Title: IDENTIFYING DEKKER'S THIRD KING IN THE WHORE OF BABYLON ,  By: Krantz, Susan E., ANQ, 0895769X, Jul90, Vol. 3, Issue 3
Section: Notes


In Thomas Dekker's The Whore of Babylon, the Third King (Spain) has long been identified with Philip II of Spain. As the monarch responsible for launching the Armada against England, Philip II appears to be the obvious analog for Dekker's Third King; however, other actions of Dekker's Spanish king, argue against such a singular identification. I would like to suggest that Dekker conflated the actions of Philip II with those of another Spaniard, Don Pedro de Zuniga, to create the character of the Third King.

Dekker's detailed delineation of the Third King has been noted, but editors have not questioned the numerous points of dissimilarity between Philip II and Dekker's character, assuming that Dekker was exercising poetic license for dramatic and aesthetic effect. Marianne Gateson Riely acknowledges the superior characterization of the Third King, calling him "a political Machiavel who comes to Fairie Land complete with innumerable disguises to stir up treason amongst courtiers, soldiers, scholars, and country clods" (71). And Cyrus Hoy finds him the only believable threat to Fairie Land in the play: "in the Third King we come as close as we ever do . ., to a dramatized force of evil--an active power of temptation--that poses a threat which must be countered" (2: 303). Both are correct in their perceptions of Dekker's Third King, but neither description resembles Philip II to any serious degree. Historically, Philip II's "threats" were never "tempting." His marriage proposal to Queen Elizabeth, delivered shortly after the death of Queen Mary, never received serious consideration. And his hostile action against England,the launching of the Armada, was direct and aggressive, certainly not a subversive ploy to tempt the English to treason against their government.

However, at the time of the play (December 1605-07), Zuniga, the Spanish ambassador to England, did indeed appear to be a "political Machiavel," "an active power of temptation." Zuniga arrived at the English court in June 1605, shortly after the formal confirmation of the Treaty of London, and remained Philip IlI's envoy in England through 1607. He was the Spanish presence in England at the time of the Gunpowder Plot (4 November 1605); and, as Daniel Dodson has documented, Dekker included several references to the recent treason in his play (257). In all probability, the Gunpowder Plot served as both impetus and backdrop for Dekker's composition (Price 75; Hoy 2: 300-01). In addition to alluding to the Gunpowder Plot in the play. Dekker reveals an overriding anti-Spanish sentiment which links the Third King to acts of subversion and manipulation in Fairie Land and which corresponds to the English perceptions and fears that the Spanish acted subversively and not overtly at the time of the plot. King James insisted that no evidence connected Spain with the plot (Loomie 40-42), but the people persisted in believing the opposite. Their suspicions were intensified in the flurry of pamphlets circulating in England immediately following the plot, many, like that of I.H. (John Heath), claiming that the Englishmen were tempted to treason by Spain. Heath calls the plotters "Tygrish blood-sworne Iesuits/Spanized British slaues" (A4).

The Spaniard who was considered most likely to enslave the British and prompt them to treason was Zuniga. His "Instructions" from the Spanish court, including his "Secret instructions," are extant. Charles Carter has partially translated and summarized the "Secret Instructions," which emphasize that an important aspect of Zuniga's mission in England was to curry favor and lend support to English Catholics (308), and confirm his role as a political subversive in England. Of course, neither Dekker nor his countrymen was privy to Zuniga's instructions, but there can be little doubt that they suspected his capability and propensity to be subversive. Not only did many of them hate the recent peace treaty with Spain, of which Zuniga was the physical embodiment, they distrusted Spain's ability or desire to negotiate in good faith. Sir Walter Ralegh speaks for many of his countrymen when he writes that the Spanish "were not wont to keep either promises or oaths longer than they may prove profitable to themselves" (8:307).

Such suspicions and distrust help to define the social milieu in which Dekker composed The Whore of Babylon. One focal point for that distrust in England was Zuniga, just as the focal point for suspicious activity in Fairie Land is the Third King. The play is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and Dekker's Spanish king includes some parallels to Philip II. By conflating the remote and overt actions of Philip II with the recent and subversive actions of Zuniga, however, Dekker achieves his more immediate purpose of using the past to gloss the present. Thus, the character of the Third King, combined with references to the Gunpowder Plot, gives The Whore of Babylon a greater degree of contemporaneity than a strict Elizabethan reading renders.


Carter, Charles. The Western European Powers, 1500-1700. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1971

Dodson, Daniel. "Allusions to the Gunpowder Plot in Dekker's The Whore of Babylon." Notes and Queries, 204 (1959), 257.

Hoy, Cyrus. Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to Texts in "The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker." 4 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1979-85.

I.H. [John Heath]. The Divell of the Vault. Or, The vnmasking of Murther. In a brief declaration, of the Cacolicke-complotted Treason, lately discouered. London. 1606.

Loomie, Albert. S.J. "Guy Fawkes in spain The `Spanish Teason' in Spanish Documents." Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research (London) Special Supplement 9 (Nov. 1971): 1-67.

Price, George. Thomas Dekker. New York: Twayne. 1969.

Ralegh. Sir Walter. "Discourse Touching a War with Spain." Works of Sir Walter Ralegh. New York: Burt Franklin 1829.

Riely, Marianne Gateson, ed. The Whore of Babylon. By Thomas Dekker. New York: Garland. 1980.