one Simon Aldrich, who was at Cambridge some six years after Marlowe's time there. Aldrich apparently told Oxinden:
"that Marlowe was an Atheist and wrote a book against the Scriptures, how that it was all one man's making; and would have printed it, but it could not suffer to be printed."
It seems to be without doubt, therefore, that there was such a book, that Marlowe had written it, and that he had indeed presented it as a lecture to "Sir Walter Ralegh and others". This certainly appears to be confirmed by Richard Baines's original statement that:
"this Marlowe doth not only hold the(se opinions) himself, but almost into every company he cometh he persuades men to atheism, willing them not to be affeared of bugbears and hobgoblins, and utterly scorning both God and his ministers, as I, Richard Baines, will justify & approve both by mine oath and the testimony of many honest men"
and that he
"saith likewise that he hath quoted a number of contrarieties out of the Scripture which he hath given to some great men who in convenient time shall be named. When these things shall be called in question, the witness(es) shall be produced".
Who might these 'great men' be? Presumably anyone who has been said to be part of Ralegh's alleged "School of Atheism" (60), which could include the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Derby, and the Lord Chamberlain's heir, Sir George Carey.

Seditious Writings

How would such a book have been viewed by the Queen, her Privy Council, and the Court of Star Chamber?

First, we need to look at what was happening at that time. On 23rd March, 1593, a couple of months before the events at Deptford, Henry Barrow and John Greenwood - apparently a friend of Marlowe's - had been sentenced to death and, on 6th April, were executed. Their offence had been advocating and trying to set up a church separate from the established Anglican one. Taking the New Testament as a guide, their ideal church made no distinction between clergy and laity and stressed the autonomy of each congregation. Barrow - initially persuaded by Greenwood - had written several works advocating congregational independence. These views were considered seditious, so they were both tried under an Act of 1581 against the writers of seditious books and were sentenced accordingly.(61)

It is easy to see why the government might fear such ideas, since so much of the State's authority depended upon an established church. How much more dangerous, therefore, must atheism have appeared to them. What Marlowe would have been advocating was a belief which, from the government's point of view:

There was already apparently some evidence, whether genuine or not, that anti-royalist feelings were being stimulated by it and, if successfully promoted, atheism would also have:

The alleged crimes of Barrow and Greenwood (as with those of their fellow-separatist, John Penry, who was executed on 29th May, charged under the same statute) really were fairly inoffensive compared with this. Marlowe was a brilliant writer, with the ability to work on people's thoughts and feelings at a very deep level. Whether or not they thought he was right in what he believed (or however much, as we shall see shortly, he had "done her Majesty good service" in the past) was irrelevant, and he simply could not be allowed to carry on like this.

It is therefore obvious that Marlowe was in very great trouble indeed. He certainly could not be seen to remain unpunished, and he had to be silenced - permanently. It is clear that he would need powerful friends to help him if he were to be saved; and if no way of saving him were found there is no doubt that he would have had to follow Barrow, Greenwood and Penry to the scaffold.


The Cecils

Marlowe had certainly been able to call upon powerful support in the past. In the minutes of the Privy Council for Thursday 29th June 1587 is the famous note, backing him against the Cambridge authorities who would have denied him his M.A.

"Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Reames and there to remaine, Their Lordships thought good to certefie that he had no such intent, but that in all his accions he had behaved him selfe orderlie and discreetlie wherebie he had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his fathfull dealinge: Their Lordships request that the rumor thereof should be allaied by all possible meanes, and that he should be furthered in the degree he was to take this next Commencement: Because it was not her Majesties pleasure that anie one emploied as he had been in matters touching the benefitt of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th'affaires he went about." (62)
To this are appended the titles of the Lord Archbishop (John Whitgift), Lord Chancelor (Christopher Hatton), Lord Thr[easur]er (William Cecil), Lord Chamberlaine (Henry Carey) and Mr. Comptroler (James Crofts), but it is clear that it would have been William Cecil, Lord Burghley - and/or the absent Sir Francis Walsingham - for whom he would have been doing her Majesty "good service".

In 1592, Burghley seems to have come to his aid again. Marlowe was sent back from Flushing under arrest for coining, an offence which could carry the death penalty,(63) and accusations that he intended to 'go to the enemy or to Rome'. He was delivered to Burghley, for whom it is generally thought that he may have still, or again, been working at the time, and, if he was indeed forced to go to prison as a result - although there is no evidence that he was - we know that he was walking free within a very few months.

Even at the end there is continued evidence of work for the government, or more probably for the Cecils, father and son. As we have seen already, when reporting on the recently deceased Marlowe, apparently to Lord Keeper Sir John Puckering, Thomas Kyd wrote:(64)

"He wold perswade with men of quallitie to goe unto the King of Scotts whether I heare Royden is gon and where if he had livd he told me when I sawe him last he meant to be."
For the third time, there is this apparently pretended intention to 'go to the other side' so this does sound suspiciously like further work for the Cecils, but this time related to the succession to the throne, a subject upon which the Queen had imposed a total ban. Even if they had had no desire to save him from execution - which seems most unlikely - they would therefore have had a good reason for not wanting him tortured, when he could perhaps have given far too much away about their current activities.

The question, then, is whether the Cecils were powerful enough to have saved him again on this occasion; and the answer is - probably not. Burghley had, in fact, tried to save Barrow and Greenwood, but without success. In a book about the third person executed, John Penry, Albert Peel wrote:

"Burghley remains an enigmatic figure. He gave the Puritans much support - he is said to have helped hundreds - and it is clear that Penry counted on his protection. No doubt he would have saved Penry if he could. Perhaps he intended to. But Whitgift was too quick for him, and no doubt enjoyed scoring off 'the old fox'. Thomas Phelippes, writing on 7th April (1593) said the reprieve (sic) of Barrow and Greenwood had been due to Burghley, who "spoke sharply to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was very peremptory, and also to the Bishop of Worcester, and wished to speak to the Queen but none seconded him. The executions proceeded through the malice of the bishops to the Lower House"." (65)
A further point, however, and it is certainly an important one, is that if Marlowe was indeed behaving and writing in this way, and notwithstanding any previous relationship, the Cecils would have certainly wanted to ensure, one way or another, that he was silenced once and for all.

Thomas Walsingham

Possible corroboration of Marlowe's continued involvement in the Cecils' work comes from the Privy Council's order for his arrest, which commands the arresting officer

"to repaire to the house of Mr Tho: Walsingham in Kent, or any other place where he shall understand where Christopher Marlow may be remayning, and by vertue hereof to apprehend, and bring him to the Court in his Companie." (66)
This knowledge that Marlowe was probably staying with Thomas Walsingham - first cousin once removed of the late Sir Francis - showed a familiarity with Marlowe's movements. It also indicated that he and Thomas were friends, which is confirmed by Edward Blount, who, in the dedication of his 1598 publication of Marlowe's Hero and Leander to (the by now 'Sir') Thomas Walsingham, wrote:
"Sir, wee think not our selves discharged of the dutie wee owe to our friend, when we have brought the breathlesse bodie to the earth: for albeit the eye there taketh his ever farwell of that beloved object, yet the impression of the man, that hath beene deare unto us, living an after life in our memory, there putteth us in mind of farther obsequies due unto the deceased. And namely of the performance of whatsoever we may judge shal make to his living credit, and to the effecting of his determinations prevented by the stroke of death. By these meditations (as by an intellectual will) I suppose my selfe executor to the unhappily deceased author of this Poem, upon whom knowing that in his life time you bestowed many kind favors, entertaining the parts of reckoning and woorth you found in him, with good countenance and liberall affection: I cannot but see so far into the will of him dead, that whatsoever issue of his brain should chance to come abroad, that the first breath it should take might be the gentle aire of your liking: for since his selfe had been accustomed thereunto, it would proove more agreeable and thriving to his right children, than any other foster countenance whatsoever."
We may therefore reasonably assume that not only the Cecils, but Walsingham too, would have wanted to help Marlowe in time of trouble. Thomas had worked for his cousin Sir Francis for some time, and was even well known to - and apparently liked by - the Queen. Since inheriting Scadbury from his brother Edmund in 1589, however, he had retired from government service, and Sir Francis had died the following year, so it is unlikely that Thomas still retained much of the political clout that he might have had in earlier days.

The 'School of Atheism'

It is generally agreed that Marlowe was one of the group of writers, scientists and philosophers gathered around the Earl of Northumberland and Sir Walter Ralegh. Few of these were involved in activities that would allow them to be much help to him at this time, however, and were even themselves viewed with considerable suspicion by Archbishop Whitgift and his heresy-hunters. Although Ralegh retained his seat as a member of parliament, he had been banished from the Court in disgrace at this time, and could have provided little help for his friend.


Ingram Frizer

Having identified Ingram Frizer as the one who killed Marlowe, Leslie Hotson went on to discover that Frizer was at around this time not only the 'servant' of Thomas Walsingham, but also involved with him, to a certain extent, in obtaining money from a young man by false pretences. The young man was Drew Woodlef, who was bound 'unto a gentleman of good worshipp' for the sum of £200, and the gentleman in question was Thomas Walsingham. If indeed Frizer did kill Walsingham's friend Marlowe, he continued none the less to have a close association both with Thomas and, later, his wife Audrey, for many years. There is no record of his ever having served anyone else.

We can therefore see that whatever the purpose of the meeting at Deptford was, it is most unlikely to have been one of which Thomas Walsingham would have disapproved.

Nicholas Skeres

Frizer's main partner in such financial dealings, however, was Nicholas Skeres, who was the one first to identify and then to lure these young targets into Frizer's trap. In addition to this, Skeres had in the past been involved in intelligence work. His name has been connected with the so-called 'Babington Plot' against the Queen's life, as one of Sir Francis Walsingham's agents provocateurs.

He is described as being a servant of the Earl of Essex, and one might assume that this was for some similar activity. A thorough search of the voluminous papers of Anthony Bacon, the Earl's principal 'spymaster', reveals not a single mention of Skeres, however, so it would appear that, if so, his service was at a very low level. Paul Hammer has also shown how intermittent any such service seems to have been.(67) Whatever his espoused loyalty to Essex, however, one would expect his true loyalty to be with the people he is dealing with day to day in some money-making racket. Although M. J. Trow seems to get the dates wrong (Woodlef was bound on 29th June 1593 to pay Walsingham by 25th July 1593) he nevertheless puts it quite well:

"In any case, as is likely from the coney-catching incident on the gull Drew Woodlef a year later, it is reasonable to suppose that Skeres and Frizer were a team by May 1593; hire one and you hire the other." (68)
Robert Poley

Following the death of Sir Francis Walsingham in 1590, Poley continued to operate as an agent within the orbit of the Cecils. Nicholl describes his situation in 1593 thus:

"Poley's particular speciality was the Low Countries, to which he travelled frequently in these years. Just over a month after Marlowe's deportation [from Flushing in 1592] he was himself posting to Brussels about 'Her Majesty's special affairs'. The warrant for this trip was signed by Lord Burghley. He was not, primarily, a spy there: his Catholic cover had been blown after the Babington affair, and his name bruited about as a government agent. He was now in a more supervisory role: an operational chief or section head, running a small intelligence network in the Low Countries, and reporting to Vice-Chamberlain Heneage and the Cecils." (69)
Boas records several payments made to Poley, as listed in the Declared Accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber. Most of these were for his acting as 'an accredited messenger to and from English ambassadors, state agents, and courts abroad', and were usually signed by the Vice-Chamberlain, Thomas Heneage. One of these is of particular interest, as it is dated two weeks after the events at Deptford.
"To Robert Poolye upon a warrant signed by Mr vicechamberlayne dated at the Courte xiimo die Junii 1593 for carryinge of lettres in poste for her Majesties speciall and secrete afaires of great ymportaunce from the Courte at Croyden the viiith of Maye 1593 into the Lowe Countryes to the towne of the Hage in Hollande, and for retourninge backe againe with lettres of aunswere to the Courte at Nonesuche the viiith of June 1593, being in her Majesties service all the aforesaid tyme - xxxs." (70)
The last statement is unique among the warrants listed, and clearly tells us that Poley was on duty that day at Deptford. And if he was on duty, it was almost certainly on behalf of Lord Burghley and/or Sir Robert Cecil and, barring accidents, whatever happened there that day was therefore most probably what they would have wanted to happen.

Eleanor Bull

Even if she did not witness the actual event, the other person who is most likely to have been around at the time was the owner of the house where it all happened - the widow Eleanor Bull.

One of the Queen's closest companions over many years was her chief Gentlewoman-in-Waiting, Blanche Parry, who was related to Eleanor Bull (née Whitney). In her will, Blanche had made a bequest to her, referring to her as her 'cousin'. Interestingly, Lord Burghley had referred to Blanche as his 'cousin' too. As Nicholl says:

"There is a point at which family connections grow tenuous, but technically speaking Eleanor Bull was related to Lord Burghley" and "The truth about Eleanor Bull - what little we know of it - helps us reconstruct something of the tone of that day in Deptford. It takes us beyond the blandness of the official story, beyond the obscuring mythology. Marlowe died not in a tavern or bawdy-house, but in the house of a local official's widow. His hostess was a woman of standing, both by birth and marriage. She was someone who could call on court connections if she needed, someone who might serve court connections if they needed." (71)
Whether or not widow Bull's house - at Deptford 'Strand' and therefore probably with convenient access to the river - had ever been used by her 'cousins' as a safe house, we may never know. What is clear, however, is that if the Cecils had wanted somewhere reasonably secluded for the arrival and departure of their agents, or for some other secret purpose, this house - with an owner whom they could trust completely - could well have been ideal. She could also, of course, have made sure that nobody else was around at such times who could not be equally trusted.


We are now in a better position to consider the various reasons proposed for those four people to have met at Deptford that day, and to decide which purpose is the one that best explains the whole event.

A 'Feast'?

This was the word used by Vaughan, who said that "one Ingram...had invited him thither to a feast" (we may wonder in this case why there should be any argument over the bill). Whether this is the best word or not, however, it is clear that the story as presented in the inquisition suggests that it was mainly a social gathering of some sort. Hotson even had it taking place in a tavern and turning into a scene of drunkenness.

Working against such an explanation, of course, is the dire situation that we now know Marlowe to have been in. It is very difficult to see him wanting to attend any such event with the very real threat of torture, trial and execution hanging over his head - as he must have known from his daily contact with the Privy Council, particularly Sir Robert Cecil. Similarly, Poley is known to have been not only on duty, but also carrying important letters 'in poste' (i.e. in a hurry) between the Netherlands and the Court. That he might stop off on the way back for a relaxing day with a few friends, followed by a further week off after the inquest before delivering them, is simply out of the question.

Furthermore, although more easily explicable, there is no evidence to suggest that they were friends anyway. Poley may have come across Skeres during his time on the 'Babington' case, and perhaps knew Marlowe, if our poet was still involved in secret work, but there is no known reason at all for him ever to have met - let alone become friendly with - the alleged host Ingram Frizer.

A Business Meeting?

Most of the objections to the 'Feast' suggestion apply in this case too. What business? Frizer and Skeres were heavily involved in the Drew Woodlef scam at the time, which had nothing to do with Poley or Marlowe. And Poley was rushing back with his important letters from the Hague, which as far as we know had nothing to do with any of the rest of them. Marlowe may perhaps have had some reason for dealing with Poley, but why on earth the other two?

No, although their 'bosses', Walsingham and the Cecils, apparently got on well (I exclude Essex, for the reasons given above), there is no obvious business that they are likely to have had in common that would have required such a meeting. And, in any case, such meetings seldom resulted in the slaughter of one of those present, which should perhaps be considered rather more seriously than it has been.

Paul Hammer's suggestion, mentioned above, that the meeting was called by Frizer and Skeres to "brow-beat" Marlowe into repaying some debt fails satisfactorily to explain why Poley was there (Thomas Walsingham would have surely been a far better bet if it was to ensure 'fair play'), why it took all day, why it was at Eleanor Bull's house and, most of all, why they actually killed him - the worst possible outcome for everyone.

A Murder?

Those who suggest that the meeting was set up to have Marlowe murdered really have to address, and provide satisfactory answers to, all of the following questions:

The main objection to this, however, has to be in the selection of these three people as assassins, none of whom was as far as we know ever involved in violence of any kind other than this. As Constance Kuriyama puts it:
"Although some will undoubtedly continue to resist the conclusion most forcibly suggested by the available evidence, the one person in the party at Deptford who was most likely to attack another person physically was Christopher Marlowe." (72)
To Plan his Escape?

Given, as we have seen, that these three people were most probably there at the behest of the Cecils and Thomas Walsingham, then by far the most likely reason for their get-together was in some way to help Marlowe escape the extreme peril he was in.

It is indeed possible that the intention was to work out together just how this was to be done, but really this just doesn't fit. If there was any planning to be done, it would either be at the next level up - by Robert Cecil most probably - or by Poley alone. This was a job for a professional agent, not for a couple of con-men, no matter how skilful they were in that area. That the meeting actually resulted not in his escape but in his death might need a bit of explaining too.

To Help him Escape?

If assistance were required, it is very difficult to imagine what need there would be for more than one person to help him, or why they all had to meet up at Deptford Strand. Robert Poley was fully competent, and certainly knew the secret ways into Scotland and the Low Countries, for example, if Marlowe had been headed in either of those directions.

Again, one must also ask the question 'Why all day?'. If they were waiting for the high tide, which was at about 10.45 p.m. on that date, why had they arrived so early? And if that was not the reason, what were they waiting for? And, if the intention was to save him, we might again reasonably ask why his body finished up lying there when he himself should have been long gone?

To Fake his Death?

This would indeed be a way of saving Marlowe both from torture and from death, which, as we have seen, would have been the most likely objective of those men for whom the three people there with Marlowe would have had most loyalty.

It is the only option which explains the need for three people: if a killing in self-defence were to be claimed, there would have had to be a 'killer' and at least two witnesses. It is also clear that if this should appear before a jury, the people involved would have to be consummate liars, which all three of them are known to have been at a 'professional' level.

It would, however, have been possible to fake his death in less elaborate ways than this. Could they not, for example, have had some unknown plague victim wrongly identified, or told everyone that he had fallen from a ship and that the body was lost at sea? If it was a faked death, therefore, it was clearly seen as essential that there should be unassailable proof, apparently accepted by the Queen herself, that he had in fact died. It would certainly have provided the perfect answer to anyone who later suspected that they may have seen him, and also suggests that such an apparently undeniable confirmation that it had happened was required at the highest level.

Again we have to ask why it would have required them to be there all day. It has been suggested that they were waiting for the high tide, but there is really no reason why Marlowe could not have caught the morning one. In fact, there would have been no need for Marlowe to have been there at all really; he could have left much earlier, and even from somewhere else. It could also perhaps be that they were waiting for the body (or for the victim?) to turn up, but this timing would have been excessively risky, and has an unpredictability about it which is unlikely to have been acceptable if everything else had been so carefully organized. There is another possible reason, in fact a more likely one, which we shall return to later.

It is nevertheless clear that a faked death is the only option to fit the facts as we know them. In particular, it has massive supporting evidence in the otherwise highly improbable dead body. The major problem with this theory, of course, is how those involved might most easily, and without too much risk, have managed to get hold of a substitute body, and pass it off as Marlowe's.

And we can start by totally rejecting any idea involving the casual slaughter of some passing innocent: no Cecil or Walsingham, and certainly not any secret agent in his right mind, would have agreed to such a course of action. If you need a fresh corpse, you find someone who, for whatever reason, is going to die anyway. Shakespeare understood this, as we see from Measure for Measure, in which it is suggested that the head of the condemned prisoner Barnardine should be used in place of Claudio's. Would they not recognize him? No, says Shakespeare (4.2.174):

"death's a great disguiser; and you may add to it"
To which one might remark: "such as with a mortal dagger wound to the eye".


On the evening of 30th May 1593, the Queen and her court were at Nonsuch Palace, near Epsom in Surrey. In fact a meeting of the Privy Council took place there early the following morning. Nonsuch is just under 13 miles, as the crow flies, from Deptford Strand, and around 16 miles by road. Our statute mile was not defined until 1593, or in general use till much later, however, and Deptford Strand would have been shown on most maps as less than twelve miles from Nonsuch. It would therefore have been judged to be just within "the verge" which, as we have seen, was defined as being within 12 miles of the Queen's curent location.

When we look at the coroner's inquisition, we find that it does indeed say no fewer than four times that the stabbing occurred infra virgam (within the verge). Why? What difference would it make? As we have seen, of course, the answer is that whenever such an event occurred within the verge it was necessary for the Coroner of the Queen's Household to deal with it.

And that is what happened this time, although William Danby did not perform the inquest with the local coroner, which he should have done, as we have seen, whether it was within the verge or not. He actually replaced him, thus actually rendering the whole inquest legally null and void unless he had also been coroner for the county of Kent. Of some relevance, perhaps, is the fact that he and Lord Burghley had been close colleagues for at least four years, and could even have been old friends, having been contemporaries at the Inns of Court together some fifty years earlier.

There would, of course, be a considerable advantage in having the coroner on one's side and operating alone. He could ensure that the timetable fitted the requirements, that the 'correct' verdict was reached, that the 'view' of the body was sufficiently restricted, and even that the jury contained nobody who knew either the supposed victim or the real one. His most important contribution, perhaps, is that he might also have been able to find them a fresh corpse of just the right age.

As was referred to earlier, John Penry had been executed the day before.(73)

The execution took place at St. Thomas-a-Watering, which is only two miles from Deptford, and nobody knows what happened to his body. What we do know, however, is that this was within the verge, and that William Danby may well have therefore been able to claim some responsibility for deciding just what happened to it. One of Danby's titles was Coroner of the Marshalsea, the prison in which Penry was held.

In fact it seems quite likely that Danby, who is believed to have lived in Woolwich, was also a coroner for Kent. Even though his not declaring this in the report of the inquest would render it illegal, such a situation would give rise to something very strange indeed. If we work out where the very best place would have been to enact such a faked death, ignoring whether or not any suitable facilities - such as Eleanor Bull's - were available there:

In the whole of England there was only one location which met all of these requirements. It was - as you have no doubt guessed - Deptford Strand.


Penry's trial before the Queen's Bench had started on 21st May, and he was condemned to death on the 25th. For some reason, and most unusually as there was to be no reprieve or appeal, there was a delay of four days. Then suddenly, on Tuesday 29th May, without any warning and therefore without his wife, family or friends knowing what was going on, he was carted away - at what was also a most unusual time for an execution - to be hanged. John Waddington described what happened next:

"He was led at five, from the prison in the High-street, Borough, to the fatal spot. A small company of persons, attracted by seeing the workmen preparing the gibbet, had collected together. Penry would have spoken, but the sheriff insisted, that neither in the protestation of his loyalty nor in the avowal of his innocence should he utter a word. His life was taken and the people were dispersed. The place of his burial is unknown." (74)
There are, of course, countless numbers of people whose place of burial is unknown. This case, however, is rather different. In John Penry we have one of the most important martyrs of congregationalism. His wife and daughters had tried desperately, but without success, to be allowed to visit him, and would certainly have sought equally hard to find out where he had been buried. And if they had succeeded there is no doubt at all that we today would have known where that was.

St. Thomas-a-Watering, where John Penry was executed, is no more than two and a half miles by road from Deptford Strand, but it might have been thought better to wait until after dark before delivering the body there. It is of course possible that Frizer and Skeres were responsible for this part and actually stayed at Deptford overnight.


Using the body of a hanged man in the faking of someone's death must pose certain problems, particularly if the hanging had occurred a day earlier than the alleged killing was supposed to have taken place.

It is therefore quite clear that people had to be prevented from looking too closely at the body, and that this would have been impossible to achieve without the full-scale involvement, and coronatorial autonomy, of William Danby. As we noted above, however, the norm would have been for the County Coroner to be told, and for him to bring in the Coroner of the Queen's Household to hold the inquest with him if he believed it to be appropriate. To ensure that Danby not only held the inquest but did so on his own, therefore, would have been a problem in itself.

So let us see - if it was indeed a faked death and if Penry's body was used - just how it might have been done.

First of all, we need to meet someone else who, whether wittingly or not, would probably have had a significant part to play in the story - the lord of the manor of Deptford, Christopher Browne. Although not necessarily relevant here, it is interesting to note that Browne's wife was a first cousin of Anthony Marlowe or Marler, agent of the Muscovy Company in Deptford, and, according to Richard Wilson, although Charles Nicholl denies this, "long identified as a Crayford relative of Christopher Marlowe".(75)

Of more relevance, perhaps, is the fact that, until his death some three years earlier, Eleanor's late husband, Richard Bull, had worked for Christopher Browne as his sub-bailiff.(76) In addition to his responsibilities as lord of the manor, Browne was employed as Clerk of the Greencloth - a sort of internal auditor for the Queen. As such, he was a member of the Queen's Household, under the Lord Steward, and thus also a colleague to the Coroner of the Queen's Household, William Danby.

If, as seems likely, William Danby lived at Woolwich,(77) five miles or so east of Deptford, he would pass it on his way home, so it is easy to see him finding some pretext for stopping off at his colleague's house, then being invited for supper, and, depending upon how late it was, perhaps even to stay the night. The manor house itself was Sayes Court which, as can be seen from Plate 3 in Nicholl's The Reckoning, where it appears at the bottom of the map, was no more than a few hundred yards from any dwelling in Deptford Strand.(78)

Returning to Widow Bull's house, let's hear how they might have described what happened next, assuming that she was involved in the deception too. This would be how the five of them might have told it, of course, and is presumably nothing like what actually happened when no one else was present. News of Danby's arrival at Sayes Court would have been what everyone was waiting for.

Widow Bull was sitting quietly in her living room, when suddenly she heard a great commotion from upstairs, where her four 'paying guests' had been occupying themselves since supper. Robert Poley appeared and told her that something terrible had happened. Apparently Christopher Morley (as they called him) had had too much to drink, attacked Ingram Frizer with a dagger, and Frizer, trying to protect himself, had accidentally stabbed Morley in the eye with it. It looked as though it might even have killed him.

She rushed upstairs, to find Morley lying motionless on the bed, with a very nasty wound above his eye, and Frizer sitting at the table, blood pouring from wounds to his scalp. Nicholas Skeres confirmed Poley's account, adding only that there was now no doubt that Morley was dead. Realising that, as she was the only Deptford resident there, it was probably her duty to raise the necessary 'hue and cry', she suggested that they all come downstairs, and she would lock the body in the room, leaving everything exactly as it was, so that nobody could claim that it had been interfered with in any way before the authorities arrived.(79)

Once downstairs, they started to clean and dress Frizer's wounds. Poley pointed out that Frizer would be able to plead self-defence - which, given his wounds, it certainly was - provided he made no attempt to escape, and Frizer assured them that, even if he had felt like it, he wasn't going anywhere. Poley and Skeres told Eleanor Bull that they would nevertheless make sure he didn't, while she went for help.

Clearly a full-scale hue and cry for the 'pursuit and apprehension of the offender' would have been foolish, but she knew that it was necessary to get the neighbours involved somehow. Two or three of them were therefore asked to come in and help 'guard' Frizer and the body (a duty which, as the latter was safely locked away, just meant sitting with the others) while she went, taking the key with her, to alert the authorities.

Not knowing exactly whom to tell first, she decided to go to the lord of the manor, Christopher Browne, whom she knew quite well as her late husband's employer, and who lived nearby. It was quite a surprise, therefore, to find that the very person who apparently should have been informed - the Coroner of the Queen's Household, William Danby - was there with Browne. Having heard her story, he said that as this had happened within the verge, in other words within twelve miles of the Queen - which he knew to be the case, having just travelled from the Court - it was in fact his responsibility to view the body and to hold the inquest in sight of it. From this moment on, therefore, he took charge.

Before leaving Sayes Court manor house, however, he wrote a letter to the Bailiff of the Hundred, (80) briefly explaining what had happened, and ordering him to arrange for a few of his men to go to Widow Bull's house, to escort Ingram Frizer to gaol, and to provide a guard for the next day or two. He was also as soon as possible to start organizing the jury for the inquest, which would be on Friday morning. (81) There was nothing else required of him for the time being, but, if he thought there was, he must check it out with Danby first. A servant was dispatched to the Bailiff's house with this letter.

Next, Danby and Eleanor Bull went to her home, where he had a quick look at the body and heard the accounts of those who had been there. Once the guards arrived, he allowed the neighbours to go home, sent Frizer off to gaol, presumably insisting that he be used kindly, and left the others downstairs, while he went up (with Eleanor Bull's help) to 'view' the body properly. They removed all of the clothing,(82) and he examined the corpse thoroughly, noting that the only injury to it was the one above the right eye.

When he had finished, and promising her that she would receive some recompense from the parish, he asked Mrs Bull for a clean linen sheet, (83) in which - having washed the blood from the body as best they could - they completely 'wound' it (i.e. rolled it up), ready for burial. (84) Having also removed or covered the blood-stained bedclothes, they then put the body back on the bed.(85)

He then locked up the room, made sure that Poley(86) and Skeres had somewhere to sleep and would be available for the inquest, and left the guard with strict instructions that nobody else was to enter the room where the body was. Mrs Bull would keep the key and, in the very unlikely event that it proved necessary to enter the room, they must go in together, and neither of them must touch the body in any way. He then went back to Sayes Court for the night, continuing his journey to Woolwich the following day.

On the Friday morning he returned to Mrs Bull's house to find the jurymen beginning to assemble. It was the coroner's right to have the final say as to who would be in the jury, so he briefly interviewed each of them and, having rejected one or two, was left with the sixteen we know about.

The room containing the body was quite small, and it was hard for everybody to squeeze into comfortably, let alone to hold an inquest in, so this was to be held in the large room downstairs. (87) They all had to view the body, however (or the inquest would be "erroneous and void"), so they gathered round while Danby showed it to them, tugging the sheet down far enough for everyone clearly to see the wound above the eye. He assured them that he had examined the body thoroughly, that the dagger wound would certainly have been enough to kill him, and that he had no doubts at all as to what had caused the death. (88)

Once everybody had viewed the body in this way, Eleanor Bull finished knotting the winding-sheet, and the rest returned to the larger room for the inquest, where they heard the evidence of Frizer himself and the two witnesses (who had also identified the body) and returned the verdict as reported in the coroner's inquisition.

The body being ready for disposal (and presumably the relevant people having been warned), there was now nothing to prevent the burial being carried out almost immediately, and once Danby had signed the necessary document this is indeed what happened.

This is pure speculation, of course, but if a faked death was the most likely reason for those four men to have met there that day, and if it was John Penry's body that they used, this indicates how it would have been possible for them to get away with it. No matter what would have happened in practice, however, it could not have differed too much from what is suggested above.


As we have seen, inquest juries were usually selected by the coroner from a group summoned by the Bailiff of the Hundred and consisting of suitably qualified men living within his bailiwick. In this case, however, there were two exceptions, Nicholas Draper and Thomas Batt, both of whom came from the Bromley Hundred rather than the Blackheath Hundred where Deptford Strand was located. The interesting thing is that Nicholas Draper (one of the only two gentlemen on the jury) headed the list of names, and was therefore almost certainly its foreman. Bromley, where he lived, was the parish right next to Chislehurst, where another gentleman, Thomas Walsingham, lived. That they were already acquainted, if not actual friends, is certainly quite likely. Indeed, only a few years later Draper was living in Chislehurst itself. Was the jury membership therefore fixed to ensure that its foreman was a friend of Thomas Walsingham, with another neighbour there for support? The full details of this can be found in my essay The Deptford Jury.


Lord Burghley and William Danby, both now in their seventies, had given a lifetime of loyal service to their Queen, and it seems impossible that either of them would have put his whole career - possibly even his life - at risk just to save one poet/dramatist, even if he was the most brilliant one of his day, and no matter what 'good service' he had done her Majesty in the past.

The most likely situation would therefore seem to be that the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, wanted Marlowe tried and executed, and that the Queen agreed with him. The Cecils, however, managed to persuade her that faking his death could be just as effective - that he could be forced to refrain from ever again propagating his atheistic views, and would be seen by her subjects to have suffered God's punishment for his blasphemy and heresy. She therefore agreed to this as a compromise, but to appease Whitgift also insisted that the records would show beyond any doubt that he was dead, he would be banished the country (albeit under some sort of control?), and must never under any circumstances, of course, write another word as Christopher Marlowe.

In doing so, she would also of course ensure that a blind eye be turned to Danby's overstepping his authority, and to any other possibly unforeseen complaint.


There are four main questions, all of which have to be satisfactorily answered if we are to decide which is the most probable explanation of what happened at Deptford on that day in May 1593.

Extraordinary as it may seem, the only scenario to answer all four of these questions as it stands is that of the faked death. In particular, it provides one explanation for all of the following teasers:

And perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all if - as seems probable, even though his not reporting it rendered the inquest invalid - Danby was also a coroner for Kent,

A faked death seems all the more extraordinary, of course, because we have no example of a death ever having been faked successfully. The only ones we know about are those which failed in some way, otherwise we would not know about them. Nevertheless, people do keep on trying.(89)

These attempted faked deaths were all unsuccessful, of course, but for every one of them how many successful fakings might there have been? And these were all in the days of Press and TV, photographs and 'photofit', birth certificates, passports, fingerprints, dental records, databases, DNA testing and so forth. How much easier it really must have been for them back in the 16th century!

© Peter Farey, 2001-2011
(last updated, November 2011)


1 George Peele: The Honour of the Garter (1593). 'Marley' was in fact the way Marlowe spelt his own name.

2 Thomas Nashe: The Unfortunate Traveller (1593)

3 British Library (BL) Harley MS.6848 f.154 (in this and all other transcripts, use of the letters i, j, u, and v has been modernized)

4 Thomas Edwards: Narcissus (1595), but circulating in manuscript in 1593.

5 Gabriel Harvey: Gorgon, or the wonderfull yeare, in A New Letter of Notable Contents (1593)

6 The original copy of the so-called 'Baines Note' is British Library (BL) Harley MS.6848 ff.185-6. The revision appears in Harley MS.6853 ff.307-8

7 Thomas Beard: Theatre of Gods Judgements (1597)

8 Francis Meres: Palladis Tamia (1598)

9 William Vaughan: The Golden Grove (1600)

10 Edmund Rudierde: The Thunderbolt of God's Wrath against Harde-Hearted and Stiffe-Necked Sinners (1618)

11 John Aubrey: Brief Lives (between 1669 and 1696)

12 Anthony à Wood: Athenæ Oxoniensis (1691)

13 J. Leslie Hotson: The Death of Christopher Marlowe (1925) p.18-19

14 Sidney Lee: Dictionary of National Biography (1910)

15 J. Leslie Hotson: op. cit., p.21

16 Ibid., pp.22-23

17 Ibid., pp.39-40

18 G. L. Kittredge, in his introduction to J. Leslie Hotson: The Death of Christopher Marlowe (1925) p.7

19 Eugénie de Kalb: The Death of Marlowe, in Times Literary Supplement (May 1925)

20 Samuel Tannenbaum: The Assassination of Christopher Marlowe (1926), quoted in Nicholl, below, p.432

21 Charles Nicholl: The Reckoning: the Murder of Christopher Marlowe (2nd edition, 2002) p.415

22 Curtis C. Breight: Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era (1996) p.114

23 Paul E. J. Hammer: A Reckoning Reframed: the "Murder" of Christopher Marlowe Revisited, in English Literary Renaissance (1996) pp.225-242

24 M. J. Trow: Who Killed Kit Marlowe? A contract to murder in Elizabethan England (2001) p.250

25 David Riggs: The World of Christopher Marlowe (2004) pp.334-7

26 Park Honan: Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy (2005) p.348

27 John Bakeless: The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe (1942) p.182

28 Charles Norman: The Muses' Darling (1947) p.207

29 A. D. Wraight and Virginia Stern: In Search of Christopher Marlowe (1964) p.306

30 Philip Henderson: Christopher Marlowe (1937) p.72

31 A. L. Rowse: Christopher Marlowe, a biography (1964) p.197

32 Frederick S. Boas: Marlowe and His Circle (1931) p.108

33 J. A. Downie: Marlowe, facts and fictions, in Constructing Christopher Marlowe, eds. J. A. Downie and J. T. Parnell (2000) pp.26-27

34 Constance Brown Kuriyama: Christopher Marlowe, A Renaissance Life (2002) p.136

35 Della Hilton: Who is Kit Marlowe? (1977), quoted in Friedenreich (below) p.365

36 Archie Webster: Was Marlowe the Man?, in The National Review (VOL.LXXXII, pp.81-86), September 1923.

37 Calvin Hoffman: The Man Who Was Shakespeare (1955) p.224

38 David Rhys Williams: Shakespeare, Thy Name is Marlowe (1966)

39 Louis Ule: Christopher Marlowe, 1564-1607, a biography (1995)

40 A. D. Wraight: The Story That the Sonnets Tell (1994) p.113

41 Kenneth Friedenreich: Marlowe's Endings, in A Poet and a Filthy Playmaker (1988) p.361

42 R. Henslowe Wellington: The King's Coroner (1905) pp.26-7

43 See London Metropolitan Archives (LMA, formerly GLRO), Middlesex Session Rolls (Gaol Delivery) MJ/SR 0286/7 with Chalkhill, and MJ/SR 0298/42 with Sheppard.

44 BL Harley MS.6849 f.218r,v

45 Public Records Office (PRO) Privy Council Registers, PC2 / 14 / 381

46 BL Harley MS.6848 f.190r,v, 'Remembraunces of wordes & matters against Ric Cholmeley'.

47 Thomas Beard: Theatre of Gods Judgements (1597)

48 'That he saieth & verely beleveth that one Marlowe is able to show more sounde reasons for Atheisme then any devine in Englande is able to geve to prove devinitie'.

49 Lambeth Palace Library (LPL) Bacon Papers MS.649 f.246 (In the quotations related to this, all of the spelling has been modernized, and some of the punctuation)

50 S. E. Sprott: Drury and Marlowe, in Times Literary Supplement, 2 August 1974

51 Charles Nicholl: op.cit. pp.378-81. Although his revised version has much more to say about Drury, Nicholl still seems not to have appreciated the value of this connection.

52 Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) Cecil Volume IV pp.366-7

53 Charles Nicholl: op.cit. p.323.

54 BL Harley MS.6848 f.191. See also Charles Nicholl: op.cit. pp.338-340.

55 Constance Brown Kuriyama (op. cit. p.146) says that, as Marlowe was dead, "Drury had no reason to be coy about naming him". This misses the point, which was that Drury was attempting to sell this information to Anthony Bacon, who, as far as he knew, would not yet have been privy to it.

56 William Vaughan: The Golden Grove (1600)

57 Thomas Nashe: The Unfortunate Traveller (1593). De Tribus Impostoribus Mundi, 'Of the three impostors of the world', namely Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.

58 Robert Greene: Greene's Groats-Worth of wit, bought with a million of Repentance (1592) p.E4v

59 BL Add. MS.28012, quoted in Frederick S. Boas: Christopher Marlowe: A biographical and critical study (1940) p.110.

60 Anon., based upon Persons's Responsio ad Edictum Elizabethæ, (1592) quoted in Nicholl, op. cit. pp. 363-4. Ralegh was indeed investigated at Cerne Abbas a year later, but no charges were brought as a result.

61 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, under 'Greenwood, John'. "On 23 March, Greenwood, Barrow, and three other separatists tried at the same time under similar charges were convicted of felony and sentenced to death under the statute 23 Eliz. c. 2, s. 4, which forbade anyone to ‘devyse and wrighte, print or set forth, any manner of booke … letter or writing conteyning any false, sedicious and slaunderous matter to the defamacion of the Queene's Majestie’".

62 PRO Privy Council Registers PC2 / 14 / 381 (29 June 1587)

63 BL Harley MS.6848 f.154. English coins had been counterfeited, if not 'uttered' (put into circulation). That they would therefore have carried the Queen's image made this 'petty treason' - a capital offence.

64 BL Harley MS.6849 f.218v

65 Albert Peel: The Notebook of John Penry 1593 (1944) p.xxii

66 PRO Privy Council Registers PC2 / 20 / 374 (20 May 1593)

67 Paul E. J. Hammer: op. cit. p.231

68 M. J. Trow: Who Killed Kit Marlowe? A contract to murder in Elizabethan England (2001) p.242

69 Charles Nicholl: op. cit. p.299

70 Frederick S. Boas: Christopher Marlowe: A biographical and critical study (1940) p.267

71 Charles Nicholl: op. cit. pp.42-3

72 Constance Brown Kuriyama: op. cit., p.140

73 The possibility that John Penry's dead body was substituted for Marlowe's at the inquest was first suggested by David A. More in his essay, Drunken sailor or imprisoned writer? printed in The Marlovian newsletter, 1997

74 John Waddington: Penry the Pilgrim Martyr (1854) p.204. It is possible that Penry's body was to be sent for anatomical dissection after his execution, as the law did allow four such corpses a year to be used in this way.

75 Richard Wilson: Visible Bullets: Tamburlaine the Great and Ivan the Terrible, in Darryl Grantley & Peter Roberts, eds., Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture (1996), p.52. However this is denied by Nicholl, op.cit. p.441

76 Willam Urry, ed. Andrew Butcher: Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury (1988), p.85

77 Ibid., p.92

78 Charles Nicholl, op. cit., Plate 3,between pp. 176 & 7. The map covers about one third of a mile from left (north) to right, and about half a mile from the top (east) to the bottom. The original was drawn by the diarist John Evelyn, who actually lived at Sayes Court some thirty years later.

79 According to R. F. Hunnisett (The Medieval Coroner (1961), p.11): "It was the responsibility of the townships to guard dead bodies from their discovery until the coroner's arrival".

80 Not to be confused with the Bailiff of the Manor, Sir George Howard, who acted as a sort of superintendent for the lord of the manor, and to whom Richard Bull had reported. See Urry, op. cit., p.85

81 As R. F. Hunnisett, (op. cit., p.13) , puts it: "Before setting out to view the body the coroner had to order the sheriff or hundred bailiff to summon a jury for a certain day; in practice the order was almost always given to the hundred bailiff."

82 If we assume that it had not already been removed as a perquisite for the hangman - as seems to have been quite usual - in which case a spare set of Marlowe's clothing would have been needed.

83 David Cressy: Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (1997) p.430: "A bed sheet would suffice - either the linen the party died in or a better piece from the household stock".

84 There is an illustration of how a typical winding-sheet looked when in use, dated only a year earlier, in Julian Litten's The English Way of Death, (1991) p.62

85 Hunniset's words (op. cit., pp.13,19) make it fairly clear that, while it was obviously essential for the coroner to have seen the body naked, this was not necessarily the case for the jury, unless the wounds they had to see made it unavoidable.

86 As possible accessories, they may have also been imprisoned until bail could be arranged, but no record to this effect has been found. If not, the the fact that Poley thus had a full day free, yet still made no effort to deliver to Court the urgent letters he was carrying from The Hague is perhaps also worth noting; and it may suggest that - if they existed at all - he had not yet received them, and had to return to The Hague to pick them up once this was over.

87 Hunnisett (op. cit., p.20) reports relocating after having seen the body as having become standard practice by then.

88 The rate at which bodies change after death varies so much with the circumstances that by then (and without a modern autopsy) it would have been virtually impossible for a juror in these circumstances to be sure that the time of death was some 64 hours earlier, as Penry's was, rather than about 38 hours earlier, as Marlowe's should have been. Derrick J. Pounder gives us all of the details we might need (if not actually wish!) in his excellent essay at

89 A more up-to-date list, together with links to reports giving the details can be found at  
APPENDIX I (return)

The Latin original (PRO Chancery C260 / 174 / 27) was discovered by Leslie Hotson, and this, his translation, given in his The Death of Christopher Marlowe (1925).

"Kent./ Inquisition indented taken at Detford Strand in the aforesaid County of Kent within the verge on the first day of June in the year of the reign of Elizabeth by the grace of God of England France and Ireland Queen defender of the faith &c thirtyfifth, in the presence of William Danby, Gentleman, Coroner of the household of our said lady the Queen, upon view of the body of Christopher Morley, there lying dead & slain, upon oath of Nicholas Draper, Gentleman, Wolstan Randall, gentleman, William Curry, Adrian Walker, John Barber, Robert Baldwyn, Giles ffeld, George Halfepenny, Henry Awger, James Batt, Henry Bendyn, Thomas Batt senior, John Baldwyn, Alexander Burrage, Edmund Goodcheepe, & Henry Dabyns, Who sayd [upon] their oath that when a certain Ingram ffrysar, late of London, Gentleman, and the aforesaid Christopher Morley, and Nicholas Skeres, late of London, Gentleman, and Robert Poley of London aforesaid, Gentleman, on the thirtieth day of May in the thirtyfifth year above named, at Detford Strand aforesaid in the said County of Kent within the verge, about the tenth hour before noon of the same day, met together in a room in the house of a certain Eleanor Bull, widow; & there passed the time together & dined & after dinner were in quiet sort together there & walked in the garden belonging to the said house until the sixth hour after noon of the same day & then returned from the said garden to the room aforesaid & there together and in company supped; & after supper the said Ingram & Christopher Morley were in speech & 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; & the said Christopher Morley then lying upon a bed in the room where they supped, & moved with anger against the said Ingram ffrysar upon the words as aforesaid spoken between them, And the said Ingram then & 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, & with the front part of his body towards the table & the aforesaid Nicholas Skeres & 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 & of his malice towards the said Ingram aforethought, then & there maliciously drew the dagger of the said Ingram which was at his back, and with the same dagger the said Christopher Morley then & there maliciously gave the aforesaid Ingram two wounds on his head of the length of two inches & of the depth of a quarter of an inch; whereupon the said Ingram, in fear of being slain, & sitting in the manner aforesaid between the said Nicholas Skeres & Robert Poley so that he could not in any wise get away, in his own defence & for the saving of his life, then & 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 & there a mortal wound over his right eye of the depth of two inches & of the width of one inch; of which mortal wound the aforesaid Christopher Morley then & there instantly died; And so the Jurors aforesaid say upon their oath that the said Ingram killed & 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 & dignity; And further the said Jurors say upon their oath that the said Ingram after the slaying aforesaid perpetrated & done by him in the manner & 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 & perpetrated by him in the manner & 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 & year above named &c.

APPENDIX II (return)

As originally submitted (BL Harley MS.6848 ff.185-6)

"A note Containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly Concerning his Damnable Judgment of Religion, and scorn of gods word.

That the Indians and many Authors of antiquity haue assuredly writen aboue 16 thousand yeares agone wher as Adam is proued to haue lived within 6 thowsand yeares.
He affirmeth that Moyses was but a Jugler, & that one Heriots being Sir W Raleighs man can do more then he.
That Moyses made the Jewes to travell xl yeares in the wildernes, (which Jorney might haue bin Done in lesse then one yeare) ere they Came to the promised land, to thintent that those who were privy to most of his subtilties might perish and so an everlasting superstition Remain in the harts of the people.
That the first beginning of Religioun was only to keep men in awe.
That it was an easy matter for Moyses being brought vp in all the artes of the Egiptians to abuse the Jewes being a rude & grosse people.
That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest.
That he was the sonne of a Carpenter, and that if the Jewes among whome he was borne did Crucify him theie best knew him and whence he Came.
That Crist deserved better to Dy then Barrabas and that the Jewes made a good Choise, though Barrabas were both a thief and murtherer.
That if there be any god or any good Religion, then it is in the papistes because the service of god is performed with more Cerimonies, as Elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, Shaven Crownes & cetera.
That all protestants are Hypocriticall asses.
That if he were put to write a new Religion, he would vndertake both a more Exellent and Admirable methode and that all the new testament is filthily written.
That the woman of Samaria & her sister were whores & that Christ knew them dishonestly.
That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned alwaies in his bosome, that he vsed him as the sinners of Sodoma.
That all they that loue not Tobacco & Boies were fooles.
That all the apostles were fishermen and base fellowes neyther of wit nor worth, that Paull only had wit but he was a timerous fellow in bidding men to be subiect to magistrates against his Conscience.
That he had as good Right to Coine as the Queene of England, and that he was acquainted with one poole a prisoner in newgate who hath greate Skill in mixture of mettals and hauing learned some things of him he ment through help of a Cunninge stamp maker to Coin French Crownes pistolets and English shillinges.
That if Christ would haue instituted the sacrament with more Ceremoniall Reverence it would haue bin had in more admiration, that it would haue bin much better being administred in a Tobacco pipe.
That the Angell Gabriell was Baud to the holy ghost, because he brought the salutation to Mary.
That one Ric Cholmley hath Confessed that he was persuaded by Marloe's Reasons to become an Atheist.

These thinges, with many other shall by good & honest witnes be aproved to be his opinions and Comon Speeches, and that this Marlow doth not only hould them himself, but almost into every Company he Cometh he perswades men to Atheism willing them not to be afeard of bugbeares and hobgoblins, and vtterly scorning both god and his ministers as I Richard Baines will Justify & approue both by mine oth and the testimony of many honest men, and almost al men with whome he hath Conversed any time will testify the same, and as I think all men in Cristianity ought to indevor that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped, he saith likewise that he hath quoted a number of Contrarieties oute of the Scripture which he hath giuen to some great men who in Convenient time shalbe named. When these thinges shalbe Called in question the witnes shalbe produced."


(BL Harley MS.6848 f.190r,v)

"Remembraunces of wordes & matters against Ric Cholmeley.

That hee speaketh in generall all evill of the Counsell; sayenge that they are all Atheistes & Machiavillians, especially my Lord Admirall
That hee made certen libellious verses in Commendacen of papistes & Seminary priestes very greately inveighinge againste the State, amonge which lynes this was one, Nor may the Prince deny the Papall Crowne
That hee had a certen booke (as hee saieth) deliverd him by Sir Robert Cecill of whom hee geveth very scandalous reporte, that hee should invite him to consider thereof & to frame verses & libells in Commendacen of constant Priests & vertuous Recusants, this booke is in Custodie & is called an Epistle of Comforte & is printed at Paris.
That he railes at Mr Topcliffe & hath written another libell Joyntlye againste Sir Francis Drake & Justice younge whom hee saieth hee will Couple vp together because hee hateth them alike
That when the muteny happened after the Portingale voyage in the Strand hee said that hee repented him of nothinge more then that hee had not killed my Lord Threasorer with his owne handes sayenge that hee could not have done god better service, this was spoken in the hearinge of Franncis Clerke & many other Souldieres
That hee saieth hee doeth entirely hate the Lord Chamberleyn & hath good cause so to doe.
That he saieth & verely beleveth that one Marlowe is able to showe more sounde reasons for Atheisme then any devine in Englande is able to geve to prove devinitie & that Marloe tolde him that hee hath read the Atheist lecture to Sir walter Raliegh & others.
That he saieth that hee hath certen men corrupted by his persuasions, who wilbee ready at all tymes & for all causes to sweare whatsoever seemeth good to him, Amonge whom is one Henry younge & Jasper Borage & others
That hee so highly esteemeth his owne witt & Judgement that hee saieth that noman are sooner devyned & abused then the Counsell themselves
That hee can goe beyonde & Cosen them as hee liste & that if hee make any Complainte in behalfe of the Queene hee shall not onely bee privately heard & enterteyned, but hee will so vrge the Counsell for money that without hee have what hee liste hee will doe nothinge
That beinge imployed by some of her majestys prevy Counsaile for the apprehension of Papists & other dangerous men hee vsed he saieth to take money of them & would lett them passe in spighte of the Counsell.
That he saieth that william Parry was hanged drawen & quartered but in Jeste that hee was a grosse Asse overreached by Cunninge, & that in trueth hee now meante to kill the Queene more then himselfe had."

APPENDIX IV (return)

(Lambeth Palace Library, Bacon Papers MS.649 f.246,
as transcribed by S.E. Sprott.)

"Sir the trew loue that I haue euer born to your honorabell father as allso to all his house hath forced me to singell you ought for many vertus acsions and desiors that I know and hear to be in you to vnfold s[um] latte accidentes which ar with in my knowledge and for brevite sake and for avoyding your farther trubell with ought cycumsta[u]ns thus standeth the matters
Ther was a command layed on me [latly] to stay on [m]r [Ba]yns which did use to resort vnto me which I did persve [ ] in tym allthoughe then I did not ons so much as Immagin where he was I found him ought and got the desyered secrit at his hand. for which the sytty of london promysed as allso by proclymasion was promysed a hundered crownes but not a peny parformed and a fine evasion made
After ther was a lybell by my men[e]s fou[n]d ought and delyvered a vyld bocke allso by my desyfering taken and a notabell vylayn or toe which ar close prysonnars and bad matters agaynst them of an exceding natuer and it no reward but all the credit puled ought of my mouth and I robbed of all
Then after all this ther was by my only means sett doun vnto the Lord Keper the Lord of Bucurst the notablyst and vyldist artyckeles of Athemisme that I suppose the lyke was never known or red of in eny age
all which I can show vnto you they were delyvered to her hynes and command geven by her selfe to prosecut it to the fule but no recompense no not of a peny

Sithens that tym there is ould hold and shoue for to gett the bocke that doeth mayntayn this damnabell sect which bocke I presum ther wold be geven great somes for and larg promysis offered in lyke manor but [ ] non of thos will I trust but if I may secrytly confer with you I and on that I haue brought with me a marchent will geue you such lyght as he and I can bring you to the man that doeth know who did wryght the bocke and they to howe it was delyvered as allso who red the lecture and whe[r] and when with dyverse such other secrytes as the state wold spend a thousand poundes to know and a better peny as him selfe affyrmeth which man him selfe I can bring forth in loue to you if he may be but buckled and rewardid I can in lyke manor revell vnto you an Alderman or too that doe convay over mony to the enymy and get named vnto you ther poysoned factors
In lyke manor I can tell you of such a devyse intendid agaynst the state by a captayn as never was hard of the lyke as I thinke

I know I am not gras[iu]s in the syght[e] of your brother therfor if it please you eyther to [R]ake your coch or nage I will attend you and declar the rest of my mynd and bring a Ryght honest marchant with me which shal Iustify vpon his othe all that I haue sett doune [&] I presum you shall know such a secryt if you please to hear me a lyttel and goe on my way because I know the natuer of the party as you haue not bin posessed of a good whyle

now sir I haue vsed a faythfull hart to you geuen you the onsett of this acsion which is notably sought after so vse me and my frend as we may haue cause to pray for you and after you shall be posessed of the matters so recommend our servysis to the Lord Tresurer as we may receyve sum reward and fauor in his syght and thus praying to god for you with a vnfyned hart vntill I speake with you or know your plesuer I [am] staying at the watter syd vntill I hear from you in Rychmond syd the first August

Yours in all duty to command

Thomas Drury

APPENDIX V (return).

(BL Harley MS.6848 f.191)

Righte worshypfull whereas I promised to sende you worde when Cholmeley was with mee; these are to lett you vnderstande that hee bath not yet bene with mee for hee doeth partely suspecte that I will bewray his villanye & his companye. But yesterday hee sente two of his companions to mee to knowe if I would Joyne with him in familiarertie & becom of there damnable Crewe. I sothed the villaynes with faire wordes in there follies because I would thereby dive into the secretes of their develishe hartes that I mighte the better bewray their purposes to drawe her majestys subiects to bee Athiests, their practise is after her majestys decease to make a kinge amonge themselves & live accordinge to their owne lawes, & this saieth Cholmeley wilbee done easely because they bee & shortely wilbe by his & his felowes persuasions as many of their opynion as of any other religion.

Mr Cholmeley his maner of proceedinge in scorninge the Queenes subiects is firste to make slanderous reportes of most noble peeres & honorable Counsailors, as the Lord Threaseror the Lord Chamberleyn the Lord Admirall, Sir Robert Cecill, these saieth hee haue profounde witnes bee sounde Athiests & their lives & deedes showe that they thinke their soules doe ende vanishe & perishe with their bodies.

His seconde course is to make a Jeste of the Scripture with these fearefull horrible & damnable speeches, that Jhesus Christe was a bastarde St Mary a whore & the Anngell Gabriell a Bawde to the holy ghoste & that Christe was Justly persecuted by the Jewes for his owne foolishnes. that Moyses was a Jugler & Aaron a Cosoner the one for his miracles to Pharao to prove there was a god, & the other for takinge the Earerings of the children of Israell to make a golden calfe with many other blasphemous speeches of the devine essence of god which I feare to rehearse

This Cursed Cholmeley hath Lx of his company & hee is seldome from his felowes & therefore I beeseech your worship haue a speciall care of your selfe in apprehendinge him for they bee resolute murderinge myndes

your worshyppes

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