Roderigo Lopez, the son of António Lopez, was born in Portugal in about 1517. His father was a New Christian (a Jew baptized by force) and later became a physician to João III. He studied at the University of Coimbra and graduated on 7th February 1540. The following year he enrolled for the medical course and obtained a degree in medicine in 1544. (1)
Lopez arrived in London in 1558. He was admitted as a fellow of the College of Physicians and was appointed as as physician to St Bartholomew's Hospital. He married Sarah Anes in about 1563. She was English born of Portuguese Jewish parents. Over the next few years she gave birth to Elinor, Ambrose, Anthony, Douglas, William and Ann. During this period Lopez treated Francis Walsingham, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and became a fashionable physician. (2)
In 1581 Roderigo Lopez became personal physician to Queen Elizabeth. As Anna Whitelock has pointed out: "As the Queen's physician, Lopez had a dual task: the preservation of the body of the Queen in her Bedchamber. Elizabeth liked and trusted him and granted him a valuable perquisite: a monopoly for importing aniseed and other herbs essential to the London apothecaries." (3)
Lopez was also rewarded with a life pension of £50 a year. In 1588 he was granted land and tithes in Worcestershire belonging to the bishop of Worcester. In 1590 Lopez himself approached Bernardino Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, and offered his services to Phillip II. It has been argued by Edgar Samuel was really working for the secretary of state, Sir Francis Walsingham, England's spymaster. If this was the case, he was acting as a double agent. (4)
After the death of Walsingham, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, took command of the intelligence service. (5) This included the employment of Thomas Phelippes, the country's principal cryptologist. Phelippes was a linguist who could speak French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and German. He was described at the time as a man "of low stature, slender every way, dark yellow haired on the head, and clear yellow beard, eaten in the face with smallpox, of short sight, thirty years of age by appearance." (6)
Essex was now able to provide secret information direct to Elizabeth. "The queen appreciated the quality of the information she received. Intelligence lay at the very heart of her policy, so she welcomed the fact that, thanks to Essex, she learned things that not even the Cecils knew. One of the secrets of her authority was an ability to boast of being the best-informed person in her realm. She could not, therefore, depend on a single source and was quite happy to encourage competition in this sphere." (7)
It is claimed that Lopez incurred the hostility of Essex, when he revealed that he had treated him for syphilis. (8) Essex asked Phelippes to investigate Lopez. He discovered a secret correspondence between Estevão Ferreira da Gama, and the count of Fuentes, in the Spanish Netherlands. This was followed by the arrest of Lopez's courier, Gomez d'Avila. When he was interrogated he implicated Lopez. Phelippes also discovered a letter that stated: "The King of Spain had gotten three Portuguese to kill her Majesty and three more to kill the King of France". (9)
On 28th January 1594, Essex, wrote a letter to Anthony Bacon: "I have discovered a most dangerous and desperate treason. The point of conspiracy was her Majesty's death. The executioner should have been Doctor Lopez. The manner by poison. This I have so followed that I will make it appear as clear as the noon day." (10)
William Cecil was put in a difficult situation as he was employing Lopez, along with Portuguese-Jewish called Manuel de Andrada, as double-agents. To protect his sources, Cecil told Queen Elizabeth that there was no evidence against Lopez. Elizabeth told Essex that she considered the "evidence as a tissue of malicious fabrications" and Essex as a "rash and temerarious youth". (11)
According to Lacey Baldwin Smith, the author of Treason in Tudor England (2006): "Enraged and humiliated, the Earl stalked out of the royal presence, dashed at breakneck speed back to London and Essex House, and locked himself into his private bedchamber. For two days, oscillating between bouts of obsessive brooding and overwork, Essex examined, cross-examined, and re-examined everyone concerned with Lopez." (12)
Essex arranged for Manuel Luis Tinoco, and Estevão Ferreira da Gama to be tortured. They confessed that they had indeed been involved in a conspiracy with Roderigo Lopez to murder Queen Elizabeth. (13) They claimed they had agreed to poison the Queen for 50,000 crowns paid by Philip II. On the rack, he confessed that he had accepted money from the Spanish intelligence services to carry out the poisoning using exotic drugs he had obtained abroad. (14) Worn down by relentless interrogation, "Lopez agreed to all manner of improbable plots, signed his confession and so sealed his fate." (15) It has been argued that Essex was exploiting the "anti-Semitic atmosphere" of Tudor England. (16)
Sir Edward Coke, the Attorney-General, opened the trial by arguing that the three men had been seduced by Jesuit priests with great rewards to kill the Queen "being persuaded that it is glorious and meritorious, and that if they die in the action, they will inherit heaven and be canonised as saints". He pointed out that Lopez was "her Majesty's sworn servant, graced and advanced with many princely favours, used in special places of credit, permitted often access to her person, and so not suspected... This Lopez, a perjuring murdering traitor and Jewish doctor, more than Judas himself, undertook the poisoning, which was a plot more wicked, dangerous and detestable than all the former." (17)
Coke emphasized the three men's secret Judaism and they were all convicted of high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. (18) However, the Queen remained doubtful of her doctor's guilt and delayed giving the approval needed to carry out the death sentences. William Cecil wanted to ensure that Lopez was executed to protect himself from a possible investigation. "From Cecil's point of view Lopez knew too much and therefore had to be silenced". (19)
Roderigo Lopez, Manuel Luis Tinoco, and Estevão Ferreira da Gama were executed at Tyburn on 7th June 1594, without Elizabeth ever having signed a death warrant. (20) Elizabeth allowed his widow Sarah Lopez to retain the whole of her late husband's estate. This was a sign that she was still not convinced that Lopez was really involved in a plot against her. (21)
Once a clandestine correspondence with Spain had been discovered this naturally left William Waad and Sir Robert Cecil keen to unmask Andrada's three unnamed Portuguese assassins. Tinoco was tortured and Ferreira da Gama threatened with torture until their confessions confirmed Essex's preconceptions. Ferreira da Gama was asked if Lopez would have been willing to poison the queen and confirmed that he would have been. Philip's main concern was to neutralize Dom António and to eliminate António Perez. Lopez had acted stupidly and dishonestly. Once his intrigues came to light, and these included passing information about the English court to Spain and a cryptic letter concerning his donation to a secret synagogue in Antwerp, the privy council, including William Waad and Robert Cecil, were ready to believe the worst... Lopez, Manuel Luis Tinoco, and Estevão Ferreira da Gama were tried at Guildhall. The attorney-general, Sir Edward Coke, made great play with Lopez's secret Judaism.
I have discovered a most dangerous and desperate treason. The point of conspiracy was her Majesty's death. The executioner should have been Doctor Lopez. The manner by poison. This I have so followed that I will make it appear as clear as the noon day.
Roderigo Lopez, Manuel Luis Tinoco, and Estevão Ferreira da Gama... being persuaded that it is glorious and meritorious, and that if they die in the action, they will inherit heaven and be canonised as saints... Lopez... her Majesty's sworn servant, graced and advanced with many princely favours, used in special places of credit, permitted often access to her person, and so not suspected, especially by her who never feareth her enemies nor suspecteth her servants... This Lopez, a perjuring murdering traitor and Jewish doctor, more than Judas himself, undertook the poisoning, which was a plot more wicked, dangerous and detestable than all the former.
Suspicion of foreigners, fears over terrorism, suspects held without charge - an Elizabethan episode has useful lessons for today's times.
In January 1594, Queen Elizabeth I's headstrong young favourite, the Earl of Essex, accompanied by officers from the Elizabethan security forces, raided the residence of the Queen's personal physician, Dr Roderigo Lopez.
They detained him on suspicion of treason, interrogated him briefly and imprisoned him. Intelligence, carefully gathered over the preceding months had, Essex claimed, uncovered an elaborate plot, masterminded and financed by the Spanish government, to poison the Queen, restore the Catholic religion and seize the English throne.
The would-be terrorist recruited to carry out the assassination, who had infiltrated the very Court itself, was none other than Dr Lopez. Essex reported to the Queen in person that he had 'discovered a most dangerous and desperate treason'. The Queen remained unconvinced. Lopez, she maintained, was a trustworthy and loyal servant. Essex was a 'rash and temerarious youth', making claims he could not substantiate...
Lopez was repeatedly interrogated, and eventually subjected to torture. On the rack, he confessed that he had accepted 50,000 crowns from the Spanish intelligence services to carry out the poisoning using exotic drugs he had obtained abroad. He later retracted that confession...
At the end of February 1594, Lopez was tried in camera, by a special commission at London's Guildhall, charged with leaking intelligence to the king of Spain, attempting to stir up rebellion, and conspiring to poison the Queen. Found guilty on all charges, he was hanged, drawn and quartered alongside two fellow alleged conspirators in June. Right to the end Lopez protested his innocence.
In the fraught 1590s, not much was needed to convince a jittery public of the guilt of a foreigner, who dressed distinctively, and was thought to practise what seemed like an outlandish religion. The evidence used to convict Lopez had been obtained while he was under police surveillance.