Kyd’s Letters

Thomas Kyd (1558-1594) was an important English dramatist who once shared rooms with Christopher Marlowe. When some tracts were posted in London threatening foreign Protestants who had sought refuge in London, officials searched Kyd’s (among others) rooms and found evidence which brought Marlowe to official notice for “atheism.”

Kyd apparently lost his sponsorship for his associations, and the following are poignant letters he wrote to the Lord Keeper describing his innocence and his difficulties, and requesting that his name be cleared. Unable to regain his position, Kyd died a bit more than a year after the incident, penniless.

Kyd’s Letters to Sir John Puckering (“A” and “B”)

Letter A: (British museum: Harleian MS. 6849, fol. 218. Facsimile in Boas, Works of Thomas Kyd.)

At my last being with your Lordship to entreate some speaches from you in my favor to my Lorde, who (though I thinke, he rest not doubtfull of myne inocence) hath yet in his discreeter judgement feared to offende in his retaining me, without your honors former pryvitie; So is it now Right honorable that the denyall of that favor (to my thought resonable) hath mov’de me to conjecture some suspicion, that your Lordship holds me in, concerning Atheisme, a deadlie thing which I was undeserved charged withall; & therefore have I thought it requisite, aswell in duty to your Lordship, & the lawes, as also in the fear of god, & freedom of my conscience, therein to satisfy the world and you:

The first and most (though insufficient) surmise that ever [w]as therein might be raised of me, grew thus. When I was first suspected for that libel that concern’d the State, amongst those waste and idle papers (which I cared not for) & which unasked I did deliver up, were found some fragments of a disputation, touching that opinion, affirmed by Marlowe to be his, and shuffled with some of mine (unknown to me) by some occasion of our writing in one chamber two years since.

My first acquaintance with this Marlowe, rose upon his bearing name to serve my Lord although his Lordship never knewe his service, but in writing for his players, for never could my Lord endure his name, or sight, when he had heard of his conditions, nor would indeed the forme of devine prayers used duly in his Lordship’s house, have quadred with such reprobates.

That I should love or be familer frend, with one so irreligious, were very rare, when Tullie saith Digni sunt amicitia quibs in ipsis inest causa cur diligantur [“Digni autem sunt amicitia, quibus in ipsis inest causa, cur diligantur” means “Now those are worthy of friendship who possess in themselves some reason why they should be loved.” and comes from ‘Laelius de Amicitia’ by M. Tullius Cicero)) which neither was in him, for p[er]son, qualities, or honesty, besides he was intemp[er]ate & of a cruel heart, the verie contraries to which, my greatest enemies; will saie by me.

It is not to be numbered amongst the best conditions of men, to taxe or to upbraid the dead, Quia mortui non mordent, But thus much have I with your Lordship’s favor dared in the greatest cause, which is to clear my self of being thought an Atheist, which some will sweare he was.

For more assurance that I was not of that vile opinion, let it but please your Lordship to enquire of such as he conversed withall, that is (as I am given to understand) with Harriot, Warner, Royden, and some stationers in Paules churchyard, whom I in no sort can accuse nor will excuse by reason of his company, of whose consent if I had been, no question but I also should have been of their consort, for ex minimo vestigo artifex agnoscit artificem.

Of my religion & life I have already given some instance to the late commssioners & of my reverend meaning to the state, although p[er]haps my paines and undeserved tortures felt by some, would have engendered more impatience when less by far hath driven so many into extra caulas which it shall– never do with me.

But whatsoever I have felt Right honourable this is my request not for reward but in regard of my true innocence that it would please your Lordship’s so t[o] [. . . . . .] the same & me, as I may still retain the favors of my Lord, whom I have served almost these 6 years now, in credit untill now, & now am utterly undone without herein be somewhat done for my recoverie, for I do know his Lordship holdes your honors & the state in that due reverence, as he would no way move the least suspicion of his loves and cares both towards her sacred Majesty, your Lordships, and the Laws whereof when time shall serve I shall give greater instance which I have observed.

As for the libel laid unto my charge I am resolved with receiving of the sacrament to satisfy your Lordships & the world that I was neither agent nor consenting therunto Howbeit if some outcast Ismael for want or of his owne dispose to lewdness, have with pretext of duty or religion, or to reduce himself to that he was not borne unto by any way incensed your Lordships to suspect me, I shall beseech in all humility & in the fear of god that it will please your Lordships but to censure me as I shall prove my self, and to repute them as they are in deed Cum totius injustitiae nulla capitalior sit quam eorum, qui tum cum maxime fallunt id agunt ut viri boni esse videantur1 for doubtless even then your Lordships shall be sure to breake [. up? .] their lewd designs and see into the truth, when but their lies that herein have accused me shall be examined & ripped up effectually, so may I chaunce with paul to live & shake the upper of my hand into the fire for which the ignorant suspect me guilty of the former shipwreck. And thus (for now I fear me I grow tedious) assuring your good Lordship that if I knew any whom I could justly accuse of that damnable offence to the awfull Majesty of god or of that other mutinous sedition toward the state I would as willingly reveal them as I would request your Lordships better thoughts of me that never have offended you

Yor Lordships most humble in all duties

Th. Kydde.

Letter B: (British museum: Harleian MS. 6848, fol. 154.)

Pleaseth it your honorable Lordship toching marlowes monstruous opinions as I cannot but with an agreved conscience think on him or them so can I but pticulariz fewe in the respect of them that kept him greater company, Howbeit in discharg of dutie both towrds god your Lordship’s & the world thus much have I thoug(ht good breiflie to discover in all humblenes ffirst it was his custom when I knewe him first & as I heare saie he contynewd it in table talk or otherwise to iest at the devine scriptures gybe at prayers, & stryve in argumt to frustrate & confute what hath byn spoke or wrytt by prophets & such holie men/

1 He would report St John to be or savior Christes Alexis I cover it with reverence and trembling that is that Christ did love him with an extra­ordinary loue/

2 That for me to wryte a poem of St paules conversion as I was deter­mined he said would be as if I should go wryte a book of fast & loose, esteming Paul a Jugler.

3 That the prodigall Childs portion was but fower nobles, he held his purse so neere the bottom in all pictures, and that it either was a iest or els fowr nobles then was thought a great patrimony not thinking it a pable

4 That things esteemed to be donn by devine power might have a aswell been don by observation of men all which he would so sodenlie take slight occasion to slyp out as I & many others in regard of his other rashnes in attempting soden pryvie iniuries to men did ouerslypp though often reprehend him for it & for which god is my witnes aswell by my lords comaundmt as in hatred of his life & thoughts I left and did refraine his companie/

He would pswade with men of quallitie to goe vnto the k of Scotts whenther I heare Royden is gon and where if he had liud he told me when I sawe him last he meant to be/


With reference to this line: “my true innocence that it would please your Lordship’s so t[o] [. . . . . .] the same & me, as “, Why is the crux of the letter missing?

“He would pswade with men of quallitie to goe vnto the k of Scotts whenther I heare Royden is gon and where if he had liud he told me when I sawe him last he meant to be/”. Did Marlowe go?

  1. When there is no injustice of the whole is deadly and that of those, who at that time at this very moment that are false to act as they seem to be of a good man []