Ingram Frizer

Ingram Frizer

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Ingram Frizer, died August 1627, (ˈfriːzər—"freezer") was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

The term gentleman , in its original and strict signification, denoted a well-educated man of good family and distinction, analogous to the Latin generosus...

 and businessman of the late 16th and early 17th centuries who is notable for killing playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

 in the home of Eleanor Bull
Eleanor Bull
Eleanor Bull was an English woman who is known for owning the establishment in which Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright and poet, was killed in 1593.-Life:...

 on 30 May 1593. He has been described as "a property speculator, a commodity broker, a fixer for gentlemen of good worship" and a confidence trickster gulling "young fools" out of their money.


We have no definite information regarding Frizer's origins, but he may have been born in or near Kingsclere in Hampshire. Surviving legal records show him to have been a fairly well-to-do business man profiting from buying and selling property
Real estate
In general use, esp. North American, 'real estate' is taken to mean "Property consisting of land and the buildings on it, along with its natural resources such as crops, minerals, or water; immovable property of this nature; an interest vested in this; an item of real property; buildings or...

. At the time of Marlowe's death the landowner Thomas Walsingham
Thomas Walsingham (literary patron)
Sir Thomas Walsingham was a courtier to Queen Elizabeth I and literary patron to such poets as Thomas Watson, Thomas Nashe, George Chapman and Christopher Marlowe. He was related to Elizabeth's spymaster Francis Walsingham and the employer of Marlowe's murderer Ingram Frizer...

 was Frizer's "master", but this does not imply that Frizer was a servant: As well as acting on his own behalf, Frizer appears to have been Walsingham's business agent. Walsingham was a young relative of Queen Elizabeth's
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 Secretary of State
Secretary of State (England)
In the Kingdom of England, the title of Secretary of State came into being near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I , the usual title before that having been King's Clerk, King's Secretary, or Principal Secretary....

, Sir Francis Walsingham
Francis Walsingham
Sir Francis Walsingham was Principal Secretary to Elizabeth I of England from 1573 until 1590, and is popularly remembered as her "spymaster". Walsingham is frequently cited as one of the earliest practitioners of modern intelligence methods both for espionage and for domestic security...

; both Walsinghams had been heavily involved with intelligence work a few years earlier but there is no evidence that Frizer ever had any connection with it.

Not all of Frizer's business dealings were honest: in 1593, collaborating with Nicholas Skeres
Nicholas Skeres
Nicholas Skeres was one of the four men present at the house of Eleanor Bull in Deptford, on the occasion of the death of the famous poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe...

 (who was also present at Marlowe's killing), he contrived a complicated fraud to relieve one Drew Woodleff of his inheritance. In exchange for £30 in cash Woodleff was inveigled into signing a bond for £200, forfeiting property to Thomas Walsingham in default of payment.

A few years later, when King James
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 ascended the throne, Frizer received numerous benefices from the crown, through the action of Audrey Walsingham (Thomas's wife and a friend of James's Queen, Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark was queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland as the wife of King James VI and I.The second daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark, Anne married James in 1589 at the age of fourteen and bore him three children who survived infancy, including the future Charles I...

). He moved to Eltham, about three miles from the by then "Sir" Thomas Walsingham's estate at Scadbury. He became a churchwarden in 1605 and a parish tax assessor in 1611. There was a daughter named Alice Dixon, who lived in London, and another who married a man called John Banks. A "Mrs. Ingeram" who was buried at Eltham on 25 August 1616 may perhaps have been his wife, and he remained there apparently in genteel respectability until his death, being buried in the church there on 14 August 1627.

Christopher Marlowe

For several years before his death Marlowe had been employed in some intelligence capacity on behalf of the government. In the Spring of 1593 he appears to have been staying at Thomas Walsingham's home at Scadbury
Scadbury Park
Scadbury Park is a Local Nature Reserve in Chislehurst in the London Borough of Bromley. It is a Site of Metropolitan Importance. It is over 300 acres, and is part of an extensive wildlife corridor together with Petts Wood and the Jubilee Country Park....

, near Chislehust in Kent, and had been invited by Frizer to a "feast" in Deptford
Deptford is a district of south London, England, located on the south bank of the River Thames. It is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne, and from the mid 16th century to the late 19th was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Navy Dockyards.Deptford and the docks are...

, a township on the river Thames some seven miles to the north, at the house of Eleanor Bull
Eleanor Bull
Eleanor Bull was an English woman who is known for owning the establishment in which Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright and poet, was killed in 1593.-Life:...

, the widow of a local official. The status of Dame Bull's establishment is unclear, but it was probably a private victualling house
A victualler is traditionally a person who sells food or other provisions, similar to a grocer, and in particular British usage can be used to mean a person licensed to sell alcoholic beverages....

, rather than a public tavern
A tavern is a place of business where people gather to drink alcoholic beverages and be served food, and in some cases, where travelers receive lodging....

. Also in attendance were Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley, both of whom had been associated with the late Sir Francis Walsingham's intelligence operation. In fact Poley still was working for the Privy Council at the time.

Complete details of Marlowe's killing on 30 May 1593, as contained in an inquest run by the Coroner of the Queen's Household two days later, were discovered by Leslie Hotson in 1925. According to this report — based upon what the three of them had to say — Poley, Frizer and Skeres were in a private room, having had dinner, and were all seated facing a table with Frizer in the middle. Marlowe was lounging on a bed just behind them when Frizer and he got into an argument over "the reckyninge" — the bill. Marlowe suddenly jumped up, seized Frizer's dagger, which Frizer was wearing "at his back", and with it struck him twice on the head, leaving wounds two inches long and a quarter deep. Frizer, his freedom of movement restricted between Poley and Skeres, struggled to defend himself and in doing so stabbed Marlowe above the right eye, killing him immediately.

Frizer was found by the inquest jury on 1 June 1593 to be not guilty of murder for reasons of self defence and on 28 June the Queen granted him a formal pardon.


Although some contend the "self defence" evidence offered at Marlowe's inquest was quite in keeping with the victim's known propensity for sudden violence, this has been brought into question by Charles Nicholl, who notes that Marlowe's supposed previous history of violence has been somewhat mythologised and exaggerated . It has likewise been suggested Frizer could have had other motives. Park Honan
Park Honan
Park Honan, academic and author, born 17 September 1928 in Utica, New York, the son of William Francis Honan, a thoracic surgeon and Annette Neudecker Honan, a journalist. He is now emeritus Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Leeds...

 proposes that Marlowe's presence at Scadbury was a threat to Walsingham's reputation and influence, and thus threatened Frizer's interests also: The Privy Council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

 certainly suspected Marlowe of atheism and heresy, and yet he was a regular and welcome house-guest of one of Elizabeth's former spymasters. At the start of 1593 it was upheld in Parliament
Parliament of England
The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws...

 that heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

  was tantamount to the greatest crime of all—treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

  Honan considers it possible that, given the circumstances, it was Thomas Walsingham himself—accustomed "not to look far into Frizer's…trickery"—who initiated the deed by making his agent aware that Marlowe was becoming a liability to them both, and so indirectly securing his former friend's death. Another theory suggests that Marlowe, as a supposed member of "The School of Night
The School of Night
The School of Night is a modern name for a group of men centred on Sir Walter Raleigh that was once referred to in 1592 as the "School of Atheism." The group supposedly included poets and scientists such as Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman and Thomas Harriot...

", became aware of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, KG was an English nobleman and a favourite of Elizabeth I. Politically ambitious, and a committed general, he was placed under house arrest following a poor campaign in Ireland during the Nine Years' War in 1599...

's plots against Raleigh
Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh was an English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in England....

, and Skeres was sent to warn him to keep silence. It was only when Marlowe refused to heed the warning was the unpremeditated decision taken to silence him in a more certain and final way. In this surmise Frizer is no more than one of Skeres's associates, and not the principal player. The Marlovian theory
Marlovian theory
The Marlovian theory with regard to the Shakespeare authorship question is a fringe theory that holds that the Elizabethan poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe did not die in Deptford on 30 May 1593, as the historical records state, but rather that his death was faked, and that he was the main...

 suggests that Frizer aided Marlowe in faking his death to become William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...


External links

  • Death in Deptford Translation of the Coroner's report, prepared by the Marlowe Society
    Marlowe Society
    The Marlowe Society is a Cambridge University theatre club for Cambridge students. It is dedicated to achieving a high standard of student drama in Cambridge...