Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lopez, Roderigo
LOPEZ, RODERIGO (d. 1594), Jewish physician, a native of Portugal, settled in England in 1559. He may have been related to Hernando Lopez, a physician who was sent to England by the King of Spain in 1520, or to Ferdinando Lopez, ‘a physician which was a stranger dwelling within St. Helens, in the City of London,’ in the time of Edward VI. The latter—‘a Jewe borne’—was charged in April 1550 with immoral offences, and after some respite granted ‘at the suite of the emperor's ambassador and other of the king's privy council,’ was ultimately ‘banished the realm of England for ever’ (Wriothesley, Chronicle, Camd. Soc. ii. 36, 37).
Roderigo figures in the census of foreigners living in London in 1571, as a resident in the parish of St. Peter le Poer, and is described as ‘Doctor Lopus, a portingale, house-holder denizen,’ who ‘came into this realm about twelve years past to get his living by physic.’ Lewis Lopez, a brother, is mentioned as living with him (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 448). Lopez rapidly reached the highest places in the medical profession in London. He was the first to hold the office of house physician at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1575, while he was living at the hospital, his ‘parlour was boarded’ on condition that ‘he should be more painful in his care of the poor’ (St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, 1882). One of his colleagues at the hospital, William Clowes [q. v.], in a medical work on ‘Gunshot wounds’ (1591), remarks that Lopez ‘showed himself to be both careful and very skillful, not only in his counsel in dieting, purging and bleeding, but also for his direction of Arceus' apozema,’ a remedy which Lopez caused his assistants at St. Bartholomew's to adopt. Before 1569 Lopez had become a member of the College of Physicians, and in that year he was selected to read the anatomy lecture at the college (Munk, Coll. of Phys. i. 69). He declined this service to the annoyance of his colleagues, and in 1571 he was directed to return a fee which he had received from a servant of Lord Burghley on undertaking to cure a swelled shin bone (‘Coll. of Physicians MSS.’ in Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. p. 227 a). His practice grew in spite of charges of unprofessional practices. In 1571 he was attending the queen's secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham (Walsingham, Diary, Camd. Soc. Miscell. vol. i.) In 1575 his name stands near the head of a list of the chief London doctors, printed by Stowe. A year or two later he had become chief physician in the household of the Earl of Leicester. In ‘Leicester's Commonwealth’ (1584), a libel on Leicester, the physician is described as ‘Lopez the Jew,’ and is credited with skill in poisoning and other arts. A friend of Leicester speaks of him, on the other hand, as ‘a very honest person and a zealous’ (Lodge, Illustrations, ii. 224); and Francis Bacon, who was never well-disposed towards him, wrote of him as ‘a man very observant and officious, and of a pleasing and pliable behaviour.’ He maintained a large correspondence with friends and relatives in Antwerp and Constantinople, for some of whom he procured passports to England. At one time he lived in Wood Street; at another he had a house in Holborn called Mount Joy's Inn, which a patient built and gave to him, and he rented some property of Winchester College (Birch, Memoirs).
In 1586, Lopez became chief physician to Queen Elizabeth. She treated him with consideration, and in 1589 granted him a monopoly for the importation of aniseed and sumach into England. Gabriel Harvey made at this period some comments on the chief doctors of the day in manuscript notes, written on his copy (now in the British Museum) of ‘In Ivdaeorvm Medicastrorum Calumnias et Homicidia pro Christianis pia exhortatio … A Georgio Mario Vyreceburgio Doctore Medico Marpurgi et aliis,’ 1570. Of Lopez Harvey writes that, though ‘descended of Jews,’ he was himself a Christian. ‘He is,’ Harvey continues, ‘none of the learnedest or expertest physitians in the court, but one that maketh a great account of himself as the best, and by a kind of Jewish practis hath growen to much wealth and sum reputation as well with ye queen herself as with sum of ye greatest Lordes and Ladyes.’
Lopez's attendance at court soon brought him the acquaintance of the Earl of Essex. He was an accomplished linguist, and had friends in Spain. Essex was eager to gain political intelligence from that country, and he suggested that Lopez could be useful to him; but Essex's offer of employment was rejected by the doctor, who caused the earl additional irritation by communicating the negotiation to the queen. Lopez consented, however, to act as interpreter to Antonio Perez, a victim of persecution at the hands of Philip of Spain, whom Essex and his friends brought to England in 1590 in order to intensify the hostility of the English public to Spain. Antonio proved a querulous and exacting master, and Lopez's relations with Essex did not improve. In the summer of 1593 the doctor divulged to Antonio and his friends some professional secrets, ‘which did disparage to the Earl's honour’ (Goodman, Court of James I, i. 153).
Meanwhile Spanish spies in London were endeavouring to bribe Antonio's attendants to murder their master and Queen Elizabeth. Lopez was approached, and was offered fifty thousand crowns to take a part in the plot. He is reported to have so far closed with the proposal as to have declared ‘that Don Antonio should die the first illness that befell him,’ and to have accepted ‘a very good jewel garnished with sundry stones of good value’ from one of King Philip's emissaries, but he seems to have received with misgivings the suggestion that he was favourably placed for getting rid of Queen Elizabeth by poison, and to have treated the proposal ambiguously.
The existence of the plot soon came to the council's knowledge. One of Antonio's attendants, De Gama, was arrested at Lopez's house. Suspicion consequently fell on the doctor, and Essex insisted on his guilt. But when the earl obtained permission to examine his papers, no incriminating material was found, and Elizabeth told him that ‘he was a rash and temerarious youth to enter into a matter against the poor man which he could not prove’ (Birch, Memoirs, i. 150). Lopez, however, was said to have burned all his papers a little before (Carleton). Meanwhile other of Antonio's attendants were arrested and, under torture or threats of torture, they made statements implicating Lopez inextricably. At the end of January 1594 Lopez was carried to the Tower. On 28 Feb. he was tried at the Guildhall before a special commission, over which Essex presided. The prosecution was conducted by Sir Edward Coke, solicitor-general, who described the prisoner as ‘a perjured and murdering villian and Jewish doctor, worse than Judas himself.’ He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Sir Robert Cecil wrote to Thomas Windebank on the same day, ‘a most substantial jury found him guilty of all the treasons with the applause of the world.’ But his conviction may be as fairly ascribed to political intrigue and religious prejudice as to the weight of evidence against him. The queen delayed signing the death-warrant for three months, but on 7 June Lopez was carried from the Tower to the court of queen's bench at Westminster, and when invited to declare why execution of the sentence should be further delayed ‘made his submission and affirmed he never thought harm to her majesty.’ A few hours later he was borne on a hurdle to Tyburn together with two Portuguese associates. On the scaffold he stated, according to Camden, that ‘he loved the queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ, which [Camden continues], from a man of the Jewish profession, moved no small laughter in the standers-by’ (Annals, p. 676). He was afterwards hanged and quartered (Stow, Chronicle, 1631, p. 768). An official declaration of Lopez's crime from the pen of Francis Bacon was immediately circulated by the government (Spedding, Bacon, i. 273 sq.) The queen is said to have worn at her girdle until death the jewel given to Lopez by Philip of Spain (D'Ewes, Journals, p. 599). Lopez left a widow, Sara, who came from Antwerp, and two sons and three daughters. Queen Elizabeth, by a rare exercise of her prerogative, allowed the family to retain much of the doctor's property (cf. Sara Lopez's petition, August 1594, with inventory of the property, in Hatfield MSS. pt. iv. p. 601). A son Anthony was a student at Winchester in 1594, and was granted by the queen ‘a parsonage of 30l. a year … for his maintenance at school’ (ib.) In ‘Popish Plots and Treasons from the beginning of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. Illustrated with Emblems, and explain'd in Verse’ (1606), there is a drawing entitled ‘Lopas compounding to poyson the Queene.’ Here Lopez, dressed in academic costume, is engaged in conversation with a man wearing a Spanish ruff, and a label proceeding from the doctor's mouth bears the words ‘Quid dabitis?’ The same picture engraved by F. Hulsius appears in Carleton's ‘Thankfull Remembrance,’ 1627, p. 164.
Lopez's reputation, and the popular excitement evoked by his trial, may possibly have directed Shakespeare's attention to that study of Jewish character which he supplied about the time in his ‘Merchant of Venice.’ Very few Jews settled in England in the 16th century, and Lopez's position arrested national attention. Frequent mention is made of him in contemporary literature. He figures in the fifth scene of ‘England's Joy,’ a spectacular piece played at the Swan in 1602 (Harleian Miscellany, 1813, x. 198–9), as well as in Marlowe's ‘Faustus,’ in ‘Dekker's Whore of Babylon,’ 1607 (G. 4 H.), in ‘Middleton's Game at Chess’ (Act 4, Scene 2), and in John Taylor's ‘Churches Deliverance’ (Workes, 1630, p. 145).
[Articles by present writer in Gent. Mag., February, 1880 (‘The original of Shylock’), and in Transactions of the New Shakspere Society, 1887–92, pt. ii. pp. 158–62. See also authorities cited; Goodman's Court of James I, i. 149–53; Cal. of State Papers, 1591–4 passim; Forneron's Philippe II; Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 64; Carleton's Thankfull Remembrance, 1627, pp. 163–98; Hatfield MSS. pt. iv. passim.]