Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Nicholas Faunt & Anthony Bacon: a question for 2007 Hoffman Prize winner Peter Farey

Q: Peter, you've studied intelligence agent Anthony Bacon (brother of Francis Bacon) very closely - and I'd like to refer all my readers to your excellent essay, "Le Doux's Coffre, But Whose Papers?" - so I have to ask you about John Baker's claim that Nicholas Faunt, an agent for Anthony Bacon, met Marlowe in Dover after Marlowe's alleged staged death on May 30, 1593.

Peter: Ah yes, I remember being very excited about Nicholas Faunt's letter when I first came across it in the Bacon Papers way back in 1995! In fact, I wrote to Dolly Wraight about it at the time. However, I think that John's remarks concerning Nicholas Faunt's presence in Dover at the time of Marlowe's alleged death need to be put in context.

The catholic Anthony Standen, a former servant of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, had been in exile on the continent ever since Darnley's death and Mary Stuart's imprisonment, for much of the time having provided intelligence (as a sort of "double agent") first for Sir Francis Walsingham and later Lord Burghley. He was also a good friend of Anthony Bacon, who had helped him escape from prison when they were both in Bordeaux, and after Bacon's return to England in early 1592 was therefore also a source of intelligence for the Earl of Essex, for whom Bacon was now working.

On 23rd May, 1593 (to make things easier I'll use the "English" calendar throughout) Standen wrote apparently out of the blue to Bacon, saying that he was now in Calais having just arrived from Spain, and was hoping to return to England in the guise of a Frenchman (Monsieur La Faye and André Sandal had been past identities). He asked for somewhere to stay in England, and for someone to meet him upon his arrival in Dover with instructions to accompany him to London. He had apparently sent a similar request to Lord Burghley. He said that he would remain in Calais until he received a reply (LPL Bacon Papers MS.649 f.175). Bacon wrote back on the 26th (MS.649 f.123), saying how delighted he was to hear this news, and that Nicholas Faunt (apparently representing Burghley too) would be his contact in Dover.

Faunt arrived there on Monday morning, 28th May, dispatching a message (and money) to Standen within 4 hours of his arrival. He sent this by hand of a citizen of Calais whose trustworthiness he had checked, helped by the "Lieutenant" of Dover, with local people to whom he was well known (MS.649 f.140). Although Standen did in fact write back thanking him at 9 o'clock on Wednesday 30th, Faunt didn't receive the reply, as the courier was apparently forced to throw it overboard because their ship was being pursued by an enemy vessel (MS.649 f.170).

Worried at having heard nothing by 31st May, Faunt sent another "young man" over to Calais to find out what was going on. The same man returned straight away with two letters from Standen (the first written before, the second after, his arrival) in which Standen's inability to move out of Calais at that time was explained (MS.649 ff.128 &173). Standen says that it may be another 8 days or so before he will be able to come over, and suggests that Faunt just leave word with the Captain of Dover Castle, whom he will contact on arrival, since even though he has been away for 28 years he still doesn't doubt his ability to find his way to Gray's Inn (where the Bacon Brothers were living) on his own.

Faunt writes to Bacon at 3 p.m. on Saturday the 2nd June, saying that the young man who carried the letters between them would await Standen's arrival in Dover, and act as his "guard and servant" for the journey to London. Faunt himself, the following day being Sunday, planned to overnight in Canterbury (where he went to school) before returning to London (MS.649 f.170).

Certain things need to be noted in considering the likelihood of this also having something to do with Marlowe's escape from England.
1) The reason for Faunt's presence in Dover on that date arose from circumstances entirely beyond the control of anyone in England.
2) It is quite clear that, according to what is said, neither of the two people sent over to Calais can have been Marlowe.
3) There is no reason to assume that Anthony Bacon knew anything at all about Marlowe's death at that time, let alone being involved in the subterfuge in any way.
4) This was obviously a very dangerous operation, with a strong possibility of it going wrong, and to combine it with another highly risky one would be very foolish.
5) Marlowe already had somebody well able to provide him with any of the help he might have needed in escaping - Robert Poley. Furthermore, although Poley apparently had "urgent letters of great importance" for delivery to the Privy Council, he didn't in fact report there until 8th June, having (as his warrant said) "been in Her Majesty's service all the aforesaid time."

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, March 2009

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

On the treacherous Richard Baines by Samuel Blumenfeld

Bastian Conrad’s light scolding of Peter Wales in the comments section of my Calvin Hoffman piece brings the whole issue of Richard Baines front and center. Bastian is right to deplore the fact that a distorted image of Marlowe dominates academic thinking due to so many biographers’ uncritical acceptance of what Baines wrote about Marlowe in his diatribe. But the real truth is that Baines was a despicable psychopath with a record of treachery going back to his days at the seminary at Rheims.

Baines, born a Catholic, was of an older generation from Marlowe’s. He had attended Cambridge and received his M.A. in 1576. Two years later he enrolled in the seminary at Rheims and in 1581 was ordained as a full priest. But it turns out that during all of this time he had been working as an agent for Francis Walsingham.

He tried to recruit another seminarian to his cause, but the seminarian turned him in to Dr. Allen, head of the seminary, who had Baines arrested in 1582. After spending a year in prison, Baines wrote a six-page confession in which he revealed that he had been possessed by the devil and intended to destroy the seminary by poisoning its water supply.

After recanting his sins, he then made a solemn pledge of loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and vowed to “detest, execrate, reject and abjure from my mind all heresies, schisms, sects, especially the heresies of Luther and Calvin.” He further pledged to “defend with all my power and faith” the teachings of the church.

Was Baines acting in that faith when he denounced Marlowe, who had written a great anti-Catholic play, The Massacre at Paris ? All of this interesting background about Baines can be found in Roy Kendall’s 2006 book, Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys Through the Elizabethan Underground.

If Baines could destroy Marlowe, he would be acting on his avowed duty to destroy an enemy of his church. Thus, the text of that damning letter should be read for what it was: an expression of venomous hatred for Marlowe and the free spirit he represented.

Was Marlowe an enemy of the Catholic church? The Marlowe-Shakespeare canon reveals a remarkably open mind when it comes to religion. He mocked the Puritans in Twelfth Night. After all, the Puritans wanted to close the theaters. He knew the Bible backwards and forward. But he wrote about religion more like a reporter than an advocate of any particular sect. In Doctor Faustus he made fun of the Vatican. But Whitgift’s inquisition accused him of atheism and blasphemy. What shall we believe? A full study of Marlowe’s attitude toward religion has yet to be written.

Samuel Blumenfeld

© Samuel Blumenfeld, March 2009  Burgess Sam Riley Deptford

Samuel Blumenfeld, a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. He is a former editor in the New York book publishing industry and has lectured widely. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others. He is a regular contributor to MSC.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Sanders Portrait and Battle of Wills: a question for filmmaker Anne Henderson

We caught up with veteran independent documentary filmmaker Anne Henderson, whose historical mystery Battle of Wills explores the authenticity and identity of the Sanders portrait, perhaps the only authentic portrait of William Shakespeare. The film has been selected for competition in the Festival International du Film sur l'Art (FIFA) in Montreal this month and will air on BRAVO in the fall.

Anne is the recipient of many awards in the documentary-film genre, including a Genie Award (best short documentary) for A Song For Tibet (1992) and a Gemini Award (best documentary cinematography) for L’Empreinte (2002). Her movies have been selected for film festivals around the world, and they have garnered many prizes.

Q: Anne, you've written and directed documentaries on a wide range of topics. I'm curious, what attracted you to this story?

Anne: From the moment I saw the Sanders portrait in Vanity Fair in December 2001, I was instantly captivated by this radically different image of “Shakespeare." Unlike the expressionless face traditionally associated with the poet, the Sanders portrait is brimming with life, mischief, and wit. The painting portrays how I imagine, or want, Shakespeare to be.

My response to the image drew me into the multi-layered world of the portrait, where I found a story that is rich in drama, politics, characters, and visual possibilities. I envisioned Battle of Wills as a documentary thriller which would slowly decode the identity of the enigmatic sitter in the painting. In the process, the portrait would take on a life of its own.

Battle of Wills does not address the question of authorship. However, the film challenges dearly-held orthodoxies about Shakespeare, much as the readers of this site do. In both cases, the scholars who have made their reputation decoding Shakespeare resist evidence that might overturn long-held assumptions.

I was lucky that my central character Lloyd Sullivan is a man of passion and indefatigable willpower. His mission to authenticate his family heirloom drives the story, on a journey that takes us from the high-tech labs of North America, to the art galleries and theatres of London, to the windswept castles of the English Midlands. I wanted the film to include not only curators and art dealers, but actors, such as Joseph Fiennes who has played Shakespeare, and knows the writer intuitively from the inside.

I discovered that there is a huge cultural industry, as well as nationalist sentiments, built upon existing images of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s iconic status has ensured that debates over authenticity are full of hidden agendas and economic self-interest.

Finally, the fascination with this 400-year-old portrait is very modern. Because we live in the age of photography, we want to stare at the faces of our greatest artists, to learn the secrets of their inner life. We imagine a connection with the human being in the portrait, as if the person gazes back at us too. Battle of Wills allows me to tap into this modern sensibility in pursuit of the true face of the man from Stratford.

Q: What did you discover in making the film?

Anne: The owner of the Sanders portrait claims that his ancestor was a friend of Shakespeare, a member of his troupe, and as a result had the opportunity to paint the poet’s portrait. Is this true?

The Sanders portrait has been totally authenticated scientifically as an unretouched work from 1603 of a charming man in a doublet. The costume historian Jenny Tiramani suggests that the clothes worn by the sitter accord with Shakespeare’s status in 1603. In that year, his acting troupe was elevated in status, as King James appointed them to court, and named them The Kings Men. For the first time, Shakespeare would have been permitted to wear gold and silver on his doublet. In the Sanders portrait, the doublet is covered with “parsimain lace of silver thread." Could the Sanders portrait have been a celebration of Shakespeare’s new status?

One of the most interesting discoveries was the under-researched evidence about Shakespeare’s Catholicism. The film interviews a number of people who believe that Shakespeare was a covert Catholic, hiding his religious affiliation due to religious persecution during the Reformation. This covert Catholicism is perhaps a reason that Shakespeare led a secretive life. We do know that Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden came from a Catholic family (the Throckmortons of Coughton), that there is circumstantial evidence suggesting that Shakespeare’s father was Catholic (his prayer book was hidden in the rafters of his house and discovered 150 years later). Battle of Wills shows that the proposed painter of the Sanders portrait also came from a Catholic family in Coughton (11 kilometers from Stratford) and likely knew Shakespeare from there. As a suppressed minority, Catholic families knew each other and intermarried; there is evidence that members of the Sanders family married into both the Throckmorton families, and the Catesby family (of the Gunpowder Plot). Perhaps Shakespeare and the painter of the portrait attended hidden masses together, and were close friends.

Q: So were there people who stood in your way or didn't cooperate, maybe because you were viewed as shaking the comfortable world of Shakespearean orthodoxy? What exactly did people fear, if "fear" is the right word? In other words, why the hangup on existing images of Shakespeare?

Anne: The resistance I encountered was not from the film financing agencies, but from the Shakespeare establishment centered in Stratford and the National Portrait Gallery in London. There is a huge amount of money generated by licensing images of Shakespeare; in addition, I think there is a desire to control interpretations and some scholars are guarding their academic turf. I suspect that if the Sanders portrait emerged from Earl So-and-so's collection (as opposed to a Canadian family's), it would have been taken more seriously!

Which of course brings us to the newly-discovered Cobbe portrait, owned by an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family. I was aware of the research being done on this image for some time. The Cobbe is backed by the same Stratford scholars mentioned above. There are many problems with the image, not the least of which is that it is supposed to show Shakespeare at 46, and yet the sitter has a full head of hair! I'm hoping to deal with the Cobbe in a longer film in the future.

Q: Anne, congratulations on the film, and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Battle of Wills sounds fascinating. Best of luck to you.

Anne: It's been a total pleasure!

If you wish to obtain a copy of Battle of Wills, contact Anne directly at

Click here for Adam Gopnik's March 12 piece in The New Yorker on the matter of Shakespeare portraits.

(photo credit: Canadian Conservation Institute)

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, March 2009

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Simplicity versus Academia by D.K. Marley

Galileo said, "Facts which at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which has hidden them and stand forth in naked and simple beauty."

Simplicity often reveals truth, whereas there is confusion in an overabundance of words. I do not claim to be an academic, nor do I ascribe to the level of a scholar who spends her days wrangling with Stratfordians about the identity of "Mr. W.H." or "the Dark Lady." I am simply a writer who finds beauty in words, the way certain phrases roll off the tongue, the transcending feeling that a mere paragraph can invoke, or when a novel shows the commonality of the human condition. In that beauty, that naked and simple beauty, stands stark truth uncluttered by a convocation of words. At last, seeing the forest and not just the trees.

Facts that Stratfordians voice as improbable - the fact that Christopher Marlowe is the true writer of the plays and sonnets - even on scant explanation, such as I am able to produce being as I am just another common enthusiast, has indeed, to my mind, dropped the cloak which has hidden them and stands bared for all the world to see. Truth is simple. Truth is the one person shouting that the emperor is naked when all others shut their eyes, look away or refuse to believe. And the simplicity of it relates to the everyday ordinary person, which is the vast majority of the world.

If the world was able to be presented with the simple facts concerning Christopher Marlowe, as I was, there would be no more doubting. Even if the academic world can never produce solid evidence, we have more than reasonable doubt here that William Shakespeare had the skills, education, knowledge of languages, etc. to produce such profound verse. Simply put, he was an actor, not a playwright or poet.

Christopher "Kit" Marlowe, on the other hand, was gifted at an early age with skills that exceeded his years. Educated at the best schools and surrounded by those who prodded him, he travelled to the continent, he excelled in languages and proved himself a capable playwright and poet well before his twentieth year. Where was Shakespeare during those years? Still in Stratford, married with three children, with no evidence that he wrote a single thing.

Again, Galileo, an academic himself, revealed the answer in relation to these two men. Simple truth trumps pretentious fabrications any day. All you have to do is to remove the veil from your eyes, to stop gorging on the Shakespearean propaganda fed to you through the years, and hear the ring of truth sounded in Marlowe's own words in Sonnet 76: "Why write I still all one, ever the same, and keep invention in a noted weed, that every word doth almost tell my name, showing their birth and where they did proceed?"

D.K. Marley

© D.K. Marley, March 2009

D.K. Marley is a historical fiction writer specializing in Shakespearean topics. She is the author of A Reckoning for the Sparrow, which imagines Christopher Marlowe as the true author of the Shakespeare works. The novel awaits publication. She is also the editor of Soliloquy Literary Magazine. D.K. resides in Georgia and is presently working on a novel about the life of the real Lady Macbeth. She can be reached at

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