Mr. Booth’s case was a brutal farce, and the splendid Earl, busied with very different preoccupations — his position with the Queen, the Attorney-Generalship, the foreign policy of England — could hardly have given a moment’s thought to it. But there was another criminal affair, no less obscure but of far more dreadful import, which, suddenly leaping into an extraordinary notoriety, absorbed the whole of his attention — the hideous tragedy of Dr. Lopez.
Ruy Lopez was a Portuguese Jew who, driven from the country of his birth by the Inquisition, had come to England at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign and set up as a doctor in London. He had been extremely successful; had become house physician at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital; had obtained, in spite of professional jealousy and racial prejudice, a large practice among persons of distinction; Leicester and Walsingham were his patients; and, after he had been in England for seventeen years, he reached the highest place in his profession: he was made physician-in-chief to the Queen. It was only natural that there should have been murmurs against a Jewish foreigner who had outdone his English rivals; it was rumoured that he owed his advancement less to medical skill than flattery and self-advertisement; and in a libellous pamphlet against Leicester it was hinted that he had served that nobleman all too well — by distilling his poisons for him. But Dr. Lopez was safe in the Queen’s favour, and such malice could be ignored. In October 1593 he was a prosperous elderly man — a practising Christian, with a son at Winchester, a house in Holborn, and all the appearances of wealth and consideration.
His countryman, Don Antonio, the pretender to the Portuguese crown, was also living in England. Since the disastrous expedition to Lisbon four years earlier, this unfortunate man had been rapidly sinking into disrepute and poverty. The false hopes which he had held out of a popular rising on his behalf in Portugal had discredited him with Elizabeth. The magnificent jewels which he had brought with him to England had been sold one by one; he was surrounded by a group of famishing attendants; fobbed off with a meagre pension, he was sent, with his son, Don Manoel, to lodge in Eton College, whence, when the Queen was at Windsor, he would issue forth, a haggard spectre, to haunt the precincts of the Court.
Yet he was still not altogether negligible. He still might be useful as a pawn in the game against Spain. Essex kept a friendly eye upon him, for the Earl, by an inevitable propulsion, had become the leader of the anti-Spanish party in England. The Cecils, naturally pacific, were now beginning to hope that the war, which seemed to be dragging on by virtue rather of its own impetus than of any good that it could do to either party, might soon be brought to an end. This was enough in itself to make Essex bellicose; but he was swayed not merely by opposition to the Cecils; his restless and romantic temperament urged him irresistibly to the great adventure of war; thus only could his true nature express itself, thus only could he achieve the glory he desired. Enemies he must have: at home — who could doubt it? — the Cecils; abroad — it was obvious — Spain! And so he became the focus of the new Elizabethan patriotism — a patriotism that was something distinct from religion or policy — that was the manifestation of that enormous daring, that superb self-confidence, that thrilling sense of solidarity, which, after so many years of doubt and preparation, had come to the English race when the smoke had rolled away and the storm subsided, and there was revealed the wreck of the Armada. The new spirit was resounding, at that very moment, in the glorious rhythm of Tamburlaine; and its living embodiment was Essex. He would assert the greatness of England in unmistakable fashion — by shattering the power of the Spaniard once for all. And in such an enterprise no instrument must be neglected; even the forlorn Don Antonio might prove serviceable yet. There might — who knew? - be another expedition to Portugal, more fortunate than the last. King Philip, at any rate, was of that opinion. He was extremely anxious to get Don Antonio out of the way. More than one plot for his assassination had been hatched at Brussels and the Escurial. His needy followers, bought by Spanish gold, crept backwards and forwards between England and Flanders, full of mischief. Anthony Bacon, through his spies, kept a sharp look-out. The pretender must be protected; for long he could lay his hands on nothing definite; but one day his care was rewarded.
News reached Essex House that a certain Esteban Ferreira, a Portuguese gentleman, who had been ruined by his adherence to the cause of Don Antonio, and was then living in Lopez’s house in Holborn, was conspiring against his master and had offered his services to the King of Spain. The information was certainly trustworthy, and Essex obtained from Elizabeth an order for the arrest of Ferreira. The man was accordingly seized; no definite charge was brought against him, but he was put into the custody of Don Antonio at Eton. At the same time instructions were sent to Rye, Sandwich and Dover, ordering all Portuguese correspondence that might arrive at those ports to be detained and read. When Dr. Lopez heard of the arrest of Ferreira, he went to the Queen and begged for the release of his countryman. Don Antonio, he said, was much to blame; he treated his servants badly; he was ungrateful to her Majesty. Elizabeth listened, and the Doctor ventured to observe that Ferreira, if released, might well be employed to “work a peace between the two kingdoms.” This suggestion seemed not to please Elizabeth. “Or,” said the Doctor, “if your Majesty does not desire that course . . . ” He paused, and then added, enigmatically, “might not a deceiver be deceived?” Elizabeth stared; she did not know what the fellow meant, but he was clearly taking a liberty. She “uttered”— so we are told by Bacon —“dislike and disallowance”; and the Doctor, perceiving that he had not made a good impression, bowed himself out of the room.
A fortnight later, Gomez d’Avila, a Portuguese of low birth, who lived near Lopez’s house in Holborn, was arrested at Sandwich. He was returning from Flanders, and a Portuguese letter was discovered upon his person. The names of the writer and the addressee were unknown to the English authorities. The contents, though they appeared to refer to a commercial transaction, were suspicious; there were phrases that wore an ambiguous look. “The bearer will inform your Worship in what price your pearls are held. I will advise your Worship presently of the uttermost penny that can be given for them . . . Also this bearer shall tell you in what resolution we rested about a little musk and amber, the which I determined to buy . . . But before I resolve myself I will be advised of the price thereof; and if it shall please your Worship to be my partner, I am persuaded we shall make good profit.” Was there some hidden meaning in all this? Gomez d’Avila would say nothing. He was removed to London, in close custody. When there, while waiting in an anti-chamber before being examined by those in charge of the case, he recognised a gentleman who could speak Spanish. He begged the gentleman to take the news of his arrest to Dr. Lopez.
Meanwhile, Ferreira was still a prisoner at Eton. One day he took a step of a most incriminating kind. He managed to convey to Dr. Lopez, who had taken lodgings close by, a note, in which he warned the Doctor “for God’s sake” to prevent the coming over of Gomez d’Avila from Brussels, “for if he should be taken the Doctor would be undone without remedy.” Lopez had not yet heard of the arrest of Gomez, and replied, on a scrap of paper hidden in a handkerchief, that “he had already sent twice or thrice to Flanders to prevent the arrival of Gomez, and would spare no expense, if it cost him £300.” Both the letters were intercepted by Government spies, read, copied and passed on. Then Ferreira was sent for, confronted with the contents of his letter, and informed that Dr. Lopez had betrayed him. He immediately declared that the Doctor had been for years in the pay of Spain. There was a plot, he said, by which Don Antonio’s son and heir was to be bought over to the interests of Philip; and the Doctor was the principal agent in the negotiations. He added that, three years previously, Lopez had secured the release from prison of a Portuguese spy, named Andrada, in order that he should go to Spain and arrange for the poisoning of Don Antonio. The information was complicated and strange; the authorities took a careful note of it; and waited for further developments.
At the same time, Gomez d’Avila was shown the rack in the Tower. His courage forsook him, and he confessed that he was an intermediary, employed to carry letters backwards and forwards between Ferreira in England, and another Portuguese, Tinoco, in Brussels, who was in the pay of the Spanish Government. The musk and amber letter, he said, had been written by Tinoco and addressed to Ferreira, under false names. Gomez was then plied with further questions, based upon the information obtained from Ferreira. It was quite true, he admitted, that there was a plot to buy over Don Antonio’s son. The youth was to be bribed with 50,000 crowns, and the musk and amber letter referred to this transaction. Ferreira, examined in his turn, confessed that this was so.
Two months later Burghley received a communication from Tinoco. He wished, he said, to go to England, to reveal to the Queen secrets of the highest importance for the safety of her realm, which he had learnt at Brussels; and he asked for a safe-conduct. A safe-conduct was despatched; it was, as Burghley afterwards remarked, “prudently drafted”; it allowed the bearer safe ingress into England, but it made no mention of his going away again. Shortly afterwards Tinoco arrived at Dover; upon which he was at once arrested, and taken to London. His person was searched, and bills of exchange for a large sum of money were found upon him, together with two letters from the Spanish governor of Flanders, addressed to Ferreira.
Tinoco was a young man who had been through much. For years he had shared the varying fortunes of Don Antonio; he had fought in Morocco, had been taken prisoner by the Moors, and after four years of slavery had rejoined his master in England. Destitute and reckless, he had at last, like his comrade Ferreira, sold himself to Spain. What else could such creatures do? They were floating straws sucked into the whirlpool of European statecraft; they had no choice; round and round they eddied, ever closer to the abyss. But for Tinoco, who was young, strong, and courageous, a life of treachery and danger had, perhaps, its attractions. There was a zest in the horror; and, besides, Fortune was capricious; the bold, unscrupulous intriguer might always pull some golden prize from the lottery, as well as some unspeakably revolting doom.
The letters found on his person were vague and mysterious, and some sinister interpretation might well be put upon them. They were sent to Essex, who decided himself to interrogate the young man. The examination was conducted in French; Tinoco had a story ready — that he had come to England to reveal to the Queen a Jesuit plot against her life; but he broke down under the cross-examination of the Earl, prevaricated, and contradicted himself. Next day he wrote a letter to Burghley, protesting his innocence. He had been, he said, “confused and encumbered by the cunning questions of the Earl of Essex”; with his small knowledge of French, he had failed to understand the drift of the inquiry, or to express his own meaning; and he begged to be sent back to Flanders. The only result of his letter was that he was more rigorously confined. Again examined by Essex, and pressed with leading questions, he avowed that he had been sent to England by the Spanish authorities in order to see Ferreira, and with him to win over Dr. Lopez to do a service to the King of Spain. Dr. Lopez once more! Every line of inquiry, so it seemed to Essex, led straight to the Jew. His secret note to Ferreira had been deeply incriminating. Ferreira himself, Gomez d’Avila, and now Tinoco all agreed that the Doctor was the central point in a Spanish conspiracy. That conspiracy, if they were to be believed, was aimed against Don Antonio; but could they be believed? Might not some darker purpose lie behind? The matter must be sifted to the bottom. Essex went to the Queen; and on the 1st January, 1594, Dr. Lopez, principal physician to her Majesty, was arrested.
He was taken to Essex House, and there kept in close custody, while his house in Holborn was searched from top to bottom; but nothing suspicious was found there. The Doctor was then examined by the Lord Treasurer, Robert Cecil, and Essex. He had a satisfactory answer for every question. The Cecils were convinced that Essex had discovered a mare’s nest. In their opinion, the whole affair was merely a symptom of the Earl’s anti-Spanish obsession; he saw plots and spies everywhere; and now he was trying to get up a ridiculous agitation against this unfortunate Jew, who had served the Queen faithfully for years, who had furnished an explanation of every suspicious circumstance, and whose general respectability was a sufficient guarantee that this attack on him was the result of folly and malice. Accordingly, as soon as the examination was over, Sir Robert hurried to the Queen, and informed her that both his father and himself were convinced of the Doctor’s innocence. But Essex was still unshaken; he persisted in the contrary opinion. He too went to the Queen, but he found her with Sir Robert, and in a passion. As soon as he appeared, he was overwhelmed with royal invectives. Elizabeth declared that he was “a rash and temerarious youth,” that he had brought accusations against the Doctor which he could not prove, that she knew very well the poor man was innocent, that she was much displeased, and that her honour was at stake in the matter. The flood of words poured on, while Essex stood in furious silence, and Sir Robert surveyed the scene with gentle satisfaction. At last the Earl, his expostulations cut short with a peremptory gesture, was dismissed from the presence. He immediately left the palace, hurried to his house and, brushing aside his attendants without a word or a look, shut himself into his room and flung himself upon his bed in an agony of wrath and humiliation. For two days he remained there, silent and enraged. At length he emerged, with fixed determination in his countenance. His honour, no less than the Queen’s, was at stake; come what might, he must prove the Cecils to be utterly mistaken; he must bring Dr. Lopez to justice.
Characteristically enough, in spite of the Queen’s anger and the Cecils’ scepticism, the case against the Doctor was not allowed to drop. He was still kept a prisoner at Essex House; he and the rest of the suspected Portuguese were still subjected to endless examinations. And now began one of those strange and odious processes which fill the obscure annals of the past with the ironical futility of human justice. The true principles of criminal jurisprudence have only come to be recognised, with gradually increasing completeness, during the last two centuries; the comprehension of them has grown with the growth of science — with the understanding of the nature of evidence, and the slow triumph, in men’s mental habits, of ordered experience and reason. No human creature can ever hope to be truly just; but there are degrees in mortal fallibility, and for countless ages the justice of mankind was the sport of fear, folly, and superstition. In the England of Elizabeth there was a particular influence at work which, in certain crucial cases, turned the administration of justice into a mockery. It was virtually impossible for anyone accused of High Treason — the gravest offence known to the law — to be acquitted. The reason for this was plain; but it was a reason not of justice but expediency. Upon the life of Elizabeth hung the whole structure of the State. During the first thirty years of her reign, her death would have involved the accession of a Catholic sovereign, which would inevitably have been followed by a complete revolution in the system of Government, together with the death or ruin of the actual holders of power. The fact was obvious enough to the enemies of the English polity, and the danger that they might achieve their end by the Queen’s assassination was a very real one. The murder of inconvenient monarchs was one of the habits of the day. William of Orange and Henry III of France had both been successfully obliterated by Philip and the Catholics. Elizabeth on her side had sought — though, indeed, rather half-heartedly — to have the Queen of Scots secretly put out of the way, in order to avoid the public obloquy of a judicial execution. Her own personal fearlessness added to the peril. She refused, she said, to mistrust the love of her subjects; she was singularly free of access; and she appeared in public with a totally inadequate guard. In such a situation, only one course of action seemed to be possible: every other consideration must be subordinated to the supreme necessity of preserving the Queen’s life. It was futile to talk of justice; for justice involves, by its very nature, uncertainty; and the Government could take no risks. The old saw was reversed; it was better that ten innocent men should suffer than that one guilty man should escape. To arouse suspicion became in itself a crime. The proofs of guilt must not be sifted by the slow processes of logic and fair play; they must be multiplied — by spies, by agents provocateurs, by torture. The prisoner brought to trial should be allowed no counsel to aid him against the severity of iron-hearted judges and the virulence of the ablest lawyers of the day. Conviction should be followed by the most frightful of punishments. In the domain of treason, under Elizabeth, the reign of law was, in effect, superseded, and its place was taken by a reign of terror.
It was in the collection of evidence that the mingled atrocity and absurdity of the system became most obvious. Not only was the fabric of a case often built up on the allegations of the hired creatures of the Government, but the existence of the rack gave a preposterous twist to the words of every witness. Torture was constantly used; but whether, in any particular instance, it was used or not, the consequences were identical. The threat of it, the hint of it, the mere knowledge in the mind of a witness that it might at any moment be applied to him — those were differences merely of degree; always, the fatal compulsion was there, inextricably confusing truth and falsehood. What shred of credibility could adhere to testimony obtained in such circumstances — from a man, in prison, alone, suddenly confronted by a group of hostile and skilful examiners, plied with leading questions, and terrified by the imminent possibility of extreme physical pain? Who could disentangle among his statements the parts of veracity and fear, the desire to placate his questioners, the instinct to incriminate others, the impulse to avoid, by some random affirmation, the dislocation of an arm or a leg? Only one thing was plain about such evidence: it would always be possible to give to it whatever interpretation the prosecutors might desire. The Government could prove anything. It could fasten guilt upon ten innocent men with the greatest facility. And it did so, since by no other means could it make certain that the one actual criminal — who might be among them — should not escape. Thus it was that Elizabeth lived her life out, unscathed; and thus it happened that the glories of her age could never have existed without the spies of Walsingham, the damp cells of the Tower, and the notes of answers, calmly written down by cunning questioners, between screams of agony.
It was, of course, an essential feature of the system that those who worked it should not have realised its implications. Torture was regarded as an unpleasant necessity; evidence obtained under it might possibly, in certain cases, be considered of dubious value; but no one dreamt that the judicial procedure of which it formed a part was necessarily without any value at all. The wisest and the ablest of those days — a Bacon, a Walsingham — were utterly unable to perceive that the conclusions, which the evidence they had collected seemed to force upon them, were in reality simply the result of the machinery they themselves had set in motion. Judges, as well as prisoners, were victims of the rack.
The case of Dr. Lopez was typical. One can trace in it the process by which suspicion, fear, and preconceived theories were gradually, under the pressure of the judicial system, blended into a certainty which, in fact, was baseless. Essex was an honest young lord, who would have recoiled in horror from the thought of doing an innocent man to death for political purposes; but he was not very strong in the head. He mistrusted the Cecils, he mistrusted Spain, he perceived — what was true enough — that there was something fishy about Dr. Lopez. The scorn poured by the Queen upon his sagacity was the final inducement: he was right, in spite of them all; he would not rest till he had probed the matter to the bottom. And there was only one method of effecting this — it was obvious; the Portuguese must be cross-examined until the truth was forced from them. Lopez himself had baffled him, but there remained Ferreira and Tinoco, who had already shown themselves more pliable. They were accordingly, in their separate cells, relentlessly questioned. Each was ready enough, in order to exculpate himself, to incriminate the other, and to declare, when pressed further, that the Doctor was the centre of the plot. But what was the plot? If it was merely aimed at Don Antonio, why this elaboration of mystery? But if it was aimed at someone else? If . . .? It needed no genius to unravel the enigma. One had only to state the circumstances, for the solution to arise spontaneously to the mind. Spain — a plot — the royal physician: such a concatenation was enough. It was one more attempt on the part of King Philip to assassinate the Queen of England.
This point once reached, the next step inevitably followed. The belief in the mind of the questioner became a statement in the mouth of the questioned. At one point in his examination, Ferreira asserted that Dr. Lopez had written to the King of Spain, professing his willingness to do everything his Majesty required. The question was then asked —“Would the Doctor have poisoned the Queen if required?” and Ferreira replied in the affirmative. He was then forced to elaborate the supposition with a mass of detail; and the same process was applied to Tinoco, with the same result. After that, supposition very soon slipped into fact. “I have discovered,” wrote Essex to Anthony Bacon, “a most dangerous and desperate treason. The point of conspiracy was her Majesty’s death. The executioner should have been Dr. Lopez; the manner poison. This I have so followed that I will make it appear as clear as noonday.”
Luck was against the Doctor. The case against him depended on a complicated construction from the evidence of two perjured rogues, Ferreira and Tinoco — evidence extorted under fear of the rack, and made up of a mass of hearsay and the recollections of years-old conversations and of letters never produced. The Cecils, with their pro-Spanish and anti-Essex bias, would have been sharp enough to see through such stuff, but for one unfortunate circumstance. Early in the proceedings the name of Andrada, a Portuguese spy, had been mentioned by Ferreira, who had asserted that he had been sent to Spain by Lopez to arrange for the murder of Don Antonio. Andrada was well known to Burghley. It was true that the man had been to Spain, at the period mentioned, in most suspicious circumstances. Burghley had no doubt that, while nominally in the service of Don Antonio, he had been bought by the Spanish authorities. He was now in Brussels; and, if it was a fact that there had been a secret connexion between him and Lopez, something really damaging would at last have been discovered about the Doctor. As the examinations proceeded, Andrada’s name recurred more and more frequently. It appeared that he had been the principal intermediary between the Spanish Court and the intriguers in Flanders. Tinoco repeated — or purported to repeat — a long description that Andrada had given of his visit to Madrid. King Philip had embraced him, and told him to pass on the embrace to Dr. Lopez; he had handed him a diamond and ruby ring, with a similar injunction. Could all this be true? Elizabeth was told of it, and she remembered that, some three years previously, the Doctor had offered her a diamond and ruby ring, which she had refused to accept. The Doctor was now pressed once more with searching questions. He denied, with violent oaths and imprecations, that he knew anything of the matter; but at last, when cross-examined on the ring, he changed his tone. It was true, he admitted, that he had been privy to Andrada’s visit to Spain; but he added that the explanation of that visit was entirely different from any that had been put forward. Andrada had been in the pay of Walsingham. He had been sent to Madrid on the pretext of a peace negotiation, with the object of spying out the state of affairs at the Spanish Court. The Doctor, at Walsingham’s special request, had agreed to allow his name to be used, to give colour to the proceedings. Andrada was to represent to Philip that he had been sent by Lopez, who was eager for peace and influential with the Queen. The deceiver, in fact, was to be deceived. The scheme had worked, Philip had been taken in, and his ring had been intended, not for the Doctor, but for Elizabeth. Walsingham was perfectly aware of all this, and could substantiate every detail. Could, that is to say, if only . . . Essex laughed outright. The Cecils, convinced that Andrada was in the pay of the Spaniards, were incredulous. It would not do. The Doctor’s story was ingenious — it was too ingenious; the whole — it was obvious — hung upon one thing — the corroboration of Walsingham; and Walsingham was dead.
By a curious irony, the very circumstance which finally led the Cecils to abandon Lopez, has afforded to posterity the means of vindicating him. Papers have been discovered among the Spanish archives showing that his tale was substantially true. It was indeed under the pretext of a peace overture that Andrada visited Madrid. He was not permitted to see Philip in person, and the story of the royal embrace was a fabrication; but the diamond and ruby ring was actually handed to the spy by the Spanish Secretary of State. Other matters, it is true, were discussed besides peace; it was agreed that Dr. Lopez should endeavour to obtain either the imprisonment of Don Antonio, or his exile from England; a hint was thrown out that he might usefully be poisoned; but not the faintest suggestion was made which could possibly point to the murder of Elizabeth. As a matter of fact, however — and this was unknown to Lopez — the Spaniards were not taken in. They saw through Walsingham’s stratagem, and they determined to hoist him with his own petard. Persuaded by their gold, Andrada became a double spy. He agreed to return to England and to carry on, nominally, the negotiation for peace, but, in reality, to use his position for furnishing Madrid with inside information of the state of affairs in England. Walsingham’s death spoilt the plan. Andrada was unable to explain his conduct, and Burghley became convinced that he was sold to Spain. He was indeed; but the guilt of Lopez did not follow from that premise, as Walsingham, could he have returned to earth for two minutes, would have explained.
When the Cecils were won over to the view of Essex the Doctor’s doom was sealed. He was unable to cope with the ordeal that had come upon him so suddenly in the comfortable prosperity of his old age. Shut up in Essex House, humiliated, badgered, terrified, when his resistance was once broken down he completely lost his head. He alternated between frantic asseverations of utter ignorance and wild revelations of complicated impossible plots. There can be little doubt that he had something discreditable upon his conscience. His secret note to Ferreira indicated that. It seems highly probable that he was engaged in some conspiracy to ruin Don Antonio; it is possible that he was actually prepared, in return for a sufficient bribe from the Spaniards, to poison him. As to his murdering the Queen, not only is the evidence for any such intention quite insufficient, but the improbability of such a design is, on the face of it, overwhelming. What would he gain if he effected the death of Elizabeth? Some wretched pittance from Philip. And he would lose everything — his position, his income, the royal favour — to say nothing of the risk of detection. It would have been madness to think of such a thing; but the enraged persecutors who surrounded him thought of nothing else. They were determined to complete their case against him by forcing a confession from his own lips. A few twists of the rack would have produced this soon enough; but that would be crude; true virtuosity lay in obtaining the required words without the rack, without even an open threat of it, without more than a glance, perhaps, a gesture, a significant silence. Before very long it was done. To the question, constantly repeated, whether he had promised the Spaniards to murder the Queen, the Doctor, worn out at last by weeks of anxiety, suddenly collapsed, and assented. That was enough. The odds, indeed, had been decidedly unequal. On one side were Anthony Bacon, Francis Bacon, Lord Burghley, Sir Robert Cecil, and the Earl of Essex; and on the other an old Portuguese Jew. One can understand, perhaps, the intellectuals and the politicians; but Essex! Generous, strong, in the flush of manhood, is it possible that he failed to realise that what he was doing was, to say the least of it, unfair? Years afterwards, when Spain was no longer a bugbear, his animosity against Dr. Lopez seemed only to be explicable on the ground of some violent personal grudge. But in truth no such explanation was necessary. The Earl’s mind was above personalities; but it was not above the excitement of political rivalry, the cruel conventions of human justice, and the nobility of patriotism.
A form of trial followed. Ferreira and Tinoco, far from saving themselves by their incriminations of the Doctor, were arraigned beside him as accomplices in his guilt. Tinoco in vain pleaded the protection of his safe-conduct; the lawyers solemnly debated the point, and decided against him. All three were sentenced to the death of traitors. The popular excitement was intense. As Essex had foreseen, the hatred of Spain, which had been dying down; rose again to a frenzy throughout the country. Dr. Lopez became the type of the foreign traitor, and his villainy was sung in ballads, and his name hissed with execrations from the boards of theatres. That he was a Jew was merely an incidental iniquity, making a shade darker the central abomination of Spanish intrigue. Modern critics have seen in him the original of Shylock, who appeared upon the stage a few years later; but such a supposition is wide of the mark. In fact, if Shakespeare thought of Dr. Lopez at all in connexion with Shylock, it must have been because of his unlikeness, and not of his resemblance, to the great figure in “The Merchant of Venice.” The two characters are antithetical. The whole essence of Shylock lies in his colossal, his tragic, hebraism; but Dr. Lopez was europeanised and christianised — a meagre, pathetic creature, who came to his ruin by no means owing to his opposition to his gentile surroundings, but because he had allowed himself to be fatally entangled in them. Yet, perhaps, it is not fanciful to imagine that Shakespeare, in his tragedy of the Venetian outcast, glanced for a moment, under cover of a piece of amorous jesting, at that other tragedy of the royal physician. “Ay,” says Portia to Bassanio,
“but I fear you speak upon the rack,
Where men enforcèd do speak anything.”
The wisdom and the pity of the divine poet exquisitely reveal themselves in those light words.
The Queen hesitated even more than usual before she allowed the sentences to be carried into execution. Possibly she was waiting for some confirmation or some denial from the authorities in Spain or Flanders; possibly, in spite of all the accumulated proof of the Doctor’s guilt, she was unable to obliterate from her mind her instinctive perception of his innocence. Four months elapsed before she allowed the law to take its course. Then — it was June 1594 — the three men, bound to hurdles, were dragged up Holborn, past the Doctor’s house, to Tyburn. A vast crowd was assembled to enjoy the spectacle. The Doctor standing on the scaffold attempted in vain to make a dying speech; the mob was too angry and too delighted to be quiet; it howled with laughter, when, amid the uproar, the Jew was heard asseverating that he loved his mistress better than Jesus Christ; no more was heard, and the old man was hurried to the gallows. He was strung up and — such was the routine of the law — cut down while life was still in him. Then the rest of the time-honoured punishment — castration, disembowelling, and quartering — was carried out. Ferreira was the next to suffer. After that, it was the turn of Tinoco. He had seen what was to be his fate, twice repeated, and from close enough. His ears were filled with the shrieks and the moans of his companions, and his eyes with every detail of the contortions and the blood. And so his adventures had ended thus at last. And yet, they had not quite ended; for Tinoco, cut down too soon . . . recovered his feet after the hanging. He was lusty and desperate; and he fell upon his executioner. The crowd, wild with excitement, and cheering on the plucky foreigner, broke through the guards, and made a ring to watch the fight. But, before long, the instincts of law and order reasserted themselves. Two stalwart fellows, seeing that the executioner was giving ground, rushed forward to his rescue. Tinoco was felled by a blow on the head; he was held down firmly on the scaffold; and, like the others, castrated, disembowelled, and quartered.
Elizabeth was merciful to the Doctor’s widow. She allowed her to keep the goods and chattels of the deceased, forfeited by his attainder — with one exception. She took possession of King Philip’s ring. She slipped it — who knows with what ironical commiseration? — on to her finger; and there it stayed till her death.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13