By: Joseph Jacobs
Court physician to Queen Elizabeth; born in Portugal about 1525; executed June 7, 1594, for having attempted to poison the queen. He settled in London in 1559, and in 1571 was residing in the parish of St. Peter le Poer. Previous to this he had become a member of the College of Physicians, and was selected in the lastmentioned year to read the anatomy lecture at the college—an honor which he declined. Before 1584 he had become body-physician to the Earl of Leicester; and he was accused of assisting that nobleman in removing some of his enemies by poison. Two years later he became chief physician to Queen Elizabeth, who in 1589 granted him the monopoly of importing aniseed and sumac into England.Relations with Don Antonio.
At court Lopez became acquainted with the Earl of Essex, and was thus brought into relations with Don Antonio, the pretender to the crown of Portugal, and with Antonio Perez, the discharged secretary of Philip II. He assisted them in inducing the queen to permit the attempted invasion of Portugal in 1589, and suffered some loss of influence through its failure. An indiscreet revelation of some of Essex's ailments set that nobleman against him; and about 1590 Lopez began intriguing against Antonio with the court of Spain, at first with the connivance of Walsingham, who hoped through Manuel de Andrada, one of Lopez's adherents, to obtain useful information of Spanish projects. Andrada brought back a diamondand ruby ring worth £100 as an earnest of the reward Lopez would get if he removed Don Antonio. Lopez offered the ring to the queen, who refused it, presumptive evidence, according to Major Hume, that she knew it came from Philip II. Later on, the ring was used as evidence of Lopez's designs against the queen.His Execution.
In Oct., 1593, one Esteban de Gama was seized in Lopez's house on a charge of conspiring against Don Antonio; and shortly afterward a person named Gomez d'Avila was likewise seized on landing at Dover. He proved to have mysterious correspondence relating to "the price of pearls" and to musk and amber, and to be in some relation with Lopez. A third conspirator, Ticino, was induced to come over from Brussels with an invalid safe-conduct. By confronting the prisoners some evidence was elicited leading to the conclusion that the "price of pearls" referred to a plot against the queen, in which Lopez was implicated. He was seized and examined by the Earl of Essex, who failed, however, to find any definite cause for suspicion. Later, confessions of the minor conspirators led to Lopez being put on the rack, where he confessed to having entertained suggestions as to poisoning the queen for the sum of 50,000 ducats, but, as he alleged, merely with the design of cozening the King of Spain and of getting as much money out of him as possible. This excuse was not accepted; and, after lingering some time in the Tower, he, with D'Avila and Ticino, was hanged, drawn, and quartered as a traitor, declaring with his last breath amid the derision of the spectators that he loved the queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ.
His trial created a great sensation at the time. References are made to it in Marlowe's "Faustus," Dekker's "Whore of Babylon," and Middleton's "Game at Chess"; while it has been suggested by Sidney Lee that he was the original Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice," a version of which appears to have been put on the stage about two months after Lopez's execution. The fact that Shakespeare was on the side of the Earl of Essex, and that Antonio is adopted as the name of the hero, lends some plausibility to this suggestion. See Shylock.
Historians are divided as to the exact amount of criminality involved in Lopez's connection with Spanish plots. Dimock ("English Historical Review," 1894, pp. 440-472) denies his innocence on the ground that he kept the negotiations secret. Major Hume ("Treason and Plot," pp. 115-152, New York, 1901) considers his guilt unproved, as he had been permitted to make similar false suggestions with the connivance of Walsingham in 1590.
- S. Lee, in Gentleman's Magazine, Feb., 1880;
- idem, in Tr. New Shakespeare Society, 1887-92, pt. ii., pp. 158-162;
- idem, in Dict. Nat. Biog. s.v.;
- H. Graetz, Shylock in der Sage, im Drama, und in der Gesch. Krotoschin, 1880;
- Forneron, Philippe II. vol. ii., Paris, 1890;
- Hume, Treason and Plot, p. 116, note.