Queen Elizabeth I’s physician, Roderigo Lopez, was tried and executed for allegedly plotting to kill the queen in 1594. As a Portuguese double agent, ‘Doctor Lopez a Jew’ was said to have conspired with the Spanish, England’s enemies at that time. He was accused of attempting to kill the Portuguese King Antonio and ‘take away Queene Elizabeths life by poyson’, in return for ‘fifty thousand Crowns’ (p. 163).
A Thankfull Remembrance of Gods Mercy (1627)
The scandal is recounted more than 20 years later in this patriotic book (printed in 1627) by the bishop, George Carleton. This is the third edition of Carleton’s ‘historicall collection’ celebrating the triumph of the English crown over conspiracy and treason. Alongside Lopez’s ‘villany’, the book also describes the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the discovery the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.
Marlowe and Shakespeare’s Jews
The infamous case of Lopez’s treachery seems to have prompted a groundswell of anti-Semitic feeling in Elizabethan England. It sparked a renewed interest in Christopher Marlowe’s play, The Jew of Malta (c. 1592), a tragedy centred on Barabas, a rich and vengeful Jew. Some critics also suggest that it could have influenced Shakespeare in his depiction of the Jewish Shylock, particularly in the trial scene (4.1) of The Merchant of Venice. Gratiano’s description of the ‘wolf, who hang’d for human slaughter’ (4.1.134; 137) could be a subtle allusion to Lopez. The Latin for wolf is ‘lupus’ – which sounds a little like Lopez.
A Marrano community in London
Though he is described by Carleton as ‘Doctor Lopez a Jew’ (p. 163), Lopez was actually a Marrano – one who claimed to be a Christian to avoid persecution. Since the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, they were unable to practise their faith openly, but there is evidence that many continued to observe Jewish customs in private. Lopez was a prominent member of a circle of 80–90 Portuguese Marranos living in London at the end of the 16th century.
Lopez’s Jewish origins seem to have been quietly accepted until he was suspected of conspiracy. He held a respected position at the English court, but was judgementally labelled as ‘a Jew’ when associated with treason. The philosopher Francis Bacon, who took part in the trial, said Lopez was ‘suspected’ to be ‘secretly a Jew’ though he conformed to ‘the rites of the Christian religion’.
See James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 72–73.