The Plausible Tragedie of an Insignificant Man
For centuries the historians and scholars have insisted there were no Jews in England in Shakespeare's time, so he must have modelled Shylock on something he had read, or maybe he travelled in Italy. But there were Jews, an entire community of secret Jews, prominent financiers and even court physicians, who had come from Spain and Portugal and who used their contacts throughout the world to trade, and spy, for England. One such was Roderigo Lopes, personal physician to the Earl of Leicester and to Queen Elizabeth herself - until he was arrested for allegedly plotting with the King of Spain to poison the Queen, and executed as a traitor.
"When I started researching his life, I was shocked; and not by the details of his life so much as by the calumny of the historians. The evidence is all there, in the archives of Hatfield House where all the records of Queen Elizabeth are kept; and in the archives of the Spanish royal family, and many other places. The historians have known for 400 years that there were Jews in London at that time, that it was a small but truly significant community, that Elizabeth supported them, admired them, that she refused to sign Lopes' death-warrant because she knew he was innocent, that he had been framed. Did Francis Bacon write the plays of Shakespeare? Bacon was a failure who could barely write a speech in Parliament coherently, but he participated in the destruction of Roderigo Lopes, orchestrated by the Earl of Essex. Lopes was Shakespeare's doctor; Shakespeare attended the execution, took over his house when Lopes was executed, wrote 'The Merchant' as a response to the anti-Semitism of Christopher Marlowe and the anti-Semitic riots in London that followed Lopes' execution. It is time for the historians to bring to an end their conspiracy of silence - which is effectively a conspiracy of anti-Semitism in itself. This book is my challenge to them."
Excerpt: Act Three: The Babington Affair
At exactly the same time that Roderigo Lopes was helping Sir Robert Dudley revive his career after the debacle in the Netherlands, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was living in "close confinement" as a "guest" of Sir Amyas Paulet, at Chartley Hall in Staffordshire. A descendant of Robert the Bruce, she'd been the Queen Consort of France through her marriage to Francis II until his death in 1560, and Queen of Scots until the Scottish nobles overthrew her in 1567, forcing her to abdicate in favor of her year-old son, James – later James 1 of England. She'd tried to retake her throne, but on May 19th 1568 she fled to England, hoping that Elizabeth would help her. Elizabeth would not. She had good reasons too. Mary had refused to accept the Treaty of Edinburgh, by which the French had recognized Elizabeth's legitimacy as Queen of England. Mary was a devout Catholic, who had expressed her animosity towards the Protestants very publicly. And Elizabeth being childless, Mary was also the next-in-line to the English throne, with supporters ambitious for her to achieve it. Elizabeth had her arrested, as soon as she reached Carlisle. For the next eighteen years Mary lived in captivity, the cause célèbre for English Catholics, who plotted constantly to put her on the throne, and for English Protestants too, who wanted Mary dead, lest England fall back into the hands of Catholics. For eighteen years Elizabeth procrastinated, keeping her rival alive, but imprisoned.
After the failure of the Throckmorton Plot in 1583, Walsingham and Burghley had persuaded the Queen to give statutory authority to a "Bond of Association", which allowed the execution of anyone who attempted to usurp the throne or made an attempt on Elizabeth's life, successful or otherwise. Where Mary had previously been safe from any implication in the plots on her behalf, this new law left her vulnerable, and Walsingham was determined to find evidence of her implication. It wasn't hard to find, especially with his own spies planting such evidence in readiness for an actual plot.
And then it came to pass. A Jesuit priest named John Ballard persuaded Anthony Babington, a Catholic nobleman from Derbyshire who was living in Paris, to lead a plot to kill Elizabeth. To gain access to Mary, Ballard introduced Babington to Thomas Morgan, a member of the Scottish embassy to France, and to Charles Paget, one of Mary's closest confidants, and to Gilbert Gifford, a Catholic deacon living in Rheims who also ran a secret postal service for Mary, carrying coded messages in and out of Chartley Hall. But Paget and Gifford were also double-agents, working in the pay of Walsingham.
In July 1586, Gifford delivered his first message to Mary from Babington, composed by Morgan, copied, of course, to Walsingham. The letter was smuggled into Chartley Hall in a beer barrel stopper: a nearby brewer delivered and picked up the barrel, Queen Mary's servants retrieved the letter and replaced it with a reply. Coded using twenty-three symbols for letter substitutions and thirty-six characters for words and phrases, her letter stated only that she believed she had supporters in Paris. Babington replied that he knew of at least a hundred, six of them personal friends, and described Elizabeth as a usurper, claiming that he was free from obedience to her as a result of her excommunication.
The correspondence continued for two months, while Walsingham sought the identities of the six "personal friends" who formed the inner circle of the plot. Each message between Mary and Babington was first read, decoded, by Walsingham, then copied, and sent to its destination intact. Babington proposed to Mary that Elizabeth be assassinated, and he referred to an invasion by the Spanish — King Philip had promised to send a military expedition to England as soon as Queen Elizabeth was no longer in power, and had a plan for Mary's release from her imprisonment. The July 1586 letters also described plots to kill Walsingham and Burghley. But Mary was too politically savvy to incriminate herself. Only in her final letter to Babington did she even acknowledge the enterprise, despite Walsingham instructing his chief cipher Thomas Phelippes to forge a postscript in which she requested the names of the six conspirators. Babington never replied though. He was arrested while seeking a passport to see the King of Spain.
And in the meanwhile, Elizabeth was distraught. Her stomach felt perpetually bloated, as though something undigested were quivering inside. Headaches plagued her every night, rendering sleep impossible. Nightmares when she did sleep – mostly filled with images of the two months and a day she'd spent in the Tower when she was twenty-one; of rats that had shared her cell with her; of her best friend since childhood Robert Dudley awaiting execution in the Beauchamp Tower next door; of the rumors of a warrant for her own execution that mercifully the Lord Constable refused to deliver because he recognized it was a forgery; of the fury on the face of her half-sister Mary when she was ordered to the royal presence to be berated yet again. Memories of her half-brother Edward, king for six years, dead at just sixteen. So many ghosts haunting her by night: her mother, beheaded for the crime of failing to produce a son. Monsieur, struck down by malaria. Thomas Seymour, who protected her and then abandoned her. Her father, fat and syphilitic.
And the doctors were more useless than the chaplains. Even her personal physician, Hector Nunez, had nothing to offer her but sleeping draughts that didn't work, and still more sympathetic words. Yet wasn't there another doctor, mentioned in that report on the state of her hospitals, which her Lord Chamberlain had been commissioned to compile, and which spoke most highly of the new methods introduced at St. Bartholomew's?
"Dr Lopus, madam."
She knew the name. A poisonous cartoon a year or two ago. A rather formal bow at Kenilworth when Dudley was so sick he'd ruined that weekend when she'd finally made up her mind to marry him.
"Ask Dudley his opinion."
"My Lord Dudley is in Delft, madam."
Another reason why she couldn't sleep at night. The Dutch campaign was going very badly.
"Then write to him. I want his opinion."
Dudley's reply formally recommended Roderigo Lopes.
"I believe you knew Dr Parry."
"I met him once or twice, ma'am. I can't say I really knew him."
"No, neither can I, though he was in my service for a while. He was Pembroke's doctor for many years, but got himself in financial difficulties, sought a commission from Lord Burghley to spy on Catholics in Europe, to escape his creditors. I pardoned him, you know, after he was sentenced to death for assaulting one of them. Then he tried to kill me, or so he claimed. I never believed it. What kind of man plots to assassinate you, then comes to you to tell you all the details, claiming he only got involved in order to uncover Protestant plots? I pardoned him again, even gave him a seat in Parliament, for Queenborough, which was most appropriate, don't you think? But then he tried the same trick again. Suggested to Sir Edmund Neville that they should ride up and shoot me in my coach, or during a private audience. He would never actually have done it. Lacked the courage. I think he simply wanted to raise his own standing by exposing Neville. Walsingham interrogated him till he confessed. I was left no choice but to approve his execution."
"Is his face one of those you see at night?"
"These dreams are very strange, Dr Lopez. I see faces, but they don't belong together. I see Parry very often, but I hear the name Babington."
"And Throckmorton? Do you see him too?"
"Less frequently. But yes. So many men who tried to kill me. Dr Lopez, these conversations are not why I summoned you."
"With great respect, I believe you’re wrong ma'am. These conversations are precisely why you summoned me. Your health is sound. Your stomach pains and nightmares are caused only by your fears. By speaking them out loud you purge them, far more effectively than I could ever do with leeches. It's the state of your soul that troubles you. If I may suggest, I believe there's something deeper troubling your soul than you've yet disclosed, even to yourself."
"Then I should summon a chaplain, not a physician."
"Chaplains and physicians do precisely the same work ma'am. Different methods, but pointed to the same goal. Most sickness, in my experience, is of the soul, not of the body. I can already see how much stronger you are, just from the few visits I've made thus far. But you shouldn't refuse the sleeping draughts. Sleep's the best medicine of all."
"Better than time?"
Roderigo laughed at her allusion to that previous conversation.
"Time will eventually kill you ma'am. But time doesn't plot, nor hire assassins. Nor does time find evidence against you, and put you on trial, and demand the execution of a Queen. If I may dare to suggest, I think this is the true source of your anxiety."
The look on Elizabeth's face might have warned him that he'd gone too far. Stiff, cold, almost frozen, she glowered at him, as though she were about to dismiss him from her presence.
But all she said was:
"Dr Lopez, you are asking me to cross a threshold I have never dared to cross. Give me a better sleeping draught, and return tomorrow."
"Her life and mine have many parallels, you know."
Roderigo's job, he understood, like any good psychiatrist, was just to sit and listen, while the patient lanced her own boils, and bled out her own wounds.
"So many parallels. She lost her father when she was only three days old, as I lost my mother before I was three years old."
Silence. This, he sensed, was just a prelude. Allow her, as Maimonides had recommended, to unburden herself slowly, at the pace that worked for her. Don't push. Don't press. It might take weeks, or months, or never.
"I think of her sitting all those years at Chartley Hall, and Paulet's not a kind man, nor a gentle man, who makes her confinement easy. I think of her, but when I close my eyes it's myself I see, sitting all those months at Hatfield Hall, or in the Tower, wondering each day if a messenger would arrive from the Queen, informing me that this was to be my last. I know what it must be like to be Mary Stuart."
She was inviting him to say something, to prompt her with another question. But Roderigo merely sat, held silence, waited.
"Dr Lopez, there are things that have happened to both of us, as women, that no woman can tell to any man, not even in confession to a chaplain. These things bind her to me even more closely than being queens, or prisoners, or cousins, or orphans."
The silence had become untenable. What was it Maimonides had said? That the risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision. Yet he was terrified.
"Madam, your doctor is neither man nor woman, but the agent of healing sent by God to aid you in your affliction. If you had a boil on your arm I would lance it with a needle. But the boil is in your soul, and only by speaking it yourself can it be lanced."
"I'm not yet ready, Dr Lopez. Sir Francis Walsingham is waiting, no doubt to bring me more evidence of plots against my life, plots he's either fabricated or set up himself, the better to protect me. I understand your brother in the Netherlands is amongst his agents."
"Tomorrow, Dr Lopez. Perhaps tomorrow."
The first group of conspirators - Babington, Ballard, Chidiock Tichborne, Thomas Salisbury, Robert Barnewell, John Savage and Henry Donn - was found guilty of treason and conspiracy against the crown, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered on September 20th 1586. The Queen attended the execution, and such was her horror at the manner of it, she ordered the second group - Edward Habington, Charles Tilney, Edward Jones, John Charnock, John Travers, Jerome Bellamy and Robert Gage - to be allowed to hang until dead before being disemboweled.
Mary remained at Chartley Hall, awaiting her own trial.
"She was forced to marry Lord Darnley, you know. I've often thought about that strange coincidence of names, her Darnley and my Dudley. But it's just coincidence. He was a brute. He contracted syphilis, just as my father did. He murdered her lover Rizzio, in front of her – not that he was her lover, he was her private secretary, but Darnley was insanely jealous. Then she married another brute, James Bothwell, the very man who murdered Darnley and managed to get himself acquitted. Married him according to the Protestant rites, which I cannot believe she did of her own accord. He raped her too. She was on her way back to Edinburgh from Stirling, where she'd gone to visit her son for the last time. Some of Bothwell's men abducted her, and he insisted that she sleep with him, but she refused. So he raped her, impregnated her with twins. Both of whom she miscarried in prison. She's had an awful life."
"You asked me to examine you ma'am."
"My breasts are sore."
"Then you'll need to undress."
Two ladies-in-waiting looked profoundly shocked at the suggestion. But the Queen's expression pacified them. Only for a moment though. Until she told them they must leave. It was quite unprecedented. The Queen of England, undressing herself, whether before a man, or otherwise. And tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Her lower lip trembling.
"The bodies of queens are no more majestic than any other woman's, and I'm certain that Doctor Lopez is accustomed to seeing women naked. Leave me. Doctor Lopez will examine me alone."
Because there was something that she wished to share, but not with them.
While the ladies tried to hide their shock at this permission to review the royal breasts, Roderigo Lopes merely stared at smallpox scars, and wondered what was engendering the royal tears.
"I'm going to share a secret with you, Dr Lopez. You've talked about scars in the soul, so I know you understand. These scars you see on my body are nothing. But underneath them. My father died when I was thirteen years old. Catherine Parr, his last wife, married Thomas Seymour of Sudeley, my half-brother Edward's uncle and the brother of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. They took me into their household at Chelsea. Seymour was almost forty, but a man of such charm, such sex appeal. I fell in love with him. He would come to my bed-chamber, often, in his night-gown, and we would engage in – what do you call these things? - romps and horseplay? He liked to tickle me, and slap me on the buttocks. Sometimes he kissed me, even on the mouth, or we would lie there in each other's arms. I knew what he really wanted, and I wanted it too. But he never asked, and I believe I would have refused him had he done so. No, that's a lie. I would never have refused him had he done so. I've never stopped thinking about him for forty years, and no other man has ever touched these breasts, not even Dudley."
"How did it end?"
"One day Catherine Parr discovered us in an embrace. May 1548 it must have been. I was sent away."
"Madam, even as a doctor I don't need to touch your breasts to know there's nothing wrong with them. I think you should try sleeping tonight without the draught."
Mary Stuart went on trial at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire in October 1586. The court consisted of some forty noblemen, including Catholics, and was presided over by the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Bromley, with the Attorney General, Sir John Popham. Mary was spirited in her own defense, and denied any part in the Babington plot. Amongst her more memorable comments was the statement: "Remember, gentlemen, that the theatre of history is wider than the realm of England." She complained that she'd been denied the opportunity to review the evidence and that her papers had been removed from her, that she'd been refused access to legal counsel and that she'd never been an English subject and thus could not be convicted of treason. But the court found her guilty, after a trial that lasted just two days, and sentenced her to death.
"This is for you, Dr Lopez."
A royal document, closed with the royal seal.
"Open it now. I want to see your expression when you read it. This is my way of thanking you."
Sara had told him a dozen times that this was coming. Why else had Elizabeth summoned her and their children to Richmond Palace (the first building in history, by the way, to be equipped with a flush toilet; Elizabeth's godson, Sir John Harrington, invented it)? Why else that conversation about their son at Winchester and the difficulty he was having with the fees. But when it came, it still came as a surprise.
"If I'm to be Royal Physician, ma'am, what of my good friend Dr Nunes?"
Her Majesty smiled.
"Dr Nunez will continue to attend my household, and me when I need him. He offers a very different form of medicine. Unlike you, he has no cure for stomach aches and sleeplessness. And I need you, Dr Lopez. Sir Francis Walsingham has saved England from invasion, and myself from murder. But he also wishes me to do something unthinkable: to commit regicide. It isn't simply distasteful, it's downright dangerous. Once a sovereign becomes answerable for crimes like common men, the belief that a king's or queen's actions are accountable only to God will be undermined, and this will ultimately challenge the structure upon which royal authority is founded. It could, one day, bring down the monarchy. But they've sentenced her to death, and if I don't approve the sentence, they'll hate me for it, and I may lose my people. I need your help, Dr Lopez. Though I know I must, I cannot bring myself to kill a Queen."
We have no records of the conversations that took place between Roderigo and Elizabeth, and those you've just read are merely my creation, distilled from what he told me in our private interviews. But the timing of his appointment cannot be underestimated, nor the one written record, which states how satisfied Her Majesty was with his treatment of her during the period of "mental hardship" she endured over the Babington Plot. Given his devotion to Maimonides, the medical methodologies he employed, the above is at the very least plausible. And important too, for quite another reason. Roderigo came to the Queen at a time when she was threatened by a Spanish-Catholic plot to murder her, and helped her through it. Let us keep this fact in mind when we reach the tale of Roderigo's – demise.
It took until the New Year before Elizabeth signed her cousin's death warrant. On February 8th 1587, in front of three hundred witnesses, Mary Queen of Scots was executed. Afterwards, Elizabeth dismissed Walsingham, then reinstated him, though whether she did this out of genuine anger at his duplicity, or merely for appearances, remains a matter of conjecture. Roderigo Lopes, on the other hand, was now at the peak of his career, Physician In Ordinary to the Royal Household for the next seven years, one of the wealthiest and certainly the most respected physician in England.
Why would he do anything to put all this in jeopardy?