Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

The Three Men in the Room

Portrait: Sir Francis Walsingham
Portrait: Sir Francis
Walsingham

More is known about the three other men in the room, Ingram Frizer, Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres, than about Christopher Marlowe. Frizer, the man who killed Marlowe, was a servant of Sir Thomas Walsingham, a relative of Francis, the Spymaster. In this case, "servant" refers to a general handyman, a combination of secretary, administrative assistant, and gofer. Thomas Walsingham was not only Frizer's employer, but, as was often the case in Elizabethan times, a patron of Christopher Marlowe. To add to his mysterious resume, Frizer appears to have been an adept confidence man, specializing in schemes to lend money and extract more than he leant.

Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres were, to one degree or another, spies in the employ of Francis Walsingham. Poley was deeply involved in "The Babbington Plot," a scheme by Roman Catholic dissidents to assassinate Elizabeth I and to replace her with the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots. Evidence supports the idea that Poley infiltrated the plotters, encouraged their traitorous plans, and provided information to Francis Walsingham, allowing the plot to be both created and thwarted.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London

In order to maintain Poley's cover as a spy, Poley was comfortably imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years — lenient, by Elizabethan standards. Skeres was also involved in the undoing of Babbington and his co-conspirators, and engaged in other assignments for Francis Walsingham.

Hence, all three were connected to the shadowy world of 16th century espionage and intrigue. And so was Marlowe.

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