Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

Why Was He Murdered? Theory Two

A second scenario proposes that Marlowe was done in because of his heresy. Shortly after Marlowe's death, a document, written a short time before by Richard Baines, surfaced. In it, Baines claimed that Marlowe had uttered various blasphemies, the most serious of which denied the divinity of Christ. Ten days before Marlowe's appearance before authorities, Marlowe's fellow playwright, Thomas Kyd, was arrested and tortured until he confessed that heretical documents found in his chamber were written by Marlowe when the two had shared quarters in 1591. It is believed that Marlowe's summons before the Privy Council a few weeks before he was murdered was based on these accusations, as well as other unspecified evidence that Marlowe was a heretic. Heresy in Elizabethan times was a capital offense, carried out in a most horrendous manner — hanging, disemboweling while still alive, drawing and quartering. Yet, Marlowe was released by the council, with the mild admonishment that he must remain in the area and report daily to officers of the council. This was a curious procedure, considering the severity of such an accusation. As a matter of record, Marlowe was summoned by the Privy Council for this interview while he was visiting his patron, Thomas Walsingham, so it is unlikely that Walsingham was unaware of Marlowe's predicament. A possibility exists that the true reason for his requested appearance had more to do with his association with others whom the council wished to discredit than with any intemperate beliefs on Marlowe's part.

An interesting corollary to this theory and the preceding one is that Baines reports that Marlowe spoke boldly of Jesus and his disciples as a licentious homosexual group, with blasphemies about Jesus' relationship to Peter. In effect, the Baines letter does triple duty in accusing Marlowe: heretic, blasphemer and sodomite.

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