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Marlowe and Arbella Stuart (~Arabella)

One of the most intriguing discoveries about Marlowe to surface in recent years has been the notice taken of a dispatch or letter from the Countess of Shrewsbury to Lord Burghley dated 21 September 1592.   It is British Library, Lansdowne MS 71, fo.3.

Bess of Hardwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury Lord George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury her Husband, sometimes estranged.

It speaks of a certain "Morley" who had  "attended" and "read"  for Arbella for "the space of three year and a half."

Lady Arbella Stuart when she was somewhat less than two.  The portrait is one of two of her at Hardwick Hall signed C.M.  Another of Mary, Queen of Scots bears a similar inscription. And the one below, dated 1585 is quite imaginary since Mary and James never saw each other at this stage of their lives.

It was first discovered by E. St. John Brooks in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement  in 1937 and was, more recently, rejected by Charles Nicholl, in The Reckoning, as the most promising of what he called the "false trails" or leads concerning Marlowe’s life.  Most intriguing because it would have placed Marlowe at the hub of dynastic affairs and plots, which seemed to be trusting England in the late 1580s and early 1590s towards a nearly unavoidable civil war.  This remarkable evidence was rejected by Boas in his well respected biography of Marlowe, but as we can see below Boas was simply mistaken about where Arbella was during the three and a half year period in question (1588/9-1592):

The scan on the left is from Durant (Bess of Hardwick, 1978) and proves that Bess moved her headquarters from Hardwick Hall to London on the 9th of September 1589, ten days before the Bradley duel. Durant writes, "In effect Bess was moving the operational centre of her business empire from Derbyshire to London." The scan on the right is from Boas' biography of Marlowe, (Oxford, 1940) and argues that Marlowe could not have been Arbella's tutor because Arbella was at Hardwick hall during this period. Boas rejects the claim in this footnote writing, "The documentary evidence of Marlowe's residence in London between September and December 1589 is alone sufficient to dispose of a suggestion Made by E. St. John Brooks [that Marlowe was Arbella's tutor for 'a space of three years and a half.'"   Boas was wrong.  But we can excuse his error because Durant had yet to write his biography of Bess.  We cannot excuse Nicholl or the DNB.  

Arbella Stuart was, at that time, 13 and Elizabeth’s most likely successor. Indeed she was then the only person directly in line for the throne of England then on English soil. Her cousin, James VI, at that time was King of Scotland, and was not, thus officially, in line for succession.

The Countess of Shrewsbury was Arbella’s maternal Grandmother and Lord Burghley, as Master of Wards, was responsible for her education, as he had been for Oxford’s and Southampton’s.  The sad fact is that Arbella was kept a close prisoner all her life and few have lived more tragic lives than hers.  Regarded as property, jailed, watched and, when she could take it no more, escaped and recaptured.   Surely, as Professor Steen and others have noted, Arbella served as the allusional substrata for Cymbeline's  Imogen.  (The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart, Sara Jayne Steen, ed., Oxford, 96)

Given the date of the letter we can easily extrapolate this "Morley" began his duties with Arbella, sometime prior to 21 March 1588/9. Elizabethans were notoriously imprecise about dates. Did the Countess mean to include his service for the half year of 1592 or not?

With this in mind, this "Morley" either joined her staff c. 22 March 1588/9 or, perhaps as early as the year before, i.e., late in 1587 or early in 1588.

All this becomes important when notice is taken of what the Countess says about this particular Morley, namely that he complained about being much "damnified by leaving of the University." A damage done to him by his appointment as Arbella’s "reader and attendant" or as we might say, "tutor."

Clearly the future Queen of England could not have her education trusted to a ordinary pedagogue. She would require, at the very least, a university trained man, either a Cambridge or Oxford MA. 

Moreover Arbella was a "hot property," closely guarded by the state and her family and the center of many European plots on the throne of England. So the tutor would need to be a man as confident with a rapier as with a book and viola, which Arbella soon learned to play, and, preferably, someone with covert diplomatic ties to Lord Burghley, someone who could, as the expression goes, "meet plot with counterplot." 

He would also need to be a linguist, skilled in French, as well as in Latin and Italian. Languages Arbella became fluent in. Indeed, judging from the record, in Greek as well.

The only Morley who fits this profile was Christopher Marlowe, the Cambridge MA, poet, playwright, musician and covert diplomat, who Burghley had gone to considerable pains for in the summer of 1587 to secure an MA for him from Cambridge.

Lord Burghley, now established as Marlowe's prime mover, whose name graces the Privy Council's entail for Marlowe's M. A. hinting of many "honest...matters [and] affairs" for the Queen, but unknown to the Dons.  Sir Francis Walsingham, long suspected of being Marlowe's prime mover in covert affairs, but uninvolved in the Privy Council's demand for Marlowe's M.A.

(Link to Privy Council’s Entail to Cambridge)

This remains the only time Burghley troubled himself to secure a degree for a man employed in covert affairs.

It stands as a clear indication that Burghley had public plans for Marlowe, which required Marlowe to have his degree in hand. 

If Burghley simply expected a covert proxy, the degree would not  have been required and there would be no reason to break Marlowe’s well established "cover." 

Though the entail does not confirm it, it suggest that Marlowe had done duty "beyond the seas" at "Reames," the French Catholic university. So Marlowe’s command of French would be stronger than might otherwise be expected.

Burghley’s public intervention and effort in obtaining Marlowe’s MA signals Burghley had high level, public plans for young Christopher Morley and with his name turning up with Arbella Stuart, we now know what these plans were.

Looked at from Marlowe’s perspective, with his MA in hand, particularly now that he had Burghley’s and the Queen’s public backing, Marlowe could have remained at Cambridge and picked up his Doctorate in short order, an academic move that would have placed him on a par with his friend and mentor, Doctor Thomas Watson, who was at that time also at Cambridge and working "under the table" for Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham in covert affairs. (Watson skills in languages would come in handy with furthering Arbella’s education.)

Yet our Marlowe left his university shortly after he received his MA for parts unknown.

Now, we know why, he’d been assigned, or was about to be assigned, as the "reader and attendant" for Arbella Stuart.

The fuller record places Arbella in London at the times Marlowe is known to have been in London, so there are no estoppels on this front. Additionally Bess writes that her "Morley" was much "discontented...since my return to the country." i.e., to Hardwick Hall.

Given that no other Morley or Marlowe left a university setting during the period in question, i.e., 1587-1588/9, only our Marlowe can have been Arbella’s tutor or "reader and attendant."  The identification is thus exclusive.

Indeed it is a well established fact that when Marlowe and Watson were arrested in Hogs Lane for the slaying of one William Bradley, Bess’s steward, Edward Whaley, was in London establishing her base of operations there. His ledger is dated 9/19 September 1589 and is Folger, Vb,308.

Watson may well have been helping Marlowe with Arbella. In any event Marlowe was promptly bailed and must have returned to work immediately.

A poor black and white image of Arbella about the time Marlowe became her reader and attendant.  It too is signed "C.M."  Clearly dated 1589. An almost identical "portrait" of Mary Queen of Scots, now at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Notice the similarity in the carpets and the draped tables.

The entire episode is closely paralleled in Twelfth Night in the charming chatter between Sir Toby and Maria regarding Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who the Author describes as having "the strangest mind in the world." A mind sometimes "given entirely to masques" i.e., plays. Sir Andrew is an accomplished viola player and singer as well.

Maria banters with him about his penchant for engaging in dangerous street fighting and suggests that he barely escaped death on at least one memorable occasion by a "gust",i.e., by ducking. Aguecheek, like Marlowe is later bashed in the head and returns for from the dead.

No parallels could be closer.

Importantly intelligence from this assignment also ends up in 1 Henry VI, long suspected as Marlowe’s. The play was withheld from publication for over thirty years, presumably to keep this connection private. It involves the ahistoric scene between Lord Talbot and the feisty French Countess Auvergne.  

Bess, the Countess of Shrewsbury, always feisty, had been married to the Elizabethan Lord Talbot and quarreled with him so publicly that Elizabeth I had been forced to intervene in their domesticity.   The scene contains intelligence relating to her lavish art collection housed at Hardwick Hall and to the tensions between Bess and Talbot.  One hilarious conceit involves the juxtaposition of George Talbot, the Elizabethan Talbot, who tower above six feet was a veritable giant among peers, as a dwarf in I Henry VI.  Dwarfed by the volatile Countess in her "picture gallery."  That hall contained tapestries containing famous classical scenes, including the rape of Lucrece, and, perhaps, Hero and Leander and Venus and Adonis, as well.

Again no parallel could be closer.

Significantly, William Herbert, whose initials grace the Sonnets and who is urged therein to marry, did marry Bess' daughter or stepdaughter, to be more precise, Lady Mary Talbot.

Herbert appears under his own name as the dedicatee of the First Folio where it is said he had "prosecuted" the poet's "trifles" in the past.  We know this is true for Marlowe, because his plays were produced by Lord's Pembroke's Men.

Two of Arbella's Letters.  Both evidencing her lovely Italic Hand, the one on the right was a casual hand, the other a presentation hand.  She would have learned both hands from her Mr. Morley, who as we have seen learned a similar hand at Cambridge.  (Faunt)  Below an example of Marlowe's Italian hand in the so called Arrian Heresy notes, which have proven a transcript from The Fall of the Late Arrian, a legal book in the library of Marlowe's headmaster, John Gresshop, at the King's School.

Below his hand, c. 1580, in the Timon, ms.


One additional link needs to be cited.  A very curious theological track entitled Slave Deus Rex Judaeorum appeared in 1611, timed to coincide with the publication the King James Bible.  It was attributed to a notorious courtesan, Emilia Lanier, suggested as Shakespeare's Dark Lady, by A. L. Rowse, who resurrected the volume from surviving fragments and it edited the modern edition.  The volume remains highly inflammatory and heretical and is, thus, similar in nature to Marlowe's earlier religious efforts.  It suggests, among other things, that sin enters the human race through males, since Jesus, said to have been born of a human mother, but a heavenly father, was born without sin.  

It is a rhymed  iambic pentameter translation of the New Testament focusing on the betrayal of Jesus.  It contains a dozen dedicatory epistles to Royal Ladies, which the Author indelicately insinuates She (or was it He?) has had affairs with.  One of them is addressed specifically to Arbella Stuart. It begins:

    "Great Learned Ladie, whom I long have knowne, And yet not knowne so much as I desired:"

This matchless poet and translator continues:

    "In glittering raiment shining much more bright/Than silver Starres in the most frostie night."

Who else could this be, but the world's greatest mouth?

See my letter proving all this in Notes and Queries, September 1997:  the one Nicholl and Riggs can't bear to read:



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