The theory that Christopher Marlowe should be seen as a spy as well as a poet gained considerable impetus in 2005 with Park Honan’s Christopher Marlowe, Poet and Spy (1). Honan’s book sought to establish Marlowe’s credentials in the world of espionage. To a considerable extent he succeeded as entries to the influential Oxford Dictionary of National Biography demonstrate. The entry on Marlowe himself, by Charles Nicholl, (2) – argues Marlowe “had been moving in Catholic circles as a spy or ‘intelligencer’…. typically (but not exclusively) under the aegis of Sir Francis Walsingham” – while the entry on Walsingham himself in the version supplied eighteen months later (3) commits to Marlowe working for the great spymaster. The three authors have no doubt that “Walsingham is now best remembered in the popular imagination for his role as spymaster, which continues to generate a certain notoriety. His casual and brief employment of Christopher Marlowe as an agent in 1587 still gives rise to implausible conspiracy theories”. Yet there is no consensus on whether Marlowe was an espionage operative, or that he ever met Francis Walsingham. The wider views that Marlowe was a protestant spy although attracted to the Catholic Religion remain controversial but attract considerable attention. Despite the work of historians over the best part of a century, since the groundbreaking publication of 1925, Marlowe scholars have not been able to make definitive judgements. Why is this?
In this paper dates are given in the old Julian Calendar – the year did not end till March 25. The year which began in January by the Gregorian New Style calendar, was 1592 but this was not in use in England which was 11 days behind the continent).
*The key points on Marlowe’s final known hours – see www.trevorfisherhistorian.com 1593 Marlowe’s disappearance.
** Sir Francis Walsingham, puritan Secretary of State in the 1580s, legendary spy catcher.
*** Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley from 1571, Lord Treasurer in the 1580s and Elizabeth 1’s key advisor since before she became Queen. His son Robert Cecil inherited the role.
**** Marlowe’s name is variously spelt. The Morley cited by the Privy Council at Cambridge is Marlowe as others with this name are not graduating that year.
Marlowe’s life was lived on the margins of late Elizabethan culture and even in the theatre left little hard evidence behind. Playwrights of this period rarely had a high profile, though Marlowe was unusually newsworthy. He generated rumours about heterodox views and activities, though until the second decade of the twentieth century there was no suggestion that he was involved in covert activities. That Marlowe might be a spy became an issue in 1925 when J Leslie Hotson published researches intending to account for Marlowe’s disappearance on May 30th 1593. (4). Hotson did not intend to suggest that the playwright had been involved in espionage. His headline discovery was an inquest report into a death in Deptford, on May 30th 1593, which Hotson showed was officially regarded as the lawful killing of the poet in an act of self defence. But Hotson also discovered a remarkable letter from the Privy Council to Cambridge University on Marlowe’s behalf which pointed to the student Marlowe being employed on government business. Hotson had no doubt this proved Marlowe had been a reliable espionage operative, and closed his monograph by commenting that leading politicians had “praised” him as a “faithful and effective secret agent” (5). This was not quite what the Privy Council letter did, but there was no question Marlowe was known to some of the most important politicians in government.
That Marlowe might be a spy became an issue in 1925 when J Leslie Hotson published researches intending to account for Marlowe’s disappearance on May 30th 1593. (4). Hotson did not intend to suggest that the playwright had been involved in espionage. His headline discovery was an inquest report into a death in Deptford, on May 30th 1593, which Hotson showed was officially regarded as the lawful killing of the poet in an act of self defence. But Hotson also discovered a remarkable letter from the Privy Council to Cambridge University on Marlowe’s behalf which pointed to the student Marlowe being employed on government business. Hotson had no doubt this proved Marlowe had been a reliable espionage operative, and closed his monograph by commenting that leading politicians had “praised” him as a “faithful and effective secret agent” (5). This was not quite what the Privy Council letter did, but there was no question Marlowe was known to some of the most important politicians in government.
Hotson put most of his effort into discussing the inquest report, but within weeks of Hotson publishing, a Cambridge student, Eugenie de Kalb published a highly critical discussion of Leslie Hotson’s interpretation of the events in Deptford*. Reviewing Hotson’s study of the official account of events for the Times Literary Supplement, De Kalb disagreed with Hotson’s acceptance of the official verdict of lawful killing, but more pertinently argued that the companions who met Marlowe in Mrs Bull’s room and garden on the day he disappeared were not part of his literary or Canterbury circles. She contended that “three of the four have been cogs…in the hidden political machinery of Elizabeth’s reign”. (6) This comment started a continuing attempt to find links between Marlowe and the secret operations of Elizabethan government. De Kalb noted that Hotson touched on the fact that Marlowe was summoned to appear before the Privy Council in 1593, the same body which had sent the letter to Cambridge in 1587, but her main argument was about the men at Deptford.
De Kalb argued Marlowe and Nicholas Skeres had a history of secret work, with Poley making the total of three of the four she saw as agents. The allegation of links with espionage did not stop at the men in the room. De Kalb also linked Thomas Walsingham as having formerly been a spy detecting the Babington plot in 1586, though he was no longer involved in the world of his cousin, the famous spymaster Francis, and it was with Thomas Walsingham that Marlowe was staying, Only Ingram Frizer, the alleged killer, had no links with the world of espionage. Robert Poley was undoubtedly an agent with years of experience in covert operations. He played a crucial role in ending the Babington Plot, and was on a mission as a courier carrying diplomatic documents when he went to Deptford for what de Kalb thought could not be a social meeting.
Yet none of those at Deptford had current espionage experience save Poley. Skeres had only a tenuous link with espionage as a follower of the Earl of Essex, then trying to build an espionage network with dubious success, though David Riggs says he was involved in the Babington plot as a ‘bit player’ (7) – and so would have been known to both Francis and Thomas Walsingham. Frizer was a confidence trickster not a spy, who was employed by Thomas Walsingham. Thomas had known Poley as both had worked on the Babington Plot in 1586, but he had retired to pursue literary interests once he inherited the mansion at Scadbury.
No link apart from the episode in Deptford has been established between Poley and Marlowe, but it is argued by Nicholls in the 2002 The Reckoning that Poley was on a government mission when he diverted to attend the meeting in Deptford, and not just as a courier of important documents as the payment warrant has an unusual covering phrase stating he was allowed flexibility on carrying out the Queen’s service (8). The inquest did not examine why the four men were meeting, it is generally assumed this was a purely social gathering, but no evidence on why they met has ever been forthcoming.
Marlowe’s more recent espionage link at Flushing neither Hotson nor De Kalb or anyone else knew in 1925. It would be half a century before another random discovery in the form of a letter from the garrison commander in the Low Countries in 1591 (os) added a new dimension to the debate. The commander, Robert Sidney, reported that he had arrested Marlowe and another man for the capital offence of forging coin and was sending them home for investigation. (9) This curious report pointed towards a covert operation, though as Sidney had no knowledge of this, if it was authorised it had to be top secret. Did this mean Marlowe had contacts in the highest level of the espionage world? Indeed, what was the world of espionage, and could Marlowe have fitted in?
The Secret Theatre
The underworld which John Le Carre once called The Secret Theatre had little glamour or prestige during the late Tudor period and to enter it meant entering a world of suspicion and risk. Intelligence was a vital government priority because the turmoil of religious conflict made covert, access to information via secret activity was essential, but spying was difficult, dangerous and badly paid.
Espionage in the Elizabethan period certainly was not a career. It is anachronistic to speak of an “Elizabethan Secret Service”, as writers such as Alison Plowden do (10). Government ministers operated loose networks run by personal whim and little overall structure. There were no equivalents to MI5 or MI6 or Special Branch. But for someone of Marlowe’s limited finances it did offer additional funds desirable to an impoverished student who then sought a precarious living in the theatre. This was an era when plays lacked copyright protection, payment was spasmodic and rewards few.
The ministers who chose to do so worked with a casualised work force existing hand to mouth. Park Honan, arguing Marlowe fitted this world, commented that “…a new man did not necessarily learn much from any officer’s chit-chat or evasions. There was no network of intercommunicating agents for him to be aware of, no training programmes, no sessions on espionage or formal means of indoctrination, and the chances are that Marlowe bided his time” (11). Honan is right that there was no formal structure or career pattern, and the men who worked covert operations had little chance to meet other agents – the terms ‘officer’ and ‘agent’ are misleading.
Yet if the nature of the business of spying has changed, the nature of the spy has not changed. Honan perceptively quoted Kim Philby, from a later age of Cambridge subversives, stating that the first duty of a double agent “is to perfect his cover story as well as his cover personality”. (12). If Marlowe was a spy, he had to have a cover story which allowed him to penetrate into the worlds his employers wanted to infiltrate. Did Marlowe have a cover story?
Covert activities constituting espionage in Elizabethan England were driven by government priority for intelligence in the religious conflicts between Protestant and Catholic. In the Elizabethan period sources of information were varied, and not always undercover. As the spying world has become less James Bond or Reilly Prince of Spies and more signals intelligence and satellite surveillance, the term ‘intelligencer’ has become more fashionable than ‘spy’, covering a mix of activities. It is appropriate for Elizabethan England, full time spies being rarities (13) In the late Tudor world. Susan Doran has noted “Walsingham** and Burghley*** had been running networks of intelligencers for more than a decade, employing respectable diplomats, merchants, artists, artists, poets and musicians who travelled widely or were based in foreign cities, and they often paid for their information out of their own pockets”. (14) Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Privy councillor, also had a network operating in the 1580s. Leicester’s stepson the Earl of Essex and Burghley’s son Robert inherited these networks and in the 1590s clashed, contributing to the downfall of the Earl.
Given the informality of arrangements in this murky world, links need to be established with a major politician if Marlowe is to be seen as a spy. The case for Marlowe being a spy must establish links with a major politician, without assuming this was Sir Francis Walsingham, the only major politician most historians know ran an espionage network.
In the 1580s, when Marlowe made his way to Cambridge and then London, the Elizabethan State’s priority was garnering information about Catholic activism in England and on the continent. Did Marlowe have the right attributes to survive in the secretive world of religious intrigue? Is it the case he was a Catholic himself? What could he offer? And what could spying offer him? Espionage was not a money rich activity. Honan states “nearly all agents were paid on a low pro rata basis for specific tasks or information… as a rule, a spy was rewarded with a signed warrant for anything between a few shillings and £30… Marlowe could expect £5 or £10 for a few weeks courier duty abroad, but nothing else unless he worked again” (15). Payment warrants for Marlowe have yet to be discovered. Unlike Robert Poley, whose payment warrants survived, Marlowe has no body of material easily available to study. Indeed, it was the very lack of material which made Hotson’s discoveries – and the later discovery of a mission in Flushing – so striking.
The problems facing researchers Marlowe’s life were first set out by Mark Eccles in 1934, in explaining why the developments which led to the state investigating Marlowe and playwright Thomas Kyd that spring were hard to research, Eccles wrote:
“Marlowe’s life has the fascination of the unknown. Such fragments of it as we do succeed in discovering only intensify the blackness of the rest. Of the six years of his prime, (ie 1587-93 TF) nothing is known beyond a few casual allusions and the charges made at the time of his arrest and death. Between the Privy Council’s letter on his behalf to the University of Cambridge in 1587 and the warrant issued for his arrest, only one definite record of Marlowe has been found. From this record we will take our start”. (16) Marlowe was not charged with anything by the Privy Council, and while writers including David Riggs (17) have supported the idea Marlowe was arrested – which he was not: to be arrested means being taken into custody- intense research still leaves Marlowe’s life shrouded in mystery. until the libellous placard placed on the wall of the Dutch church – signed Tamburlaine.
In the aftermath of the Dutch Church Libel, Marlowe’s companion Thomas Kyd was both arrested and tortured. Subversive religious literature was found in their joint lodgings and Kyd’s defence was that it belonged to Marlowe. What happened next is significant. Since the charge applied to him as much as Kyd, he should have had the same treatment – but he was allowed to roam. Kuriyama has argued “The fact that Marlowe was merely summoned than being imprisoned like his fellow playwright Thomas Kyd could be viewed as a positive rather than a negative sign” (18). Or could be proof that Marlowe was protected against heavy treatment by the state. The different treatments suggest Kyd had no favours to call in, but Marlowe did. I argued earlier that to prove espionage involement, links with powerful politicians have to be established. This episode raises just that prospect and could resolve the controversy of Marlowe’s extra curricular activities, though the Dutch Church libel episode is not about spying.
It has long been understood that the case for Marlowe as spy rests on limited foundations. Francis Walsingham’s biographer John Cooper has contended that “Marlowe’s time as a spy was brief: a few months while reading for his MA at Corpus Christi in 1584-85, and a reprise in the Dutch port of Flushing in 1592 (NS: 159l Old Style) (19). The focus is indeed on two episodes and still more, on two documents – the first from 1587 not 1584-5: though in addition the record of absences ferreted out of archival evidence at Cambridge, his spending recorded in the University accounts, and Marlowe’s ability to generate court records through falling foul of the law once he had left Cambridge are all suggestive and add to the mystery.
At Cambridge Marlowe was an impoverished student from an artisan background, without entree into politically active circles, which were invariably drawn from the gentry and other monied circles. There is no question that if he was spending more than his grant he had to have other sources of income. The need to earn money over and above the Parker grant is shown by the career of Stephen Gosson (20) like Marlowe a student from Canterbury who went to university – Oxford – on a Parker grant. He never graduated and in his polemic about drama Plays Confuted wrote that he was “pulled from the university before I was ripe” apparently because of financial pressures. However Marlowe survived and completed the six years of study needed for an MA. He does not seem to have been a sizar, the role of temporary servant to richer students used by students of restricted means to generate extra funds.
Issue 1: Marlowe at Cambridge
Marlowe’s time at Cambridge has come to be seen as the time when events brought him into contact with the world of espionage. There is widespread support for the idea the portrait of a young man now hung in Corpus Christi is of Marlowe and bought with government money, so ‘proving’ that Marlowe was a spy. However there is no certainty the picture is of Marlowe. The identification marks showing it came from Marlowe’s time at Corpus are not conclusive on who the sitter might me, cannot establish it was bought with secret funds, and raise long standing questions about the provenance of pictures. It has to be remembered that Corpus Christi college does not accept this is a picture of Marlowe. The picture has to be seen as a further mystery not evidence of any value. The Privy Council letter is totally different.
APPENDIX A: The Privy Council Letter (21)
APPENDIX A: the Privy Council Letter (21)
It is notable the letter shows that Burghley knew of Marlowe, but Walsingham did not sign and evidence Walsingham had heard his name has yet to be produced. Experts have determined this Morley was our man.
Xxxi Junii 1587 (29th June) – PRO/NA Privy Council Registers PC2/14/381. See also Acts Of the Privy Council, XV 1587-8 page 141.
Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Reames* and there to remain. Their Lordships thought good to certify that he had no such intent, but that in all his accions he had behaved himself orderlie and discreetly whereby he had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing. 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 employed as he has been in matters touching the benefit of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th’affaires he went about.
Signed the Lord Archbishop (John Whitgift), Lord Chancellor (Christopher Hatton), Lord
Tre(asur)or (William Hatton), Lord Chamberlaine (Henry Carey), and Mr Comptroller (James Crofts) *the reference is to the Catholic Seminary Rheims. Marlowe cannot have gone beyond the seas since he was still in Cambridge and wanted his MA degree. **A degree awarding ceremony at Cambridge
*the reference is to the Catholic Seminary Rheims. Marlowe cannot have gone beyond the seas since he was still in Cambridge and wanted his MA degree. **A degree awarding ceremony at Cambridge
The Privy Council letter is signed by some of the leading ministers and shows Marlowe was clearly not a conventional student. The background is that after applying for his MA degree to be awarded, supported by his college, Corpus Christi, the award had been blocked by the University and the news reached the Privy Council who responded on June 29th 1587. It is generally believed, though this is speculative, that Marlowe himself approached the Council to demand it intervene to secure the award.
The genesis of the dispute proceeded from developments in early summer 1587. In response the Privy Council, including Lord Burghley – but perhaps significantly not Francis Walsingham – wrote to the university authorities focussing on a rumour Marlowe was headed for Rheims. The key statements are “Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley**** was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Rheames and there to remain, their Lordships thought good to certify that he had no such intent”, continuing “he should be furthered in the degree he was to take this next commencement because it was not Her Majesties’ pleasure than anie one employed as he had been in matters touching the benefit of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th’affairs he went about”. Burghley was the leading member of the Privy Council, chief advisor to the Queen and Chancellor of Cambridge University, so it is not surprising Marlowe’s degree was awarded; commencement being the awarding ceremony. However the letter touched on a highly political issue: students going to Rheims.
The reference to Rheims refers to the possibility that Marlowe was going to study to be a Catholic priest. The belief he was going “to remain” meant he was not going as a tourist: he was to be resident allowing him to train as a priest. The concern was at the level of the university, not the college which had primary knowledge of Marlowe and his character. The concern of the university was generated by the knowledge that a stream of students once graduated had gone to the seminary at Rheims to become Catholic priests, which made them traitorous to the protestant regime in England. A case in point was Richard Baines, who had gone in July 1579. (22) Baines arrived as a Catholic but rebelled against Catholicism, and we will hear more about him. But there were others who did become priests making the university fear that Marlowe was aiming to do likewise.
His college was unaware of any such concerns. Kuriyama published in her documentary section the supplicat – application – for the university to award the MA degree, signed by the Master (Norgate) and Marlowe’s tutor, the College having no concerns about Marlowe’s intentions. The Privy Council wrote at the end of June, so the block was placed in the relatively short time span between supplicat – which is not dated but notes he has concluded the nine terms MA required – provided in late spring.
The Privy Council letter is short on detail, but does establish two vital facts. Firstly Marlowe had been working for the government – and secondly that his name was known to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. He was not someone Burghley would forget. But does it prove Marlowe was involved in covert activities? Naturally if Marlowe was engaged in secret activities the Privy Council would not say so. But they state he worked for the Queen.
Peter Roberts, a historian who has examined the history of Corpus Christi (23), commented “the exact nature of the service specified is not specified… the most likely scenario is that it had happened in the recent past, and news of it reached Cambridge after he had supplicated for his MA at the end of March 1587. Marlowe may also have incurred suspicion by declining to take holy orders, as was expected of scholars who took the Parker award. It is conceivable that… Marlowe had served as an informer on the activities of secret Catholics, nor abroad but in England. The Canterbury school was known to be unreliably protestant and the regime was also concerned about crypto –Catholics in Cambridge.” The central issue of the rumour that Marlowe planned to go to Rheims after he received his degree, was if he had showed Catholic sympathies, essential to gain entrance. Marlowe may have posed as a Catholic, though the Corpus management had approved Marlowe’s degree award, others who did not know him were more suspicious.
It is significant that Marlowe could invoke the Privy Council. The mystery of how he had pulling power with the highest committee in the land has not been resolved but clearly the relationship did not start in summer 1587, though the crisis broke in early summer when he had left the College.
C F Tucker Brooke (24) , argued in 1933 that “whatever unjust suspicion of Marlowe existed at Cambridge would appear to have arisen after his departure from the university, for on 31st March (1587) he seems to have been in perfectly good standing”. This comment is based on the supplicat (Appendix B) with the two documents relating to Marlowe – the 1584 application for BA, and the 1587 application for MA – supporting Marlowe. But unlike 1584 the central university administrators refused to approve. Tucker Brooke contends that Marlowe could have left Cambridge – the supplicat confirms he had finished the course. Where he was in the summer of 1587 is unknown but the one place he did not go to was Rheims. The Privy Council said so stating he did not have any ‘intent’ to go. Thus not only did he not go, but he never intended to go. Nicholl and others have searched the seminary records finding no entry for him. The theory however has attracted considerable attention.
Appendix B the supplicat
Kuriyama sets out the application form for both BA and MA degrees, the BA form being signed by his tutor and the MA by both the Master of Corpus, Robert Norgate, and his tutor Henry Rose, in the document section of her 2002 book pp201-202. These are not dated but the MA application is spring 1587 and shows that what happened to lead the university to deny Marlowe his MA happened in late spring.
Translation from the Latin
“Christopher Marley prays your honors that, having completed nine terms (after his final disputation) in which he heard all the regular lectures (not all of them, as permitted according to the statutes), together with all the opponencies, responsions and other exercises required by the royal statutes, they may suffice for him to commence in arts.
Robert Norgate, Henry Rose tutor
Something happened after Corpus Christi had signed off the supplicat approving the award. Some writers including John Cooper believe that the problems stemmed from issues in 1584-85, but evidence before 1587 has not been found. Constance Brown Kuriyama has argued “The Council often intervened in the most trivial affairs of individual students, and a threat to withhold someone’s MA degree was not trivial. Furthermore since Lord Treasurer Burghley was Chancellor of Cambridge, he was a person to whom Marlowe might logically appeal” (25). The Privy Council as a resort for student complaints seems unlikely, needs evidence, but cannot discount the fact he worked for the Queen; the Privy council letter is explicit.
The enduring mystery is how he had “done her majesty good service”, and whether the service involved covert activity. While the crisis of not having the MA awarded is the crisis of summer 1587, the chances of service to the Queen being only a matter of that summer are remote. Marlowe had to have worked for the Queen before the crisis broke. What had he been doing, and did it involve espionage?
The debate on the Privy council letter which emerged following the Hotson publication did not achieve a consensus establishing that Marlowe was a government agent engaged in covert activities, but the belief hardened. In 1928 Austin K Gray displayed complete certainty based on Hotson’s discoveries, (and drawing in Conyers Read). Gray started by asserting the proposition could not be proved, but ended the first section with the statement “after all, he was a government agent” (26) Gray’s confidence has been shared by later writers, but is not definitively proved by evidence. The patchy data from Corpus records does suggest more absences as his time at Cambridge passed, but to argue for these being exceptional and or espionage related is a different matter.
For the next half century, the short letter from the Privy Council would be pressed into service to argue for Marlowe as a spy. Nothing else emerged till in 1976 when the researcher R B Wernham demonstrated Marlowe was engaged in a highly suspicious mission in Flushing. (8 yes 8)
Issue 2 -The Flushing Episode (see appendix C- letter from Robert Sidney 26th January 1591(os) 1592 (NS)
In January 1591(os) the English Governor of Flushing, a garrison town in the Low Countries arrested Marlowe. The English had sent an army supporting Protestant rebels against the Catholic Spanish. Richard Baines, a companion or ‘chamber fellow’ of the two forgers informed the Garrison Commander, Sir Robert Sidney that Marlowe and a goldsmith were seeking to break the law. Marlowe and a goldsmith, named as Gifford Gilbert, were accused of coining – forging coin – which was petty treason, (an offence against the Crown prerogative rather than the Crown but a capital offence nonetheless). Robert Sidney, the commander, interrogated the Englishmen who denied the offence and Marlowe traded insults with the informer, Baines, both men claiming the other was planning to desert to the enemy, the Catholic Spanish. Baines and Marlowe were locked in a toxic relationship, a mystery which can be tracked through the writings of Roy Kendall, David Riggs and Constance Kuriyama (27). Sidney could not know the background of these men – though he must have seen their passports – but had to sort out who was telling the truth. Sidney believed Baines, partly because his story was credible and showed some grasp of how Marlowe had come to be in Flushing. Marlowe’s defence was the mission was only “to see the goldsmith’s conning” (cunning – skill) but there was no credibility in thinking he had travelled only to show his expertise to two men of unknown status. Coining was illegal and too dangerous to be parlour entertainment. Sidney’s priority was to sort out what these three men were doing planning a criminal act, he was not focussed on the underlying issues of why they were there in the first place. His conclusion, that they had forged several coins – “their money I have sent over unto yowr Lo:(rdship)” – but only uttered (issued) one, a dutch shilling: the plan may have been to issue more, but Baines informing stopped this happening.
Appendix C The Flushing Letter
PRO SP 84/44/60 discovered and transcribed by R B Wernham and first published in English Historical Review (1976) Vol 9, pp344-5.
(f60f) Right Honourable
Besides the prisoner Evan Flud, I have also given in charge to this bearer my ancient (1) twoe other prisoners, the one named Christofer Marly, by his profession a scholer, and the other Gifford Gilbert a goldsmith taken heer for coining, and their mony I have sent over unto yowr Lordship. The matter was revealed unto me the day after it was done, by one Ri(chard) Baines whom also my ancient shal bring unto yowr Lordship. He was theyr chamber fellow and fearing the succes, made me acquainted with all. The men being examined apart never denied anything, onely protesting that what was done was onely to se the Goldsmiths conning: and truly I ame of the opinion the poore man was onely browght in under that couler, whatever intent the other twoe had at that time. And indeed they do one accuse another to have bin the inducers of him, and to have intended to practise yt hereafter: and have as it were justified him unto me. But howsoever it hapned a dutch shilling was uttred (2), and els not any peece: and indeed I do not thinck they wold have uttred many of them: for the mettal is plain peuter and with half an eye to be discovered, Notwithstanding I thowght it fitt to send the(m) over unto yowr Lordship to take theyr trial as yow shal thinck best. For I wil not stretch my commission to deale in such matters, and much less to put them at liberty and to deliver the(m) into the towns hands being the Queens subjects, and not required neyther of this sayd town I knowe not how it would have bin liked, especially since part of that which they did counterfet was Her Ma(jesty’s) coine. The goldsmith is an eccellent worckman and if I should speake my conscience had no intent heerunto. The scholer sais himself to be very wel known both to the Earle of Northumberland and my Lord Strang. Bains and he do also accuse one another of intent to goe to the Ennemy or to Rome, both as they say of malice one to another. Hereof I thowght fitt to advertis yowr Lordship leaving the rest to their own confession and my Anciants report. And so do humbly take my leave at Flushing the 26of January 1591. (3)
Yowr honor’s very obedient to do yow service
R Sydney (f.61v)
Addressed: to the Right Honorable my Lord of Burghley, Lord Treasurer of England
Endorsed: 26 Jan. 1591 Sir Robert Sidney to my Lord. He sends over by this bearer his Auntient one Evan Loyd and 2 others Christopher Marly and Gifford Gilbert a goldsmith taken for coynage, to be tried here for that fact. There hath bene only one dutch shilling uttered, the mettall playne peuter.
- Ancient = ensign
- Uttered – meaning put into circulation
- 1591 Old style, 1592 according to our calendar
Marlowe’s visit to Flushing is was clearly a deviation from his mainline activities – he was active in intellectual and dramatic circles, claiming to be known by Lord Strang and the Earl of Northumberland. How and why did he take time off from writing and drama, to make a trip to a war zone? If he was sharing accommodation with Kyd when Marlowe had the success of The Jew of Malta, staged by Lord Strange’s company, but was short of money (28) , he may have plotted the mission to make money in a scheme involving taking a goldsmith with him to Flushing. If this was simply a criminal activity, an attempt to make money, the need to get passports and the difficulty of operating in a war zone suggest otherwise. The goldsmith would need bullion to smelt down. Where would the raw material come from?
It is mysterious why Marlowe is in the Low Countries in mid Winter, but even odder why a goldsmith should be in a war zone with little demand for his expertise. The two agents are said to be in conflict over who had involved the goldsmith – “they do one accuse another to have been the inducers of him” as Sidney wrote, but more than verbal encouragement was needed to secure co-operation for an illegal act in a foreign country, powerful supporters had to be involved. If the aim of the Flushing mission was to produce coin, neither Marlowe nor Baines had metallurgical skills, so Gilbert was there by design. How did he become involved in the operation? While there is no evidence on how he was involved, it is very odd that his name was given as Gifford Gilbert, which several writers have noted is the reversal of Gilbert Gifford, Walsingham’s deceased key operator in trapping Mary Queen of Scots. Perhaps a made up name, on the spur of the moment? Nicholl did try to find a connection with someone who could have been in Flushing in 1591, writing he found in the records a “Bartholomew Gilbert, also a goldsmith… may be related to the Flushing goldsmith” (29) as he served a term of imprisonment in 1594.
Sidney does not see the Flushing goldsmith as a key player, but sees him as an honest worker who was not a key mover compared to Baines and Marlowe. Only one coin had been made, and Sidney wrote to Burghley this was almost “with a half eye to be discovered”. Sidney thought the goldsmith was being manipulated by the other two men and possibly Baines had decided to forestall putting forged coin into circulation. Sidney, clearly nonplussed was not willing to take responsibility – the Dutch authorities were already restless at the English sending troops. He understood the barely veiled threat from Marlowe that he was known to the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Strang (Strange) which posed a risk of annoying members of the nobility – so Sidney passed the buck to Lord Burghley, sending Gilbert back to England with Marlowe to be dealt with by the Lord Treasurer.
Once Marlowe and the goldsmith were sent home, the letter has served its purpose, but the
turn of events has its own logic. It is remarkable that historians have generally failed to understand coining carried the death penalty. One who did was Charles Nicholl, who realised coining was a capital offence when he wrote the later version of The Reckoning (2002). In this (30) he quotes the poet Thomas Lodge on coiners in the lines
“When other subtle shifts do fail
They fall to coining, & from thence by course
Through hempen windows learn to shake their tail”.
‘Hempen windows’ means the hangman’s noose. The brutal fact facing Marlowe as he went back to England arrested and probably in chains, was that he faced execution. The most mysterious event of all the mysterious events which happened to him was about to happen. Marlowe was sent back to be interrogated by Burghley – no record of which has been found. It is significant that Nicholl quotes a verbatim interview by Burghley of a Catholic captured at Flushing on 23rd December 1592 some months after Marlowe: Flushing was so important to the English that interrogation by the 70 year old Lord Burghley (31) was a priority. Marlowe could not have escaped interview by the Lord Treasurer, the Queen’s main advisor for over forty years. And then nothing happened: Marlowe is released.
Charles Nicholl, the writer who has done most to probe what happened when the prisoners arrived back in England, records that on the back of the letter there is a docket which records that Marlowe and Gilbert were ‘taken for coinage’ and were sent over ‘to be tried here for that fact’ written by one of Burghley’s secretaries (31 yes 31). who seems to have expected prosecution of an offence carrying a capital charge. This did not happen, though Burghley as chief minister always followed events abroad closely. Nicholl quotes a letter from a Catholic quoting another Catholic Thomas Dawbney, who was brought back from Flushing some months later, and was interrogated by Burghley. It is very likely the Lord Treasurer would interview Marlowe himself, though no evidence of this has been discovered. Charles Nicholl found a warrant for the expenses of David Lloyd, Sidney’s ensign, for bringing letters from Flushing and “three prisoners committed to his charge” (32). Nicholl states that the warrant was signed by Burghley himself.
The implication is that he knew Marlowe was one of the three men sent to England once he had received Sidney’s letter, as the issue of why Marlowe was not prosecuted for forgery lies at the heart of why Marlowe was in Flushing, and whether he was operating as a freelance with a personal (criminal) agenda, or as an approved agent on a government mission – which however was so secret that the garrison commander had not been informed. Unlike the questions that are raised by the Privy Council letter to Cambridge, there is no obvious authorisation by the state: why the secrecy? As with Sherlock Holmes and the Dog that Did Not Bark (33), Burghley’s inaction is a message which speaks volumes. By May Marlowe is tangling with the local constable in Holywell Street in Shoreditch, small beer compared to being excused a capital offence. As would happen with the conflicts two years later which destroyed Kyd, Marlowe was leading a privileged life. Was this because he was still working for the government?
Resume: Setting the Letters in Context
(a)- Appendix A – the Privy Council letter to Cambridge University.
The letter from the Privy Council has been probed intensively, but the core issue has remained obscure – why did Cambridge University authorities block the award of Marlowe’s MA when the college had signed the form of authorisation, meaning the obstacles to awarding the degree were not academic?
However the process of awarding a degree required something more than academic proficiency – it required a pledge of allegiance to the Queen as head of the Church of England. The universities were open to Catholics, but they could not get a degree unless they swore the oath of allegiance to the Crown before Commencement, and Catholics habitually refused to do so so left university without degrees A notable example was Robert Catesby, the leader of the Gunpowder plot, who did not take the oath and did not get a degree. As Marlowe did, he could not be a Catholic. The point of decision was taking the oath of allegiance to the Queen. Marlowe clearly did so.
Yet the belief Marlowe was a Catholic surfaces repeatedly in sketches of Marlowe’s defining characteristics at this stage in his career, which is assumed to have forced action by the authorities, the university being fearful of becoming a staging post for enemies of the Elizabethan government. Nicholl endorses this possibility in his ODNB entry discussing the letter arguing:
“This document seems to offer two contradictory accounts of Marlowe’s behaviour….reports circulating at Cambridge that he is a militant young Catholic intending to defect…. on the other hand, there is the council’s assertion that he really had ‘no such intent’…” (emphasis added) (34)
Nicholl glosses one interpretation that “Marlowe had been moving in Catholic circles as a spy or intelligencer for the government, an activity increasingly common in the 1580s, typically (but not exclusively under the aegis of Sir Francis Walsingham”. (2 yes 2) It is certainly possible Marlowe moved in Catholic circles, and later he was to be friendly with Thomas Watson, who was a Catholic, but something happened in the summer of 1587 which triggered action by the university. While he may not yet have taken the oath the very fact that the Privy Council supported him showed they had every expectation he would do so. This summer was only a year away from the expected Spanish Armada. The Privy council was not going to support a man who might convert to a religion which was hostile and intent on imposing that religion through a successful invasion force if the Armada landed.
Do reports on Marlowe’s Catholicism exist? Hardly in what the Privy Council writes, but even if he was a Catholic it is unlikely the university authorities refusing the degree would have any effect. It is unlikely that they could stop Marlowe going abroad if he chose to go. Cambridge, unlike the government, had no powers of arrest.
It is more relevant that Marlowe refused to take holy orders as the Parker regulations required. We do not know the grounds Cambridge decided to block the award: only examination of the university records could show the reason. However it is clear that Marlowe refused to take holy orders and enter the Church of England, but did take the oath of allegiance. Not taking holy orders would have upset the authorities as he had had a Parker grant – Parker having being Archbishop of Canterbury. Concern about Marlowe’s attitude to the Church of England, not the Roman Catholic Church, has a greater likelihood to have induced the university authorities to put a block on his award. Seeking to show Marlowe went to a Catholic seminary is a red herring.
If this is accepted, the issue of what work he had done for the government is narrowed to two options. Either he was spying on Catholic students at Cambridge, or he was a courier, or both. I incline to the courier theory, in part because Thomas Watson was a courier and a close friend- indeed, the man who struck the fatal blow in the Hog Lane brawl. In addition, the Massacre of Paris seems to show a familiarity with Parisian geography which could only have been acquired if he was paid to visit the town. This is the position Park Honan adopted, (35) arguing that in the play “he relies not only on printed texts, but, in its second part, on ‘hearsay’ evidence evidently picked up in France”. While this is speculative, courier work would be easy for Marlowe to take up, along with spying on fellow students. The two options here are the only ones that are worth considering.
If Marlowe was spying on other students, this could extend into visits to Canterbury. The King’s schools is often thought to have Catholic sympathies and the town generally was an issue for the government, being crucial to the defence of Kent, the most likely place for a Spanish landing. Being an informer is not glamorous and it is the case that payment warrants are yet to be found for Marlowe. As Poley does have payment warrants for courier work, this suggests that Marlowe was not a courier, but there is no conclusive evidence either way, though it is clear the Privy Council knew Marlowe was hard working and reliable. This may be relevant in considering the Flushing incident where the Sidney letter gives a view of the episode without the events before and after.
(b) Appendix B the letter from Sir Robert Sidney to Burghley 26th January 1591 (old style)
Sidney is sending to Lord Burghley “by his ancient” (ensign) “two other prisoners” in addition to one Evan Fludd detained under a different charge. Those being sent are Marlowe and Gilbert who have been “taken here for coining”. It is inconceivable that the three men arrived in the town in the middle of a war for recreation and indulged in an illegal activity just to see the goldsmith’s ‘conning’ (meaning skill). A front line garrison was an ideal location to attempt coining due to the unsettled nature of the population, but we do not know what took Marlowe and Baines to Flushing.
Given the difficulties in finding evidence on Marlowe’s movements and actions in 1590 and 1591, it is unlikely proof of what took him abroad can be found. The discovery of the Sidney letter in the Public Record Office in 1976, in the SP84 State Papers Holland file, may suggest more can be found there, but Sidney was not briefed on the activities of Baines and Marlowe and it is unlikely he wrote more. The most productive line of research may be to study how intelligence was being gathered after the death of Walsingham in 1590, and the resources available. Marlowe and Baines were not obviously agents – Alford has no index reference to Baines in his massive study of spying, and has only a vague reference to Marlowe, namely “for Marlowe the evidence of secret service is sketchy and circumstantial” (36) – but perhaps freelancers without a background in espionage fitted the bill. If the English wanted the kind of intelligence about Spanish invasion plans that they had had for the Armada of 1588 – Alford relates that Walsingham had been sent the order of the Armada from a diplomat, Sir Anthony Standen, by way of a Flemish valet in the service of a Spanish general (37) they would need to improvise. Although the 1588 Armada was the headline confrontation, several more were planned in the 1590s meaning preparation of naval and land defences was repeatedly necessary – Thomas Walsingham would secure his knighthood in 1596 by raising the militia in the vital county of Kent –and knowing the plans of the Spanish was vital.
The demand for intelligence was harder to meet after the deaths of Walsingham and Leicester two years earlier, meaning the networks they ran disintegrated. The Queen was reluctant to pay for spies, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 having lowered the immediate threat of invasion and Honan suggests that while spying continued “individual councillors (ie Privy Councillors TF) paid out of pocket for intelligence gathering while Burghley fretted over costs” (38). But the Lord Treasurer also ran his own network, and while there has been a lack of evidence Marlowe was paid for missions, perhaps scrutiny of the accounts of the Cecil family could prove productive?
Inside knowledge of the Spanish plans in the Low Countries involved knowing what Catholic dissidents were planning after the defection to the enemy of Sir William Stanley in 1587 taking two thirds of his troops. Stanley was an implacable advocate of the murder of Elizabeth 1, allegedly working with Catholic rebels at home. (39) In the winter of 1591-92 (ns) rumours of a new Ridolfi style plot – domestic rebellion backed by Spanish invasion – reached London. When Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned up to 1587 Elizabeth’s government had close contact with the key Catholic player, Strange could not be confined as he was not actively subversive, making knowledge of Catholic plots harder to track.
In his Oxford Dictionary entry on Marlowe, Nicholls suggests that as Marlowe claimed to know Lord Strange, who had Catholic leanings and royal blood, and was a candidate for the English throne if Elizabeth were assassinated in a Catholic uprising, he night have been employed to infiltrate the camp of Strange’s cousin, Sir William Stanley, whose exile group “was a target for spies and infiltrators, and possibly Marlowe was one of these” (40). He mentions the Stanley connection in chapter 24 of the 2002 version of The Reckoning, and this is worth further investigation. Certainly Stanley was a key Catholic conspirator with links both sides of the English channel. Alford in his 2011 article names Stanley as first among “the leading Catholic émigrés and exiles of the dangerous years of the 1590s” (41) naming the spy working in the Low Countries on Stanley and his plotting as none other than Robert Poley. Poley was employed in fishing for information – not something one man could do successfully. Was this the reason Marlowe went to Flushing, with coining an attempt to reach and bribe Catholic rebels?
Charles Nicholl comes close to arguing this case in the 2002 version of his book The Reckoning, suggesting the attempt at coining was not criminal but political as Burghley and his son Robert Cecil, alarmed by a letter carried by an intercepted Catholic priest, John Cycell, had turned to Marlowe. After discussing the ramifications of the Flushing episode, Nicholl argued “we arrive at conspiracy, rather than simple criminality… I believe he (Marlowe TF) is now at work again, a Cecil projector within the court of Lord Strange, and that this is what breaks to the surface in Flushing in 1592” (42).
Focussing on Marlowe does not account for the involvement of Baines and Gilbert Gifford, Nicholl does not speculate on their role. Unlike Cambridge, where Marlowe was a lone individual with only his personal actions to account for, there are three players and this complexity has to be addressed. Nicholl chooses not to do so, having nothing to say about the Goldsmith and seeing Baines’ conflict with Marlowe as a mere reflex of a personality clash.
The major question raised by Nicholl is why, if Marlowe were employed by the Cecils, he did not use the fact to exonerate himself. Nicholls has several answers, the most important being that Marlowe did not have “the all important warranty which would prove it” (42 yes 42) which only raises more questions. If employed by the Cecils, why was this unofficial? Clearly Sidney did not know about any mission, and if Marlowe kept quiet, he was risking summary punishment under martial law, which happened to another Burghley agent, Ralph Birkinshaw who had his ears cut off. But this did not happen to Marlowe and he escaped scot free. Nicholl has no explanation for what Marlowe is doing in Flushing, admitting “Whether Flushing was his only destination, or whether he was en route to or from other places in the Netherlands, we do not know” and that “I can find nothing about Gilbert”. (43)
Of the other three major authors to have published on Marlowe in the twentyfirst century, and have dealt with the Flushing episode Professor Kuriyama has nothing to say about the goldsmith or an attempt to reach Stanley’s Catholic rebels. She accepts Baines and Marlowe were agents, and possibly their business would involve counterfeiting writing “Baines was a government agent like Marlowe, he was presumably in Flushing on business, so why would Baines inform on Marlowe and abort the operation, and incense his superiors?” (44). She has no discussion of what their superiors might want. Kuriyama neglects to examine why Marlowe was in Flushing with a goldsmith.
Honan sees the relationship of Marlowe and the goldsmith as already prepared, with Baines accidentally falling in with the two – why he was in Flushing he does not examine – and “Sooner or later Baines posed a distinct problem for his chambermates… he might be very dangerous. The throttling of Baines… did not seem a viable option: and how to get rid of a corpse may not have been included in the Cecils’ instructions (45) a statement which like Nicholls assumes the mission had been approved by the de facto controllers of government activities.
The reasons for the mission are not discussed at length, Honan only hinting that Marlowe
was seeking to offer the goldsmith – and thus coining – to the Catholics but “Marlowe faced some difficulties: If he meant to reach the Brussels group, he had to advertise Gilbert’s skills discreetly… (and that TF) …in the enemy’s zone in Brussels, Sir William Stanley was little more than a figurehead” (46). Honan unusually does not see Stanley as having an important role to play and the objective of setting Marlowe to reach the Catholics in Brussels is not explained, but Honan is firm in his belief Marlowe and Gilbert were agents employed by Burghley.
This view is shared by David Riggs, whose sketch of the episode in his chapter 13 (47) covers the known facts clearly, but does not explain why the three men behaved as they did. He assumes that Marlowe’s passport was checked by Sidney and joined up with the other two “ When and how this trio came together is unknown” but that the Stanley plots could be a reason for Baines and Marlowe being in Flushing, to gain information from the Catholic rebels. Riggs argues “the counterfeiting scheme brings Marlowe a step closer to the Stanley conspirators at Brussels and Nijmegen” and Marlowe is “supposed to go to the enemy” (48) but Baines gets cold feet and brings the garrison commander to stop Marlowe working. After a brief unrelated discussion that Marlowe was looking for a publication for a seditious book, perhaps the one Kyd was to get in trouble for two years later, Riggs finishes by noting when Marlowe was sent to Burghley “Burghley had the authority to hang him” (49) but he is let free. Riggs concludes that Burghley had decided to hold both Baines and Marlowe in reserve – without providing any evidence for Baines being one of his agents. Marlowe is assumed to be an agent of the Cecils but again without evidence. We are back at the problem set out by Nicholl that if Marlowe was an agent – he lacked the warrant which would protect him from summary justice by the garrison commander, which could be savage indeed.
The Balance Of Probabilities
A final answer to whether Marlowe’s extra curricular activities can be seen as spying cannot be provided on the basis of the evidence currently available. It is clear that he was employed by the government while a student, and on the balance of probabilities his expedition to Flushing was a political not a criminal excursion, as he was breaking the law but was not prosecuted: Burghley released him, but this was an unofficial mission – the garrison commander had no knowledge of why he and the goldsmith had arrived. But the most important lesson of this survey is that if Marlowe had a controller, the name of Lord Burghley comes into focus time and again.
Riggs is perceptive in seeing “When Marlowe appears in government archives he is dealing with Burghley or his agents, not with Walsingham” (50). This observation is true for both the major documents surveyed in this paper. In 1587 Burghley signs the letter to Cambridge. After Flushing Marlowe is sent home to be interrogated by Burghley. Walsingham is not in the frame when decisions have to be made about Christopher Marlowe, but Burghley most certainly is, and his presence suggests a way to cope with the lack of payment dockets for Marlowe’s assignments, and lack of evidence for his activities, both of which could be privately organised. Only research into the private papers of the Cecil family and other archives could test that hypothesis. But it is clear Burghley had heard the name – there is no such certainty with Francis Walsingham who after his death in 1590 had no further part to play anyway. As a controller, Lord Burghley is by far the more plausible candidate. Without more archival research, this remains unproven. It is possible that there was contact with leading politicians after Marlowe received his degree, having proved he was reliable – but reliable in what? What counts as spying?
The service for the Queen and most likely route into payments from the state for a student at Cambridge would be spying on fellow students, and this could be supplemented in his MA years by work as a courier, if he had travel experience and some languages – there being a French exile community in Canterbury he is likely to have some spoken French which would make him employable in the same work as Watson whether or not Watson made the introduction. Watson met Walsingham in Paris,but there is no indication Marlowe ever met Francis Walsingham. The fact that Marlowe survived Flushing does not prove he was successful in the world of espionage – Riggs suggests Burghley kept him back to attempt to penetrate the Stanley conspiracy (51) but his cover had been blown and Honan is right that he had to face “the possibility that he had lost his chances as an agent” (52). Marlowe’s brief career as a spy was over. How important had it been?
It is perhaps most useful to study Marlowe’s activities in comparision with known operators in the murky world of counter-intelligence. The approach of Stephen Alford in his comprehensive study THE WATCHERS (53) surveys the whole range of espionage activities across Elizabeth’s reign. He compares Marlowe with Robert Poley who is undoubtedly a spy – and is unusually long serving in a short lived profession. Poley’s first sighting as a spy is Junw 1585, working for Leicester. The last payment is September 5th 1601, for Robert Cecil. Thus he worked for all three networks including Walsingham’s. Alford’s careful analysis of the data concludes that as an espionage agent Marlowe was hardly a player, but Robert Poley – the fourth man in the room in Deptford – certainly was. He gives Marlowe only 3 index entries but Poley 15- and when he contrasts the two , his verdict is compelling. He argues “Where for Marlowe the evidence of secret service is sketchy and circumstantial, for the unliterary Poley it is overwhelming. There is evidence of 26 missions in 13 years, with Poley having his own ciphers and a secret postal address in Antwerp. And yet “he was a teller of tales, something of a conman and a bully and an accomplished liar… Poley was cunning, mercurial and dangerously persuasive. But perhaps these were precisely the skills his masters needed him to employ… certainly Sir Robert Cecil kept him on the payroll till 1601.” (54) There has never been any doubt Poley was a spy: and he was a very successful one. Marlowe was also a spy, but success escaped him. As a spy he was someone who dabbled, perhaps to earn a little extra income, but when he went beyond courier work, then he was out of his depth. That may be the lesson to be taken from his work at Cambridge and at Flushing.
The attempt to see Marlowe as a spy – someone deeply immersed in the world of espionage is influenced by the notion that spying was glamorous and spiced with danger. The reality was very different and while Marlowe did flirt with danger, he neither had the skills of a Robert Poley to survive in this world nor the ability which Thomas Watson had, to realise when he was out of his depth and move on. Marlowe has come to be seen as logically part of the world of Francis Walsingham because the spycatcher has an aura, so this is held to mean they must have been in contact. The less charismatic William Cecil, Lord Burghley, appears far more regularly in the records as knowing Marlowe. It is time to see Marlowe as Burghley would have seen him, as a technician without glamour delivering on a mission carrying an investment. At Cambridge, Marlowe gave satisfaction and the Privy Council said so. For the last four years of his known life, the story is very different. After Flushing, the 16 months which Kuriyama rightly saw as being so markedly different that they constitute “the apparent shift in his behaviour” (55) can only be understood as Marlowe lived them as someone who had failed as a spy and lived on the edge, increasingly of concern to the authorities.
Yet did he fail in the final analysis? Honan hints that Poley’s mission which covered the Deptford incident is unusual and has a special phrase in the payment warrant saying he was him to take time off while being paid, which Nicholl also noted. Honan goes on to say
“The Cecil’s had evidently requested something special, in all likelihood that he prepare Marlowe for work. A plan to send the poet into Scotland had been mooted: Kyd suggests as much in his final allegation to the Lord Keeper” (56)
Honan is right, Kyd had discussed Marlowe’s willingness to consider going to Scotland where Kyd thought Roydon had gone: Roydon was a friend of Marlowe, who had served on an espionage mission to Prague who had also been bilked by Skeres for the sum of £150. There are unexplored links between Marlowe’s circle and the events at Deptford. What happened to bring Poley and Skeres and Marlowe into the room in Deptford is another topic: but possibly it is the last episode which can be seen as involvement in spying. The cultural significance of Marlowe – which is far from exclusively as a writer – does not lie in the world of espionage. But he was, as many writers in the twentieth century also showed, adept at dabbling in the world of covert activity. In this, Marlowe poses the question less whether he was a spy, but how far a freelance agent with other major interests could take on the role of a spy as and when it was offered to him.
Trevor Fisher 20 9 21
(1)-Park Honan, Christopher Marlowe, Poet and Spy (Oxford 2005), chapter 5 addresses the issue of covert activities under the heading Espionage.
(2) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) entry on Christopher Marlowe, by Charles Nicholl, 3rd January 2008. Section on “Government service c1585-87”- both the statement and the dates are questionable.
(3) ODND entry on Sir Francis Walsingham, Simon Adams, Alan Bryson and Mitchell Leimon, 21st May 2009.
(4) Hotson’s pamphlet was Death of Christopher Marlowe, J Leslie Hotson, London Nonsuch Press, Cambridge (USA) Harvard University Press, 1925
(5) Hotson, op cit, p67.
(6) Eugenie de Kalb, a graduate student studying Marlowe at Cambridge, in the Times Literary Supplement for May 21st 1925 reviewed the Hotson analysis of the events involving Marlowe in Deptford on May 30th 1593,– two months after Leslie Hotson had published – criticised the Coroner’s inquest and made connections between three men in the room and covert activities, in her view only the alleged killer Ingram Frizer was not a spy.
(7) David Riggs The World of Christopher Marlowe Faber and Faber (2004) states Skeres was a bit player in the Babington Conspiracy on p152.
(8) Charles Nicholl The Reckoning pp36-37 Vintage Books Revised edition 2002~
(9) The letter was discovered by R B Wernham and first published, with a critique, in the English Historical Review (1976) Vol 91 pp344-5 – Nicholl 2002 states in the uncatalogued recesses of the SP84 state papers Holland in the PRO. P279
(10) Alison Plowden, The Elizabethan Secret Service, Harvester Wheatsheaf, St Martin’s Press 1991
(11) Honan 2005 pp121- 122. He then discusses the Walsingham operation. pp122-130 arguing Marlowe worked for Walsingham(12) Honan 2005 p270. Quotes Philby My Silent War 1968 p154
(13) According to Alan Haynes Invisible Power Alan Sutton 1992 p97 in September 1592 Robert Poley went “twice through Canterbury at a time when Marlowe and Paul Ivey, the fortifications engineer and periodic intelligencer (ie spy TF) were both in the town”. Poley was an established, full time agent, Marlowe and Ivey had other strings to their financial bow but were willing to handle secret communications. Marlowe is not known to have met Poley at this time. Reilly Prince of Spies is a novelistic take on the career of Sidney Reilly, the real life model for Bond.
(14) Susan Doran Elizabeth’s Circle 2015-18 p270. (15) Honan on payment p127
(16) Mark Eccles Christopher Marlowe in London, Harvard 1934, Octagon New York 1967, p4.
(17) Riggs op cit p152- Riggs also alleges the Baines note itemised Marlowe’s ‘crimes’
(18) Kuriyama op cit p3 (19) John Cooper, The Queen’s Agent, Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth 1, Faber & Faber 2012, p179\
(20) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry on Stephen Gosson, Arthur F Kinney(21) Appendix A- given by Francis Brown Kuriyama in Christopher Marlowe, a Renaissance Life, Cornell 2010 pp202-03, from the Acts of the Privy Council.
(22) David Riggs, 2004 op cit p130
(23) Peter R Roberts, Christopher Marlowe at Corpus, IN Pelican The magazine of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, issue 26 – Easter 2014 p28
(24) C F Tucker Brooke, The Life of Marlowe and the Tragedy of Dido Queen of Carthage, London 1933 p20
(25) Constance Brown Kuriyama Christopher Marlowe, A Renaissance Life Cornell 2010 p7
(26) Austin K Gray, Some Observations on Christopher Marlowe, Government Agent, FMLA Sep 1928, Vol 43, No 3, pp682-700. Published by the Modern Language Association. Read is drawn in though his studies of Walsingham had no connection with Marlowe.
(27) Roy Kendall Christopher Marlowe & Richard Baines, Journeys through the Elizabethan Underworld, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004. David Riggs op cit 130-138 and Kuriyama 2002, pp64-69
(28) Honan 2005 pp241-2. Honan argues money was drying up, especially from Thomas Walsingham.
(29) Nicholl 2002 p281
(30) Nicholl 2002 p283 Poem A fig for Momus
(31) Nicholl 2002 p284
(32) Nicholl 2002 p285
(33) The quote is from the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Silver Blaze. The crucial passage is “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” “To the curious incident of the dog in the night time”. “The dog did nothing in the night time”. “That is the curious incident”. (34) Nicholl ODNB 2008 section Government Service c1585-1587 Nicholls cites 1585 as the year working for the Queen began. On what evidence?
(35) Honan 2005 p147 “The fact his payments were not recorded indicates what he did was secretive… … dire lack of couriers.. signs he was in France and the lowlands” What signs?
OMIT Nicholl p278 NOTE EXCELLENT DESCRIPTION OF TOWN IN WAR
(36) Alford, Stephen The Watchers, Allan Lane 2012, p317
(37) Alford, Some Elizabethan Spies in the Office of Sir Francis Walsingham, IN Diplomacy and Modern Culture, ed Robyn Adams & Rosanna Cox, Palgrave Macmillan 2011 p48
(38) Honan 2005 pp241-242
(39) For Stanley’s mission see Nicholl 2002 pp273-277
(40) Nicholl, ODNB entry on Marlowe, 2008
(41) Alford 2011page 53.
(42) Nicholl, 2002 p294
(43) Nicholl 2002 p281
(44) Kuriyama 2002 p108
(45) Honan 2005 pp269-270
(46) Honan 2005 p271
(47) Riggs 2004 pp 273-279 gives the episode in full
(48) Riggs 2004 p277
(49) Riggs 2004 p279
(50) Riggs 2004 p181
(51) Riggs 2004 p279
(52) Honan 2005 p281
(53) Stephen Alford, The Watchers, A secret history of the reign of Elizabeth 1, Allen Lane 2012, Penguin 2013(54) Alford op cit p317
(55) Kuriyama 2002 p3
(56) Honan 2005 p345