These notorious manuscripts appear to support the idea of Christopher Marlowe as the wild boy of Elizabethan literature. They present the playwright as a controversial figure, with subversive views of religion and sexuality.
The manuscripts include a famous note from the double agent and informer Richard Baines, making damning accusations that Marlowe was an ‘Atheist’ with too much love for ‘Tobacco & Boies [boys]’. Baines suggests that Marlowe’s ‘dangerous’ mouth should ‘be stopped’ (f. 186r) and, a few days later, the playwright was fatally stabbed at Mrs Bull’s lodging house in Deptford. The inquest said there was a fight about the bill for food and drink. But some critics have suggested that the manuscripts offer other clues about why Marlowe died on 30 May 1593.
Why was Marlowe under suspicion shortly before his death?
In the spring of 1593, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth ordered a crackdown on Catholics and atheists. In particular, she wanted to punish those who were hostile towards Protestant immigrants.
On 5 May, a poem promoting violence against immigrant traders was posted on the wall of a Dutch church in London. It was signed with the name of Marlowe’s character, ‘Tamburlaine’. Initially, the playwright Thomas Kyd was suspected of involvement. But when he was arrested and tortured in mid-May, Kyd pointed the finger at Marlowe, who had been his room-mate in 1591.
The Privy Council ordered the informer, Thomas Drury to find further evidence that Marlowe was an atheist. Drury seems to have persuaded Richard Cholmeley and Richard Baines to make charges against Marlowe. On 18 May a warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest, but he was placed on bail and put under government surveillance, up to the time he was killed.
What did Marlowe’s accusers say?
Transcript of Thomas Kyd’s accusations against Marlowe (f. 154r)
This document was written after Marlowe’s death, but it probably reflects what Kyd said about ‘Marlowes monstruous opinions’ when he was interrogated in May 1593. Kyd claims that Marlowe would ‘jest at the devine scriptures’ and make shocking suggestions that Christ had ‘an extraordinary love’ – or sexual relationship – with St John.
Accusations against Marlowe, signed by Baines and handed to the authorities, probably on 27th May 1593 (ff. 185r–86r)
This is the infamous statement by Richard Baines, a known enemy of Marlowe’s. Baines and Marlowe had shared a room in the Dutch town of Flushing, c. 1591–92, where they got embroiled in counterfeiting coins. When Baines informed on his fellows, Marlowe was arrested and deported to England.
Here, Baines seems to take pleasure in characterising Marlowe as the most outrageous of atheists, listing all the scandalous things that he (allegedly) said: religion was invented just ‘to keep men in awe’, ‘Christ was a bastard’, St John ‘was bedfellow to Christ’, Marlowe had as much right to make coins as ‘the Queen of England’, ‘the sacrament … would have bin much better being administred in a Tobacco pipe’.
Papers found in Kyd’s room, which he said he had from Marlowe (ff. 187, 188, 189r–v)
When Kyd was arrested, three pages copied from Proctor's The Fall of the Late Arrian were found in his room. The interrogators wrote, in a note on the back, that the text contained ‘Vile Hereticall’ ideas ‘Denyinge the Deity of Jhesus Christe’, which Kyd said he had got ‘From Marlowe’. Kyd argued, in another letter (Harley MS 6849, ff. 218r–v), that the pages were just ‘fragments of a disputation’, which must have been ‘shufld’ [muddled up] with Kyd’s papers when he and Marlowe were ‘wrytinge in one chamber’ two years before.
The ‘Remembrances’ against Richard Cholmeley (ff. 190r–v; 191r)
These two documents list accusations against the spy and double agent, Richard Cholmeley, probably made by Richard Drury. Cholmley is said to have argued that Marlowe gave persuasive ‘reasons for Atheisme’.
Pleaseth it yo[u]r Honorable L[ordshi]p toching Marlowes monstruouce opiniones as I
cannot but w[i]th an agreved conscience think on him or them so can I but p[ar]ticulariz
fewe in the respect of them that kept him greater company, Howbeit in
discharg of dutie both tow[a]rd[es] god yo[u]r L[ordshi]ps & the world thus much have I though[t]
good breiflie to discover in all humblenes
First it was his custom when I knewe him first & as I heare saie he
contynew[e]d it in table talk or otherwise to iest at the devine scriptures
gybe at princ[es], & stryve in argum[en]t to frustrate & confute what hath byn
spoke or wrytt by prophets & such holie men
1 He wold report St. John to be o[u]r savior Christes Plexis [?] I cover it w[i]th reverence
and trembling that is that Christ did love him w[i]th an extraordinary love/
2 That for me to wryte a poem of St Paule’s conversion as I was determined
he said wold be as if I shold go wryte a book of fast & loose, esteming
Paul a Jugler.
3 That the prodigall Child[es] portion was but fower nobles, he held his
purse so neere the bottom in all pictures, and that it either was a iest
or els fowr nobles then was thought a great patrimony not thinking it a
4 That things esteemed to be donn by devine power might have aswell been don
by observation of men all w[hi]ch he wold so sodenlie take slight occasion to
slyp out as I & many others in regard of his other rashnes in attempting
soden pryvie iniuries to men did overslypp though often reprehend him for it
& for which god is my witnes aswell by my lord[es] comanndm[en]t as in hatred
of his Life & thoughts I left & did refraine his companie
He wold p[er]swade w[i]th men of quallitie to goe unto the K[ing] of Scotts whether
I heare Royden is gon and where if he had liv’d he told me when I
sawe him last he meant to be
A note Containing the opinion of on[e] Christopher
Marly Concerning his Damnable exxxx Judgment
of Religion, and scorn of god[es] word.
That the Indians and many Authors of Antiquity have
assuredly writen of above 16 thousand yeares agone wher
as Moyses ^ Adam is said ^ proved to have lived w[i]thin 6 thowsand yeares.
He affirmeth that Moyses was but a Jugler, & that one
Heriot being Sir W[alter] Raleighs man Can do more then he.
That Moyses made the Jewes to travell xl  yeares in the
wildernes (w[hi]ch Jorney might have bin done in lesse then
one yeare) ere they Came to the promised land, to th’intent
that those who were privy to most of his subtilties might
perish and so an everlasting superstition Remain in the hart[es]
of the people.
That the first beginning of Religionn was only to keep men
That it was an easy matter for Moyses being brought up in
all the art[es] of the Egiptians to abuse the Jewes being
a rude & grosse people.
That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest.
That he was the sonne of a Carpenter, and that if the
Jewes among whome he was borne did Crucify him
theie best knew him and whence he Came.
That Crist deserved better to dy then Barrabas and
that the Jewes made a good Choise, though Barrabas
were both a theif and a murtherer.
That if there be any god or any good Religion, then it
is in the papist[es] because the service of god is perform[ed]
w[i]th more Cerimonies, as Elevation of the mass, organs,
singing men, Shaven Crownes, &cra. that all protestant[es]
are HypoCriticall asses.
That if he were put to write a new Religion, he would
undertake both a more Exellent and Admirable methode
and that all the new testament is filthily written.
That the woman of Samaria & her sister were whores
& that Christ knew them dishonestly.
[in left margin in pencil] f 185 removed for Exhibition April 1964 G.R.Davis
That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to C[hrist]
and leaned alwaies in his bosome, that he used him
as the sinners of Sodoma.
That all they that love not Tobacco & Boies were fooles.
That all the apostles were fishermen and base fellowes
neyther of wit nor worth, that Paull only had wit
but he was a timerous fellow in bidding men to be
subiect to magistrates against his Conscience
That he had as good Right to Coine as the Queen of
England, and that he was aqainted w[i]th one Poole
a prisoner in Newgate who hath great skills in mix-
ture of mettals and having learned some thing[es] of
him he ment through help of a Cunning stamp
maker to Coin French Crownes pistolet[es] and Eng-
That if Christ would have instituted the sacrament
w[i]th more Ceremoniall Reverence it would have
bin had in more admiration, that it would have
bin much better being administred in a Tobacco pipe
That the Angell Gabriell was baud to the Holy
ghost, because he brought the salutation to Mary.
xxxx That on[e] Ric[hard] Cholmley xxxx xxxxx hath Confessed
that he was perswaded by Marloe’s Reasons to become an Atheist.
These thing[es], w[i]th many other shall by good &
honest witnes be aproved to be his opinions and
Comon Speeches and that this Marlow doth not
only hould them himself but almost into every
Company he Cometh he perswades men to Atheism
willing them not to be afeard of bug-beares and
hobgoblins, and utterly scorning both god and his
ministers as I Richard Baines will Justify &
approve both by mine oth and the testimony
of many honest men, and almost al men with
whome he hath Conversed any time will
testify the same, and as I think all men in
Cristianity ought to indevor that the mouth of
so dangerous a member may be stopped, he saith likewise
that he hath quoted a number of Contrarieties oute of
the Scripture w[hi]ch he hath given to some great men who
in Convenient time shalbe named, when these thing[es] shalbe
Called in question the witnes shalbe produced.
for how may it be thought tru religion which uniteth in
one subiect contraries as visibilitie & invisibilitie
mortallitie & imortallitie & cet[era]
It is lawfull by many wayes to se the infirmitie of Jhesus
Christ whom Paul in the last chapter to the Corinthia[n]s
of the second Epistle denieth not to be crucified through
infirmitie And the whole course & consent of the Evan=
gelicall history doth make him subiect to the passions of
man as hunger thirst wearines & fear To the same end
ar swete anxietie continuall praier the consolation of the
Angell again spitting whipping rebukes or checks His
corps wrapt in the linnen cloth unburied And to beleve
forsooth that this nature subiect to theis infirmiteis &
passions is God or any part of the divine essence what is
it other but to make God mightie & of power of th’one
part weak & impotent of th’other part which thing to
think it wer madness & follie To persuade others impie-
The Nature divine is single comunicable to no creature compre-
hensible of no creat understanding explicable w[i]t[h] no speche
But as Paul saith in the first of the Romains by the visi-
ble structure of the world we deprehend the invisible of
power sapience & goodnes of God wher it is by the Scriptures
evident That ther is one God As in the sixt of Deut: yo[u]r
God is one God yet the vocable is stransferred to other
& therfore it is written in the eightenth Psalme of
David God stood in the sinagog of Gods which place
Christ in the tenth of John declareth to agree to the
Prophett[es] whiles he studieth to avoid the crime of Blas=
phemie for that the calling of God Father had signified
himselfe to be the Sonn of God And Paul the first
to the Corinthians 8 Chapter And though ther be which
ar called Gods whether in heaven or in earth as ther be
Gods many & lords many yet unto me ther is but one God
which is the father of whom ar all thing[es] & we in him &
saith Paul ther be to whom their bellie is God But to many
Idols according to that saying all the Gods of the gentils
Idols And Paul in the second to the Corinthians fourth Cap:
doth call Satan the God of this world To me it is app=
lied but seldom yet somtime it is And then we underst-
and it as a name of mean power & not of the everlasting
power Exodus two & twentie Thow shalt not detract
the Gods And Moises be he a God to Pharao Again
Paul to the Romains Ninth calleth Christ God blessed
forever And in the Gospell of John Chap: twentie Thomas
Didimus doth acknowledge him God thorough the feling of
the wound many times that I remember I do not finde
will say throughly w[i]th one & the same perpetuall tenor
What the Scriptures do witnes of God it is clere &
manifest inough for first Paul to the Romains declareth
that he is everlasting And to Timothi im[m]ortall & invisible
to the Thessalonians living & true James teacheth also
that he is incom[m]utable which thing in the old law &
Prophet[es] likwise ar thought infixed inculcate so often
that they cannot escape the Reader And yf we think
thes epithet[i]ons not vainly put but truly & proffitably
adiect And that they agree to God And that they we
must not beleve him to be God to whom the same agree not
we therfor call God which onlie is worthie this name &
appellation Everlasting, Invisible, Incom[m]utable Incom=
prehensible Im[m]ortall &c
What the Scriptures do witness of God it is clere &
manifest inough & so forth as is above rehearced.
And yf Jhesus Christ even he which was borne of Marie
was God so shall he be a visible God comprehensible &
mortall which is not compted God w[i]t[h] me quote great
Athanasius of Allexandriæ &c.
For yf we be not able to comprehend nor the Angels
nor owr own sowles which ar things creat to wrongfully
then & absurdly we mak the creator of them comprehen-
sible especiallie contrary to so manifest testimonies of
the Scriptures &cet
Albeit in this veheme[n]t & unthought on perturbation of
mind reverend father all labor is odious writing difficult
& hard comentatio[n] unpleazant & grievos unto me yet in
the defence of my caus being required to write for the rever=
ence I ow to your Lordshipp Above other I have purposed
brefely & compendiously to com[m]it in writing what I think
W[hi]ch mine opinion by the comuncation before had w[i]t[h] your
Lordshipp might have bin evident inough & sufficiently
known withowt writing for first at the beginning when yo[u]r
Lordshipp admitted me to disputation before many witnesses
And then after to private & familier talk I did plainly
say all that then came into my mind verilie I have not
dissembled my opinion which I got not or borrowed owt
of Sarcerius, Conradus, Pellican, & such garbages or
rather sinks or gutters but owt of the sacred fountain.
To w[hi]ch sacred fountain iust & right faith ought to cleave
& lean in all controversies touching religion chefly in this
point w[hi]ch semeth to be the piller & stay of our religion.
Wher it is called in question concerning the invocation of
sainct[es] or expiation of sowles A man may err withowt great
danger in this point being the ground & foundation of owr
faith we may not err withowt dam[m]age to owr religion,
I call that true religion which instructeth mans minde
w[i]t[h] right faith & worthy opinion of God And I call that
right faith which doth creddit & beleve that of God w[hi]ch
the scriptures do testifie not in a few places & the
[name/same?] depraved &detort[__in]to wrong [___] [original damaged]
12 May 1593
Vile Hereticall Conceipt
Denyinge the Deity of Jhesus
Christe o[u]r Savior fownd
emongest the pap[er]s of Tho[mas]
w[hi]ch he affirmethe That he
had From Marlowe.
Remembrannces of Wordes & matter againste Ric[hard] Cholmeley
That hee speaketh in generall all evill of the Counsell; sayenge that they
are all Athiest[es] & Machiavillians, especially my Lord Admirall
That hee made certen libellious verses in Com[m]endac[i]on of papist[es] & Seminary
priestes very greately inveighenge againste the State, amonge w[hi]ch lynes
this was one, Nor may the Prince deny the Papall Crowne/
That hee had a certen booke (as hee saieth) deliv[er]ed him by S[i]r Rob[er]t Cecill
of whom hee geveth very scandalous report[es], that hee should incite him
to consider thereof & to frame verses & libells in the Com[m]endac[i]on of constant
Priest[es] & vertuous Recusant[es], this booke is in Custodie & is called an
Epistle of Comnforte & is printed at Paris
That hee railes at Mr Topcliffe & hath written another libell Jointlye
againste S[i]r Frauncis Drake & Justice Younge whom hee saieth hee
will Couple up together because hee hateth them alike
That when the muteny happened after the Portingale voyage in the Stande
hee said that hee repented him of nothinge more then that hee had not
killed my Lord Threasorer w[i]th his owne handes sayenge that hee could
nev[er] have done god better service, this was spoken in the hearinge of
Frauncis Clerke & many other Souldiours
That hee saieth hee doth entierly hate the Lord Chamberleyn & hath good cause
so to doe
That hee saieth & verely beleveth that one Marlowe is able to shewe more
sounde reasons for Atheisme then any devine in Englande is able to geve to
prove devinitie & that Marloe tolde him that hee hath read the Atheist lecture
to S[i]r Walter Raliegh & others.
That hee saieth that hee hath certen men corrupted by his p[er]suasions,
who wilbee ready at all tymes & for all causes to sweare whatsoev[er] seemeth
good to him, Amonge whom is one Henry Younge & Jasp[er] Borage & others.
That hee so highly esteemeth his owne witt & Judgement that hee saieth
that no man are sooner deceyved & abused then the Counsell themselves
& that hee can goe beyonde & Cossen them as hee liste & that if hee make
any Complainte in behalfe of the Queene, hee shall not onely bee p[rese]ntely
heard & enterteyned, but hee will so urge the Counsell for money that w[i]thout
hee have what hee liste, he will doe nothinge
That beinge imployed by some of her Ma[jes]t[ie]s prevy Counsaile for the apprehens[i]on
of Papist[es] & other danngerous men hee used as hee saieth to take money of
them & would lett them passe in spighte of the Counsell
That hee saieth that Will[ia]m Parry was hanged drawen & quartered but in
Jeste, that hee was a grosse asse, overreached by Conninge, & that in trueth
hee nev[er] meante to kill the Queene more then himselfe had
Righte Worshipfull whereas I p[ro]mised to sende you worde when Cholmeley
was w[i]th mee; these are to lett you understande that hee hath not yet
bene w[i]th mee for hee doeth partely suspecte that I will bewray his villanye
& his companye. But yesterday hee sente two of his Companions to mee
to knowe if I woulde Joyne w[i]th him in familiaritie & bee one of their
dampnable Crue. I sothed the villaynes w[i]th faire wordes in their follies
because I would thereby dive into the secretes of their develishe hartes
that I mighte the better bewray their purposes to drawe her Ma[jes]t[ie]s subiect[es]
to bee Athiest[es], their practise is after her Ma[jes]t[ies] decease to make a kinge
amonge themselves & live accordinge to their owne lawes, & this saieth
Cholmeley wilbee done easely, because they bee & shortely wilbe by his & his
felowes p[er]suasions asmany of their opynion as of any other religion
Mr Cholmeley his mann[er] of p[ro]ceedinge in seducinge the Queenes subiect[es]
is firste to make slaunderous reportes of most noble peeres & Honourable
Counsailors, as the Lord Threasorer the Lord Chamberleyn the Lord
Admirall, S[i]r Rob[er]t Cecill, These saieth hee have p[ro]founde wittes, bee
sounde Athiest[es] & their lives & deedes shewe that they thinke their soules
doe ende vanishe & p[er]ishe w[i]th their bodies
His seconde course is to make a Jeste of the Scripture w[i]th these fearefull
horrible & damnable speeches, that Jhesus Christe was a bastarde
St Mary a whore & the Anngell Gabriell a Bawde to the holy ghoste
& that Christe was Justly p[ro]secuted by the Jewes for his owne foolishnes,
that Moyses was a Jugler & Aaron a Cosoner the one for his miracles
to Pharao to prove there was a god, & the other for takinge the Earering[es]
of the children of Israell to make a golden calfe w[i]th many other blasphe=
mous speeches of the devine essence of god w[hi]ch I feare to rehearse
This Cursed Cholmeley hath LX  of his company & hee is seldome from
his felowes & therefore I beeseech yo[u]r Worship have a speciall care of yo[u]r
selfe in apprehendinge him for they bee resolute murderinge myndes
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