Christopher Marlowe Murder Case

Christopher Marlowe, (c. 26 February 1564–30 May 1593) was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason for it was given, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy—a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain "vile heretical conceipts." He was brought before the Privy Council for questioning on 20 May 1593, after which he had to report to them daily. Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether the stabbing was connected to his arrest has never been resolved.

As with other writers of the period, little is known about Marlowe. What little evidence there is can be found in legal records and other official documents. This has not stopped writers of both fiction and non-fiction from speculating about his activities and character. Marlowe has often been described as a spy, a brawler, a heretic and a homosexual, as well as a "magician," "duellist," "tobacco-user," "counterfeiter" and "rakehell." The evidence for most of these claims is slight. The bare facts of Marlowe's life have been embellished by many writers into colourful, and often fanciful, narratives of the Elizabethan underworld.

Historians acknowledge that his murder was probably the result of a bar brawl—a dispute over who should pay the bill, in fact—but some people believe that his mysterious death may well have had a political cause. Prior to his death, accusations of blasphemy, subversion and homosexuality had destroyed his public image; he was also charged with atheism on the evidence of his former roommate and fellow dramatist, Thomas Kyd. As a result of his sacrilegious beliefs, some scholars allege that Marlowe was murdered by Francis Walsingham, a Puritan sympathizer and agent of Elizabeth I. Others accuse royalists, in particular the supporters of the Earl of Essex, of his murder. Significantly, Marlowe’s killer eventually received a pardon from the Queen. In the sixteenth century, the punishment for such crimes as Marlowe was accused of included being boiled alive, burnt at the stake, or hanged, drawn and quartered. Taking these penalties into consideration, it is hardly surprising that some people believe that Christopher Marlowe faked his own death. Had he simply fled the country, or gone into hiding, he would have been pursued as a fugitive for the rest of his life. A much better solution would have been to stage his own murder and assume a new identity. Having worked as a secret agent for years, Marlowe would have had both the experience and the contacts to hatch such a plan. Indeed, the fact that the coroner’s inquest and subsequent burial of the body—in an unmarked grave—were completed within forty-eight hours of the “killing” gives even more credence to this idea.

In 1592 Marlowe was arrested in the Dutch town of Flushing for attempting to counterfeit coins and use the proceeds to assist seditious Catholics. He was sent to be dealt with by the Lord Treasurer (Burghley) but no charge or imprisonment resulted. This untimely arrest may have disrupted another of Marlowe's spying missions: by giving the resulting coinage to the Catholic cause he was to infiltrate the followers of the active Catholic plotter William Stanley and report back to Burghley.

In early May 1593 several bills were posted about London threatening Protestant refugees from France and the Netherlands who had settled in the city. One of these, the "Dutch church libel," written in blank verse, contained allusions to several of Marlowe's plays and was signed, "Tamburlaine". On 11 May the Privy Council ordered the arrest of those responsible for the libels. The next day, Marlowe's colleague Thomas Kyd was arrested. Kyd's lodgings were searched and a fragment of a heretical tract was found. Kyd asserted, possibly under torture, that it had belonged to Marlowe. Two years earlier they had both been working for an aristocratic patron, probably Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, and Kyd suggested that at this time, when they were sharing a workroom, the document had found its way among his papers.

Marlowe's arrest was ordered on 18 May. Marlowe was not in London, but was staying with Thomas Walsingham, the cousin of the late Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's principal secretary in the 1580s and a man deeply involved in state espionage. However, he duly appeared before the Privy Council on 20 May and was instructed to "give his daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary". On 30 May, Marlowe was murdered. Various versions of Marlowe's death were current at the time. Francis Meres says Marlowe was "stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love" as punishment for his "epicurism and atheism." In 1917, in the Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sidney Lee wrote that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight, and this is still often stated as fact today.

The facts only came to light in 1925 when the scholar Leslie Hotson discovered the coroner's report on Marlowe's death in the Public Record Office. Marlowe had spent all day in a house in Deptford, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull. With him were three men: Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. All three had been employed by the Walsinghams. Skeres and Poley had helped snare the conspirators in the Babington plot and Frizer was a servant of Thomas Walsingham. Witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had earlier argued over the bill for their drink (now famously known as the 'Reckoning') exchanging "divers malicious words". Later, while Frizer was sitting at a table between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch, Marlowe snatched Frizer's dagger and began attacking him. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner's report, Marlowe was accidentally stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly.

The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defence, and within a month he was pardoned. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford, on 1 June 1593. Marlowe's death is alleged by some to be an assassination for the following reasons:

  1. The three men who were in the room with him when he died were all connected both to the state secret service and to the London underworld. Frizer and Skeres also had a long record as loan sharks and con-men, as shown by court records. Bull's house also had "links to the government's spy network".
  2. Their story that they were on a day's pleasure outing to Deptford is alleged to be implausible. In fact, they spent the whole day closeted together, deep in discussion. Also, Robert Poley was carrying confidential despatches to the Queen, who was at her palace of Nonsuch in Surrey, but instead of delivering them, he spent the day with Marlowe and the other two.
  3. It seems too much of a coincidence that Marlowe's death occurred only a few days after his arrest for heresy.
  4. The manner of Marlowe's arrest is alleged to suggest causes more tangled than a simple charge of heresy would generally indicate. He was released in spite of prima facie evidence, and even though the charges implicitly connected Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Northumberland with the heresy. Thus, some contend it to be probable that the investigation was meant primarily as a warning to the politicians in the "School of Night", or that it was connected with a power struggle within the Privy Council itself.
  5. The various incidents that hint at a relationship with the Privy Council (see above), and by the fact that his patron was Thomas Walsingham, Sir Francis's second cousin, who was actively involved in intelligence work.
For these reasons and others, Charles Nicholl (in his book 'The Reckoning' on Marlowe's death) argues there was more to Marlowe's death than emerged at the inquest. There are different theories of some degree of probability. Since there are only written documents on which to base any conclusions, and since it is probable that the most crucial information about his death was never committed to writing at all, it is unlikely that to this day, conspiracy theories rather than facts shroud the events leading up to Marlowe’s death. Though Ingram Frizer was named as the writer’s killer, the real truth about Marlowe’s end will probably never be known.

(Sources : Conspiracy Theories by kate Tuckett; and Wikipedia)
(Pic source :
Christopher Marlowe Murder Case Christopher Marlowe Murder Case Reviewed by Tripzibit on 16:10 Rating: 5


  1. Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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  2. Marlowe is one of my favorite poets. I had read that he was murdered as a result of some of his writing. I never knew all of this in depth information. I'm fascinated by it. He was a definite rebel marching to his own unique yet dark drummer. His writing is phenomenal and contrasts dark and light. Thanks so much for sharing this information. Love your blog.

  3. too bad Phillip Marlowe wasn't around then to do detective work :)

    seriously - this was an amazing story


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