In the midst of verdant valleys and well-wooded hills reposes Canterbury, capital of the ancient kingdom of Kent. Branches of the sleepy Stour intersect the plain in all directions, and one of these branches dividing, clasps two arms round the ancient city--a city claimed by one of its many renowned sons to be older than Rome itself! Steeples and spires and time-tinted turrets rise from out the plain, whilst far above them all, sour into mid-air the lofty towers of the Cathedral, the guardian of this erstwhile sacred city.
Canterbury, in many respects the second and in some even still the first city of the kingdom, in the latter half of the sixteenth century was gradually recovering from the shock it had received in the reign of King Henry VIII. It was not so much the spoliation of its enormous wealth--and six-and-twenty wagons had been employed in carrying off its gold and jewels--as the blow given to its sanctity by the desecration of its shrine, the decanonisation of its patron saint, and the overthrow of its religious pre-eminence. The loss of the miracle-working reputation which Henry had deprived the city of did more to impair its position than did the loss of its material possessions.
With the succession of Elizabeth, in 1558, brighter days seemed dawning on the distracted land, and 'the fair city of the East' shared in the general resuscitation. Civic prosperity, which had fluctuated sadly during the last two reigns, was, for a time at least, partially restored, and Canterbury smiled once more. Princes and ambassadors and other notabilities again made the city their halfway resting-place on the journey to London, and to some extent Canterbury resumed its wonted aspect. The prophets and the martyrs of the new mental era were born, but as yet they had neither preached, nor prophesied, nor had they yet suffered for the crime of knowledge. At present all went merrily, and men knew not the penalty of too much learning.
Freed from internal and foreign strife the citizens of Canterbury reverted to the love of the good things of this world, and appeared to concern themselves little with the mental problems which so violently agitated people in some parts of the kingdom. The misdeeds and offences which had been ascribed to the rule of priestcraft continued, or rather revived with renewed prosperity, and the city was a hotbed of vice. Wealth and poverty still elbowed each other in the streets, and extravagance and usury still held their carnivals. Midnight outrage and drunken brawls were anything but infrequent, and as the severity of punishment increased so did the number and nature of crimes. The civic records show that men literally carried their lives in their hands, for no one paraded the streets without a weapon, and daggers were used on the slightest provocation.
For the many pilgrims who in this latter half of the sixteenth century still thronged the thoroughfares, some merely to view, others to secretly worship at, England's holiest but desecrated shrine, what a vision was conjured up! Narrow streets over-shadowed by lofty buildings already sombre with age; strange public edifices decorated with marvellous heraldic signs in colours more or less faded; ancient churches and quaint dwelling-places unfolded to view in confused, picturesque succession. Grotesque and gloomy as that city seemed to the stranger, it was still less darksome than many a contemporary city of even less antiquity, and was well cared for by its citizens. As early as 1474, in the thirteenth year of the fourth Edward's reign, an Act had been passed for paving the principal thoroughfares, in which it had been stipulated that they should be properly pitched with boulders and Folkestone stone and, in order to have the work properly carried out, it was enacted that every proprietor should pave that portion of the street upon which his burgage (tenement) abutted. Many other equally useful local regulations were made by the corporation, such as those for lighting the streets and alleys at night by means of lanterns, although it is feared they were not always complied with.
Numerous quaint roomy hostelries and thickly populated houses, of all kinds of curious architectural development, shouldered one another into the street and overhung the shadowy thoroughfares. The eaves of the more pretentious buildings were supported by grotesque figures called 'telamonies,' by goblins, and grinning monsters; whilst runic-knots, scrolls and zigzags were much in evidence amid what was intended to be considered ornamental. 'Here were lanes, odd nooks and corners, queer old buildings with some monster or elfin carved upon the massive beams, at which the pilgrim stared, hardly knowing whether to cross himself or not, whether it betokened a saint duly canonised, or a devil, or a punchinello who owed his existence to that comic spirit which the genius of ecclesiastical architecture and art invoked in the middle ages, in strange contrast to its devotional tendencies.'
The citizens of this ancient metropolis, wealthy and long accustomed to the good things of this life, and well endowed with municipal privileges, nourished a love of independence and an attachment to liberty which rendered them sturdy in the maintenance of theric civic rights and less amenable to the restrictions under which many of their classes lived elsewhere. 'All the bodies of Kentish men be free,' proclaims the Custumal of Kent, and although for many centuries this was not a fact as regards the agriculturalist, it applied pretty generally to the burgher of proud Canterbury. The corporation maintained its freedom, as well as its other privileges, and passed stringent decrees to deter any of its members from attaching themselves to, or becoming retainers of, any 'worshipful man' outside their own circle. At a court of Burghmote, as the civic governing body was designated, held in 1572, it was decreed: 'That if any Alderman or Common Councilman shall take any livery, or be retained as servant to any Nobleman or man of worship, then every such Alderman or Common Councilman shall be discharged from his office and from this Court.' And their records prove that the rules of these independent-minded burghers were duly enforced.
This high and mighty Canterbury, this revered shrine of the martyred A'Becket, had been for centuries the resort of the people of all Christian lands. Mighty princes and haughty prelates had journeyed thither, and had been jostled in its narrow thoroughfares by the superstitious and the needy; the rich and the poor, the halt, the maimed and the blind, all pilgrimaged to this miracle-pervaded city in the hope that their prayers might be granted or their wishes accomplished. Many resorted to it as the probable scene of living adventure, fashion, folly, and, peradventure, with a prospect of earning a penny more or less honestly. Wealth flowed into the city, and its citizens became men of importance, gaining fortunes, reputation, and even titles. In the second half of the sixteenth century, it is true, the pillage of its treasures and decanonisation of St. Thomas A'Becket undoubtedly deterred many pilgrims from visiting his shrine, and facilitated the decadence of Canterbury, but, as yet, the city held its head high among the cities of the land; its archbishop kept sway over all the prelates of England, and its corporation continued to receive and entertain in lordly style not only foreign potentates but the rulers of our own country. All these things--memories of a high, mighty, and marvel-haunted past--a recent martyr-making era of persecution, and an independent but pastime-loving present--combined to form and influence the minds of such of the upgrowing generation as were suitably formed for impression.
For several generations a family of the name of Marlowe or Marley had dwelt in this city. Out of Canterbury and its vicinity the name has never been common. Here and there about England the cognomen of Marlowe occasionally crops up, but outside the county of Kent it has never been of frequent occurrence. Early in the fifteenth century there are traces at Wisbech, it is true, of a certain Marlowe family, but it soon terminated in one of them known in local records as a "musicianer'; in 1409 a Richard Marlow was Lord Mayor of London, and according to Weever, in his 'maioraltie there was a play at Skinner's Hall, which lasted eight dayes, to heare which most of the greatest Estates of England were present. The subject of the play was the sacred Scriptures, from the creation of the world.' Such plays, the reader may be reminded, were performed in various parts of the kingdom under the title of Corpus Christi plays.
Early in Queen Elizabeth's reign there was an Edward Marlowe of some local importance residing at Clifton, Bristol, who got into trouble for taking unlawful possession of a salt-laden vessel belonging to Denmark, a country with which England was at peace. John Marlowe, of Merton College, Oxford, who died in 1543, was thought to have been a scion of the Kentish Marlowes. He became treasurer of Wells Cathedral and canon of the King's Chapel of St. Stephen within the palace of Westminster, and was evidently a person of some importance in his days. Anthony Marlowe, of whom more hereafter, was a wealthy and influential Deptford merchant, and probably a connection of the Canterbury Marlowes. Captain Edmund Marlowe, who lived till 1615, is mentioned in Purchas's Pilgrims as 'an excellent man, and well skilled in the mathematics and the art of navigation,' and may have belonged to Kent. In 1571 a Richard Marlow was master of the Grammar School of St. Olave's Parish, Southwark, London, and about twenty years later a Thomas Marlow was living in the neighbouring parish of St. George in the same borough, and was assessed on property of some considerable value. With these few examples may end the tale of the non-Kentish Marlowes; some, if not all of them, were probably of the Kentish stock.
In the records of Canterbury the Marlowes can be traced back to the early part of the fifteenth century. They all belonged to the trading community, and occasionally gave evidence of being not only wealthy but regardful of the public weal. The earliest trace of a public bequest by any of the family is contained in the will of one Richard Marley. This Richard Marley, who, in 1514, is described in the accounts of the chamberlain of the city as a son of John Marley, tanner, and as a freeman and tanner of Westgate Street, was apparently the great grandfather of the future poet. In his will, dated 1521, after giving directions for his own burial in the churchyard of Holy Cross Church, 'before the Crucifix of our Lord, as nigh the coming in of the North door there as conveniently can be,' he directs 'his executors to see gilt well and workmanly the Crucifix of our Lord, with Mary and John standing upon the Porch of the said North door.' This crucifix, which Richard Marley wished 'gilt well and workmanly,' as it stood in the porch of the church by Westgate, to arouse the devotion of communicants, did not stand long in that position, for even in the next century Somner had to record that it had gone, 'and the King's Arms was set up in place of it.' Others of the family founded hospitals and in various ways provided for the benefit of their fellow-beings.
A certain Christopher Marlowe belonging to the tanners, a trade which combined with the shoe-makers in forming a guild, appears by his will, made in 1550, to have been possessed of some property. The date of his death is unknown. Another Christopher Marlowe of this district who was 'presented' (i.e. reported) to the archbishop for some breach of morality, was probably his son. This Christopher, who lived into the seventeenth century, left two daughters only, but it is necessary to refer to him, so that his record may not be confused with the poet's.
A John Marlowe, to whom various church register references are made in connection with the christening and burial of his children, was probably the poet's paternal grandfather. His occupation and the date of his death have not been traced, but it is surmised that the next John Marlowe was his son, and he was, as is known, the poet's father. This last John was married on the 22nd of May 1561, at the parish church of St. George the Martyr, by the Rev. W. Sweetinge, the rector, to Catherine Arthur, the daughter, in all probability, of the Rev. Christopher Arthur, at one time rector of St. Peter's, Canterbury, and, apparently, a scion of an ancient Kentish family entitled to bear arms.
Like her contemporary Mary Arden, the wife of John Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon, Catherine Arthur seems to have belonged to a family somewhat higher in the social scale than her husband's. But the marriage would scarcely have been an unequal one. The Rev. Christopher Arthur was one of those clergymen ejected by Queen Mary on her accession as a 'reforming' minister and, presumedly, for having married. Even if alive at the time of his daughter's wedding, and this is doubtful, the dis-gowned priest might not have been dissatisfied to see his child become the wife of a respectable tradesman. By birth or by apprenticeship, John Marlowe the younger had evidently already acquired the freedom of the city, whilst later on he became a member of the Guild of Shoemakers and Tanners, a guild to which other members of the family had already been admitted, a proof that they were not without some standing in the city of Canterbury.
In accordance with an old decree of Burghmote it was enacted, 'That if any of the seide fraternite Guild of Shoemakers dwelling in the liberties of the seide citie, intende to be married, then he shall give knowledge of hit to the wardeyns of the seide fraternyte three daies before the marriage, and then the seide wardens to give a commandment to the bedill of the same fraternite to name the brethren in due time to go with him from his dwelling place unto the parisshe church where the matrimony shall be solemnised, and to offer with him'; and as John Marlowe, although evidently a very young man, is seen in various ways complying with his civic obligations, it may be assumed that he readily carried out this instruction of his guild, evidently a highly prosperous and important body of citizens.
In May following the year of the young couple's marriage their first child, Mary, was christened at St. George's, and on February 6, 1564, their eldest son was born. He was christened Christofer, on the 26th of the same month, at the church of St. George the Martyr, and apparently by the rector, Mr. Sweetinge, ad a font still doing service in the old parish church. Several other sons and daughters were born to the young couple, were christened, some married, and in due course all were buried; but although the parish registers record these events, history only concerns itself with the first-born boy--with Christopher Marlowe.
On the 20th April, 1564, being the sixth year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the poet's father is thus referred to in the city's records: 'John M'lyn of Canter. Shoemaker, was admitted and sworn to ye lib'ty of ys citte for ye whitche he pd, but IIIIs. Id. becaus he was inrowlyd w'thyn ys citte acordyng to ye customes of ye same.' Having by birth or apprenticeship already acquired the freedom of the city, John Marlowe, in accordance with ancient custom, was now enabled by payment of the customary reduced fee to become a duly recognised citizen, empowered to start in business on his own account. Apparently he had only just reached manhood, but he had powerful incentives to become a burgher and to acquire a right to be a masterman, in consequence of his marriage and a rapidly increasing young family.
Although John Marlowe may never have been a wealthy man, he was a freeman and a member of an influential guild; from time to time he took apprentices, and was evidently in decent circumstances. For several years, it is seen from civic records, he was deemed a man of substance. He, or perhaps still more his wife, was ambitious enough to obtain for the first-born son educational advantages not generally attainable in those days, save by children of the higher classes. It would, indeed, be interesting to trace the earliest development of the boy's mind, and, were it possible, to behold the foreshadowings of his genius; but as there is no guide to such knowledge, whence and how his poetic temperament and aspiring spirit grew can only be surmised.
Christopher Marlowe entered the world at a stirring period, when the old times were rapidly passing away and a new era of mingled hope and doubt was dawning upon his country. England was just recovering from internal and foreign conflicts, and during the lull a partial truce was patched up between followers of the rival creeds. The rapid diffusion of printed books was creating a revolution in every branch of learning, and the new knowledge thus gained aroused men to dare in thought and deed things hitherto undreamt of. A feeling of new-born hope permeated the nation. The time was ripe for thinkers and actors. There was a stir and excitement in the mental atmosphere of the age, influencing and moulding the minds of the new generation, which seethed in a turmoil of speculative thought, and by its aspirations and actions reacted upon and controlled not only those who lived in it, but those who came after it.
As a matter of fact, however, Canterbury appeared to concern itself little with such things; its citizens busied themselves more about civic feasts and public shows; eating and drinking was the order of the day, and plays and pageants of constant occurrence. Little Christopher may well have had his share of these pastimes, and even have laid the foundation of his dramatic proclivities in viewing the spectacles produced, as they then were, for public gratification at the public expense.
To comprehend the formation of a child's mind more than the building up of his physical body, it is necessary to study closely the nature of his time and of his surroundings. Who were his guides and his companions? What were his occupations and amusements? Among the latter, in Marlowe's case, would be the miracle plays such as Abraham and Isaac, payment for the public presentation of which religious drama is recorded in the accounts of St. Dunstan's parish, Canterbury, or the Corpus Christi plays. 'To the Guild of Corpus Christi in particular, was assigned the drama or Mystery in forty acts, which traced the whole progress of Bible history, beginning with the Creation and ending with the Last Judgment.' This guild was held in Holy Cross Church, just outside the West Gate, at the very spot where Richard Marley had provided for the embellishment and upkeep of the crucifix. It was not many minutes' walk from Marlowe's native parish of St. George the Martyr, and little Kit would certainly be taken to witness it.
The performance of these sacred dramas was assigned in some cities to the various guilds or companies, each guild undertaking a separate section or play. In Canterbury a special guild, known as that of 'Corpus Christi,' was instituted by a decree of the Burghmote, in 1504, for acting these plays, and it gave performances during Lent and upon certain festivals. 'These performances, which dealt with the most sublime subjects in a manner which appeared from their style, dialogue, and scenery, to exhibit a combination of the ludicrous, the sacred, and the familiar, were a source of immense attraction to the people of England.... The ancient mysteries performed by the Guild of Corpus Christi frequently exhibited the august personages of Holy Writ in a sort of comic burlesque; and one strong part was Noah and his wife fighting, previous to their entry into the ark--a point which not only awakened the undisguised glee of the diabolic personages of the drama, but called forth the unbounded applause of ... the devout audiences of Canterbury.'
For some children this method of instilling scriptural story into their minds would have more the appearance of study than amusement, and, doubtless, pastors and parents did try to make them profit by the opportunity; but over a child with such an imaginative faculty as young Marlowe must have been endowed with, the dramatic air of the proceeding would exercise a strange fascination, and strongly influence his boyish brain. He had no books, save those used for lessons, to beguile his boyish fancy, and his mind had to feed upon itself. He had no collections of ballads, nor of poems, songs, or adventures, no pictures and no toys. His imagination had to be aroused and sustained by songs and ballads sung by the older members of the family, or by the minstrels and glee singers of the city, who were duly licensed and paid by the corporation for their performances. Curious items of folklore he would gather from the country people, and from relatives residing without the walls of Canterbury, but such matter of old-time superstitions appear to have left little imprint on the mind of this city born and bred boy; unlike his contemporary, William Shakespeare, who, having passed his earlier life in the country, was strongly influenced by rural mythology. What impressed Kit's thoughts most deeply were those weird semi-theological plays in which sins and virtues were personified, and wherein the personages of the Christian hierarchy were brought on to the stage and presented bodily before his boyish eyes.
Besides plays and pageants, music and glee singing, other less edifying entertainments were provided for the people's pleasure and, also, at the people's expense. Bull-baiting, cock-fighting, and even dog-fighting were popular sports. The children, it is hoped, were kept away from the atrocities of the 'Bull's Stake,' in the Canterbury Butter-Market; yet it is difficult to understand how a boy having the use of his eyes and limbs could, in those days, be unacquainted with the horrors and miseries of the hapless bulls, whose flesh, by special order of the Burghmote, was not allowed to be sold unless the unfortunate beast had been baited before it had been slaughtered. 'Now and then an infuriated animal broke from the stake, carrying terror and confusion before him as he frantically rushed through the narrow thoroughfares of the Mercerie, followed by shouting butchers and by yelling dogs, scarcely less savage or brutal than their masters.'
Other reprehensible subjects occupied the attention of the citizens and naturally formed the subjects of the elders' gossip. The readiness with which daggers, the accompaniment of every freeman's attire, were drawn and made use of is exemplified in many quaint and tragic records of the time, and the rapidity with which the folks took the law into their own hands and stayed not for the law's reprisal, caused life to be held cheap. Sometimes such episodes not only ended in the death of one of the combatants, but also in the trial and execution of his slayer or slayers. To the execution it was usual for parents to take their children, not only as an outing for themselves and the youngsters, but because to witness the sending out of life of the more or less unfortunate criminal was regarded as a salutary warning for the youthful spectator. What object-lessons for a child! What tales of terror for an imaginative boy! What inducements to succumb to passion for a hasty youth! What disregard of danger for an impulsive man! What subversion of one's ideas of justice was everywhere prevalent!
Entertainment of a different character, but generally more expensive for the townsfolk, was afforded by the visit of somebody of note, perhaps even the sovereign in person, in which case the archbishop or the corporation had to play the host. In 1573, when little Kit was in his tenth year, Queen Elizabeth paid one of her visits to Canterbury, and was magnificently entertained, the usual costly gifts being made to her and the members of her suite during her stay. To meet her on her arrival it was arranged that 'Mr. Mayor, the Alderman, and every one of them, ride in their scarlet gowns to meet the Queen; and the Common Council be on foot with their best apparel, and likewise as many of the chief Commoners as have gowns.'
The Church vied with the corporation in honouring the queen. Archbishop Parker and other high dignitaries met her Majesty at the west door of the cathedral, to which she had ridden on horseback, and when her 'grammarian,' who was one of the scholars of the King's School, had finished his oration to her, she alighted and went into the cathedral to even-song. During her visit the queen resided at the monastery of St. Augustine, which her father, Henry the Eighth, had seized and turned into a palace. Here she kept her court, attending service at the cathedral every Sunday during her stay at Canterbury, and affording the citizens a continuous jubilee during the whole of her visit. On her birthday, which she kept at the archbishop's palace, the queen and her attendants, together with a large company of distinguished visitors, were entertained by Archbishop Parker at an enormous expense to the worthy if wealthy ecclesiastic. The corporation at her departure presented the queen with a costly piece of plate, and made presents to all her attendants, including heralds, trumpeters, sergeants-at-arms, and 'gentlemen surveyors of the ways.'
It cannot be doubted but that young Kit was among the crowd which from time to time gazed on the queen and her gorgeous retinue, and that he was amid the spectators, even if he took no active part as a performer, at the fêtes and pageants devised for her Majesty's amusement.
Later in the year 1575 occurred a still more memorable matter for Canterbury. The visit of the queen was followed by the arrival of a still more mighty monarch, the terrible Plague reaching the city and committing dreadful ravages. Whether the home of the Marlowes had to have its door marked with the portentious sign of the red cross and the inscription which accompanied it, 'Lord have mercy upon us,' to signify death had been busy there, is unknown, but among the places affected was the King's School, which was closed until the 1st of September of that year in consequence of the terrible epidemic. If the Marlowe family lost none of its own members it must have had to bewail the loss of some kindred and friends amongst the many victims. Amid all the impressive events of those days nothing could have affected an imaginative boy's mind more than the ghastly sights and sickening incidents which attended a visitation of the Plague; the effects of which were to weaken all human ties, to dull all earthly pleasures, and to carry off young and old, rich and poor, indiscriminately.
The magnificent architectural antiquities of his native city cannot fail to have made lasting impression upon Marlowe's plastic mind, and to have excited his boyish wonder and admiration. Canterbury could not fail to have ever been a city of marvel for him. Every evening when the sounds of the busy streets began to wane, and the mystical hour of eight rang out from the several steeples, how breathlessly must he have waited for the sound of the curfew from the lofty 'Bell Harry' tower, telling him of bed-time. How solemnly must have sounded to him the knell from that bell as, in 1575, in accordance with custom immemorial, it tolled out to the saddened city the news that an archbishop, a noble benefactor, had passed away. Little Kit could not then have foreboded that that sullen sound betokened the death of Parker the loss of the best friend this world had given him.
All things considered, it may be deemed that Marlowe's boyhood days were neither unhappy nor unprofitable. Sometimes death broke in upon the family circle, and from time to time bore away first a sister and then his little brothers; but these things often happen, and rarely cause more than a passing cloud in the morning of life. The child saddens for a time over the loss of a playfellow, but others gradually take its place, and the wound closes, scarcely leaving a scar.
If Kit lived in the two-story timbered building, still standing in the parish of St. George, which has been suggested as his birthplace, and which even in his days must have been very ancient, one can easily conjure up a picture of him as the leader of a troop of children pattering up and down the dimly lighted stairs and running in and out of the many tiny rooms of their quaint old home; sometimes mixing in the sports and gambols of the four sisters left to him, or of other relatives and companions, helping with his childish treble to make music in the darksome corridors. Or, as he grew in years, he may be fancied gazing out dreamily at the antique church opposite, where the only recorded incidents of his early life happened; where his parents were wedded, he and his brothers and sisters were christened, and some of them buried. Or, as he grew older and pondered more earnestly over the causes and consequences of things, he would have gazed from the rear of the old dwelling far away into the fairyland of Fancy, catching perchance glimpses of the distant meadows and cloud-capped hills, or, without having to lose himself in such childish speculations, his boyish bewilderment, and even awe, must have been aroused by the weird carved figures, half-humanised fiends in appearance, which then projected, as even now they project, from the back of the quaint parental abode.
In these early years from whom was the little lad obtaining the rudiments of his education? Was his mother directing his childish aspirations, or was his father, who must have had a little more scholarship than his neighbours, as he ultimately became parish clerk of St. Mary's Bredman, or was the teacher one who more from kinship of spirit than of race, lured him through the early stages of his studies in quest of 'learning's golden gifts'? In wealthy families private tutors could be found to remove the stumbling-blocks on the road to learning and to stimulate every spark of talent discernible, but the case must have been different for one of the shoemaker's many children. Yet the fathers of the city had been mindful in various ways of their children's educational needs, and all classes were provided for. In 1544 they had decreed that the corporation's common clerk should have the shop adjoining the Court-hall, called the 'Fyle,' upon the understanding that there he should, 'or one for him, do the duty of his office and instruct children.'
The duties of his office would have still been enforced in Marlowe's days, and it is very probable that the common clerk, 'or one for him,' gave the boy his earliest lessons in the 'shop adjoining the Court-hall,' in the High Street, not many minutes' walk from his home in the parish of St. George the Martyr. The lad would have learned to read and write and to gain an elementary knowledge of the 'parts of speech'; but he must have displayed greater aptitude for study than the generality of his comrades, for by the end of 1578 he had obtained a scholarship in the King's School, the chief educational institution of Canterbury.
Traditionally founded by Archbishop Theodore in the year 600, this ancient and famous grammar-school, after passing through many vicissitudes of fortune, had been restored and re-established by King Henry VIII, who bestowed upon it its present royal title. A limited number of lads, upon giving proof that they already possessed a certain quantum of learning, were admitted on the foundation, and each such scholar after admission received a quarterly stipend of one pound. As scholars were only admitted between the ages of nine and fifteen, they must have given proof of age before admission. They were only admitted to the foundation at the November chapter, to fill such vacancies as might take place in the ensuing year, and as Kit was not admitted until January 14, 1579, that is to say, in the quarter terminating at Lady Day, he obtained his admission only just in time. His late entrance into the King's School may have been due to the fact that no vacancy had occurred sooner, whilst his stay in the school was undoubtedly curtailed by his advanced age.
Nicholas Goldsborough, then the head-master, received a stipend of forty pounds per annum, whilst ten pounds were paid to his assistant, Robert Rose, probably a relative of John Rose, who was mayor of Canterbury in 1574, and again in 1583. The accounts of the King's School for that period, although still perfect, are very meagre, and do not afford much information beyond dates and names, although they, indeed, are by no means uninteresting nor unimportant. From other records, however, useful items about the school are obtainable. It is pleasant to learn and to see the result in Marlowe's person, that the King's School was not entirely restricted to the education of sons of what Hasted terms the 'best families.' In 1541 Cranmer, as archbishop, became first 'visitor' to the King's School. He took a great interest in the scheme prepared by King Henry for its re-establishment, and told the Commissioners who, when electing the first scholars, sought to restrict the scholarships to the sons of high-born wealthy parents, 'If the gentleman's son be apt to learning let him be admitted; if not, let the poor man's apt child enter his room.' Happily Cranmer succeeded in carrying his point.
Archbishop Parker, who did so much for learning, was also of his predecessor's opinion: he deemed that the institution should be open to the sons of the poor man; and it is probable that, whilst several of Kit's fellow-pupils were the children of high-born parents, others were of the same rank of life as was Christopher Marlowe. Doubtless, indeed, the lad acquired there that indefinable air of education and courtesy seldom possessed by those not born in, or accustomed in early life to mixing with, the educated classes.
The curriculum of the school at this period would comprise a certain quantum of Latin grammar, the rules of which had to be learned by heart; any amount of Latin verse; probably a little Greek for the higher forms; and the study of certain prescribed classical authors. Marlowe doubtless entered on the school foundation with some knowledge of the Latin accidence, and had therefore been sufficiently grounded to begin the study of Lily's famous grammar and the Sententiae Pueriles. He would have had to study and construe passages from Virgil, Terence, Cicero, and other Latin authors, and write themes both in prose and verse. Latin was the chief study, living languages being then much neglected amid the usual subjects of an Englishman's education. Although the curriculum thus provided may not be considered a very liberal one, it afforded a good, sound classical foundation for a lad preparing to enter one of the learned professions, and by this time it is certain that Kit was destined for the Church.
How proud Catherine Marlowe must have been when her son returned home daily from his studies, clad in his scholar's black gown, foreshadowing the apparel of the priest! She must have had maternal visions of the lad following her father's example, and filling a place in the pulpit as he had done; perhaps becoming--who knows how far a mother's proud affection may aspire?--even an archbishop, as had the sons of fathers in as lowly a position as John Marlowe--as, for instance, Archbishops Parker and Peckham--or, at any rate, reivalling the dignity of his supposed kinsman, John Marlowe, the Canon of Westminster, whose reputation was doubtless a household word in the Canterbury home. Perhaps at times the lad's quaint hauteur, or his studious eccentricities of temper, may have caused her misgivings, but, if so, like Mary of youre, she would doubtless have 'kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.'
In his daily journeys to and from school young Kit must have beheld and treasured in his memory many visible prototypes of the fiends introduced in later days into his Faustus. There they still are, projecting from under the eaves of the city's ancient dwellings, beside the quaint water-ways, along the dusky streets, and under the niches of the public buildings. There would he behold those fiendish faces and distorted figures, whose semblance would be stamped for ever upon his 'mind's-eye': those complex shapes, half human and half demon; some as pompous prelates, or portly priests; some as misshapen sinners, or as martyred saints, with ghastly grins or sinister smiles; some glancing benignantly, but more frequently sneering scornfully, or sarcastically, on the stripling as he hurried along.
The King's school appears in those days to have already acquired a not undeserved reputation for the good scholarship of both its tutors and its pupils. Dr. John Ludd, appointed headmaster just as Kit was leaving the school, was referred to by White Kenneth, Bishop of Peterborough, as having 'had at one time no less than thirty-seven Masters of Arts of his own bringing up,' doubtless a rare feat at that time; and it is recorded of Richard Boyle, who became the famous Earl of Cork, one of Kit's fellow-students, that he 'must have been well grounded, for he was exceptionally accurate in his syntax and orthography, and, when mindful, wrote a fair hand'; all very unusual things for a nobleman of Elizabeth's days.
In scrutinising the records of the King's School during the period that Kit was scholar there, it is noteworthy to find amongst the naturally limited number of his fellow-students the names of many either connected with eminent men, or who became eminent themselves. Some few of the lads signed personally for their quarterly stipends--would that Kit had done so!--and their calligraphy was worthy of the school's reputation. Amongst the names enshrined in these precious rolls are several belonging to the best Kentish families. The list included two Mundeys, doubtless relatives of that Anthony Mundey, the author, who, not being able at one period of his literary career to make a living by playwriting, made it by writing against plays. One of them was probably that John Mundey, B.D., Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, who was elected, in 1626, to the mastership of his college. The election being soon after declared void, some one posted on the college gate the words, sic transit gloria mundi.
One of Marlowe's schoolfellows was W. Lyly, doubtless a brother of John Lyly, of Euphuistic renown, who was born in the Weald of Kent, and a descendant of the William Lyly whose far-famed Latin grammar was then being used in all the public schools. Another was Thomas Colvile, or, as the lad wrote it himself, in very neat handwriting, Thomas Coldwell, afterwards an author and publisher, and believed to have been a son of John Coldwell, Bishop of Salisbury. This unfortunate prelate was a native of Faversham, Kent, and notwithstanding his episcopal dignity, was so reduced by misfortune, that at his death in Canterbury, in 1596, he was indebted to charity for burial. George Coldwell, the translator of Boethius, was doubtless a relative as well as a contemporary. H. Parrott, the future epigrammatist, author of The Mastive or Young Whelp of an olde Dogge and other curious works, was another contemporary at the King's School, as was Thomas Playfere, afterwards doctor of divinity, and an 'eloquent divine of famous memory,' whose sermons, although now buried under the dust of antiquity, are, for all that, very entertaining reading. They are strongly imbued with the prevalent Euphuism, and are remarkably quaint. One of them, heralded by the quotation 'Etiam mel se nemium,' and dated from St. John's College, Cambridge, 1st day of February, 1595, is dedicated to Lady Elizabeth, wife of Sir George Carey, in these terms: 'Madame, it is reported that Demonax, having his head broken with a stone, and being advised to complaine to the Prconsull of that injurie, answered that he had more need to goe to a churgian to heale his head than to a Magistrate to redresse his wrong. I must also confesse I had rather have had my head broken than my sermon so mangled, for this sermon hath been twice printed already without my procurement or privitie any manner of way: yea, to my very great griefe and trouble.'
Another and still more noted fellow-pupil of Kit was Benjamin Carrier, whose name is so frequently misspelt Carier. He was a student at the King's School at the same time as Marlowe, and, subsequently, with other lads of the same period, rejoined him at Cambridge. A few more words may be devoted to Carrier later on, although, as his name and fame are European, but slight reference is needed to him here. Other contemporaries at the school bore the names of Shelley, Dobson, Lewes, Sydney, Russell, Playfair, Bentham, Scott; designations already then or since made renowned by their wearers. Stephen Gosson, author of the School of Abuse, left the school in 1572, of course before Kit went on the foundation, and William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood, did not enter until 1588, eight years after Marlowe had left, not matriculating at Cambridge until 1593.
Allusion has been made to Hasted's remark that the boys educated at the King's School were 'in general of the very best families of this part of the country,' and amongst such boys, it is stated, were John Boyle, afterwards Bishop of Cork, entered in 1578, and, in 1580, his brother Richard (born in Canterbury), who became 'the famous' Earl of Cork. Their names do not appear in the school accounts, therefore they could not have received the usual quarterly stipend, although they were certainly at the school.
As has been stated, Kit entered the King's School on January 14, 1579, and was paid his stipend until Christmas. As the Accounts for 1580 are missing, it is uncertain when he left, but he probably remained at the school until he obtained a scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
Matthew Parker, the learned and liberal Archbishop of Canterbury, had not only founded various scholarships at Cambridge (including two for the King's School at Corpus Christi College, the place of his own education), but also maintained fifteen scholars there at his own expense. All the qualifications Parker exacted from the scholars benefiting by his generosity were that they should be the 'best and ablest scholars' picked from certain Kentish and Norfolk schools, should be well instructed in grammar, 'and, if it may be, such as can make a verse.' Kit's ability to comply with this last qualification might be deemed certain if English and not Latin verse were intended, for no one attained to his dexterity in rhythm and command of language who had begun to versify early in life; but it may be taken for granted that the lad's election to one of the Parker scholarships for the 'best and ablest scholar' was gained by his own talents. No patron was necessary, and, in his case, certainly not needed.
In 1548 Archbishop Parker founded six new scholarships at Corpus Christi College, and in May 1569 he arranged for a further two at the same college for lads out of the King's School, no other restriction being made save 'that the lads must be of this school and natives of Kent.' These two additional scholars, it was agreed between the Master of the Eastbridge Hospital and the Keeper of the College of Corpus Christi, Cambridge (then Dr. John Pory), should be chosen, named, and approved by the said Hospital Master and the Dean of Christ Church, Canterbury, for the time being: Dr. Thomas Godwin, it may be pointed out, being then and till 1584 the Dean. The last two scholars were to be known as 'the Canterbury Scholars,' and after their admittance at 'the said College, according to the Orders, Decrees, and Statutes of the said College, shall have the provision of the said Master or Keeper, Fellows or Scholars, and their successors.'
On the archbishop's death in 1575, it was found that he had increased the number of 'the Canterbury Scholars' to five, by the addition of three more scholarships, 'the first of these to be taken out of Canterbury School, being a native of the city,' and to be born 'of honest parents.' This was, undoubtedly, one of the scholarships to which Marlowe was subsequently elected.
The delight of his parents at Kit's success need not be questioned, nor the lad's own joy at the prospect of receiving the shelter of a famous college where he might indulge his aspirations 'after knowledge infinite.' The preparation for his journey and prolonged residence away from home must have caused much bustle and excitement in the Marlowe household. It is easy to picture Kit's mother striving to suppress her sorrow at the approaching departure of her only surviving son, and endeavouring to forget it by busily setting together the needed articles for his long journey and lenthy absence. She would have to see that his linen, not too plentifully supplied in those days, was not too scanty, and that the scholar's outfit should be as good as his parents were able to provide. Doubtless a roomy cloak-bag contained all the lad's outfit, even including his little store of books. His shirts and shirtbands, his girdle and knife, and numberless odds and ends, motherly love would provide, not forgetting of course the camphor-balls he should carry as a preventative against the Plague and the many other ills human flesh is subject to. Last, but by no means least, would be his stock of money, carefully put away in that wonderful invention, a purse. Possibly John Marlowe would not be able to spare his son many crowns, and the mother's store must have been woefully depleted in providing Kit's outfit; but the Chapter, as was customary when a scholar was sent from the King's School to the University, would make him a gift of a few pounds--of more money than he had ever had in his life before. The Chapter was most generous in assisting the King's School in all its requirements, not only in helping the students proceeding to or residing at the University, but even aiding the headmaster when he had domestic trouble, and furnishing a considerable sum towards the expenses to be incurred in the setting forth of tragedies, comedies, and interludes, no unnoteworthy circumstances when considered in connection with the subsequent dramatic proclivities of several of the scholars of the school.
It is pleasant to picture young Kit, just seventeen, in all the audacity of youth, forgetting, as he rode away from home, the wise admonitions of his father, the admiring looks of his sisters, and the envy of the apprentices--yea, even the sad glances of his mother--as he went forth into the unknown world to fight and conquer. Full of hope, health, and youth, what could mortal wish for more? And yet Marlowe was hoping for much more. With boundless ambition he was--who can doubt it?--seeking Fame if not Fortune, deeming all things possible for him who seeks. Seventeen years old! More money in his pocket than he had ever had before, and life all before him. Happy youth!
Kit would certainly have had company, and not unlikely one or more fellow-scholars from the King's School. If he rode the whole way to London he would have paid about three shillings or so for the use of his steed, but it is more than probable that he only rode as far as Gravesend, and then, according to the usual custom, would take the ferry on to complete what in those days was a long and arduous undertaking. Gravesend would probably be the termination of the young traveller's second day's journey, the first night from Canterbury having been spent in one of the many towns or villages on the way.
Good accommodation was obtainable at many of the numerous inns which Gravesend contained. Fynes Moryson, the famous traveller, passing through the town not long after Marlowe would have visited it, says, with respect to foreigners landing there, 'The World affoords not such Innes as England hath, either for good and cheape entertainment after the Guests owne pleasure, or for humble attendance on passengers; yea, even in very poore villages.... For as soone as a passenger comes to an Inne, the servants run to him, and one takes his horse and walkes him till he be cold, then rubs and gives him meate, yet I must say that they are not much to be trusted in this last point, without the eye of the Master or his servant to oversee them. Another servant gives the passenger his private chamber, and kindles his fire, the third pulls off his bootes, and makes them cleane. Then the Host or Hostesse visits him, and if he will eate with the Host, or at a common table with others, his meale will cost him sixe pence, or in some places but four pence.... It is the custome and no way disgraceful to set up part of supper for his breakfast. In the evening or in the morning after breakfast (for the common sort use not to dine, but ride from breakfast to suppertime, yet coming early to the Inne for better resting of their Horses) he shall have a reckoning in writing, and if it seeme unreasonable, the Host will satisfie him either for the due price, or by abating part, especially if the servant deceive him any way, which one of experience will soone find.... If Gentlemen will in such sorte joyne together to eate at one table, the expenses will be much diminished. Lastly, a Man cannot more freely command at home in his owne House, then hee may doe in his Inne, and at parting if he give some few pence to the Chamberlin and Ostler, they wish him a happy journey.'
Doubtless Kit knew by instruction or report most of what Moryson refers to, and it is to be expected that parental admonitions had equally well prepared him for such casualties as the above experienced traveller cautions his readers against. 'In all Innes, but especially in suspected places, let him bolte or locke the doore of his chamber; let him take heed of his chamber fellowes, and always have his sword by his side or by his bedside; let him lay his purse under his pillow, but always foulded with his garters, or something hee first useth in the morning, lest hee forget to put it up before hee goe out of his chamber. And to the end hee may leave nothing behind him in his Innes, let the visiting of his chamber and gathering of his things together be the last thing he doth, before hee put his foote into the stirrup.'
Having survived all the dangers thus far, our youthful traveller would be able next day to take a passage to London by water, for in those days at every tide, 'a man may pass for ye valew of two pence in ye common barge, and in a tiltbote for vi.d,' the distance being about twenty miles.
Arrived in London, by whatever means he may have made use of, the lad would doubtless seek out and present himself to the wealthy and influential Mr. Anthony Marlowe, who could not well refuse shelter and a gracious reception to a clever young kinsman, bound for the University. Some few days would probably be spent in making an inspection of the most prominent sights of the mighty metropolis--'The Fair Queen of the West,' as her poets loved to style her--and then, ho, for Cambridge!