Arden has been given the lands of the Abbey of Faversham by the Duke of Somerset. Arden's wife, Alice, has been having an affair with Mosby, a man of low estate. Arden would like to take a bloody revenge.
Arden's friend, Franklin, recommends that Arden tries to win his wife back with gentle words.When Alice comes in, Arden accuses her of calling Mosby's name in her sleep and expecting to find him lying beside her. She allays his fears. Arden says that he has to go to London for a month. Alice protests. Arden and Franklin go to supervise the unloading of some goods on the quay.
After they leave, it is clear that Alice is only interested in Mosby. She wishes that Arden were dead. Adam from a pub called the Flower-de-Luce arrives. Alice thinks that it'll be a summons from Mosby, but Adam says that Mosby has told her not to see him. Alice is damned if that's going to be the case and wants to know what she's done to incur his displeasure. She sends him a message telling him to drop by as if it is by chance.
Adam leaves and Arden's servant, Michael, enters. Alice has subverted him by offering him Mosby's sister, Susan, in marriage. He promises that Arden will be dead within a week. Michael thinks that Susan is promised to a painter called Clarke, but Alice assuages his fears.
Mosby enters, but refuses to speak to Alice. She dismisses him. Mosby thinks that she's just being a fickle women, but they're still an item. He says that he's met a man who can paint a poisoned picture that can be used to kill Arden. Alice is sceptical about the idea because it may go amiss. Mosby tells her to leave him. Clarke says he'll do it for Susan hand and Mosby promises his sister to him. Alice wouldn't want Arden to die if she could have Mosby as she pleased. They explain to Clarke that they don't like the idea of the poisoned picture. He gives them some poison they can put in his food or drink.
When Arden enters, Mosby asks him about some lands connected to the abbey. Arden asks Alice to make him some breakfast and Mosby that he owns the land. He rebukes him for being familiar with his wife.
Arden seizes Mosby's sword because he is not a gentleman and may not wear one. Mosby asks to be judged for what he is now, not what he was. Arden still calls him a menial. Mosby says that he loved Alice once, but no longer, and comes to the house to see his sister. Arden apologises and says that they'll be friends if his words are true. Franklin says that Mosby should stay away from the house, but Arden says that he should come more often to allay any gossip. Alice brings in breakfast. Arden thinks there's something wrong with it. Alice dashes his breakfast to the ground and starts to rant at him. They are sort of reconciled. Arden doesn't want to go to London, but has to and leaves with Franklin.
Alice and Mosby discuss the poison. They can still continue their affair even although Arden is still alive. Mosby has sworn not to importune Alice. She is contemptuous of the oath, but Mosby will not break his word while Arden lives. Alice says that they can have Arden murdered in London.
A man called Greene arrives. He also has a claim to some of the abbey lands, but Alice says that all claims are void as long as Arden is alive. Greene says that he will be revenged on Arden for taking his land. Alice pretends that her husband mistreats her. Greene says that he cannot tolerate this state of affairs. Alice advises him to hire someone to kill Arden and give him £10 up front with the promise of £20 and the return of his lands after the job's done. Greene promises to deal with the matter.
Mosby and Clarke enter. Mosby wants to know about Alice promising his sister to someone else. Alice says that Clarke should woo Susan for himself and that Michael is out of Susan's thoughts. Alice explains how she has arranged for Greene to have Arden killed. Mosby is unhappy about this situation because Alice seems to be telling all and sundry about them.
Clarke and Susan enter. He has won her over, but Mosby will only assent if Clarke will supply him with a poisoned crucifix. Clarke explains how he can produced poisoned items without being affected by the production process.
Bradshaw points out Black Will and Shakebag to Greene. Black Will is a former comrade-in-arms, but Bradshaw no longer wishes to associate with him. Bradshaw says that he's in trouble with the law for allegedly handling some stolen plate and wants to find the culprit. Black Will identifies the man as Jack Fitten. Before Bradshaw leaves, Greene gives him a letter for Alice. Greene pays Black Will and Shakebag to murder Arden.
Michael reads out a letter to Susan in which he begs her to return him to her affections. Arden and Franklin overhear him. Arden decides to return home at once and throw Susan out of his house. Greene points out Arden to the villains, but tells them to spare Michael. He leaves them to get on with the job.
A prentice shuts up his stall and strikes Black Will on the head with the window. Arden escapes the killers in the tumult. Greene returns wanting to know why Arden is still alive. They explain what happened. Black Will vows to not to wash the blood off his face until he's done the deed. They have to turn to another plan. Michael enters and tells them where Arden is to be found. They ask Michael about his part in the business. Black Will tells Michael to arrange a place for Arden's death, although he'll do the job himself. Michael agrees to go along with them. He'll leave the doors unlocked. Although Michael should be defending his master, he will ensure his death instead.
Arden is certain that his wife is recalcitrant. Franklin tries to comfort him and invites him to stay in London. Michael enters and tells them it's almost ten. Arden heads to bed, followed shortly after by Franklin. Michael is full of doubts, but if he doesn't go along with the conspirators he won't win Susan and things will go worse for him. His outcries rouse Arden and Franklin to whom he says he was dreaming. Arden asks if the doors are locked. Michael can't remember and Arden finds that they are not.
Shakebag and Black Will approach the inn. Black Will is feeling tired, but Shakebag thinks he's lost his nerve. Black Will would fight Shakebag over such a remark, but they have more important business to attend to. When they get to the door, they find it locked. They think Michael has deceived them and plan to be revenged on him.
Arden tells Franklin about a dream in which he was caught in a hunter's net. Franklin thinks that Arden is probably overwrought after Michael's outburst. Arden proposes that they dine in the inn before returning to Faversham.
Black Will, Shakebag and Greene find Michael. Greene tells them to let Michael have his say first. Michael makes up a story about how the doors came to be locked and explains how he is going to check the tides. They will meet at the Salutation inn to plot things more thoroughly.
Mosby is tortured by his course of action. He slept easier when he had no money. He plans to have the killers murder each other afterwards so that they will pose no threat to him. He also suspects that Alice may be less than faithful and will be rid of her as well. Alice wants to keep her passion for Mosby in check. She tells him to forget about what has happened between them. She claims she was bewitched. Mosby says that he gave up the prospect of a good marriage for her and that he himself was bewitched. He says that he now sees her for what she really is. Alice replies that friends have told her Mosby's only interested in her wealth, although she didn't believe it. Alice says that she will do a penance for offending Mosby. In spite of her words, Mosby is initially unmoved, but relents. Just as they are about to kiss, Bradshaw enters with Greene's letter. The letter says that they failed to get Arden in London, but they'll get him on the way home.
Shakebag wants Black Will to make sure that his equipment is ready. The two quarrel over who has made the most money out of villainy. They fight. Greene stops them by warning them that Arden will get away again. He tells them to get ready while he stands some distance away.
Michael's horse is limping badly and he has to return to Rochester for a new shoe. Arden tells Michael to hurry after them, but Michael knows that he master won't make it home. He lamed his horse deliberately so that he doesn't have to be around when Arden is killed.
Franklin suddenly has a premonitory flush. He was in the middle of a story about an unfaithful woman. Whatever's ailing Franklin prevents him from continuing the tale. They have almost come to Rainham Down.
The villains are on the verge of striking when Lord Cheiny and his men appear. He wants to speak to Arden and invites them to dine with him. Arden declines, but says that he will eat with Lord Cheiny tomorrow. When Lord Cheiny sees Black Will, he predicts he will be hanged. Arden and Cheiny ride off together.
Black Will is furious that Lord Cheiny intervened just as he was about to shoot Arden. They explain to Greene what happened. They will have to press on to Faversham and tell Alice they've failed to kill Arden.
It's time for Arden and Franklin to go to the Isle of Sheppey to dine with Lord Cheiny. Alice rebukes Arden for leaving home again so soon. Franklin suggests that Alice should go with them, but she declines ungraciously. Arden declares that Alice is dearer to him them his life. He promises to return before night. The horses are ready, but Michael says he's lost his purse. Arden tells him to hurry along after them once he's found it.
After they leave, Clarke enters. He squabbles and fights with Michael over Susan. Alice breaks them up. Clarke has done what she asked. Alice hopes that if all else fails, the poisoned crucifix will work. Mosby says that their love should be firm and constant. Greene has arranged for Black Will and Shakebag to ambush Arden.
Arden and Franklin come to the ferry. They are in a hurry and want to cross, but it's very misty. The ferryman is a peasant philosopher who makes allusions to Arden's situation.
Black Will and Shakebag are lost in the mist. Shakebag says that he heard horses which, Black Will guesses, belong to Arden. Shakebag falls in a ditch, his cries alerting the ferryman who reveals the riders were Arden and Franklin on their way to dine with Lord Cheiny. The villains are not interested in chatting with the ferryman who hopes to see Black Will hanged.
The sun clears the mist and Alice arrives hoping that Arden is dead. They explain that the mist thwarted them. They will wait for Arden's return. Alice gives them some money and tells them to go to the Flower-de-Luce and freshen up. Mosby thinks they won't achieve their goal and suggests abandoning the plan. Alice proposes that she and Mosby should meet Arden arm in arm to provoke a quarrel and call out the murderers. The idea pleases Mosby.
Dick Reede wants to speak to Arden, again about some of the abbey lands. He asks for the land for the sake of his wife and children. Arden claims that he bought the land off Reede for more than it was worth. He threatens Reede with violence. Reede tells Arden to do his worst, but prays that particular piece of ground brings misfortune to Arden. After Reede leaves, Arden says that he never did anything to wrong him.
Arden thinks that Alice may come to meet them by chance. Franklin advises him not to tell her how well Lord Cheiny entertained them. They hurry home.
Alice and Mosby enter arm in arm. Arden rebukes them and fights with Mosby. Alice's cries summon Black Will and Shakebag, but Shakebag and Mosby are wounded. Alice protests that it was all a joke and that when she called out it was to save her husband. She accuses him of being contrary and claims that both she and Mosby were innocent of any malice. Arden asks for her forgiveness and for her to impose a penance on him. She says that if he cared, then he'd tend to Mosby's wounds and apologise to him. Arden promises to do so, but Franklin warns him against it. Arden asks Franklin to hold his peace, but Franklin is not deceived.
Greene proposes that the villains should abandon their enterprise. Shakebag is determined to carry out the job. Black Will recounts all the villainous things he's done, yet he can't accomplish this one small task. Michael tells Alice of the reconciliation between Arden and Mosby and how Arden has invited him, and all the neighbours, to dinner. Alice tells Michael to get Mosby to come to her. If he does, Susan will be his. Black Will announces that he intends to join the party. He explains what happened the previous night. Alice says they would've been richly rewarded if they'd achieved their aim.
The injured Mosby enters. The wound so affected Alice that she thought about killing Arden herself. She swears not to close her eyes again until Arden's dead. Mosby has a plan. Greene will distract Franklin while Mosby will invite Arden to play backgammon. Black Will and Shakebag will wait for the signal ('Now I will take you') to strike. Black Will makes further arrangements with Alice regarding how Arden will be killed and how they will dispose of the body. Alice offers him £20 and another £40 after the deed. She is eager for him Arden to be dead and supplanted by Mosby.
Michael announces that Arden and Mosby are coming. Alice tells him to lock the outside door. She asks Arden why he's brought Mosby with him. Arden tells her to welcome Mosby, although she pretends that she doesn't want him there and the pair feign mutual antagonism. Supper will be ready by the time they've finished playing backgammon.
Arden and Mosby play the game. Mosby gives the signal. Black Will pulls Arden down with a towel. He calls for help, but won't get any. Mosby strikes him with an iron. Shakebag stabs him, but doesn't quite kill him, and Alice finishes him off.
Black Will thinks that Michael will betray them, but he won't. Shakebag plans to go to Southwark. He and Black Will leave.
Alice has Susan wash the blood off the floor, but it's ingrained. Mosby tells them to strew some rushes on it. Arden's death torments Alice. To the dinner guests Mosby pretends that Alice is concerned because Arden is still out.
Susan is afraid all will be revealed. Michael says that he'll marry her in the morning, but wants to obtain some poison because he fears that Alice will give the game away. Alice is all twitchy, She asks Franklin to go and look for Arden. Franklin is suspicious. Michael gets the other guests to leave.
Alice asks Susan for advice. They carry Arden's body out of the countinghouse. Mosby and Greene come in. Mosby reports that Franklin suspects them of murder. Michael tells them that the mayor and the watch are coming to the house. Alice tells Mosby to go to the Flower-de-Luce for the night and tells Greene to escape the same way. She asks him to take the body to the field. When they return, they are worried that their footprints will be seen in the snow.
The mayor and the watch arrive to apprehend Black Will. They are going to search the house. Franklin enters with news that Arden has been murdered. Franklin asks Alice to go with them and produces the towel and the knife which Michael should have disposed of. Alice says that the blood stains are pig's blood. Franklin starts presenting evidence that Arden was murdered in the house. The mayor finds the blood stain on the floor. Alice protests, but Franklin orders for Mosby to be detained.
Shakebag sought refuge with a former mistress in Southwark, but when she spurned him he murdered her. He plans to seek sanctuary.
Alice is brought before her husband's corpse, which begins to bleed profusely. She admits to what she did. Mosby says that he hired Black Will and Shakebag. Franklin says he'll get a warrant to apprehend them.
Black Will has heard that Shakebag has reached sanctuary. He himself is pursued so closely that he can't do the same. He flees to Flushing in Holland.
Bradshaw is condemned with the others, although Alice says that he was not aware of the conspirators' plans. Mosby wants to be gone from Alice's presence. Alice says that if it wasn't for him, none of this would've happened. Susan wonders why she should die since she didn't know about the murder until it was done. Michael wishes he'd never consented to the business.
The mayor condemns Mosby and Susan to be executed at Smithfield in London. Alice will be burnt in Canterbury. Michael and Bradshaw will be hanged in Faversham. They are taken away to be executed.
Franklin recounts what happened to the others. Shakebag was murdered in Southwark. Black Will was burnt on a gallows in Flushing. Greene was hanged at Osbridge in Kent. Clarke's fate is unknown. The print of Arden's body remained in the grass in the field for a long time afterwards.
Reproduced with the kind permission of John Hutton, Kit Marlow, P.I.