Peter Farey develops some interesting ideas arising from an email discussion he had with Anthony Kellett last December.
The story is one with which we are all very familiar. On 18 May 1593 the Privy Council issued a "warrant to Henry Maunder one of the Messengers of her Majesty's Chamber to repair to the house of Mr. Thomas Walsingham in Kent, or to any other place where he shall understand Christofer Marlow to be remaining, and by virtue hereof to apprehend and bring him to the Court in his Company. And in case of need to require aid."1
Most commentators point out that this standard wording indicates that he was not charged with any offence, and that there isn't really any implication of his being expected to resist. However, they do assume that this warrant had been issued at a meeting of the Council itself, and as a result of the members having been told of Thomas Kyd's arrest and the "vile heretical conceits" which he claimed to be Marlowe's found in his dwelling. Other than A.D. Wraight, who wrongly believed that it was the Court of Star Chamber he was to attend,2 all biographers up to and including Charles Nicholl,3 and David Riggs4 seem to have followed William Urry's5 lead in thinking that "the Court" referred to was the royal one, which it was, but had this wrongly located at Greenwich, when in fact it was at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey.6
The problem is that there is no record of there having been a meeting of the Privy Council on 18 May and, even though the court had moved from Croydon to Nonsuch before then, none of their meetings were held at Nonsuch before the afternoon of 31 May. All of their meetings over that period (16, 23, 25, 29 and the morning of 31 May) were held in the Star Chamber in Westminster Palace―which may explain Wraight's mistake.
So how is it that the warrant was issued on 18 May? The last minuted Privy Council meeting preceding that date was two days earlier (16 May) and was attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Whitgift), Lord Keeper (Puckering), Lord Treasurer (Burghley), Lord Derby, Lord Chamberlain (Hunsden), Lord Buckhurst, Sir John Wolley and Sir John Fortescue.7 It therefore seems likely that the decision to call Marlowe in for questioning was taken then. It would be issued to Henry Maunder, a messenger of the Queen's chamber, which as we now know was then located at Nonsuch. We also know (because of another warrant signed by him on 18 May)8 that Burghley was at Nonsuch on that date. So it seems quite likely that Burghley―or, if also there, one of the others present on 16 May―used the opportunity to issue the warrant on the Council's behalf. Whoever it was that issued it, however, they don't seem to have accorded it much urgency.
We don't know whether Marlowe actually was at Scadbury, of course, only that he might be found there and that the person signing the warrant appeared to be aware of that possibility. If it was Burghley who signed it, then this would presumably have been because Marlowe was one of his agents. However, when Marlowe turned up to report to their lordships two days later the note does refer to him as being "of London."
Where did Maunder take him on the 20th, and what happened when they got there? We have seen that the warrant was probably signed at Nonsuch, so the words "bring him to the Court" seem to indicate that this was where he was meant to go. As the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says, the word bring "implies motion towards the place where the speaker or auditor is, or is supposed to be."
Yet once again there was apparently no meeting of the Privy Council that day, whether at Nonsuch or at Westminster. All we have is the bald statement that "being sent for by warrant from their Lordships, Christofer Marley of London, gent, hath entered his appearance accordingly for his Indemnity therein;9 and is commanded to give his daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary."
So what's going on? The obvious answer must be that Marlowe turned up at Nonsuch on 20 May, only to be told by some official that they weren't there right now but, given what they had said, he really should keep turning up until they were. But was he released on bail? This is undoubtedly what most biographers think,10 but it really doesn't say that. According to the OED the only definition of indemnity apparently in use at that time was "Security or protection against contingent hurt, damage, or loss." So, since the indemnity is his and not theirs, it must be saying that he has entered his appearance in the record as a protection against his being accused of having ignored their lordships' command. The word therein clearly refers to the "warrant from their Lordships" and the terms "therein."
It is reasonable to assume, I think, that Marlowe did appear (presumably at Nonsuch) each day, but there were no Privy Council meetings for him to attend. However it is of course possible that on 22 May he was told that they would be meeting at the Star Chamber on the following day, and that he should present himself there. If he did, he would have found Whitgift, Puckering, Burghley, Derby, Buckhurst and Fortescue waiting for him. From Kyd's testimony it seems that Marlowe must have admitted to them that the "vile heretical" fragment did belong to him,11 but that this is fairly easily explained away, given that it is an extract from a refutation of the anti-Trinitarian argument. Someone with Marlowe's gift for words should have had no difficulty with that.
At this point speculation must take over, however. Puckering will have already heard the more damaging aspects of Kyd's testimony, confessed under torture; Drury has also included dangerous accusations about Marlowe in his "Remembrances" and, even if the "Baines Note" itself may not yet have been delivered, there is a fair probability that Puckering already had a very good idea of the contents of that too. In particular, there is enough evidence for Marlowe to be accused of having written an article or book
on atheism which is being used for subversive purposes. We may presume that Whitgift and Puckering would insist that trial and execution are the only possibilities. In opposition, as Marlowe's probable employer for many years, Burghley is appalled. He wants him saved―not only because of Marlowe's past services to the queen, but because of his extraordinary ability with words which, if used properly, could be of enormous benefit to the state. That Marlowe may know things which Burghley would not want revealed under torture is also a possibility.
There appears to be a complete impasse. Whitgift and Puckering want him tried and executed. Burghley and Derby (himself a lover of poets and actors, and still the patron of a company of players) want him saved. As Burghley's friend, and working for him as under-treasurer and chancellor of the exchequer, Fortescue also probably goes along with him on this. But why on earth did the Council apparently agree to let him go? With the sort of information now being gathered one would have expected him to be held in custody pending the arrival of all the written testimony at least.
At this point I think that Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, may have come into the picture. As the joint author of Gorboduc, the first English play written in blank verse, and a fine poet in his own right,12 we may reasonably assume that his sympathies would have been with a fellow poet and playwright whom he cannot fail to have admired enormously, Marlowe. On the other hand, he had apparently been involved with Puckering in Drury's machinations against him. As a first cousin of the queen's mother, Anne Boleyn, Buckhurst had the Queen's ear in a way that few others could match and, as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography puts it, "He acquired a reputation for impartiality, courage, and plain speaking since his kinship with the queen largely enabled him to avoid factions at court."
So, with Burghley's side perhaps prepared to accept exile for Marlowe but not death and Whitgift's insisting that exile wasn't enough of a deterrent, I can imagine Buckhurst suddenly saying "I think I can see a possible way out of this. Couldn't we make everyone just believe that he was dead?"
Marlowe would not have been released, but held incommunicado at Westminster while the plans were laid, in particular the bringing in of Thomas Walsingham to plan and organize the deception. Poley, if he could be recalled from the Netherlands in time, would supervise it on the day itself and thereafter. On 25 May, the Privy Council met again in the Star Chamber with the same six members present, checked on progress, and possibly told Marlowe of what they had decided. It was made quite clear what was expected of him if his life was to be saved and just what the penalty would be if he failed to meet the terms of the deal in any way. The possibility of an eventual pardon if he toed the line was also indicated. There apparently being no alternative―other than torture, trial and execution―he accepted.
We are told that the Baines Note was "delivered" no more than three days prior to the "sudden and fearful end of (Marlowe's) life." Exactly three days earlier would have been on the Sunday before Whitsun (i.e. 27 May) rather than "Whitsun eve" (i.e. 2 June) as the endorsement on the document, quite impossibly, also claims. But what is not clear is whether "delivered" referred to Baines's delivery of his note to Puckering or to the date it went to the Queen,13 as we know it did at some point. Assuming the latter, with Puckering having actually received it some days earlier, under the scenario described here 27 May was when he (or they) would have taken it to the Queen and informed her of the Privy Council's opinion as to what should be done about it.
On 29 May the Privy Council was attended by far more of its members than usual. Derby couldn't make it, but they were joined by Lord Admiral (Howard), Lord Chamberlain (Hunsdon), the Earl of Essex, Sir John Wolley and Sir Robert Cecil. They were told what had been decided and put in place. Nothing of this was put in writing, but at the end of the meeting Lord Chief Justice Popham was asked to join them and add his signature to those of Whitgift and Puckering on the warrant for John Penry to be executed later that same day. The deception had begun.14
© Peter Farey, 2011
Peter Farey, a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe."
Notes Emmerich Anonymous film Shakespeare
1National Archive, Acts of the Privy Council, 18 May 1593. I have modernized the spelling of all quotations.
2Wraight, A. D. & Virginia Stern. 1965. In Search of Christopher Marlowe. MacDonald & Co., p.283.
3Nicholl, Charles. 2002. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. Vintage, p.20.
4Riggs, David. 2004. The World of Christopher Marlowe. Faber & Faber, p.331.
5Urry, William. 1988. Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury. Faber & Faber, p.81.
6First pointed out by William Honey in 1983 and repeated without acknowledgment by his fellow Marlovian A.D. Wraight in 1995; this important information had to wait for "official" acceptance ten years later in Park Honan's 2005 biography Christopher Marlowe, Poet & Spy (Oxford, p.354).
7Wraight (p.285) had precisely the same list of members being present when he appeared on 20 May, but there is no evidence supporting this, and she may have simply got the dates mixed up.
8There is the record of a payment to "Romano Cavaliere: upon a warrant signed by the Lord Treasurer dated at the Court the 18th day of May 1593, for bringing of letters in post ... to the Court at Nonsuch."
9Most transcripts give this as "herein" but it is fairly clearly "therein," as Wraight's copy of the entry itself (p.284) shows that the first letters are exactly the same as those of the word "their" in the line above it.
10Wraight (p. 284), Nicholl (p. 54), Riggs (p. 325) and Honan (p. 336) all use the word "bail" in this context.
11I am grateful to Daryl Pinksen who first explained this to me and convinced me he was right.
12In fact a good case for Buckhurst having been the author of Shakespeare's works―called The Swallow and the Crow―was presented by Sabrina Feldman PhD in last year's The Oxfordian.
13Thanks to Ros Barber for pointing out this ambiguity.
14Dave More was the first to argue that Penry's body was the one used for the faking, a suggestion accepted by most, if not all, Marlovians these days even if not all are aware of who originally made it.
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