Monday, October 4, 2010

The Tanner of Wingham by Peter Farey

In his introduction to William Urry's (1988) Christopher Marlowe
and Canterbury
Andrew Butcher wrote: "Furthermore, it seemed to Urry that the detailed local knowledge of East Kent which occurs in Henry VI Part II was certainly of a kind which Marlowe might have possessed and used. In describing Alexander Iden, Best, Wingham tanner, Emmanuel, the clerk of Chartham (or possibly Chatham), and Dick, the Ashford butcher, the dramatist seemed to be drawing on a knowledge of individuals who were demonstrably known to those living in Canterbury and its hinterland."

I don't know anything about the others, but it seems to me that Urry may well have had a point regarding that tanner's son:
Holland: I see them, I see them! There's Best's son, the tanner of Wingham. (2H6 4.2.21)
Mid-way between Canterbury and Wingham, which are about six miles apart, lies the parish of Bekesbourne. It is there that on 19 March 1582 (today's calendar) Joseph Best, the son of John Best, was christened. One may reasonably assume that he was a brother to Thomas Best, also baptized in Bekesbourne some three years earlier, on 22 February 1579. There was a Margaret Best (John's sister?) too, who had married John Silcock on 14 October 1566 in Goodnestone, which is less than two miles from Wingham. All of this information is from the International Genealogical Index of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Marlowe would have been two years old when Margaret was married. He was about fifteen - and only recently first recorded as a pupil at the King's School Canterbury - when Thomas arrived, and at Cambridge aged eighteen when Joseph was born. The Marlowes were at this time living in the parish of St. George, the Canterbury parish next to the city gate leading to Bekesbourne and Wingham.

We don't know whether this John Best was a tanner, of course - although Canterbury's "Old Tannery" isn't that far from "Best Lane" - but I quite like to imagine the young Kit Marlowe collecting leather for his shoemaker father from the Bests at Wingham and in a brief period away from school even visiting them around the time when his friend John’s wife was giving birth to young Thomas.

© Peter Farey, October 2010

Peter Farey, a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe." He was also a founding member (with Derek Jacobi) of the UK's National Youth Theatre. Click here to reach Peter's website.    Sam Riley Marlowe Burgess Emmerich Anonymous

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GonzagaAlum said...

Yes, yes, yes. These little Canterbury morsels are very relevant. Thanks.

WingMan said...

another great piece by Peter.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Stratfordians would say "Shakespeare had to have visited Canterbury because there are Canterbury references in Henry VI, II."

Christine said...

Stratfordians, as we all know, have an answer for everything: Shakespeare must have visited Venice, he must have read this or that, etc. I can't take them seriously, especially with the whole Cobbe travesty.

As always, fascinating work my Mr. Farey!

AinsleyGC said...

first time on the blog . . .wow! This stuff is better than who shot JFK.

DresdenDoll said...


Elizabethan conspiracy is highly addicting stuff. The Marlowe-Shakespeare Conspiracy "benefits" from Marlowe being both a shadowy spy and an absolute literary genius. Mundus vult decipi!