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The Tudor Society

23 November – A plot to poison Elizabeth I’s saddle and Essex’s chair

On this day in Tudor history, 23rd November 1598, scrivener and sailor Edward Squire was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn for treason after being accused of plotting with Jesuits in Seville to poison Elizabeth I's saddle and the Earl of Essex's chair.

Squire, who ended up in Seville after being captured by Spaniards while on a voyage with Sir Francis Drake, confessed under torture, but claimed his innocence at his trial and execution.

But what exactly happened, and how and why did a Protestant scrivener and sailor end up accused of treason?

Find out all about Edward Squire and the alleged plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and her favourite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 23rd November 1499, in the reign of King Henry VII, pretender Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn after allegedly plotting to help another claimant, Edward, Earl of Warwick, escape from the Tower of London. Warbeck had claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, and had even been proclaimed King Richard IV, but his rebellion and claim failed. Find out all about Warbeck in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1503 – Death of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy (Margaret of York), daughter of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and sister of Edward IV and Richard III. She died at Mechelen in the Low Countries. Margaret was buried in the house of the Recollects, or the Observant Franciscans.
  • 1583 – Death of Richard Whalley, member of Parliament and administrator, at the age of eighty-four. He was buried at Screveton church in Nottinghamshire. Whalley served Edward Seymour, Protector Somerset, and so was imprisoned after Somerset's fall. He was released after Mary I's accession.
  • 1585 – Death of Thomas Tallis, musician and composer at his home in Greenwich. He was buried in St Alfege's Church, Greenwich, in the chancel. Tallis is known as one of England's greatest early composers, and his works include Gaude gloriosa Dei mater, Puer natus est nobis, Audivi vocem, In pace in idipsum, Videte miraculum, Loquebantur variis linguis and In ieiunio et fletu.

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 23rd November 1598, scrivener and sailor Edward Squire was executed. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn for treason after being accused of plotting in Seville to poison Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex.
Let me tell you more about this Elizabethan traitor…

Nothing is known of Squire’s early life, but he moved to Greenwich in 1582, where he worked as a scrivener, i.e. someone who writes or copies documents, and then he married in 1587. Five years later, he was working in the queen’s stables.

In August 1595, Squire accompanied explorer Sir Francis Drake on his final voyage. Squire sailed on a small barque, The Francis, which became separated from the rest of Drake’s fleet off the coast of Guadeloupe. The Spanish captured the ship and Squire and his companion, Richard Rolls, were taken prisoner. They were taken to Seville, in southern Spain, where Squire, who was a Protestant, had contact with English Jesuits at their seminary there before being released.

Squire returned to England, arriving there in July 1597, and then accompanied Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, on his voyage to the Azores.

Squire was back in England by October 1598, when he was arrested, interrogated and tried for treason. Just a month later, on this day in 1598, Squire was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn as a traitor.
But how did this scrivener and sailor end up being accused of treason?

Well, it was alleged that while he was in Seville that he had plotted on 20th April 1597 to poison both Queen Elizabeth I, and then, while he was on the voyage to the Azores, in September 1597, he’d planned to poison her favourite, the leader of the voyage, the Earl of Essex. Squire confessed to these dastardly deeds under torture.

It was alleged that while he was in Seville, the formerly Protestant Squire was converted to Catholicism by Jesuit Richard Walpole, and that Squire was released from confinement in Seville so that he could return to England to assassinate the queen. Squire would return to his job working in the royal stables and would poison the queen’s saddle.

Contemporary historian William Camden gave an account in his “The history of the most renowned and victorious Princess Elizabeth, late queen of England”, writing:
“This Walpole procured him to be drawn into the Inquisition, as a man guilty of heresy, where after he had endured much affliction, he easily persuaded him to turn to the Romish religion, and afterwards exhorted him several times to attempt something for the cause and service or religion. At length with many circumlocutions he told him (as Squire himself confessed) that it was a meritorious act to kill the Earl of Essex, but more necessary to make away the Queen: which he told him might easily be done, and without any danger, by anointing the pommel of the Queen’s saddle with poison, upon which she was to lay her hand as she rode.”

Camden goes on to say that Squire gave his assent to the plan, being bound by Walpole “by several vows under pain of damnation” to keep it secret and to commit the dastardly deed, and, in return, being promised eternal salvation.
Camden writes of how Squire did in fact anoint the queen’s saddle with poison “crying at the same instant with a loud voice God save the Queen: but by God’s mercy, the poison took no effect”, and that he also “besmeared” the Earl of Essex’s chair with the same poison during their voyage together, but again the poison did not work.

According to Camden, Squire’s assassination attempts came to light when Walpole, who suspected that Squire had “deluded him” and broken his vows, took revenge by having someone inform on him. Camden goes on to write of how Squire confessed during interrogations, but at his trial and at the gallows “that though he were put on by Walpole and others to commit the Fact, yet he could never be persuaded in his heart to do it.

This story of Squire and Walpole was disputed by an English priest who’d been in Seville at the time. He stated that Squire got into trouble with the Inquisition there for publicly defending Protestantism but that he escaped and fled home to England, rather than being released or sent on an assassination mission by Walpole. Another man, Thomas Fitzherbert, who had served as secretary to Philip of Spain, later claimed that the Jesuits had not been involved in any such plot against Essex and the queen.
Whatever the truth of it, Squire went to his execution, suffering a full traitor’s death, and prayers of thanksgiving were said for the queen’s escape of his plot.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. R /

    It sounds like something invented by Essex and others, very far fetched.

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23 November – A plot to poison Elizabeth I’s saddle and Essex’s chair