Monday, April 20, 2015

The Similarity Between the Marlowe and Shakespeare Coats of Arms by Dave Randall, with Donna N. Murphy

A short time ago I was looking up something in Burke’s The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales when I decided to check the entries for Marlowe.1 There are several coats-of-arms for various branches of the Marlowe family listed; most are what are called "canting arms" and display a heraldic device called a martlet, which is basically a sparrow without feet, and are a pun between "martlet" and "Marlowe." The one that caught my eye, however, was this entry: "Marlow, or Marley, Or, a bend sable":

These arms are identical to those granted to John Shakespeare in 1596, minus the spear which appears on the Shakespeare arms: 

Since there is no date associated with the Marlow/Marley arms, it is probable that they were in use prior to what is called the "first visitation" in 1483, when all of the arms in England were first recorded and a comprehensive list compiled by the heralds. 

Since we know little about John Marlowe's ancestry, we cannot say whether he was from a family entitled to bear arms, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility; many relatively humble people (like Shakespeare's mother) were from armigerous families. We also do not know if Marlowe was related to the branch of the family that used these arms. Yet this may not have mattered, if the point was to associate the names “Shakespeare” and “Marlowe” via heraldry. 

Might this be another authorship clue? Might some friend of Marlowe have influenced or bribed William Dethick, the Garter King of Arms who granted John Shakespeare his arms, to assign the Shakespeares a coat-of-arms almost identical to the Marlowes? Might he have done so to signal “those in the know” regarding the true authorship of the “Shakespeare” works? 

In 1602, York Herald of Arms Ralph Brooke accused Dethick of improperly granting a coat-of-arms to 23 “mean persons,” including Shakespeare. He also alleged that Shakespeare’s design was too close to that of Lord Mauley:

With the aid of William Camden, playwright Ben Jonson’s former mentor, Dethick successfully defended his decisions regarding Shakespeare and the design of the coat of arms.2 It was Jonson who satirized Shakespeare’s coat-of-arms via the character Sogliardo in Every Man Out of his Humour (wr. 1599), and then later sang Shakespeare’s praises in the Bard’s First Folio, 1623. Diana Price has proposed that Jonson knowingly differentiated between the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon and the main author of the Shakespeare canon.3 

In sum, if all of this is merely a coincidence, it is a very strange one.

© Dave Randall and Donna N. Murphy, April 2015

1Burke, Bernard. The General Armory of England, Scotland, and Wales (London: Harrison and Sons, 1864), Vol. II. 
2Donaldson, Ian. Ben Jonson: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 160-161.
3Price, Diana. Shakespeare's Unauthorized Biography (, 2012), 66-75, 202-15.


Anthony Kellett said...

I don’t know if this is of any use (or relevance), but I believe the first arms shown belonged to Peter de Mauley.

daver852 said...

You are correct, Anthony. These arms were recorded as belonging to Peter (or Piers) de Mauley in the 13th century. Before the visitations of the heralds in the 15th century, it was not uncommon for two or more families to use the same arms, especially when the blazon was a simple one, such as "or, a bend sable." In "Some Feudal Coats of Arms from Heraldic Rolls 1298-1418"
by Joseph Foster, it is noted that these same arms were also used by Robert Fossard and some members of the illustrious Bigod family.

The de Mauley family had several branches, and differenced their arms by adding charges to the bend; the Lord Mauley mentioned in reference to the Shakespeare grant of arms bore "or, on a bend sable, three dolphins embowed, argent."

It is likely that the Marlows and Marleys who used "or, a bend sable" as their arms were some relation to the more illustrious de Mauley family. One common variation of the name was "Mawley," and they also had similar arms. It's not a big step from Mawley to Marley.

In theory, no two individuals were supposed to have the same arms, but in practice this was difficult to enforce, especially when the arms were born "of ancient usage."

One thing is certain: someone named Marlow and/or Marley was using these arms, or they would not have shown up in "Burke's Armory." Unfortunately, we don't have access to the source documents used to make the attribution.

Anthony Kellett said...

Ok; and that makes sense, too, with respect to the Fossards. De Maulay’s wife was a Thornham, her Mother being a Fossard; and both being the heirs of that barony. So, when Peter de Maulay married Isabella Thornham (at great cost – ‘Lackland’ being true to form!), one assumes de Maulay incorporated her arms into his existing ones – and, one further assumes, replaced his escutcheon with the Fossard version (since that is the only element we have, here).

Matthew Paris apparently recorded Arms for de Maulay, which has a ‘maunch’ together with the Fossard shield. The maunch would presumably be due to its ‘M’ shape. This gives us a date range between Maulay’s marriage in 1213 and Paris’ death in 1259; though I doubt he waited too long, having paid such a huge sum for the right.

Tim Nash said...

Very interesting. What reasons were given in the successful defence of the design of the Shakespeare coat of arms?

Donna Murphy said...

Dethick and Camden replied that Shakespeare's coat-of-arms bore no more resemblance to the Mauley shield than it did to those of the Harley and Ferrers families, which also bore a "bend sable," plus it had a spear.

The exact wording is provided in E.K. Chambers' "William Shakespeare. A Study of Facts and Problems" (p. 22):

It maye as well be said That Harley who bearethe Gould a bend 2 Cotizes Sable, or Ferrers etc., or any other that beare Silver, or Gould a bend charged in like manner, Vsurpe the Coate of the Lo; Mauley. As for the Speare on the Bend, is a patible difference. And the man was A magestrat in Stratford vpon Avon. A Justice of peace he maryed A daughter and heyre of Ardern, and was of good substance and habelité.