Richard Baines

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Richard Baines (fl. 1568–1593) was an Elizabethan double agent, informer and ordained Catholic priest.[1] He is best known for the so-called Baines Note, a list of accusations against the poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe, which has been described by Paul Kocher as the "master key to the mind of Marlowe" and that "for revolutionary impact and scope it stands alone, an extraordinary document in the history of free thought".[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Nothing is known about where and when Baines was born, but 1554 would seem to be a reasonable estimate for the latter.[3] The first mention we have of him is his matriculation in November 1568 as a pensioner at Christ's College, Cambridge. There was another Richard Baines, favoured by earlier biographers, who was at Oxford, but Kendall has convincingly argued that the Baines who was connected with Marlowe was the Cambridge one.[4] Assuming that this was the right Richard Baines, he gained his BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree in 1573, commencing MA (i.e. being awarded the degree of Master of Arts) at Caius College, Cambridge, in 1576.

Double agent[edit]

The English College at Rheims in France was a Catholic seminary at which English Catholics studied for the priesthood, with the aim of returning covertly to England to provide Catholic clergy for those who still adhered to the "old religion" in what was now a Protestant country. Some would support action to return England to the Catholic faith, even if this entailed the assassination of its Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I.

On 4 July 1579 Baines arrived at Rheims, being ordained a sub-deacon three years later on 25 March 1581, a deacon on 8 May, and a priest on 21 September that year. On 4 October 1581 he celebrated his first Mass as a priest.

Unfortunately for him, however, he confided to a fellow-seminarist his rejection of the Catholic faith and his plans to return to England to report to the queen's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham about the various plots being hatched in Rheims. In May 1582 he was imprisoned in Rheims town gaol, but a year later was back at the seminary, still a prisoner, where he wrote a lengthy confession of his offences.[5] It seems quite likely that he had in fact been an agent of Sir Francis Walsingham all along.[6]


Walsingham died in 1590, and Baines was next heard of in early 1592, when he was in Flushing, at that time an English possession in the Netherlands, apparently sharing a room with Christopher Marlowe.[7] According to a letter[8] sent by the Governor, Sir Robert Sidney, to the Lord Treasurer, Lord Burghley, Baines accused Marlowe of having been involved in the counterfeiting of coins. Only one of these—a Dutch shilling made of pewter—had been put into circulation ('uttered'), but some pieces of "Her Majesty's coin" had also been counterfeited, and this made it petty treason, a capital offence. Marlowe was sent back under guard to face Lord Burghley, but seems to have been released almost immediately, suggesting that whatever he was doing was on behalf of Burghley, and that Baines was unaware of this. Whether Baines was there on behalf of some rival faction of the Privy Council is a possibility, but at the moment unknowable.

The Baines Note[edit]

A year later, in May 1593, it seems that Baines was instrumental in getting the playwright Thomas Kyd wrongly accused of an offence for which he was imprisoned and tortured[9] and shortly after this Baines was called upon, apparently by the Lord Keeper, Lord Puckering, to provide an account of what he knew of the heretical views of Christopher Marlowe. Seemingly relishing the task, he produced the so-called Baines Note[10] which, with some amendment by Puckering,[11] was sent to the Queen. Before any action could be taken against Marlowe, however, an inquest reported him dead, stabbed in self-defence by Ingram Frizer—a man with whom he had been dining—in a dispute over payment of the bill or "reckoning".[12] A majority of Marlowe's more recent biographers have nevertheless expressed doubts about whether the inquest jury's finding was what really happened.

Vicar or thief?[edit]

It had been thought in the past that a Richard Baines who finished up as a vicar in Waltham, Lincolnshire, might have been the one described as Marlowe's nemesis.[13] Roy Kendall, however, has persuasively argued that he was framed for a capital crime the following year by an unnamed man with whom he went drinking, a crime about which a ballad was even written. The details of the cup-stealing scene in Doctor Faustus between "Dick" and "Robin" in fact seem so similar to those of the Baines case[14] that it may well have been an addition made after 1594, in December of which year this Richard Baines was hanged at Tyburn.[15]


  1. ^ Nicholl 2002, pp. 146–153
  2. ^ Paul Kocher,Kocher 1946, p. 33 quoted by Roy Kendall Kendall 2003, p. 23 in his Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys Through the Elizabethan Underground (based on his Ph.D. thesis with a similar title).
  3. ^ Kendall 2003, p. 34
  4. ^ Kendall 2003, p. 32
  5. ^ This included the possible intention to murder the members of the college by poisoning either the soup or its well, something which appeared—probably not by coincidence—in Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta.
  6. ^ Nicholl 2002, p. 448
  7. ^ Nicholl 2002, pp. 278–284
  8. ^ Archived 19 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Nicholl 2002, pp. 371–373
  10. ^ See a transcript of the original at Archived 12 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Nicholl 2002, p. 323. For example, he removed the famous comment alleged to have been made by Marlowe, "that all they that love not Tobacco & Boys were fools". A transcript of the version eventually sent to her is at
  12. ^ Discovered by Leslie Hotson in 1925, his translation of the inquisition is at Archived 19 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Nicholl 2002, p. 421
  14. ^ In fact the name 'Rafe' in the "A text"—thought more likely to be nearer Marlowe's original—was even changed to Baines's name "Dick" in the 1616 "B text".
  15. ^ Kendall 2003, pp. 308–31


  • Kendall, Roy (2003). Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground. London: Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-3974-7.
  • Kocher, Paul H. (1962) [1946]. Christopher Marlowe: A Study of His Thought, Learning, and Character.
  • Nicholl, Charles (2002). The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (2nd edition). ISBN 0-09-943747-3.