This article about my recent discovery in the Canterbury archives was published at Oxford Journals, October 2012.



Cynthia Morgan



Most of Christopher Marlowe’s biographers have written about William Corkyn’s 1592 suit against the dramatist for assault in Canterbury. Evidently, no biographer did any further research on Corkyn. Recently, I was searching through the Canterbury Archives for further information regarding Corkyn and discovered that six months after he brought this charge of assault against Marlowe, he was charged with assault by one Reginald Digges:


Indictment of William Corkyn, Canterbury, tailor for assaulting Reginald Digges, gent in St Mary Breadman parish, Westgate ward 30 June 1592. Placed himself at the mercy of the court by pledge of Giles Wynston and evidently amerced 3s 4d.


Further exploration of the Canterbury Archives led to the discovery that William Corkyn, tailor, was in court a total of fifteen times during the span of eight years. He had one indictment for assault, was the Plaintiff in nine cases, the Defendant in five.


Canterbury Archives: Judicial Records

1. COURT OF PLEAS 1591-1592: William Corkyn v. Christopher Marlowe in placito transgressions.

2. Quarter Sessions papers, Sep 1592: William Corkyn, Canterbury, tailor: assaulting Christopher Marlowe, gent in St Andrew's parish, Westgate ward 10 Dec 1591. Endorsed: ignoramus.

3. COURT OF PLEAS 1591-1592: Indictment of William Corkyn, Canterbury, tailor for assaulting Reginald Digges, gent in St Mary Breadman parish, Westgate ward 30 June 1592. Placed himself at the mercy of the court by pledge of Giles Wynston and evidently amerced 3s 4d

4. COURT OF PLEAS 1592-93: William Corkyn v. Thomas Elham.

5. COURT OF PLEAS 1592-93: Thomas Beane v. William Corkyn.

6. COURT OF PLEAS 1592-93: John Callowe v. William Corkyn.

7. COURT OF PLEAS, 30 Sept., 1594 - 25 Sept. 1595: William Corkyn v. Laurence Johnson.

8. COURT OF PLEAS 1594-95: Rowland v. William Corkyn.

9. COURT OF PLEAS 1597-98: William Corkyn, tailor, v. Henry Bromebrick, gentleman.

10. COURT OF PLEAS 1597-98: William Corkyn v. John Dunkyn.

11. COURT OF PLEAS 1597-98: Willelmus Corkyn quer. v. Nicholaum Colbrand.

12. COURT OF PLEAS 1597-98: Willelmus Corkyn quer. v. Willelmus Corkyn quer. v. Ambrosium Kynge.

13. COURT OF PLEAS 1597-98: Giles Golding v. Wm. Corkyn.

14. COURT OF PLEAS 1599-1600: William Corkyn as plaintiff. John Searing as defendant.

15. COURT OF PLEAS 1599-1600: William Corkyn v. Henry Rigden.


We know that Corkyn did not contest Digges charges, which fairly tells us he was guilty of the assault. We can also fairly ascertain from these newly discovered Corkyn documents that he was not shy when it came to using the court system and that many other men in Canterbury had difficulty with this tailor.  The recent discovery of Digges v. Corkyn and Corkyn’s numerous visits to court raises several new questions. We are now able to ask, “Was Corkyn a man whose feathers were easily ruffled?” As for his numerous court visits, we can ask, “Was Corkyn a man who went to court over trifles?” and, “Was his taking Marlowe to court making a mountain out of a molehill?” We can also ask, “Was Corkyn in court suing to get paid for the garments he made those eight times he was the Plaintiff? Was he being sued by the people who were to wear the garments those five times he was the Defendant?” With these newly discovered Corkyn documents in hand we are now able to speculate whether or not Corkyn had difficulty communicating with others, not to mention whether or not he was the best of tailors.

We also have a document stating Marlowe brought countercharges against Corkyn, and the date of Corkyn’s assault on Marlowe is a full five days earlier than Corkyn’s stated date of Marlowe’s assault on him. Marlowe’s biographers cite William Urry’s transcription of this document. They have assumed he correctly interpreted that Marlowe’s date of Corkyn’s earlier attack on him was wrong, even though this interpretation was mere conjecture on Urry’s part.

City of Canterbury

The Grand Jury present for Our Lady the Queen that William Corkyn of the City of Canterbury ‘taylor’, on the tenth [sic] day of September . . . did make an assault upon a certain Christopher Marlowe, gentleman, and the same Christopher Marlowe did there and then beat, wound and maltreat, and other atrocities [enormia] did there and then inflict upon the said Christopher Marlowe, to the grave damage of the aforesaid Christopher . . .

Notice that Urry has interjected a “sic” after the date Marlowe stated he was attacked by Corkyn. Of his “sic” Urry says, “Despite the apparent difference in the dates of the two incidents reported it would seem that they refer to the same episode.” By “episode” Urry is conjecturing both assaults occurred on the same day and that Marlowe’s date of the 10th is incorrect. Urry has placed Marlowe’s Grand Jury countercharges against Corkyn both in the text and in his Appendix, where he questions Marlowe’s stated date of Corkyn’s assault this way:

. . . against William Corkine, tailor, for assault on 10 (15?)


Urry has no evidence that Marlowe’s document isn’t correct when it states the date of Corkyn’s assault, he is merely speculating it isn’t because it differs from the date of the 15th in Corkyn’s document. Urry has also placed the original Latin document of Marlowe’s countercharge in the Appendix, where the date of Corkyn’s assault was written, “decimo die septembris”, meaning the tenth day of September. It is difficult to understand how Urry came to question the correctness of Marlowe’s 1592 document considering the Latin spelling of “decimo die” for Marlowe’s 10th is a far cry from “quinto decimo” for Corkyn’s 15th.

It is the biographer’s duty to explore the characters of all the people a subject has encountered because this will shed more light on the subject. This new Corkyn information gives us legitimate cause to question Marlowe as the aggressor in that clash and cause to contrast Marlowe’s two quarrels in the span of seven years while living in the rowdy theater district against Corkyn’s fifteen court cases, including one for assault, during the span of eight years living in Canterbury.



Canterbury Archives, CCA-CC-J/Q/391(3)


Court of Pleas Record Numbers: 1. CCA-CC-J/B/1/391/i 2. CCA-CC-J/Q/392/iv: Court Of Quarter Sessions 3.CCA-CC-J/Q/391(3) 4. CCA-CC-J/B/1/392/I 5. CCA-CC-J/B/1/392/ii 6. CCA-CC-J/B/1/392/iii. 7. CCA-CC-J/B/1/394/1 8. CCA-CC-J/B/1/394/ii 9. CCA-CC-J/B/1/397/ii 10. CCA-CC-J/B/1/397/ii 11. CCA-CC-J/B/1/397/iii 12. CCA-CC-J/B/1/397/iii 13. CCA-CC-J/B/1/397/iv 14. CCA-CC-J/B/1/399/i 15. CCA-CC-J/B/1/399/iii


William Urry, Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury (London, 1988), 66-67.

Ibid, 131.