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The "School of Night"

The School of Night

The School of Night is a modern name for a cabal of men centered on Sir Walter Raleigh that was once referred to in 1592 as the "School of Atheism." The cabal supposedly included poets and scientists such Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, Thomas Hariot, Richard Baines (who testified against Marlowe in his trial for atheism), and one of Marlowe's killers, Ingram Frizer. There is no firm evidence that all of these men were all known to each other, but speculation about their connections features prominently in some writing about the Elizabethan era.


"The School of Night" is a modern name. It derives from a passage in William Shakespeare's play Love's Labours Lost, in which the King of Navarre says "Black is the badge of hell / The hue of dungeons and the school of night." It should be noted that the context of the lines has nothing to do with cabals: the King is simply sneering at the black hair of his friend Berowne's lover.

However, some writers have seen the line as an allusion to Raleigh's 'school of atheism', and have used "The School of Night" as a name for the group. The group was controversially said to be satanists and pagans who worshipped pagan gods at night. They were also said to preform illegal operations and rituals in the 1600s. Although not known for sure, the School Of Night has been traced back to DaVinci and Michaelangelo, as they were considered great "outside thinkers" of their times.


It is alleged that each of these men studied science, philosophy, and religion, and all were suspected of atheism. Atheism at that time was a charge nearly the equivalent of treason, since the monarch was the head of the church and to be against the church was, ipso facto, to be against the monarch. However, it was also a name for anarchy, and was a charge frequently brought against the politically troublesome. Richard Chomley, an anti-Catholic spy for her Majesty's Privy Council, charged in an affidavit Marlow had "read the Atheist lecture to Sr. Walter Raleigh [and] others," substantiating charges of atheism against The School of Night. [1]


* Muriel C. Bradbrook, The School of Night: A Study in the Literary Relationships of Raleigh (1936)

1. ^ Tannenbaum, Samuel [1928]. The Assassination of Christopher Marlowe (A New View). The Shoe String Press, 49-50. LCC PR2673.T3.

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Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, for instance, became in later years a central figure in the group, taking over the role of prime financial patron from the impoverished Sir Walter Raleigh; but in 1593 he was a relative newcomer.

Later the main meeting-place of the School was Northumberland's London seat, Sion House, across the Thames from Kew Gardens; and here his circle, which included the Earl of Derby, Ben Jonson, the poets Goodge and Peele, the astronomer Robert Hughes, and others, merged with Raleigh's.

Northumberland was nicknamed "The Wizard Earl," and was the patron of a number of poets, scholars, scientists and mathematicians.

THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT by Frederick Turner, Page 11.

Henry Percy...did he write Shakespeare?

The Percy family

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