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Miscellanies: Passover in Shakespeare's London

Edgar R. Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Passover in Shakespeare's London EDGAR SAMUEL, M.Phil., F.R.Hist.S. In 1605 a young Lisbon merchant of Jewish origin, named Vicente Furtado, embarked on a business trip to Hamburg, in the course of which he visited both London and Amsterdam. In each of the three cities he stayed with Portuguese Jewish families and joined with them in celebrating various Jewish festivals. He returned in due course to Lisbon but within three years he was arrested by the Inquisition and made a very full confession. This document (Processo 3333, Lisbon Inquisition, Portuguese National Archives) was discovered by Senhor Antonio de Vasconcelos Carvalho Simao, who has kindly drawn it to my attention. The Inquisitors were interested in collecting evi? dence against any Portuguese New Christians who engaged in Jewish practices. If they lived abroad they might return to Portugal one day. They were even more interested in evidence against those living in Lisbon, who could be arrested forthwith, so as to enable the Inquisitors to enforce the Catholic Faith and replenish their funds. Most of Vicente Furtado's 25-page confession is a detailed denunciation of the Portuguese Jews in Ham? burg. However, since our interest is in London, I have omitted this and concentrated solely on the early part, which deals with London and Amsterdam. It is intri? guing to find that the Dominican friar who copied it out had never heard of Amsterdam, which he repeat? edly calls 'Nuestradama', though he knew of Ham? burg and London. Vicente Furtado's confession gives us the first clear evidence that has come to light so far that the Portu? guese merchants, whom he names, living in London were practising Judaism, and the nature of that prac? tice. This was very much in the Portuguese crypto Jewish tradition, with its emphasis on Passover, Kip pur, a three-day Fast of Esther, and on the wearing of clean shirts on the Sabbath, but with only the most basic dietary laws and no mention of the other Jewish festivals. On the face of it, the regular mutual confes? sions of belief in the Law of Moses and of its power to save souls seem to owe more to the Inquisitors' need to convict the prisoner of heresy in accordance with Canon Law than to known Jewish practices, but it is possible that the Portuguese crypto-Jews with their Catholic education might have put such an emphasis on reciting a creed. Vicente Furtado's first confession is dated 6 March 1609 and after certain preliminaries it starts as follows: 'At the time when the last General Pardon was published in this City, which was on 11 January 1605, the Declarant had to go to Hamburg on business. Approximately four or five days after the publication of the said Pardon, he embarked on an English ship and disembarked in England and from there he embarked again for Holland and from there travelled by land to Hamburg, and while in Hamburg, I mean England, he stayed in London in the house of Gabriel Fernandes, an unmarried New Christian merchant, the son of Luis Fernandes, now deceased, he does not know from what part ofPortu gal, and of his wife, whose Portuguese name he does not know, who lives in Antwerp, and with Duarte Fernandes, unmarried, who would be aged about 14 or 15, brother of the said Gabriel Fernandes. 'The said Gabriel Fernandes, in the presence of his said brother, told the Declarant that he should look at what he had bought for him, which would put him on the right road, and that he should seek the salvation of his soul and that it would be apparent that to do this he ought to believe in the Law of Moses and he gave him a Bible printed in Spanish and both of them read from the said Bible and he said further to the Declarant that by keeping the said Law of Moses he should observe the Sabbaths, starting to observe them on Friday evening until Saturday evening, and that he should fast on the tenth of the moon of the month of September on the day which they call Quipur and that in July he should also fast three. According to his recollection, he told him that it was the fast of Queen Esther and the Wednesdays of each week being on the said days, without eating until night time, and that he should recite the Psalms of David without the Gloria Patri and that he should not eat pork or rabbit, nor believe in Christ (Our Redeemer) because he was not the Messiah and that the Messiah had yet to come. He should do all these things to keep the Law of Moses and that he should keep the Passover, which comes on the fourteenth day of the moon of March to observe the said Law. In order to do this, instructed by the said Gabriel Fernandes, the Declarant believed in what he said and separated himself from our Holy Catholic Faith and went over to the Law of Moses and believed in it. In order to keep it he did some of the said things in this way in England and in Hamburg and likewise in this city after his arrival here. 117</page><page sequence="2">118 Edgar Samuel 'Among the said points which the Declarant observed was also the said Feast (Pascud) of un? leavened bread in this way, both in those parts as well as in this city, for the period of eight days observing the two first and the two last as festivals (Festas). All by keeping the Law of Moses and on those days and on Saturdays he wore clean linen and the best clothes which he had and in London he did the said things together with the two brothers in the same house in which he was staying, together and jointly with Hieronimo Lopes, Portuguese New Christian born in this city, a merchant eighty years old, and with Lopo Rodrigues de Moura, also a Portuguese native of Moura, married to a Portu? guese woman whose name he does not know, brother of the physician Manoel Fernandes Moura, and the two brothers of the said Lopo Rodrigues Moura, whose names he does not know, and of Gomes Davila, also a Portuguese, married to an Englishwoman, who are all resident in London, and the above-mentioned and the Declarant all of them together made the said Feast, which comes in the moon of March, and ate unleavened bread on it in the manner stated above, and they there practised matters from the Law of Moses and they made declaration that they believed in the said Law and did these things to observe it and that they hoped to be saved in it. This communication they all made within a period of two months, in which time he embarked and passed to Holland and did not see them any more, only he did have letters from Gabriel Fernandes but he did not speak to him on matters of the Law of Moses they would be on their business affairs. 'On arriving in Holland, he stayed with Manoel Carvalho, Portuguese New Christian, he does not know where he was born, who lives in Nuestra dama, and being in the said house, with the said Manoel Carvalho and with Duarte Fernandes, a New Christian merchant and native of the city of Oporto, and with Gemes Lopes, also a New Chris? tian merchant and native of the same Oporto, and with Manoel Rodrigues Veiga, brother of the said Gabriel Fernandes, and with Lopo Sanches, New Christian merchant and native of this city, son of Bartholomen Sanches, who lives at St Nicholas in this city, being thus all together in the said house, he does not remember who started the practice, all came to speak of matters of the Law of Moses and all there declared that they believed in the said Law and hoped for salvation in it. From Nuestradama went by land to Hamburg . . .' The probability that Vicente Furtado's confession was substantially true is very high. Certainly we know from other sources that Jeronimo Lopes, Gabriel Fer? nandes, Manuel Rodrigues Vega, Duarte Fernandes of Amsterdam, and James Lopes were Jews. As far as the personalities are concerned, the confes? sion draws a clear distinction between Duarte Fer? nandes Vega in London and Duarte Fernandes of Oporto in Amsterdam. The suggestion made by me previously that Gabriel Fernandes of London must have been the brother of Manuel Rodrigues Vega of Amsterdam is confirmed by direct evidence.1 We learn of the great age of Jeronimo Lopes for the first time. Gomes Davila, who figured prominently in the trial for treason of Dr. Rodrigo Lopes, in 1594, turns out to be still living in London and keeping the Pass? over, despite his marriage to an Englishwoman. We also encounter three Portuguese Jews living in London who were not known to be here before, notably Lopo Rodrigues de Moura and his two brothers. The most fascinating revelation of Vicente Fur? tado's confession is that at a time when perhaps Mac? beth was playing at the Globe and Shakespeare was working on the script of King Lear, a group of Portu? guese crypto-Jews living in London came together in a house in Aldgate to celebrate the Passover. NOTE 1 See E. R. Samuel, 'Portuguese Jews in Jacobean Lon? don', TransJHSE, XVIII, p. 180.</page></plain_text>