The Marlowe Society

Marlowe's Birth

Marlowe's Birth

3. His Father's Career

Despite taking on some five different apprentices between 1567 and 1593, John Marlowe did not appear a particularly adept businessman, and actions relating to debt were regularly brought against him. This did not stop him being elected as warden and treasurer of the Shoemakers' Company in 1589, but at the end of his year in office a shortfall of over 40s was found. The company seemed reluctant to take legal action, but a case was finally entered on 27 January 1592. By a curious coincidence, both father and son thus simultaneously found themselves in deep water, with Christopher most likely on that very day sailing on a ship back from Flushing to England, extradited along with his nemesis Richard Baines on a charge of "coining" (counterfeiting) a Dutch shilling (Sir Robert Sidney's covering note to Lord Burghley being dated the previous day). Both appeared to have escaped serious punishment, however, with Marlowe Sr. somehow managing to pay off this sizable debt by the end of the year.

John Marlowe appears as both plaintiff and defendant in at least 17 other cases in the Canterbury borough pleas book during the 1570's, 80's and 90's1, hinting at a vigorous character even in such a litigious age. But he was well enough thought of to hold various positions of responsibility in the Shoemaker's Company, and was appointed as a Searcher (inspector of leather) in 1581-2. Marlowe acted as Sidesman (responsible for greeting the congregation and organising seating in the church) at St. George's in 1573, and as Churchwarden in the parish of St. Mary Breadman between 1591 and 1594, where the family then resided. For some of this period he was also constable of Westgate (1591-2), and may have been somewhat embarrassed at having to find surety for his son Christopher, accussed by one William Corkine of an attacking him with "staff and dagger" in Mercery Lane, Canterbury on 15 September 1592.

Christopher Marlowe's father had basic literacy, able to sign his own name and write a few words. His signature regularly confirms him as witness or bondsman on legal documents, most notably on the will of Katherine Benchkin in November 1585, just above the only extant signature of his son Christopher. William Urry's dedicated research has thus identified John Marlowe's documented involvement in all kinds of activities throughout his life in Canterbury. What such historical records cannot show, of course, are John and Katherine's reaction to the alleged murder of their son in 1593.

The house on the corner of St. George's Street and St. George's Lane, believed to be where the Marlowes lived for the early years of Christopher's life, was destroyed in a German air raid in 1942.
The house on the corner of St. George's Street and St. George's Lane, believed to be where the Marlowes lived for the early years of Christopher's life, was destroyed in a German air raid in 1942.

Christopher Marlowe's parents survived a further twelve years after the events in Deptford. His father John died first at the probable age of 68 or 69, making his will on 25 January 1605 and being buried in the churchyard of St. George's the following day. For all his apparent financial difficulties, an inventory of his goods following his death provided evidence of a, if not prosperous, then at least modestly comfortable life. Katherine Marlowe did not outlive her husband by long. Her will is dated 17 March 1605 and she was buried the next day, not seemingly alongside her husband, for her burial is recorded in the register at All Saints Church.