On this day in Tudor history, 23rd November 1598, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a man named Edward Squire was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.
The scrivener and sailor was executed for treason after being accused of plotting to poison Elizabeth I’s saddle and a chair used by her favourite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.
Edward Squire had ended up in Seville after being captured by Spaniards while on a voyage with Sir Francis Drake. There, it was alleged that he plotted against the queen and Essex with Jesuits. He confessed under torture but claimed his innocence at his trial and before he died.
What happened and how did the Protestant Edward Squire end up being accused of conspiring with Jesuits against his queen?
Edward Squire and a plot to poison Elizabeth I
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.