Christopher Marlowe's patron and benefactor was Thomas Walsingham, the younger cousin of Sir Francis Walsingham, the powerful creator of Queen Elizabeth's spy network. Thomas was also an agent in Her Majesty's Secret Service. According to Samuel Blumenfeld, in his The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, "It is very likely that when Marlowe was recruited into the service [in 1584, at the age of 20] he fell under the guidance of a control, that is, a seasoned and experienced member who would teach him the ropes and give him instructions from Sir Francis. Who was that control? It could have been Thomas Walsingham, cousin of Sir Francis, who since 1581 had been a courier, conveying letters from the English ambassador in Paris to the Queen in London." Of course, Francis Walsingham's espionage network was vital to Elizabeth's survival because of the continuing Catholic threat to the throne, and Marlowe was the ideal candidate to penetrate the English Catholic seminary of Rheims, for example, given that he had trained for a career in the Holy Orders while at Cambridge. It should also be noted that when Marlowe was set to be indicted by the Privy Council on a host of questionable charges--atheism, blasphemy, etc--in May 1593, he was staying at the home of Thomas Walsingham, as the arrest warrant shows.
Marlowe traveled in circles of intrigue. His membership in the Queen's espionage ring and close friendship with the well-connected Thomas Walsingham may certainly help explain how his phony murder, identity change, etc. could have been pulled off in the first place.
Simply put, because Marlowe was a valuable spy, his handlers had to protect him and send him underground before things spiraled out of control with a conviction and possible execution.
Coming next: more of Marlowe's friends in high places!
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008
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