Monday, November 3, 2008

Who was Robert Poley? A question for Daryl Pinksen, author of Marlowe's Ghost

Q: Daryl, as I was reading your recent work, Marlowe's Ghost: The Blacklisting of the Man Who Was Shakespeare, I was struck by your description of Robert Poley, one of the three men who was with Marlowe the day of his alleged death. The other two were Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Frizer. Frizer was Thomas Walsingham's servant (ed. note: see 6/19 post on Walsinghams) and probably a low-level intelligence operative; Skeres, you suggest, might have been an operative in the Earl of Essex's intelligence network. And then there's Poley, someone with a very interesting intelligence background and a fairly experienced agent. Please elaborate.

Daryl: Thanks, Carlo. The fact that Robert Poley was at the Deptford meeting is remarkable. It's commonplace to hear people refer to the 1593 Deptford incident as a "tavern brawl." Far from it. The four men who gathered there were, as Charles Nicholl called them, scoundrels, Marlowe included, and all four were involved in shady dealings, linked in some way to the Elizabethan underworld. But Poley's presence at the meeting makes it an exceptional event.

Marlowe, Skeres, and Frizer were lightweights, minor cogs in the Walsingham/Burghley-led intelligence machine (ed. note: see 6/23 post on Cecils). Robert Poley was in a different league entirely; in 1586 he had been instrumental in exposing the Babington Plot, which led to the execution of Queen Elizabeth's cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. In The Reckoning, Nicholl's meticulous exploration of Marlowe's demise, he tells us that in the months leading up to Deptford, Poley was engaged in high-level diplomatic liaisons between The Hague, England, and Scotland. Here's where the story takes a turn - Nicholl's research reveals that for ten days following the Deptford meeting, Poley's whereabouts are inexplicably unknown. Where was he? Nicholl has no idea, but circumstances suggest that Poley may have been in Scotland, as Marlowe's escort. Years earlier, Poley had been recommended as an agent who knew "the best ways to pass into Scotland." And Marlowe, in his last conversation with Thomas Kyd (a playwright Marlowe had once shared a room with) said he was determined to go to Scotland, and mentioned that another of his literary friends, Matthew Roydon, had already gone. Marlowe urged Kyd to join them.

If Marlowe did survive the Deptford meeting, it may have been because Robert Poley was there to help Marlowe "pass into Scotland," a safe haven for freethinkers trying to escape the religious oppression then sweeping England. Thomas Kyd should have listened to Marlowe's advice; after his arrest he was imprisoned and tortured, and died within months of his release.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, November 2008  Burgess Sam Riley
Daryl Pinksen, a regular MSC contributor, is the author of Marlowe's Ghost, Grand Prize Winner of the 17th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.

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Christine said...

scotland, and then onto Italy . . .

I have enjoyed reading this blog and I recently viewed Much Ado About Something. It's great that Mr. Rubbo has contributed to the blog; his film was beautifully done.

Anonymous said...

it's amazing how many people think Marlowe's death was the result of a good old-fashioned tavern brawl!

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading Pinksen's book.

Anonymous said...

I can't get enough of this!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy Mr. Pinksen's commentary.

MauveExcel said...

I was always led to believe it was a simple tavern brawl . . but with Robert Poley there, things are much more complex!

Unknown said...

Robert Poley worked for Sir Robert Sidney’s brother and sister-in-law, Sir Philip and Lady Sidney (Sir Francis Walsingham’s daughter), in 1585 around the time of the Babington Plot.

Poley, was the fourth party in that fatal ‘brawl’ at the Deptford tavern, and is identical with the Robert Poley employed by Walsingham to spy out the Babington-Mary Queen of Scots Conspiracy in 1586, taking an intimate part in the plot.

He had been in Walsingham’s service as a spy though the first to offer Walsingham his services was one Robert Bruce, a Scotch gentleman of good family, the younger brother of the Laird of Binnie. Yet Robert Pooley, or Poley, was a much worse sort of intriguer.

He was in Walsingham’s confidence at the same time that he was hailed as ‘Sweet Robin’ by Babington and his friends. When the plot was approaching maturity, it was his role to keep the plotters within the reach of Walsingham’s arm until everything was ready for their destruction.

Through Poley, Walsingham kept in touch with Babington’s movements until a very few days before his arrest. Poley was arrested when the conspirators were taken, and he handed in a long written account of his part in the affair, which is preserved at the Record Office.

He was of course never brought to trial, although Walsingham was evidently not sure that he was quite innocent of double-dealing.

To Mr. Nau, Secretary to her Majesty.
July 1586

(Read. The Bardon Papers, Vol. XVII., 1909.)

Mr. Nau,
I would gladly understand what opinion you hold of one Robert Pooley, whom I find to have intelligence with her Majesty’s occasions. I am private with the man, and by mean thereof know somewhat, but suspect more. I pray you deliver your opinion of him.

Endorsed: July, 1586.
Letters between the Queen of Scots and Anthony Babington.

“To Robert Poley upon a warrant signed by Mr. Vice Chamberlain date July 23, 1590, for bringing letters in post concerning her Majesty’s Special Service from Flushing and sundry other places in the Low Countries.”

Daryl Pinksen said...

Elaine (if I may), this is a good summary of Nicholl's discussion of Poley's intrigues (or perhaps it's Riggs', since your previous posting on the purpose of the Deptford meeting matches the one he espouses, rather than Nicholl).

I am curious if some point was meant or implied in your post, or if was meant as exposition only?

We have no argument with the documentary evidence uncovered by Nicholl and Riggs, only with their interpretation of what it means for the Deptford meeting.

Keep visiting.

Anthony Kellett said...

I'm pleased you said that Daryl...I thought I had inadvertently logged into "Yahoo Answers" when Ms. Dutton's post came through.