The Marlowe Society

Death in Deptford

Death in Deptford

5. A Fight Over The Bill?

The Inquisition report was signed by William Danby, coroner to the royal household, because the murder had been committed "within the verge" – that is, within twelve miles of the Queen's presence – and she was then in residence at her favourite palace of Nonsuch in Surrey, about ten miles from Deptford. This meant that the royal coroner took precedence over the local coroner.

With his death now officially recorded, the body of Christopher Marlowe was hurriedly buried in an unmarked grave in St. Nicholas churchyard, Deptford.

Add picture of Scadbury here.
Christopher Marlowe was recorded in the register as being buried at St. Nicholas Church, Deptford on 01 June 1593, as a plaque on the churchyard wall commemorates.

Ingram Frizer went to prison to await the Queen's pardon, which arrived in the extraordinarily brief space of twenty-eight days – probably the shortest on record! On his release, a free man, Frizer immediately returned to the service of his master, Thomas Walsingham, whose dear friend and "admired poet" he had just murdered! He remained in the service of Walsingham for the rest of his life.

So just how plausible is the conclusion of the Inquisition that this was an accidental killing over "le recknynge"?

The details and cicumstances of Marlowe's death remained undiscovered until 1925, though lurid and far-fetched accounts did start to appear in the late 1590s. The details of the Inquisition clearly passed from the Queen's Coroner to the Queen herself and her Privy Council, so these details will have become known to a select circle within a few days. How much became known to Marlowe's friends and associates in the world of the theatre and espionage, and in the so-called School of Night, is much more uncertain, though the fact of Marlowe's death was certainly known, for instance, to the dramatist George Peele, before the end of June 1593.

If we assume Frizer's story to be true we are, therefore, following the lead of such Elizabethan contemporaries who knew the details, and the twentieth century readers and admirers of Leslie Hotson.

But the story takes some swallowing.

Frizer had a known record as a liar, and here he had every motive to lie, for he was on trial for his life. Moreover a true and trusty servant would have been expected to guard his master's guest's life with his own. Moreover the record of Skeres and Poley as spies and dissimulators indicates that their evidence, in a modern court of law, would be regarded with grave suspicion.

The whole day's business makes little sense to modern eyes, and the details of the fight are totally inane.

The suggestion of an "accidental" killing presupposes a drunken brawl, and the question of paying the bill seems of total insignificance beside the issues of impending imprisonment, trial, torture and horrific death, which were awaiting Marlowe on the morrow.