Friday, 31 October 2003

The double life of Dr. Lopez

Listening to:

The best of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Just read:

Dominic Green, The double life of Dr. Lopez.

This book is an interesting historical investigation into the life and career of a man who found himself on the periphery of Elizabethan power at the end of the 16th century, and embroiled in a variety of plots and conspiracies. This man was Dr. Rodrigo Lopez. For a while, he was even court physician to Elizabeth I, and doctor for a number of other prominent aristocrats. Lopez was also a Portuguese marrano Jew. Jews in Iberia that hadn’t genuinely converted to Christianity had to hide their religion very carefully to escape the attentions of the Inquisition. Many chose to leave entirely (something well described in Armstrong’s The battle for God). In Lopez’s case, he probably went to England via Antwerp.

For a while, Lopez pursued a career as a doctor attached to one of London’s hospitals. It’s not quite clear how he might have done it, but he eventually started to work as an intelligence gatherer and collator for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s “spymaster”. Lopez was useful because he had good reason to be anti-Spain, and had many useful, commercial contacts in the Low Countries (then going through the Eighty Years’ War against Spain, which eventually saw the foundation of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, aka the “United Provinces”). Lopez’s contacts were often fellow Jews, who had naturally chosen to live in what was probably then the most tolerant part of Western Europe.

Lopez also attached himself to the court of Don Antonio, the exiled heir to the throne of Portugal, and someone who had grown up in the same town as Lopez. Don Antonio was in exile because Portugal had been taken over by Spain in 1581. The English tried to put Don Antonio to good use, mounting an attempt to restore him to his throne, and Lopez was involved in this too.

But it all ended in tears: Lopez was hung, drawn and quartered in 1594 (which fact we’re told in the book’s prologue). Lopez had become too much of a liability for the various Elizabethan factions, and he was accused of plotting to poison the Queen. The final parts of the book are an account of how the Powers-That-Were could callously dispose of a pawn that had outlived its usefulness.

Green’s account of all these interesting events is generally good. He’s occasionally a little florid, and sometimes the details and the characters become a little overwhelming in their density, but I’d still recommend this account. The link with Shakespeare is perhaps a little stretched (Lopez’s very public execution may well have inspired Shakespeare to write his own “Jewish” play, The Merchant of Venice), but it provides a slightly different angle on things, and one that Green exploits well.

To review next:

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten.


Thank you for the review. A very enjoyable site. By the way, your taste in music is excellent.

Posted by: Dominic Green at November 18, 2003 04:29 AM

Cool! Shakespeare Rules!

Posted by: Tayven at February 20, 2004 09:52 AM

This book sounds fascinating! I can't seem to find it though through the usual suspects (, Barnes & Noble)

Can you tell me who the publisher is? Perhaps I can find a copy through them...

Thanks in advance for any help!

Jason Ninness

Posted by: Jason Ninness at July 13, 2004 01:32 AM

Nevermind! Found a copy on Thanks!

Posted by: Jason Ninness at July 13, 2004 02:30 AM