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Dr Rodrigo Lopes' last speech from the scaffold at Tyburn

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Dr Rodrigo Lopes' last speech from the scaffold at Tyburn EDGAR SAMUEL The following is an extract from the English version of William Camden's History of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth which describes the trial and execution of Dr Rodrigo Lopes in 1594: The Spaniards, suspecting the fidelity of the English in a matter of so great Weight, used the help of Roderigo Lopez, a Jew by Religion, the Queen's domestick Physician, and of Stephen Ferreira Gama and Emanuel Liosie, Portugueezes; (for many of that Nation crept into England in those days, as Retainers to the exiled Don Antonio:) who, being apprehended by means of Letters intercepted, were about the end of February arraigned at Guildhall in London, and charged from their own Confessions to have conspired to make away the Queen by Poison. Lopez, having been for a long time a man of noted Fidelity, was not so much as suspected, save that outlandish Physicians may by Bribes and Corruption be easily induced to become Poisoners and Traitours, till he confessed 'That he was drawn in by Andrada a Portugueeze to employ his best and secret Service for the King of Spain; that he had received from his intimate Counsellour, Christophoro Mow, a rich Jewel; that he had divers times thereupon advertised the Spaniards of such things as he could come to the Knowledge ofthat at length, upon an Agreement to receive 50000 Ducats, he had promised to poison the Queen; and that he had signified as much to the Count de Fuentez and Ibara, the King's Secretary in the Netherlands." Stephanus Ferreira confessed, 'That the Count de Fuentez and Ibara had acquainted him both by Letters and word of mouth that there was a Plot laid to take away the Queen's Life by Poison; that he wrote Letters, after Lopez his dictating wherein he promised the same should be effected, upon Condition that 50000 Ducats should be paid for the Service; also that Emanuel Loisie was secretly sent unto him by Fuentez and Ibara, to urge Lopez to dispatch the matter with all Expedition.' Emanuel confessed, 'That Count Fuentez and Ibara, when he had given them his faithful Promise to conceal the Design, shewed him a Letter which Andrada had written in Lopez his name about making away the Queen; and that he himself was likewise sent by Fuentez to deal with Ferreira and Lopez for hastening the Queen's Death and to promise Money to Lopez himself, and Honours and Preferments to his Children.' At the Bar Lopez spake not much, but cried out, 'That Ferreira and Emanuel were made of nothing but Fraud and Lying; that he intended no Hurt against the Queen, but abhorred the Gifts of a Tyrant; that he had presented that Jewel to the Queen which was sent him from the Spaniard, and that he had no other 51</page><page sequence="2">Edgar Samuel Design in what he did, but to deceive the Spaniard, and wipe him of his Money.' The rest spake nothing for themselves, only throwing the whole Blame upon Lopez. They were all of them condemned and after three months put to death at Tyburn, Lopez affirming that he loved the Queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ; which coming from a man of the Jewish Profession moved no small Laughter in the Standers-by. Dr Lopes' speech from the scaffold has three possible explanations. The first is Camden's, that Lopes was a Jew, therefore his speech was a dishonest equivocation, which proved his guilt. This view has been accepted by several later historians. A second possibility is that he was a sincere Christian and meant what he said. Neither of these explanations is satisfactory. The Spanish state papers are intact and give no hint of a Spanish plot to use Lopes to poison the Queen, and Lopes' intercepted correspondence gives clear evidence that he was a secret Jew and subscribed to the secret synagogue in Antwerp. The purpose of this article is to suggest a third and fresh explanation, namely that Lopes was utterly sincere in what he said, but that his words and their meaning were misunderstood. First of all, I wish to suggest that what Lopes actually said was not T love the Queen as well as I love Jesus Christ', as Camden reported, but T love the Queen as well as I love Our Lord'. To a Christian the meanings are identical, but among Portuguese Jews, who rejected the central Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, the phrase 'Our Lord' was habitually used to refer to the God of Israel. I think it is sufficient to give just two examples of this usage, although there are many more. The first example is from a draft letter of 1609 written by Fernando de Mercado from Antwerp to James Lopes da Costa, otherwise Jacob Tirado, the founder of the first synagogue in Amsterdam. It contains the formula q n Sr ge muitos annos, 'whom may Our Lord protect for many years'.1 The second is from a letter of 1612 written from Venice by Dr Elias Montalto to his brother-in-law Dr Pero Rodrigues, who had just escaped from Portugal to St Jean de Luz in the South of France, urging him to convert to Judaism. The letter includes the phrase 'May Our Lord protect you and bring you to the way of the True Life', nosso Sor guarde e traga ao caminho da verdadeira vida.2 In the light of this use of the phrase 'Our Lord' by Portuguese Jews, it is quite clear what Lopes meant. If he said, as I suggest he did, T love the Queen as well as I love Our Lord', he was utterly sincere in his claim to be loyal both to the Queen and to God. But because, out of habit, he used the equivocal language of a crypto-Jew, he made a deplorably bad impression on the bystanders and on later historians. There is good reason to believe that the man was unjustly condemned to death for high treason, and that Dr Rodrigo Lopes was no traitor to the Queen, who had treated him kindly with protection and preferment.3 52</page><page sequence="3">Dr Rodrigo Lopes' last speech at Tyburn NOTES 1 Trans JHSE XVIII (1958)230. 2 Revue des Etudes Juives LXXXVII, 165. 3 See: John Gwyer, 'The Case of Dr Lopez' Trans JHSE XVI (1952) 163-84. 53</page></plain_text>

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