The Marlowe Society

The Road to Deptford: May 1593 Timeline

The Road to Deptford: May 1593 Timeline

Deptford 1593 Timeline: 05 May | 11 May | 18 May | 20 May | 27 May | 30 May | 01 Jun |

Saturday 05 May 1593

Saturday 05 May 1593
The Dutch Church

1. The Dutch Church Libel

On the night of Saturday 05 May 1593, a notice was posted on the wall of the Dutch Church in London which triggered a series of events that led quickly to Marlowe's arrest and, by the end of the month, his death in Deptford.

The 'libel' was one of a number that appeared around the city, this one posted on the wall of the Dutch Church in Broad St in the north of the city, complaining in fairly crude and racist terms against foreign merchants.

The author of the libel made reference to Marlowe's work, signing it "per Tamburlaine", alluding to themes in The Jew of Malta by referring to the "Machiavellian merchant" and Jewish usury, and also appeared to make a direct reference to Marlowe's most recent play, The Massacre at Paris:

"We'll cut your throats, in your temples praying,
Not Paris massacre so much blood did spill
As we will do just vengeance on you all"

The authorities took particular exception to this libel, and within a week Marlowe's former room-mate, the playwright Thomas Kyd, had been arrested.

Image: Detail from Visscher's View of London (c.1616), identifying the distinctive thin spire of "the Dutch Churche" (second label from the right).


Friday 11 May 1593

Friday 11 May 1593
Title page of the 1615 Quarto of The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd

2. Kyd's Arrest

On Friday 11 May 1593 the Privy Council issued a directive to "apprehend every person so to be suspected" of responsibility for the spate of "divers lewd and malicious libels" against foreigners, especially the one "set upon the wall of the Dutch Churchyard, that doth exceed the rest in lewdness".

The libel posted six days earlier had included a number of allusions to Marlowe's work (The Jew of Malta, The Massacre at Paris, and Tamburlaine). Within hours of this directive being issued, Marlowe's former room-mate and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd was arrested. Among Kyd's papers was found "some fragments of a disputation" transcribing the Unitarian views of parish priest John Assheton from 1548. The authorities annotated this document as "vile hereticall conceipts denyinge the deity of Jhesus Christ our Savior, founde amongest the papers of Thos Kydd, prisoner".1

Kyd claimed that the paper was Marlowe's, and that it must have somehow become shuffled with his own papers "unknown to me by some occasion of our writing in one chamber two years since" (from Kyd's letter to Lord Keeper Sir John Puckering). With the allusions to his plays writ large in the Dutch Church libel, and now a potential charge of atheism arising from Kyd's claim, Marlowe was in big trouble.

Image: Title page of the 1615 Quarto of The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd's best-known play, written sometime between 1583 and 1591, but most likely before 1588, and before the time when Kyd and Marlowe were "writing in one chamber" circa 1591.

Friday 18 May 1593

Friday 18 May 1593
Chislehurst village sign with reamins of Scadbury Manor

3. A Warrant for Marlowe

On Friday 18 May 1593, Henry Maunders, "one of the messengers of her Majesties Chamber", was dispatched by the Privy Council with a warrant "to repaire to the house of Mr Thomas Walsingham in Kent, or to anie other place where he shall vnderstand Christofer Marlow to be remayning, and by vertue hereof to apprehend and bring him to the Court in his Companie. And in case of need to require ayd."2 This suggests that Marlowe was apparently known to stay, or to be staying, at Scadbury, near Chislehurst in Kent, home of Sir Thomas Walsingham (1561-1630), cousin to Sir Francis Walsingham. Sir Thomas had himself worked carrying messages in France in the early 1580's, and is also spied in the records working with Robert Poley in London as the net closes in on the Babington conspirators in 1586.

But he was also a literary patron, to Marlowe's friend Thomas Watson, as well as to Nashe and Chapman. Publisher Edward Blount dedicated the (1598 edition of Hero and Leander to Sir Thomas, describing Marlowe as "our friend, [] the man that hath been dear unto us, living an afterlife in our memory". But Sir Thomas also employed Ingram Frizer, the man who would be recorded as stabbing Marlowe to death in Deptford, in the presence of the same Robert Poley and another man Nicholas Skeres.

Image: Marlowe may have been arrested at Thomas Walsingham's manor house, Scadbury, near Chislehurst, Kent. Remains of the moated manor house are still visible in Scadbury Park, whilst Sir Thomas can be seen on the Chislehurst village sign, being knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1597.

Sunday 20 May 1593

Sunday 20 May 1593
Sir Walter Ralegh (1588)

4. The Atheist Lecture

Two days later, Marlowe duly appeared before the Privy Council. "This day [Sunday 20 May 1593] Christofer Marley of London, gent, being sent for by warrant from their Lordships, hath entered his appearance accordingly for his indemnity herein, and is commanded to give his daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary." Interestingly Marlowe was not officially under arrest, rather on bail.

As well as the allusions to his plays in the Dutch Church libel, and a potential charge of atheism arising from Kyd's claim, another document was almost certainly in the hands of the authorities by this date that corroborated the charge of atheism against Marlowe. This was an anonymous report containing "Remembraunces of wordes & matters against Ric[hard] Cholmeley" an anti-Catholic agent working for the government, but seemingly a rebellious one who is alleged to "speaketh in generall all evill of the Counsell".

Amongst this list of accusations, is one "that [Cholmeley] 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." The case against Marlowe was building.

Image: Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh ("Aetatis suae 34 An(no) 1588"), to whom it was alleged Marlowe had "read the Atheist lecture".

Sunday 27 May 1593

Sunday 27 May 1593
The Baines Note

5. The Baines Note

Now Marlowe's nemesis Richard Baines handed in a report to the authorities on Sunday 27 May 1593 entitled "A note Containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly Concerning his Damnable Judgment of Religion, and scorn of gods word". Baines and Marlowe had history. In Flushing in January 1592 they were arrested for coining and Marlowe shipped back to England in disgrace, both accusing the other "out of malice" of being a traitor.

Now Baines had his opportunity to gain revenge, and reeled off a string of accusations about Marlowe's heresies, amongst others that: "the first beginning of Religioun was only to keep men in awe"; "all protestants are Hypocriticall asses"; "if [Marlowe] 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"; "all they that loue not Tobacco & Boies were fooles"; and generally "that this Marlow doth not only hould [these views] 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." There is certainly a sense of Marlowe's swagger and humour in these quotes, but Baines is an untrustworthy agent (he had confessed to many similar accusations himself at Rheims in 1583) with a grudge to bear. Unfortunately for Marlowe, the evidence was mounting, and the authorities were unlikely to see any funny side to what were very serious allegations

Image: There is also in existence a second copy of the Baines Note made after Marlowe's death, annotated and modified. Some of the accusations are deleted, and the title has been amended to read "A note delivered on whitsun eve last of the most horrible blasphemes and damnable opinions uteryd by xtofer Marly who since whitsonday dyed a sodden & violent deathe". The author and purpose of these changes are unclear, but the document is endorsed "Copye of Marloes blasphemyes As sent her H[ighness]".

Wednesday 30 May 1593

Wednesday 30 May 1593
A 1623 Map of Deptford Strand

6. Le Recknynge

At about 10 o'clock in the morning of Wednesday 30 May 1593, Marlowe met three men Robert Poley, Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Frizer in a room at the house of Eleanor Bull on Deptford Strand (most likely a lodging house rather than the "tavern" commonly cited). With an increasing body of evidence submitted on his atheist views, Marlowe was in serious trouble and had been brought to Court a week earlier and commanded to report daily to the Council.

So what was he doing in Deptford with a government agent, a confidence trickster in the employ of the Earl of Essex, and a property speculator who shared a master in Sir Thomas Walsingham? The only account of what happened that day is the testimony of those three witnesses, recorded in the Coroner's Inquisition conducted two days later. The quartet spent the day "in quiet sort together", eating and walking in the garden. At 6pm, they had supper back in their room, after which Marlowe and Frizer "could not be at one nor agree about the payment of the sum of pence, that is, le recknynge" [the bill]. Marlowe, it was alleged, "maliciously drew the dagger of the said Ingram which was at his back, and ... gave the aforesaid Ingram two wounds on his head". "Ingram, in fear of being slain, ... struggled with the said Christopher Morley to get back from him his dagger [with which he] 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 ... the aforesaid Christopher Morley then & there instantly died".

Image: A map of Deptford from 1623 (30 years later) showing Deptford Strand and the river Thames to the north. Inconveniently, Eleanor Bull's house is not marked! The location of St Nicholas Church, where Marlowe was buried, is shown in red. The King's Shipyard is marked in the north-west corner of this map, with water gates and wharves along the river bank.

Friday 01 June 1593

Friday 01 June 1593
St Nicholas Church Deptford where a plaque marks Marlowe's reputed burial

7. The Inquest

Within 36 hours of the fatal stabbing, the inquest into Marlowe's death was conducted by William Danby, Coroner to the Royal Household on Friday 01 June 1593. He was required to officiate at inquests into deaths "within the verge", that is within a 12 mile radius surrounding the royal household or court. In fact, the court appears to have been at Nonsuch Palace at the time, which was technically just outside the verge, rather than at Greenwich as first assumed.

The inquest was held at the site of the murder, and the 16 jurors were able to view the victim's body. After hearing the testimony of the three witnesses to the stabbing, "the Jurors say upon their oath that the said Ingram killed & slew Christopher Morley on the thirtieth day of May at Deptford Strand in the room within the verge in the manner and form aforesaid in the defence and saving of his own life." Ingram Frizer was thus found not guilty on grounds of self-defence, and indeed would very quickly receive a formal pardon from Queen Elizabeth I on 28 June.

The body was taken from the inquest and buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby St Nicholas Church, the parish register recording "Christopher Marlowe slaine by ffrancis [sic] ffrezer; the 1 of Iune". The error here in Frizer's first name would lead to much misinformation, until in 1925 Leslie Hotson uncovered the original inquest document. But that document has raised as many questions as it answered, with many doubting the veracity of the testimony recorded, and leading to many conspiracy theories ranging from a government-organised assassination, to Marlowe faking his own death and sailing away from the royal dockyard to exile abroad.

Image: St Nicholas Church in Deptford: where the register records "Christopher Marlowe slaine by ffrancis ffrezer; the 1 of Iune [1593]". There is no record of where he was buried, but a modern memorial can be seen in the churchyard.

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