The Reckoning – Part One

This book is too full of information— not to mention exciting— for just one review, and I keep learning things I want to tell people, and most (all) people in my real life don’t care, and so the people I tell will be you.

So we know who Marlowe is, the playwright, the dodgy character, the likely good-looking, sexy-heretic-chancer who, like many hot characters from history, died young. Charles Nicholl has approached this book like a cross between a life-long archaeological dig, and an entertaining episode of the cold case-based BBC series ‘New Tricks’ (cue Dennis Waterman singing the theme tune)

A lot of time has passed, but Nicholl dispels the myths and inaccuracies, making me realise though I thought I knew about  the death of Christopher Marlowe, but I knew nothing I tell ya, nothing!

  • In the past I read Kit was killed in a tavern, but no! He was killed in the home of Eleanor Bull, a widow who provided rooms and meals. A public house, if you will, but not an actual pub as we would think of it. A lot of people were licensed to serve food and such from their homes, and so this wasn’t a drunken brawl in a dodgy bar, heaving with sailors and villains in a cross between Jamaica Inn and a Pirates of the Caribbean film, but a quiet, private room with a bed, a table and chair. And Eleanor was a woman of good standing, to the point of being related to Queen Betty’s adviser William Cecil, Lord Burghley. His crowd was like the most in-est of the in crowds a person could be in with.


So, he wasn’t stabbed while out on the lash, but after spending a day with three other men in a private room. I had also heard he was stabbed in the head, making me imagine a huge blade piercing his crown, leaving the kind of injury archaeologists find on battlefield skeletons that you can poke whole fingers through. However, yes it was his head, but actually the blade went in his eye socket. Still an awful injury, but one with less violent force and audible cracking than I’d imagined.

  • One of the other three men, Nicholas Skeres, was arrested regarding the Babington Plot, the scheme to kill Elizabeth I and get Mary Stuart on the throne. However, he wasn’t punished, and his name is only mentioned once in the paperwork, so he was definitely a planted agent, and Walsingham his boss.
  • Another of Walsingham’s men was Ingram Frizer, the man who was pardoned, in an unusually speedy manner, by the queen for Marlowe’s murder, as he claimed it was self defence.
  • Robert Poley was also properly dodgy. An informer, an agent provocateur, another connected, like Marlowe and the others, to Walsingham. A man who travelled on government business and was arrested in the Netherlands, and was known to be slippery and dishonest.

So Marlowe, who was also a man known to have spy master Walsingham as a patron, spent the day in the house of a woman with government connections, with three men who were super-shady like him, and found himself stabbed in the eye socket. The killer when then pardoned by the queen in double-quick time. Suspicious, no?

One thing we do know, if if this picture actually is Marlowe, is that he was no stranger to a can of mousse and a set of heated rollers. He’s quite the dandy playwright-spy that you’re too scared to mention…