By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

6. The World of Christopher Marlowe, by David Riggs, pp. 127-158

The World of Christopher 
MarloweChapter Seven: Plots and Counter Plots
One reason for Marlowe's absences from the university during the last years of his scholarship after receiving the B.A. degree may be that he was involved in espionage. In June 1587, the university authorities were told by the Queen's Privy Council that Marlowe "had done her Majesty good service ... in matters touching the benefit of the country." He may have gone to France, to the English seminary at Rheims, which was where exiled Catholics studied for the priesthood. It also "housed many of Queen Elizabeth's mortal enemies." The letter from the council doesn't specify what Marlowe's "good service" was, but it has been inferred that he was a spy. When he returned to Cambridge, he seems to have been in possession of more money than his scholarship, which wasn't paid during absences, afforded. "The theory that he was being paid for doing Her Majesty good service looks more compelling with the benefit of hindsight." Many of the people who figure in his postgraduate life were known to have spied on the seminary at Rheims, including Richard Baines, Thomas Watson, Thomas Walsingham and Robert Poley. 

The plots emanating from Rheims centered on Mary, Queen of Scots, whom Catholics considered the rightful heir to the English throne, particularly after Queen Elizabeth had been excommunicated in 1570. Mary was suspected of having conspired with the Earl of Bothwell in the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley. After her marriage to Bothwell provoked an uprising in 1567, she abdicated in favor of her son, James VI, and fled to England, only to be put under house arrest by her cousin Elizabeth. The prospect of overthrowing Elizabeth and installing Mary in her place was very appealing to Catholics.

The Catholic cause gained a martyr in 1577 when the Jesuit priest Cuthbert Mayne, who had studied at the English seminary at Douai, was hanged, drawn and quartered after a trial for high treason. The senior judge at the trial was Sir Roger Manwood, who overruled another judge's observation that the worst offense with which Mayne was charged -- "possession of an innocuous papal bull that had already expired" -- was trivial. Another assembly of judges reversed Manwood's sentence, but the Privy Council upheld it and ordered that Mayne's head and the quarters of his body be displayed in five towns as a warning to papists. Riggs notes that "Justice Manwood would prove more lenient when Marlowe and Thomas Watson came before him 'on suspicion of murder' twelve years later," and that Marlowe wrote a Latin epitaph for Manwood singling out the judge's "remarkable capacity to instil terror."

At the time of Mayne's mission to England, Watson was at the seminary at Douai, but he fled after Protestant forces seized the city in 1577. The seminary itself, under the leadership of Father William Allen, was evicted from Douai in 1578 and relocated in Amiens. Watson's knowledge of who had been at the seminary was valuable when he returned to England and went to work for the Privy Council. He posed as a recusant Catholic, gathering information on foreign Catholics in England, and working as a messenger to the Paris household of Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen's principal secretary. "His new job brought him to within seventy miles of his friends and former colleagues who had moved from Douai to Rheims; now, however, Watson was employed by the other side."

The seminary at Rheims was under the protection of the Duke of Guise, who is the villain of Marlowe's Massacre at Paris. Guise was also a cousin of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the seminary "now became the major launch point for plots against the monarchy and life of Elizabeth I." Richard Baines entered the seminary in 1579, but the record is contradictory about whether he was sent to spy or did so out of religious conviction. Riggs comments that "Baines is a hard man to pin down." He claimed that his initial impulse was religious and that he changed sides later, although this admission was elicited under torture: "A lapsed Catholic who confessed and repented stood a better chance of leaving Rheims alive than a confirmed heretic and professional spy did." The transcript of his oral confession to Father Allen also contains testimony by witnesses. In the confession Baines denies the existence of Purgatory, but a witness says he also denied the existence of hell. He also denounced other Catholic doctrines such as transubstantiation, "clerical celibacy, the Papacy and prayers for the dead." The interesting thing is that many of the things he confessed to are precisely the things he accused Marlowe of to the Privy Council in 1593. "Was Baines an informant, a mentor or a ventriloquist?"

One of the most complex plots uncovered by Walsingham's spies involved Esme Stuart, who was male and French and in 1579 became the lover of his cousin James VI. Stuart converted to Protestantism and James made him Duke of Lennox in 1581. He had been sent to Edinburgh by the Duke of Guise to convert James to Catholicism and set in motion an invasion of England, the liberation of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the return of England to Catholicism. In the summer of 1581, Walsingham went to France to negotiate a marriage between Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou. He was joined in Paris by his cousin Thomas Walsingham and by a messenger who was very probably Thomas Watson, who knew Father Allen and other seminarians at Rheims from his stay at the seminary in Douai. "He was ideally placed to brief Thomas Walsingham and to debrief Richard Baines," who was ordained a priest in September.

The Lennox plot, which was coordinated by Father Allen, began to come together in early 1582: The Duke of Guise was ready to send soldiers to land as a diversion on the coast of Sussex, and Mary sent word from prison to Philip II of Spain urging him to get involved. The pope was asked to name Allen Bishop of Durham, to rally Catholics in the north of England, and the papal nuncio in France assured the pope's secretary of state that Catholic priests in England would rally the faithful to support an invasion. But then a friend of Baines's revealed to Allen that Baines was spying for the Privy Council. Baines was tortured but held out until the summer when he finally confessed. But Walsingham now had enough evidence to persuade the Protestant lords in Scotland to act, and when they kidnapped King James in the Raid of Ruthven in August, "Lennox had lost his only substantial asset," and he was banished from Scotland in January 1585.

Baines, who had been imprisoned since his confession, recanted that confession in May in "what looks suspiciously like a plea bargain": Baines gained his freedom and Father Allen got a document in which Baines "cast himself in the role of a penitent papist. He substituted an anti-Protestant diatribe for his earlier attacks on the Catholic religion" -- he blamed it on the devil. This made it possible for Allen to "whitewash" the role of the Rheims seminary in the plot. Baines's confession was included in a collection of recantations by Catholics who had strayed over to the Protestant side. The Lennox plot is reflected in Edward II, written about nine years later, in which the king's relationship with Gaveston echoes that of James and Esme Stuart.

 In the "Rainbow Portrait," Queen Elizabeth's gown 
is embroidered with ears and eyes, symbols of surveillance.

"Intelligence gathering was a major growth industry during Marlowe's student years." Leicester, Burghley and Walsingham each had his own corps of spies, and in 1581-82, Elizabeth "authorized Walsingham to organize the first state-sponsored secret service in English history." The Jesuits targeted university students, so Walsingham began recruiting students for counterintelligence. "The industrious Parker Scholars -- quick-witted, needy and beholden to the Church of England -- were just the kind of men the Secretary was looking for." In the followup to the Lennox plot, most of the elements had been discovered: the involvement of the Duke of Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots, and the support of the pope. "Secretary Walsingham now realized that the conspiracy to depose Elizabeth had become vast, international and self-perpetuating.

Assassination plots against the queen now began to be uncovered. Pope Gregory XIII had opined that England should "be freed by any means from oppression," which gave license to plotters such as George Gifford, a member of the queen's household, who told the Duke of Guise that he would murder the queen for 800 crowns. The murder of the Protestant Prince William of Orange in 1584 sent a shock through the English parliament, which passed the Act for the Queen's Surety that prescribed the death penalty for would-be assassins and also for any potential successor to the crown who knew about a plot -- i.e., Mary, Queen of Scots.

In 1585, Sir Francis Walsingham's expenditures for surveillance jumped almost tenfold. This was also the year that Marlowe began his frequent absences from Cambridge. Thomas Walsingham acted as his cousin's recruiter and liaison with agents in the field, such as Robert Poley, who was a Catholic and was married to a member of the Watson family. "These facts make it likely that Watson and Poley were allied to one another as brothers-in-law, cousins by marriage, double agents in Secretary Walsingham's employ or simply as members of the recusant community." In 1583, Poley arranged to be imprisoned in the Marshalsea, which had many Catholic priests who were detained and tortured there. Secretary Walsingham did not entirely trust Poley because he sometimes took steps such as corresponding with an agent of Mary, Queen of Scots, without checking in with Walsingham first. This "brings out the fundamental dilemma of freelance intelligence work. Spies conspired with the enemy in order to extract their secrets; but if they did so without 'consent and direction' from the Council, they were apt to be accused of the very crimes they sought to discover."

George Gifford, meanwhile, was still in the pay of the Duke of Guise for his promise to kill the queen, and in the summer of 1585 his brother William, who would become Archbishop of Rheims and Primate of France, and his cousin Gilbert Gifford enlisted a soldier, John Savage, to carry out the murder. Also involved in the plot was the priest John Ballard, who posed as a soldier named Captain Fortescue, or "Foscue." In England, Ballard/Fortescue began recruiting members of the Catholic gentry such as Anthony Babington, Charles Tilney and Edward Windsor to support an invasion. He also met with John Savage and with Bernard Maude, who had connections at court and was able to obtain a passport for Fortescue to return to France in 1586. But Maude was a spy in Walsingham's employ. And Walsingham had a bigger target in mind: Mary, Queen of Scots. Walsingham had managed to get Gilbert Gifford on his side to move the plot along so that he could trap not only the conspirators but also Mary.

Don Bernardino de Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador to France, was informed of the plot by Ballard, who was eager to get the Spanish involved in an invasion plan. Mendoza was cautiously optimistic, writing to Philip II about the details of the plot, and telling Ballard to keep him apprised of the details. He especially wanted to know how many English Catholics could be counted on to support the conspiracy. Spain would prepare to invade if they could be supplied with the information.

Back in London, Ballard assumed the Fortescue role again and related the details of the plot to Anthony Babington, who somewhat reluctantly agreed to join the plot to assassinate Elizabeth. Babington needed a friend at court who could obtain a passport for him to travel abroad, and he found it in Robert Poley, whom Babington began calling "Sweet Robin." Poley egged him on, and Babington fell for the trap: He "rashly sent Queen Mary a letter 'touching every particular of this plot.' Mary wrote back endorsing the conspiracy. [Walsingham's right-hand-man] Thomas Phelippes intercepted her letter and the trap snapped shut." Many of the agents involved in exposing the assassination plot would later appear again in the murder of Christopher Marlowe.

Queen Elizabeth was reluctant to carry out the prescribed sentence for Mary's involvement in the plot. She "took extraordinary measures to contrive that Mary die a 'natural' death. The queen twice jailed her cousin in a draughty, foul-smelling addition to Tutbury Castle, where Mary was afflicted by the odour of manure heaps." She also hinted that she would be pleased if someone else took the initiative of getting rid of Mary and "made it clear that one of her ministers would have to trick her into signing Mary's death warrant." The French ambassador, who was the only person in England who could have effectively protested Mary's execution, was tricked by one of Walsingham's operatives into knowledge of a phony assassination plot against Elizabeth. The ambassador was put under house arrest and "Secretary Davidson obligingly placed Mary's death warrant in a stack of routine documents that required the queen's signature." Mary was executed on February 14, 1587. "Elizabeth flew into a rage" and "had Davidson, the scapegoat, arrested and fined 10,000 pounds for transmitting the warrant that she had signed.... The theatre of the world, however, was wider than England. Instead of being pacified by Elizabeth's show of grief, King Philip II began to assemble the Spanish Armada."

In Edward II, "King Edward's estranged queen and her consort, Lord Mortimer, take extraordinary steps to avoid the blame for murdering the king." Edward is imprisoned in a sewer in hope that he'll die, and the queen says he wishes his death "were not by my means." Mortimer makes the order of execution ambiguous so that it can be read as either an order to spare the king or to kill him, and he has the executioner murdered. In The Jew of Malta Barabas says
As good dissemble that thou never mean'st 
As first mean truth, and then dissemble it; 
A counterfeit profession is better 
Than unseen hypocrisy. 
Hypocrites like William Allen "refused to acknowledge ('dissembled') the unseen discrepancy between their religious vocation and their violent takeover plots." Baines, Maude, Poley and Gilbert Gifford pretended to believe in a religion so they could infiltrate it. "Barabas sides with the counterfeit professors. An agent who sees another person's religion as a fiction has the advantage over a believer deluded by his own cant." The Massacre at Paris, written in 1592, is "a retrospective history of the period when Marlowe became involved with the secret service.... The only way to survive in this world is to know your enemies' plans ahead of time; the losers in this play are always those without reliable intelligence."

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