On Christopher Marlowe and his discovery of Australia

 

 

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The story on this page should be classified as alternative history. It contains lots of conjecture that may be proven erroneous but, at the same time, it contains nothing that is knowingly false or fictional.


A Morten St. George Investigation

 

Christopher Marlowe, described by Wikipedia as "the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day," may have had the best-documented death of the 16th century. It seems the queen's personal coroner was called away from London to perform the autopsy and sixteen eyewitnesses were brought in to witness that autopsy and attest to the fact that Marlowe was dead, dead, dead. Detailed eyewitness accounts of his accidental demise were recorded in sworn testimony. And naturally, he was buried in an unmarked grave so that it could never be posthumously verified that he was dead, dead, dead.

Modern-day researchers have examined the documentation relating to Marlowe's death and have concluded that it is full of flaws. Some of them have speculated that Marlowe went to Italy from where he wrote plays now attributed to William Shakespeare. However, not one shred of credible evidence of Marlowe's continued existence after May 30, 1593 (the date of his alleged death) has ever come to light, whether that be in Italy or elsewhere.

One possible clue on Marlowe's fate comes from a play called The Birth of Merlin which internally alludes to Marlowe in several ways. It was a play in which the Devil seduces a human maiden, giving birth to the wizard Merlin. A depiction of the seduction event was placed on the cover of the New Atlantis, a book about establishing a utopia in the South Pacific. Since that depiction had nothing to do with any utopia, its purpose could have been merely to connect Marlowe with the New Atlantis storyline. Here's the depiction in question:

The Devil and Joan, parents of Merlin

Note the wild card symbols at the bottom, between the R and the S, which stands for Rosae cruciS, deemed to be Marlowe's secret society. Between 1585 and 1587, Marlowe took prolonged absences from Cambridge University (where he was pursuing a Master's Degree) apparently in order to go over to France to work on a secret project of his secret society. That project was given the code name Liber M.

The first page of the New Atlantis began with the words "We sailed from Peru," and ended with the words " … that part of the South Sea was utterly unknown; And might have islands, or continents, that hitherto were not come to light."

Since Marlowe may be linked to this via that depiction, perhaps we should ask: Could Marlowe have sailed from Peru in search of a continent, the legendary "Terra Australis"? That would certainly explain the sudden removal of a living person from the historical records of Europe.

Expeditions to the South Seas were rare in Marlowe's day but one did occur a little less than two years after his alleged demise. In April 1595, four ships under the command of Alvaro de Mendaña set sail from Calloa (the port of Lima), Peru, with the objective of colonizing the Solomon Islands on the far side of the Pacific. Could Marlowe have been on board one of those ships?

The maritime chronicles of the voyage indicated that one of the ships, the Santa Isabel, was commanded by men who were strangers in those parts: an Admiral accompanied by two captains and one priest. There were reports that Marlowe went (or wanted to go) to France to study for the priesthood, but it seems more likely that he would have been one of the two captains. Though Marlowe was never a sea captain in real life, he could have pretended to be one.

Marlowe's three companions are identifiable as follows:

1. The Admiral. Born in Spain (possibly Navarre) around 1532, he migrated to Mexico at a young age, and then, to escape torment from the Inquisition around 1555, he abandoned Mexico for Peru where he lived for many years. The years 1567 to 1569 were spent out at sea (another escape from the Inquisition) exploring the South Pacific, and in 1572 (apparently 1571 on our calendar) he was the soldier who captured the rebellious last King of the Incas (who by misfortune wound up beheaded). He also wrote a book about the Incas which initiated their history half a millennium earlier than the other chronicles. In 1579, they placed him in charge of fleet assigned to hunt down the English pirate Sir Francis Drake, but Drake had already escaped westward across the Pacific.

It was reported that the Admiral was captured by one of Sir Walter Raleigh's privateers in 1584 and then taken to London to meet the Queen. There is, however, some reason to believe that by that time the Admiral had had enough with Spain and its Inquisition, and secretly defected to England taking with him an artifact that would inspire Liber M. To work on that project with Marlowe and others, from 1585 to 1589 he pretended to have been captured by French Huguenots and placed in one of their dungeons. A couple of years later, now back in Spain, he was made an admiral by King Philip II and placed in charge of a fleet of warships.

Needless to say, the Admiral had no wish to battle his English friends so, in July 1592, he arranged to die. There are differing accounts: one says he died on board his ship and was brought to Lisbon, Portugal, to be buried, and another says he actually died in Lisbon. By all the accounts the Admiral, like Marlowe, was buried in an unmarked grave.

Upon returning to Peru, the Admiral, now being officially deceased, needed a new name and he adopted the name Lope de Vega. He may have chosen that name at the suggestion of the playwright Marlowe because Lope de Vega was the name of a very famous Spanish playwright.

2. The Navigator. Born in England in 1560, the Navigator was, unlike Marlowe, a real captain. In fact, he was popularly known as "The Navigator." His ship, the Desire, was also famous. Queen Elizabeth herself had dined on it.

It seems the Navigator got to know the Admiral in England, in 1584 or 1585. In 1586, he set sail to rescue the Admiral's settlement on the Straits of Magellan but found only one survivor. He then proceeded to raid Spanish ships and towns along the Pacific coast of the Americas, surely utilizing information provided to him by the Admiral. Unlike the others, the Navigator did not participate in Liber M because in those years he was busy circumnavigating the globe with a heist of Spanish gold.

It had to have been the Navigator who picked up the recently-deceased Admiral in 1592, probably somewhere near Portugal or the Azores, and they then proceeded to head toward the Straits of Magellan. Possibly the Admiral wanted to look for more survivors or to give them a proper burial. The Falkland Islands were discovered in the process. Though this discovery was attributed to the Navigator's second in command, in reality the Admiral and Navigator deserve the credit.

It is unknown at what point the Navigator decided to join the Admiral in having a fake death (his conversations with the Admiral may have convinced him to do it) as his ship did not get back to England until March 1593. Presumably, it was deemed best for the Navigator's death to precede the Admiral's death, so they backdated it to May 1592, two months earlier. He was buried at sea (another unmarked grave) and no cause of death was given. At only 31 years old, death by natural causes did not seem particularly credible and, if it were disease, why didn't his shipmates die? A few days before his death he reportedly wrote his Last Will and Testament which was overtly farcical. For example, he bequeathed his ship (the Desire) to a patron of Lord Chamberlain's Men. But that was Shakespeare's playing company. The plays of his colleague Marlowe were performed by a competing playing company.

3. The Philosopher. Known for his magnificent library as well as for his philosophical brilliance, the Philosopher was a born (1533) and bred Frenchman well-trained in the Latin language. In order to participate in project Liber M, he abandoned his position as mayor of the city of Bordeaux at the end of 1585 and went off "wandering" for a couple of years, blaming it all on the plague. All participants of the project had to find pretexts for a prolonged absence from their normal routine. Undoubtedly, working closely together, Marlowe, the Admiral and the Philosopher became good friends. It may have been Marlowe who made arrangements for the English translation (published in 1603) of the Philosopher's writings.

At age 59 in 1592, it is somewhat mysterious why he would want to go off to Peru and the South Pacific. Perhaps he just wanted to see some of the world before he died. In any case, he decided to pass away in September 1592, two months after the Admiral's demise. There are slightly differing accounts of his death: one of them has him collapsing dead in the middle of a Mass. A local church claims to have his heart but the rest of his remains were reported to have moved around a bit before vanishing.

In Peru, it had to be the Philosopher who pretended to be a priest. As he was familiar with Catholicism, he probably excelled in that role. He was also reported to have a throat infection which, if not making him mute, could have masked his French accent.

One more word on Marlowe. It is by no means certain that he volunteered for this mission. The Navigator would have needed the Queen's approval and she may have ordered Marlowe to go along to look after her interests. From late 1584 onward she apparently had Marlowe pulled out of Cambridge University for a similar reason: to look after the Admiral who, as a Spanish fleet commander, had to be considered a valuable asset for a country that was going to invaded by an armada of Spanish ships. Despite his prolonged absences from school, Marlowe was awarded a Master's Degree but only because of direct intervention by the queen's Privy Council.

And now we get to the grand question: If the goal was merely to establish a utopia of the Rosae Crucis in Australia, why did they all pretend to die?

It seems that the Admiral may have been responsible for that. There are vague and unreliable indications that back around the year 1570 he married an Inca princess (or at least had a son by her) and perhaps he wanted to go home to see her. But she lived in the interior of Peru, near Cusco, and not on the coast. The problem is at that time England and Spain were, even if undeclared, in a state of war and thus English pirates would hardly be welcome visitors to Peru. If caught, the Navigator would have been prize number one and roasted alive over the course of week. Marlowe too, in whose plays the characters make statements like "I heere do sweare, To ruinate this wicked Church of Rome," would have been in deep trouble with the Spanish Inquisition. Doubtless, Marlowe and the Navigator pretended to be Dutch, allies of Spain. Indeed, Marlowe had spent some time in the Netherlands and could probably speak enough Dutch to fake it. And do you think the King of Spain would have taken kindly to being conned by the Admiral?

This is the bottom line: You cannot execute someone for being someone who is already dead, and they surely arranged for news of those deaths to have reached Peru before they did.

Evidence is flimsy (but not nil) that sometime around 1594 the Admiral (perhaps accompanied by Marlowe while the others remained on board the ship) traveled overland to the interior of Peru. In 1911, the explorer Hiram Bingham found the burial place of a High Priestess or grande dame "on the slopes of Machu Picchu Mountain about a thousand feet above the highest part of the ruins." And next to her bones Bingham found a concave mirror, something that has been associated with the occultist John Dee who worked with the Admiral, Marlowe and the Philosopher on Liber M. Independently of that, Dee was also a friend of the Navigator. Anyway, wouldn't a concave mirror make a nice present to bring from England?

Surprisingly, when our heroes got to Lima, they probably had no problem at all signing up to join the fleet of Alvaro de Mendaña which was about to embark to colonize the Solomon Islands. It seems the Admiral and Mendaña were old buddies, having sailed together back in 1568 when they discovered the Solomon Islands, and then hotly disputed which of them deserved the credit. Mendaña was in charge but they used the Admiral's charts. The Admiral, second in command, wanted to go on to discover Australia (the "Terra Australis" of the legends) but was overruled by Mendaña.

When they set sail with four ships in April 1595, they had the same command structure as twenty-eight years earlier: Mendaña was in charge and the Admiral, on a ship called the Santa Isabel, was second in command. In addition to our heroes, the Santa Isabel also carried "good quality" settlers from Peru that the Admiral had talked into going. They picked up more settlers across Polynesia and their ship was reported to have accumulated a total of 189 passengers presumably including women and children.

In a fog one night in September 1595, the Santa Isabel and all aboard vanished. The next morning Mendaña sent out two ships to search for them. They searched for two days and did not find the Santa Isabel nor any wreckage. The crew and passengers of that ship were presumed dead and most certainly they were never heard from again. But really it would not be surprising that they would try to break away on purpose. With Marlowe and the Navigator on board, they clearly wanted to colonize Australia on behalf of England, not the Solomon Islands. What went wrong?

Nothing more of note on the fate of the Santa Isabel had come to light until 1911 when a notable Australian explorer by the name of Lawrence Hargrave wrote a paper which included the following photograph:

An alleged Elizabethan cannon from Hargrave and Haddon

Hargrave says that this cannon with ingots (blocks of metal) was "photographed by the Cambridge Expedition on Marbeack in 1898." It seems that Google has never heard of Marbeack but research has led us to believe that it's a misreading of Mer beach. Mer (today called Murray) is a Queensland island that was heavily explored by that expedition. What we are not sure about is whether Hargrave misread the handwriting of Professor Alfred Haddon (who had sent him the photograph) or if Hargrave's typist had misread Hargrave's handwriting. Haddon headed the expedition and, like Marlowe himself, had strong ties to Cambridge University.

Mer is the easternmost island of the Queensland straits and could be encountered by any ship trying to circle around Australia in a northwesterly direction. And quite ominous for the fate of Marlowe and his colleagues, Mer Island was famous for being the home of fierce head-hunters who routinely attacked Europeans.

Hargrave thinks, possibly based on information he got from Haddon, that the photographed gun could have the form and proportions of 16th-century guns still preserved in the Tower of London. These guns, England's finest, would have been manufactured in Sussex. Hargrave discovered that those guns were being smuggled out of England and he concludes: "If that gun is a Sussex gun, it can only have gotten to Marbeack via Panama and Mandana's fleet."

Unknown to Hargrave, there is an alternative possibility on how an English gun could have reached Mer Island. It seems that after Marlowe's demise at the end of May 1593, he and his three deceased colleagues quickly departed England on the Desire but only for a short trip over to Ireland (there's a historical record that the Desire docked in Ireland on June 14, 1593) and somewhere in Ireland the four dead men (and presumably a small crew of trusted sailors) switched over to a Spanish ship, likely a ship captured or wrecked during the Armada attack. As already noted, at that time England and Spain were in a state of war so our heroes could hardly show up in Peru on an English ship. Some of the Spanish ships that crashed into Ireland after circling Scotland had no guns as the crew had thrown them overboard to lose weight, hoping to save themselves in the stormy weather. But even if the Spanish ship had guns, the English guns were better, so it makes sense that they would have taken one or more guns from the Desire and put them on the Spanish ship.

Curiously, Hargrave writes "the Spaniards were found arming their ships and fighting us with guns of our own manufacture. Sir Walter Raleigh called attention to this." The Admiral was once Raleigh's prisoner and later his friend (implied in a Raleigh letter). Marlowe was reported to be a member of Raleigh's School of Night, and surely Raleigh, a navigator himself, had to have known the Navigator. Raleigh probably knew that his friends were commandeering a Spanish ship carrying English guns, and perhaps he wanted to provide them with some cover in case they got caught: oh, we purchased those guns on the black market!

In early 1595, nearly two years later, our heroes exchanged their Armada ship for a better ship at Calloa in Peru. The new ship, a strong and newly-built cargo ship about to depart for Panama, was renamed the Santa Isabel surely in honor of the English queen who was called Isabel in Spanish. It's unclear if and how much they might have paid for the new ship. A sum of more than six thousand pieces of silver was mentioned as a value not as a payment amount.

The Santa Isabel could have been in trouble when it got to Mer Island. Maybe the settlers were dying of starvation, maybe they were dying of disease, maybe the ship was taking on water following collision with a nearby coral reef or whatever, so they found themselves forced to make a stand on Mer Island. Logically, they then brought the gun from the ship on to the beach in order to help fight off the head-headers that they had apparently underestimated. And that's how an original Sussex gun, possibly one of the original eighteen guns of the Desire, could have wound up on a Mer beach.

The photographed cannon does not resemble any of the Spanish guns recovered in modern times from the sunken ships of the Armada. It does resemble powerful Elizabethan era cannons but not later guns which tended to have a rope ring near the knob, not seen in this photograph. Moreover, if the respective gun survived from 1595 until 1898 to be photographed, maybe some of it is still extant and can be subjected to chemical analysis to determine place of origin. We now await the opinion of the cannon experts.

In 1770, the explorer James Cook claimed Australia for England, But Marlowe, if really the queen's agent, would have already done that back in 1595. Pending verification of the photographed gun as Elizabethan, we can erect a monument to Marlowe on Mer beach inscribed as follows: On this beach lies the remains of Christopher Marlowe: poet, playwright, heroic explorer, and likely first claimant of Australia for England!

 


 

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