Travel for research


Pix & notes: Christopher Marlowe's Paris

I was in Paris in May this year, when the City of Light was the City of Flowers. We visited several lovely parks, about which more another time, but spent most of our days in the magnificent museums: the Louvre, the Museum of Man, the Musée de la Préfecture de police, which also deserves its own post. But I did get my traditional early Sunday morning to romp around the Left Bank taking pictures. Little remains of Kit’s Paris beyond the twisty streets and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but what there was, I saw & snapped.


Of course we need a map! Wikipedia, whence cometh this fine map, says that Paris was the largest city in Europe in 1550, having about 350,000 inhabitants. It’s only 2.2 million now, lagging well behind London’s 8.7 million. Everyone said, “Paris is a very compact city,” resting neatly inside its circling highway, the periferique. It’s very easy to get around by means of the excellent metro system — unless the trains are on strike that day!

Paris ca 1550, Olivier Truschet et Germain Hoyau.

The island in the middle is the Île-de-la-Cité. That largish box near the top right corner is the Cathedral of Notre Dame, built between 1163 and 1345. Marlowe would certainly have toured that very famous landmark. He grew up in Canterbury, remember, where the equally famous cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style in the twelfth century.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre Dame

Today you join a queue of tourists from all over the world to stroll through the vast building, craning your neck to marvel at the wealth of imagery inside. In Marlowe’s day, there would have been tourists from all over Europe, if none from China or Japan, similarly craning their necks — while keeping a hand on their purses! All of today’s tourists are literate; we can only guess at the literacy rates of Kit’s contemporaries. It doesn’t matter. Everything is bent toward teaching you the story of Jesus and the saints. Paintings, stained glass, sculptures, and a series of painted wood carvings all depict important stories from the Bible for those who don’t read and don’t understand the Latin of the songs and sermons. Marlowe had both skills, but only a brute could fail to appreciate the beauty of Notre Dame’s abundant works of art. 


I love gargoyles, but my little camera isn’t up to zooming that far with any kind of focus. (Could be time for a better camera!) So here are two suffering souls from the front facade, doomed to bear a row of church worthies forevermore.



Walking tours of Paris

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of London Walks, the wonderful guided tours of London and environs. I don’t think Paris has anything quite like that, and I wouldn’t have had time for it anyway, since I was with other people, which means lots of screwing around at the beginnings and ends of days. Super Tourist (c’est moi) gets up and gets going!

But before we left I found this cool site with downloadable self-guided tours: History Walks Paris. I printed out the one for the sixteenth century, which didn’t have Marlowe in mind, but it might as well have. But first, a couple of pix of things that he definitely did not see. Cool things!

st-ephrem1733Saint-Ephrem le Syriac was built in 1733. It’s now used for performances of classical music, which I didn’t get to hear, and is filled with fine paintings, which I did not see. Next time, eh?









This magnificent beast is part of the Fontaine St-Michel on the Boulevard Saint Michel near the fontaine-st-michelSeine. It was built in 1858-1860, during the French Second Empire when so much of the grandest parts of grand Paris were built. This really is the City of Grandeur! My Moriartys can see all these fabulous monuments, but this fountain was just a small square in Marlowe’s day; nothing to write home about.









OK. Here’s a street in the Latin Quarter. It would have been more thatch with plaster walls, MUCH more crowded with people in woolen garb and muddy shoes, muddy street with a kennel of crap running down the middle. Kit would have felt very much at home visually, while his sharp eyes tuned in to the Parisian French all around him. I imagine him absolutely loving it. His plays are filled with fabulous place names, suggesting a young man eager to explore the world. At least he got to see Paris!


I walked across the Pont de Neuf, built between 1578 and 1607. So unless they had spanned the river before finishing all the details, Marlowe couldn’t have crossed here! He would have had to use the bridges connecting the Île-de-la-Cité.

pont neuf

The Louvre palace

The walking tour starts at the Louvre. It started out as fortress against English soldiers in Normandy, built by Philip II. Charles V converted it to a residence, then Francis I remodeled it into the palace we see today. Francis Bacon would have spent time here, watching the court with his bright eyes and listening with his sharp ears. This is where he polished his French language skills to a fare-thee-well, as well as his ability to spend his days idling at court.

Marlowe would have entered at least this courtyard, where I took pictures. He served as a messenger, I think, delivering letters from some important English person or persons, probably someone on the Privy Council. I’ve blogged about that. He would have been expected to keep his sharp ears open too, maybe ask a discreet question here and there. He was handsome, articulate, charming, and quick-witted. I think he spent time in this courtyard playing dice with the other messengers, learning whatever he could that might interest his masters, as much for the sport of it as for the extra shillings.

This yard would have been crowded with men old and young, a few women, perhaps, selling food and drink or sexual favors. Maybe a gentlewoman waiting for someone. Horses clattering through. Barrels, maybe, crates, straw littering the ground. Shouts and vendors’ cries echoing off the walls.




According to History Walks, this was “the parish church of the kings of France.” The kings are gone, but they still hold services here, with or without tourists strolling quietly about snapping pictures. (I’m far from the only one doing this.) I give you this view because (a) the square-cut trees of Paris fascinate me and (b) the lofty tops of churches would have stood out above the lesser buildings and thatched-roof houses, helping people orient themselves in the city, as well as in heaven, one supposes.




The Lombard church

I was excited to discover the church of Saint-Merri, the parish church of the wealthy Italian Lombards in Paris. Alone among Marlowe aficionados, perhaps, I think he might have delivered messages for one of my favorite Elizabethans, Sir Horatio Palavicino. He was actually born in Genoa, but they didn’t have a Genovese church in Paris. He was the scion of aristocratic bankers who became a Protestant and moved to England, where he lent Queen Elizabeth several boatloads of money. He bought a house near Cambridge the year after Marlowe graduated, but I like to think they met during a house-hunting trip. Marlowe would have appreciated a wealthy, cosmopolitan master and Sir Horatio would have recognized Marlowe’s exceptional qualifications as a confidential messenger.

So I spent a little time in this church, soaking up the atmosphere. Churches were excellent places for quiet little meetings, in olden days as well as our own. It’s hard to get a picture of this place, because it’s tucked into a district of narrow streets. And my pictures of the narrow streets don’t look like anything much either. You just have to imagine Christopher Marlowe meeting a wealthy Lombard in that aisle, handing him a folded letter and leaning in to murmur the unwritten portion of the message in their common language, Latin. He would have been paid with a silver franc, perhaps, and paid again when he got back to England with the reply.

church of Saint-Merri

church of Saint-Merri

Hôtel de Ville

This fine building has been the headquarters of the municipality of Paris since 1357. Sacre bleu, that’s a long time! History Paris tells us that it was one of the most popular gathering places in medieval and Renaissance Paris,where goods were unloaded, celebrations and executions occurred, and strikes were held. Marlowe would have strolled through the crowds, soaking it all up whilst munching on a sack of roasted chestnuts or a sweet cheese pie. Or perhaps a French breakfast taco, which is what I call a crepe filled with egg, cheese, and bacon.

hotel de ville
Hotel de Ville, 2018
Hotel de Ville, 1583

These sculptures weren’t there. I don’t know who the naked lady is (all sculptures of women must be naked), but Moliere lived from 1622-1673.


Marlowe wouldn’t have wasted his precious francs on books – not while he lived at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge University, which had one of the finest libraries in England in his day. But he would have enjoyed browsing and practicing his French on the bookseller. “I’m Christopher Marlowe,” he might say, after Tamburlaine rocked European theater back on its heels. “Oh, yeah, and I’m the Queen of Sheba,” the bookseller would have scoffed.

Be yourself, unless you can be Christopher Marlowe in Paris, in which case, be Christopher Marlowe.

bookseller, paris

Pix & notes: South Kensington

My Professor and Mrs. Moriarty live in an end terrace in South Kensington, on a street I invented: Bellenden Crescent. It’s roughly in the location of the real world Pelham Crescent. 


I spent a lot of time walking around in that neighborhood on my last trip to London, partly because I got a little lost, but also because I get into these moods where I can’t stop walking. One more block, I say to myself; I’ll just walk up to that corner and then I’ll stop for a coffee. But no, I walk on by. I don’t know what that’s about.


A very Victorian view, if you mentally change the cars to horse-drawn cabs.

I tend to think of the whole stretch between Hyde Park and the Thames as South Kensington, but that’s not really right. London is more finely-grained than that. Google Maps says “South Kensington is an affluent district of West London in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is the most expensive district in London and one of the most expensive districts in the world.” No wonder it’s so clean and quiet! Rich people don’t hang out in public.

It looks like I cheerfully absorb Chelsea into my notion of Kensington. There’s no apparent seam; it’s not like you cross a street and find yourself in a less deliriously affluent neighborhood. I don’t have characters in Chelsea or much interest in the place, apart from the delightful Chelsea Physic Garden which I’ve blogged about and which you must try to visit if you ever can.

Looks like the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea runs from the Chelsea Physic Garden on the Thames in the southeast, north to Hyde Park and the big museum area, on along the south side of the park and then loop up to snag Notting Hill and then straight back down to the river roughly along the A3220.

Begin at the beginning

Arden farm
Affluent Kensington cow

British History Online tells us “In Doomsday-book this place is called Chenisitun; in other ancient records, Kenesitune and Kensintune. Chenesi was a proper name; a person of that name held the manor of Huish in Somersetshire, in the reign of Edward the Confessor.”

Back in William the Conqueror’s day, the manor of Kensington was taxed at 10 hides. “on the demesnes are four ploughs, the villans have five, and might employ six. There are 12 villans, holding each a virgate, and six who hold three virgates jointly. The priest has half a virgate, and there are seven slaves; meadow equal to two plough-lands; pasture for the cattle of the town; pannage for 200 hogs, and three acres of vineyards”

This was still farmland in Francis Bacon’s time. With the expansion of titled courtiers in the London metro area under James I, a prestige house was built in 1607 by the father-in-law of Henry Rich, Earl of Holland. Baron Rich got himself earlified in 1624, by Charles I, then. He’s the son of Bacon’s contemporaries, Penelope Rich (sister of the Earl of Essex) and Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick.

Holland House, from British History Online


Building booms

Although less than half of the Kensington area was under cultivation by 1840s, it was still mostly green: parks and paddocks and that sort of thing. But by mid-century, the Victorian building boom had spread into that district and the landscape changed rapidly. “Despite a severe hiccup following a financial crisis in April 1847, the transformation of a rural parish into a city suburb was well under way before the siting of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park…” (British History Online.)

“…throughout the years 1862–78 over 200 new buildings (the vast majority of them dwelling houses) were erected each year in southern Kensington…”

Professor Moriarty’s Bellenden Crescent
Mark Twain lived here 1896-7


One of the major attractions of the area from the mid-Victorian period are the amazing enormous museums and exhibition halls. My Prof. Moriarty and Angelina meet at the International Exhibition Hall here in Moriarty Meets His Match. That’s gone, but the Victoria & Albert Museum, a place you can never get tired of, was established in Exhibition Road in 1852. Enormous, endlessly fascinating, and with possibly the most amazing museum cafeteria in the world. When you go there, have lunch!


Who lived here, back in the day?

I’ve mentioned London’s Blue Plaques before, right? They’re granted by English Heritage to identify buildings of note, meaning buildings in which a notable person spent some time. Kensington and Chelsea are thick with them, since the borough was favored by the creative class: theater people, like my Angelina Moriarty; scientists who might have worked at one of the big museums; writers galore.

Go here to see the full list of blue plaques for the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

I choose neighborhoods – and sometimes houses – for my Victorian characters from this list. They tend to be a bit far from the sidewalk to photograph well, alas. Not all the plaques you see in London are official English Heritage blue plaques, although I’ve never seen one that might qualify as a form of sedate fake news. Many entities issue plaques, most notably borough governments.

Sir Nigel Playfair wrote plays you’ve never heard of. Great name, though.


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