Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground

By Roy Kendall | Go to book overview

Introduction

1

EUROPE IN THE EARLY TO MID 1580S HAS BEEN DESCRIBED BY JOHN Bossy as being akin to Europe in the late 1930s. He writes: "The hostilities of believers in incompatible doctrines of salvation ... had induced a state of warfare, actual or potential, throughout most of the West. This was now building up to a grand confrontation.” The situation, Bossy adds, resulted in the "state of undeclared civil war between Protestants and Catholics which existed throughout north-western Europe, except in the Netherlands, where it had been declared. In France it had gone on openly for much of the previous twenty years, though it was for the moment officially in suspense; there existed in the south a Protestant state within a state, in which the young Henri of Navarre reigned. It was only kept underground in England by extreme vigilance and careful statesmanship on the part of Queen Elizabeth and her government.” 1

This was the backcloth against which Christopher Marlowe grew to manhood at Cambridge, wrote part 1 of Tamburlaine the Great, and was first introduced to this underground world. It is true that the Elizabethan underground comprised more threats to national security than just the Catholic/Protestant conflict; but it is also true that this was by far the largest of the tunnels under Elizabethan England. Indeed, at some points this tunnel opened out and became positively cavernous. The fact was, whatever Elizabeth's government put out to the contrary, the old religion had not died out even in London at the seat of that government and especially not in the far corners of the land, critical though the ordinary man and woman in the streets and in the country lanes may have been about many aspects of the reign of Elizabeth's sister Mary, the papacy and Spanish foreign policy—as far as they were able truly to evaluate these things through the smog of government propaganda. In addition, "England had suddenly, and most unexpectedly, become the scene of a full-scale Catholic revival.” 2 For the most part, Elizabeth and her ministers managed to keep the lid on this revival and forced

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