May 30th – Murder in Deptford

1593

Tonight in a drinking house owned by a widow Eleanor Bull in Deptford , three miles from London, four men are spending the evening.

A witness would later testify that an argument broke out between two of the men over payment of the bill. One man grabbed a dagger and attacked the other giving him two head wounds. In retaliation the injured man stabbed the other straight through the right eye killing him instantly.

When the authorities arrived, the dead man was identified as the famous actor and playwright Christopher Marlowe.

An anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, believed to show Christopher Marlowe

An anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, believed to show Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe was hugely admired by his colleagues and critics alike, penning such long-standing works as Dr Faustus and The Jew of Malta, and was a contemporary and friend of Shakespeare.

Conspiracy theories still abound about his death, including that it might have been over a woman. It seems highly likely that Marlowe had been recruited by Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham to join his immense and complex network bent on protecting the Queen and her church from heresy and attack.

Marlowe was known to have a volatile temper and many of his escapades, including the production of counterfeit coins, had been brushed under the carpet or somehow “absolved” by the government.

A few weeks before his death he had even been arrested himself for possessing a heretical tract however he was murdered before any action was taken against him.

His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the church of St Nicholas in Deptford. In 2002 the Marlowe Society gifted a memorial window to be placed in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

 

May 15th – The New Covent Garden Opens

1858

The new building which still forms the nucleus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, but at the time was still the Covent Garden Theatre, reopened after being destroyed by fire two years earlier.

The first performance on May 15th was Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots which was an extremely popular work at the time and was performed to an overflowing house, reportedly with at least 300 more patrons than the seating could hold.

E M Barry's 1858 facade as it looks today

E M Barry’s 1858 facade as it looks today

The new theatre was said to be the same size as La Scala in Milan which was at the time the largest theatre in Europe. Designed by architect E. M. Barry, the grand new building sat next to the Floral Hall, and faced onto Bow Street and Hart Street. The costs went over budget, coming in at £70,000 which had been raised by loans from the great and good including the Duke of Bedford and even Barry himself.

Until the 1840s, Her Majestys Theatre in the Haymarket had been the centre of ballet and opera but after some management disputes, the conductor and his company transferred their allegiance to Covent Garden. In 1858, the Royal English Opera Company also transferred from Drury Lane to Covent Garden and in 1892 the theatre official became the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.