Upstart Crow – 30 Facts and Rumours about The Real Kit Marlowe


Here’s a treat for all us Upstart Crow fans! After my attempts last year at compiling 50 historical Upstart Crow facts for the fansite, (Here’s a link to that if you fancy a read: Upstart Crow Trivia) my friend, who has asked me if she can be credited using her twitter handle: Chasqui Penguin, who is a proper historian and an expert on all things Christopher Marlowe, has kindly supplied me with a list of fascinating facts she has compiled that you may not have known about Upstart Crow’s lovable rogue Kit Marlowe! Here they are:


Christopher (Kit) Marlowe – 30 Facts (and Rumours)


  1. Christopher (Kit) Marlowe was born in Canterbury to shoemaker, John Marlowe and his wife Katherine, their second child and eldest son.


  1. He was baptised on Saturday, 26th February 1564 at the church of St George the Martyr, opposite the house, thought to be the Marlowes’ home, in St George’s Lane.


  1. It is likely he was born in the preceding few days, though his exact date of birth is unknown. It was customary then for babies to be baptised soon after birth as infant mortality rates were high.


  1. Kit’s older sister, Mary, died at the age of six in 1568.


  1. His parents had nine children, six of whom lived to adulthood.


  1. Kit grew up surrounded by younger sisters. Two brothers died in early infancy and the youngest child, Thomas, was born in 1576 when Kit was 12. His sister, Jane, is thought to have died in January 1583, aged 13, possibly in childbirth, having married John Moore, at the age of 12 in April 1582.


  1. At the age of 14 Kit gained a scholarship to Canterbury’s King’s School (opened by Henry VIII). There has been speculation that his fees were paid by Sir Roger Manwood, a senior judge and philanthropist, also from Kent. On his death in 1592, Kit wrote an elegy to him in Latin.


  1. As a pupil at the King’s School, Kit is said to have sung in the choir of the nearby Canterbury Cathedral.


  1. In 1580 Kit gained The Matthew Parker Scholarship enabling him to further his studies at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, where he gained his BA in 1584 and his MA in 1587.


  1. This scholarship was inaugurated by Matthew Parker, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 till his death in 1575, and intended for those wishing to study Theology.


  1. The only known genuine extant sample of Kit’s writing is his 1585 signature, on the will of Katherine Benchkin, below his father’s.


  1. The handwritten and unpublished extract from “Massacre at Paris” (known as the Collier Leaf) has not been proved authentic and could be the work of a forger.


  1. Kit is believed to have been recruited as a spy for the government of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I, while still at Cambridge. In fact, his long absences from his college nearly resulted in his being denied his MA, but a letter written by members of the Privy Council explained he had been working for her Majesty’s Government during his time away from his studies and, as a result, he was awarded his Master of Arts degree.


  1. Records, still extant at Cambridge University, reveal that after his lengthy absences in his post-graduate years, Kit returned and spent lavishly on food and drink in The Buttery, an unaffordable expense on just his scholarship income.


  1. While at Cambridge Kit translated Ovid’s Amores from Latin into English. These were later published under the name “Ovid’s Elegies”.


  1. On leaving Cambridge with his MA, Kit appears to have continued to lead a double life – as a very successful playwright and as a part-time spy for Queen Elizabeth’s government. There is no written evidence to support the latter but it is widely believed that he spent some of his time engaged in such shady activities and this may have provided him with enough spare time to write as well.


  1. Kit is said to have liked to wear fine clothes and, once he was earning money, would choose velvets and was often elaborately dressed.


  1. In 1952 a portrait of an ornately dressed young man, with the Latin inscription “Aged 21 in 1585” was found during refurbishments at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. It was renovated and is considered to be of Kit, although there is no definite evidence. There are also other portraits said to be of him but it seems likely the mystery of his appearance will remain unless a portrait can be verified as being of Christopher Marlowe, Cambridge Scholar and Tudor Dramatist.


  1. Kit was a poet, playwright and translator, as well as being a leading exponent of blank verse in iambic pentameter (followed by his contemporary, William Shakespeare).


  1. Kit’s works include the poems “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love” and “Hero and Leander”, his translations “Ovid’s Elegies” and “Lucan’s First Book of the Civil War” (known as “Pharsalia”) and his plays, which were all performed in his lifetime, “Dido, Queen of Carthage”, “Tamburlaine the Great”, “Tamburlaine Part II”, “The Jew of Malta”, “Doctor Faustus”, “Edward II” and “Massacre at Paris”.


  1. There are other plays and poems which he is thought to have written but no proof of authorship exists and so more Marlowe Mysteries are added to the others.


  1. The leading actor in the original performances of “Tamburlaine the Great”, “Tamburlaine Part II”, “Doctor Faustus” and “The Jew of Malta” was Edward Alleyn, a tall man and imposing actor whose theatrical abilities enhanced the roles Marlowe had created.


  1. It is believed that a secret club (nicknamed School of Night) was formed which attracted the interest of the Tudor free-thinkers, such as Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland, Walter Raleigh, Thomas Hariot and Christopher Marlowe. They are said to have met to discuss the Arts and Sciences but there is no proof that this club actually existed.


  1. On 30th May 1593, while at a “safe house” in Deptford, South London, Kit is said to have been murdered, following an argument with Ingram Frizer over a matter of money, either an unpaid debt or the cost of a meal bill.


  1. Kit was also said to have been buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby churchyard of St Nicholas. Today there is a memorial stone placed in the wall of the churchyard which claims he was buried there and below is a quote from “Doctor Faustus”.


  1. At the time of his alleged murder, Marlowe was on bail, having been arrested on 20th May 1593 for the crime of atheism and if found guilty the punishment could have led to execution.


  1. The Marlovian Theory contends that his murder never occurred and he was sent into exile for his protection, with various reasons given for this conclusion, including the suggestion that he wrote Shakespeare’s plays post-1593. However, there is no definite evidence to prove the Marlovian Theory, although there are some plausible ideas surrounding it.


  1. In 2016 Oxford University scholars concluded that all three parts of “Henry VI” had been co-written by William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe (pre-1593) and now both their names appear on copies of The Oxford University Press publication.


  1. The house where Kit is believed to have been born (and lived during his early life), as well as the church where he was baptised, stood for centuries but were both flattened by a German bomb in 1942. However, the church clock tower escaped and still stands today, with a blue plaque dedicated to Kit. On the site of the Marlowes’ home is the Canterbury branch of Fenwicks, and the Marlowe Society is in discussion with the department store’s owners regarding a Christopher Marlowe memorial.


  1. Modern day Canterbury has not forgotten its most famous writer, with The Marlowe Theatre, and nearby a late Victorian statue dedicated to him and his plays (sculpted in bronze by Edward Onslow Ford) to be found in the city. His old school has remembered him, naming one of their school houses after him, and the town planners have noted his fame with Marlowe Road and Marlowe Avenue, not to mention Tamburlaine Court and Marlowe Court.



To the best of my knowledge the above points are correct but please accept my apologies for any inaccuracies. I am indebted to a variety of sources, including the Marlowe Society’s excellent website, which gives so much information on Kit’s life and works, and any errors in the above are entirely from my misunderstanding. Therefore, for fuller details on Christopher Marlowe, I would recommend visiting:




3 thoughts on “Upstart Crow – 30 Facts and Rumours about The Real Kit Marlowe

  1. Hi! My name is
    Ed Alleyne-Johnson,
    electric violinist and former member of the rock band ‘New Model Army’ ; (I’ve recently released a prog-rock concept album about Brexit called ‘Pluto’!) and I’m a distant descendant on my mother’s side of Edward Alleyn’s family. He was not only one of the most famous actors of his age, appearing in many first productions of plays by both Marlowe and Shakespeare, but also founded Dulwich college and was known for his charitable work (though like many actors of the time he didn’t talk about it!)
    My uncle possessed a portrait of Shakespeare which was given to Ned Alleyn by the man himself, and was passed down in the family for generations!
    Loved the Christmas special!
    Keep up the good work!
    Regards Ed


  2. Hello Ed, I have just read your comment – nearly 6 months late but better than I never- and was very interested to read of your family links to Edward Alleyn who forms part of my ongoing research into Kit. The portrait of Shakespeare must be a family treasure and will certainly be the definitive answer to the question “What did Shakespeare look like?” Thanks so much for your message – I have found it so interesting and would like to discuss this further with you, so I hope you will see this and reply. Many thanks in advance.


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