The Marlowe Society

Death in Deptford

Death in Deptford

1. The Suspects

On 30 May 1593 a murder was said to have been committed in a room that had been hired for a private meeting in a respectable house in Deptford, owned by Dame Eleanor Bull. It was not a tavern as is often alleged. Dame Bull had Court connections. Her sister, Blanche, was the god-daughter of Blanche Parry, who had been the much loved nanny of the infant Elizabeth and was a "cousin" of Lord Burghley. Now widowed, Dame Bull hired out rooms and served meals. It was likely that her home was a safe house for Government Agents.

Add picture of Scadbury here.
On 18th May 1593, Henry Maunders was dispatched by the Privy Council to arrest Marlowe at Thomas Walsingham's manor house, Scadbury near Chislehurst, Kent. Remains of the moated manor house are still visible in Scadbury Park today, and extensive excavations have been undertaken by ODAS.

The strange circumstances of Marlowe's murder in that room at Deptford have been the subject of endless debate and conflicting theories. The following is the official story as related in the Coroner's Report, discovered by Dr. Leslie Hotson in 1925 in the archives of the Public Records Office, London.

Four men were said to have been present at Dame Bull's house on that day:

  1. Robert Poley: an experienced government agent, who carried the Queen's most secret and important letters in post to and from the courts of Europe. He arrived at Deptford direct from The Hague, where he had been on the Queen's business – Deptford then being a busy naval dockyard and port from which ships voyaged back and forth to the Continent.
  2. Ingram Frizer: the personal servant and business agent of Marlowe's patron, the wealthy Thomas Walsingham, cousin of the recently deceased Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, who had created the espionage service which protected Queen Elizabeth's life from the on-going Catholic assassination plots. Thomas Walsingham had assisted his illustrious cousin as his right-hand man and was himself a master-spy.
  3. Nicholas Skeres: a minor cog in the great Walsingham spy machine, who often assisted Poley. A shady character, who was, at this time, engaged in a double-dealing project with Ingram Frizer to fleece a naive young man of his money (termed "conny-catching" by the Elizabethans). In fact Skeres, Frizer and Poley were all skilful con-men and liars.
  4. Christopher Marlowe: the famous poet-dramatist, who enjoyed both the friendship and the patronage of Thomas Walsingham and at whose estate, Scadbury in Kent, he was staying at the time of his arrest, having gone there to escape the plague in London.

Thomas Walsingham therefore can be seen to be connected with all four of these men.