Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground

By Roy Kendall | Go to book overview
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7

"Aspiring Minds”

1

WHEN IN 1925 LESLIE HOTSON MADE KNOWN HIS GREAT DISCOVERY of the inquest document relating to Christopher Marlowe's death, he also published the Privy Council's record of a letter (no longer extant) sent to the university authorities at Cambridge on June 29, 1587. The relevant section of the contemporary abstract reads: "Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley [a variant spelling of Marlowe] was determined to haue gone beyond the seas to Reames and there to remaine Their Lordships thought good to certefie that he had no such intent, but that in all his accions he had behaued him selfe orderlie and discreetelie wherebie he had done Her Majestie good service, and deserued to be rewarded for his faithfull dealinge.” This, of course, is a masterpiece of ambiguity, because it could be read as a denial that Marlowe ever followed Richard Baines to Rheims, or simply a denial that he intended to stay there. It concludes: "Their Lordships request was that the rumor thereof should be allaied by all possible meanes, and that he should be furthered in the degree he was to take this next Commencement: Because it was not her Majesties pleasure that anie one emploied as he had been in matters touching the benefitt of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th' affaires he went about.” 1

Despite the ambiguity, the clear inference of this letter is that Marlowe has been engaged in secret work on behalf of the English government. But before considering the problem of whether Marlowe did follow in Baines's footsteps and go to the English College at Rheims as a spy, let us consider whether the rumormonger(s) could have been right and the Privy Council wrong, or, rather, mistaken as to Marlowe's true allegiance. In other words, is King's, Canterbury to Corpus Christi, Cambridge to the English College, Rheims a likely educational lineage in the 1580s? I would think it

-108-

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