Canterbury, England – A Marlowe Mystery

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Above is a video we made in Canterbury at the Three Tuns Hotel Pub. Three guys from the University of Kent were getting initiated into the LaCrosse team. They got dumped outside of town wearing nothing but a plastic trash bag and had to make it back into town. It really made our trip to Canterbury most memorable.

The Big Sleep
The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart

The name Marlowe was at the center of many a mystery written by Anglo-American novelist, Raymond Chandler (1888-1959).  His fictional hero was detective Philip Marlowe, many of whose exploits formed the basis of such famous films as The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart.

Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe

I must tell you about a Marlowe mystery of my own, which I have just solved. My mystery relates to a different Marlowe, but he was certainly not fictional. Christopher Marlowe was born in the famous old English city of Canterbury.  The exact date of his birth is unknown, but shortly afterwards he was baptized in St. George’s Church on February 26th 1564.

He was educated in Canterbury at The King’s School.  Founded in AD 597 and still flourishing 1400 years later, that school must surely lay claim to being England’s oldest.  Alumni include such diverse personalities as Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, author Somerset Maugham and physician William Harvey, a contemporary of Marlowe.  Harvey was the first doctor to figure out how blood circulates around the body by virtue of the heart pumping it.

The Kings School Canterbury England
The Kings School

As a young man, Christopher Marlowe ranked as one of the leading playwrights and poets of Elizabethan England.  He was a couple of months older than William Shakespeare, whose early work is said to have been much influenced by Marlowe.  History records that Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death at the age of 29 in a tavern on May 30th 1593.  There is a theory that Christopher Marlowe did not die in 1593, but instead faked his own death in order to avoid various problems in his own life.  The theory goes on to claim that Marlowe then went on to write most of the works of William Shakespeare, but could not publish them in his own name without revealing that he was still alive.  These claims are collectively known as The Marlovian Theory, the truth of which is vigorously proclaimed by various learned societies.

Let me say at once that this is not the Marlowe mystery that I solved.  Who stabbed whom and who wrote what over 400 years ago are matters well beyond my investigative powers. My own Marlowe mystery first came to my attention earlier this month, June 2010, when I was strolling down the High Street in Canterbury one fine morning.

St. George's Clock Tower Canterbury
St. George's Clock Tower Canterbury

The clock tower of St George’s Church stands alone and fronts onto the High Street, but where was the rest of church in which Christopher Marlowe was baptized?  The clock tower was built to last for centuries and has succeeded in doing so.  What caused the church itself to disappear?  This was my Marlowe mystery.  It did not occur to me that Canterbury could be a target for bombing during World War Two.  There is and was nothing there of the slightest strategic value to an enemy. Why would an enemy risk its planes and the lives of its bomber pilots in order to destroy part of a very old church?  It was certainly a mystery to me.  The explanation was that most of the church was destroyed on June 1st 1942 by what came to be known as a Baedeker raid.  The clock tower is all that survived that night. What were the Baedeker raids?

Baedeker Guide Book
Baedeker Guide Book

Baedeker is a leading travel guide, founded in Germany by Karl Baedeker in 1827.  Baedeker reports on historic and picturesque locations and is famous for that throughout the world.  Indeed, by the early 20th century, the word “baedekering” had become part of the English language.  Popular writers, such as Agatha Christie (Death on the Nile) and Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) refer to the Baedeker Guide in those novels.  Parts of Britain had been devastated by Nazi air raids, such as the 1940 London blitz, and eventually the Royal Air Force bombed Germany in return. Berlin and Cologne were targeted, but what particularly enraged the Nazis was the destruction by the RAF of the Baltic seaport of Lubeck on the nights of March 28/29 1942.

Lubeck Germany
Lubeck Germany

Lubeck was and is a beautiful medieval city. It is near Hamburg and was for centuries the capital of the Hanseatic League.  Its port and nearby submarine base made it a perfectly legitimate bombing target, but the Nazis didn’t see it that way, They announced a series of revenge attacks on historic British cities of no military significance.  They said that they would bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in The Baedeker Guide.  What then became known as Baedeker raids were made by the Luftwaffe on the English cities of Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and finally – in early June 1942 – Canterbury.   These raids did not achieve much.  All of these cities have great old cathedrals, which escaped damage.  Nazi losses of planes and pilots were considerable and so the Baedeker raids ended.  But, before they ended, the church in which Marlowe was baptized in 1564 was demolished, with only its clock tower remaining. That is the answer to my Marlowe mystery.  The allies could well have described it as the final Baedeker raid when, in December 1943, they bombed and destroyed the files and premises of The Baedeker Guide in Germany.  However the business was started up again by Baedeker’s great great  grandson, Karl, in 1948 and it thrives to this day.