Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Swetnam’s Advice: A Case Study

As I’ve noted before, Joseph Swetnam strongly advises his readers to avoid killing someone if possible, even in a duel which would widely be considered honorable. As an example of the consequences of being involved in a duel to the death in Elizabethan England, I offer the case of William Bradley, who was killed on September 28, 1589.

Between two and three o’clock on that day, Bradley became involved in a duel with Christopher Marlowe (yes, the playwright). How the fight started isn’t known, but a gentleman by the name of Thomas Watson drew his own sword and tried to break it up.

Marlowe apparently withdrew from the fight, but Bradley turned upon Watson, possibly because of a standing argument that already existed between them. Watson retreated from Bradley, taking some serious injuries in the process, until he was essentially cornered against a ditch. Unable to retreat any further, Watson struck back and stabbed Bradley through the heart.

Watson and Marlowe were both arrested for murder and incarcerated in Newgate prison. Marlowe paid a fine and was released on October 1, 1589. A jury determined that Watson acted in self-defense, but he remained in prison until February 12, 1590, when he received a pardon from the Queen.

J. Christoph Amberger, The Secret History of the Sword, Multi-Media Books: 1999, p. 203-204.

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