The Marlowe Society

Marlowe's Birth

Marlowe's Birth

2. His Parents

John Marlowe, was born in the village of Ospringe, very close to Faversham, some nine miles west of Canterbury. There is conflicting evidence regarding his age, legal documents from later in his life putting his date of birth variously between 1536 and 1543. The earliest date seems the most likely1, the same year incidentally that Faversham Abbey was granted to Sir Thomas Culpepper as part of the Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.

John Marlowe was also likely to have still been living locally at the time of Thomas Arden's murder, instigated by his wife Alice in 1551. This was the notorious case chronicled by Raphael Holinshed, and which would provide the plot and characters for the anonymous play Arden of Faversham written approximately forty years after the event. The geographical proximity, as well as certain matters of style, have led some to suggest Christopher Marlowe as the play's author.

It seems probable that Marlowe's father moved to Canterbury around the age of twenty, during the reign of Queen Mary. At some point during the financial year beginning Michaelmas (29 September) 1559, John Marlowe became apprenticed to a shoemaker named Gerard Richardson. It is possible that he had already begun learning the cobbler's trade, either in Faversham or Canterbury, for John became a freeman of Canterbury shortly after Christopher's birth, in April 1564, and an apprenticeship of just four years would be unusually short2.

Legal records from 1566 suggest John Marlowe had lived in St. George's parish since 1561-2, around the time of his wedding to Katherine Arthur at St. George's Church on 22 May 1561. Katherine was born and raised in the port of Dover on the south coast of Kent, some 18 miles from Canterbury. Her father William was not recorded as having a trade when he died in 15753, suggesting the family was far from wealthy, and possibly explaining why the wedding, somewhat unusually, did not take place in the bride's native town. John and Katherine Marlowe went on to have nine children, six of whom survived into adulthood, during a marriage that would last nearly 44 years until death did them part in 1605.

St. George's Church Tower, Canterbury before it was destroyed by German bombs in 1942

St. George's Church, Canterbury, before it was largely destroyed by German bombs in 1942. It is believed that the Marlowes lived in the house on the opposite side of St George's Street for the first ten years or so of his life. The photo on the previous page shows the surviving clock tower as it is today.