Renaissance Courtiers

(and Marlowe and Raleigh)

Many important artists and statesmen served as courtiers to Noble persons. The money provided by a patron often made the creation of artistic works possible (and the Patron more famous because he/she was honored by the work of art).

A list of the attributes a good courtier should have is below (much of this is brought together in Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier):


Noble birth

Skill in arms


Handsome appearance

Dexterity at: swimming, hunting, dancing, and the arts

Articulate, but not affected

Sprezzatura (grace under pressure) ability to make things look easy

Consultant to ruler (governing, law, warfare)

Able at winning Love

Witty and intelligent discourse


Sometimes overlaps with medieval courtly love–Chivalric wooing of the woman

Dedication to Ruler

Willing servant


How do Marlow and Ralegh Stack up?

Christopher Marlowe (1564- 1593)

Dramatist, poet, courtier?

Son of a Shoe maker

Attends Corpus Christi College Received B.A. and M.A.

Next to Shakespeare as a Dramatist

Acknowledged by Elizabeth

Plays dealt with issues of power, supernatural, and Kingship in his plays

Accused of Atheism (illegal)

Secret Agent of Queen

Killed in suspicious Bar fight (supposedly over check)


Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

explorer, poet, courtier, prose writer

Nobel Birth

Favorite of Elizabeth (and at least one of her maids of honor)

Voyaged to South America when out of favor

Reinstated at court by Elizabeth at end of her reign

Courtier/poet–circulated his manuscripts at court

Used as an exemplar of Chivalry and courtesy

Popular at Court

Imprisoned and released from Tower of London (13 years) flimsy charge

Eventually executed for attacking a Spanish settlement in the New World (he had promised not to)