Fernando Mendez

The blue plaque for Eagle House says

A fine Queen Anne house built in the Dutch style, in 1706, probably for Fernando Mendez, a royal physician.

Originally from Beira, Portugal, Fernando Mendez arrived in England in 1669. He was Physician-in-Ordinary to Queen Catherine (of Braganza) who married Charles II.

He was paid £100 per year for this role:

Due to Dr. Ferdinando Mendez, Physician to the late Queen Dowager, upon his patent for life of 100l. per an. dated 26 Sept. 1678 and certified by the Auditor of the Exchequer to have nothing paid thereon in the reign of his late Majesty King William; he keeping a constant correspondence and giving his advice in relation to her Majesty’s health even after her removal to Portugal; as certified by the Countess of Arlington

Source : ‘Civil List Debt: Various Claims’, in Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 17, 1702, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1939), pp. 1072-1078. British History Online [accessed 18 December 2020].

In the entry Book of 1684, his name was also given as Ferdinando and as Dr. Mendor.

100l. to Dr. Ferdinando Mendez for one year to 1680, Lady day, on his fee as one of his Majesty’s Physicians in Ordinary.

Source : ‘Entry Book: August 1684, 25-30’, in Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 7, 1681-1685, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1916), pp. 1306-1316. British History Online.

See also entry on the online 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.

Newspaper Articles

From Globe – Tuesday 23 July 1907


In the Middle Ages Jewish physicians were held to be in a special sense depositories of medical learning. So much was this the case that, notwithstanding the cruel persecutions to which the ordinary Hebrew was subjected by nearly all Christian rulers, Jews were chosen as physicians by many monarchs. Perhaps the most remarkable testimony to their reputation for skill in physic is found, says the British Medical Journal,” in the fact that many Popes chose Jewish doctors to minister to them. It may, indeed, be said that for several centuries the health of the Pope was entrusted to the keeping of Jewish doctors, who were especially exempted from the penalties end disabilities which weighed on their countrymen and co-religionists. It seemed to be thought that there was something in their race that gave them “mystical lore” in the domain of physic. It is related that a King of France asked another potentate to send him his physician, who was a man of great reputation. The first thing the sick monarch did when the doctor presented himself at his bedside was to ask him if he was a Jew. On the man of art confessing he was a Christian, the august patient forthwith dismissed him, as he would not trust his life to the ministrations of any doctor but one of the seed of Abraham. At the English Court Jewish physicians do not seem to have been in such favour.

Speaking from a general impression, we recall only two Jews who held the responsible office of Physician at the English Court. One of these was Ruy or Roderigo Lopez, who was Physician to Queen Elizabeth, and who is believed by same authorities to be the original of Shylock. He was a Portuguese Jew, whose skill in medicine won for him the favour and patronage of Queen Elizabeth. He is said to have settled in London in 1559, and he was the Queen’s Chief Physician for many years, till he suffered himself to be drawn into the whirlpool of politics, in which he found his doom. Lopez is said to have been offered 50,000 crowns to take a part in the Spanish plot to assassinate the Queen, and was so far compromised that he was imprisoned in the Tower in 1594, and tried at Guildhall before a special commission presided over by the Earl of Essex. He was condemned and beheaded on June 7th in that year. Munk says he was hanged; at any rate, he was executed.

The other Jewish physician at the English court was Fernando Mendez, who was born of Jewish parentage in the province of Beira, Portugal. When Catherine of Braganza was on her way to England to become the wife of Charles II, she was attacked during her journey through New Castile with erysipelas, and Mendez was sent to attend her. He gained such favour with the princess that she made him a member of her household, and desired him to accompany her to England, and settle there. Mendez reached this country on October 25, 1669, and was appointed Physician-in-Ordinary to the Queen. He was one of the many physicians in regular attendance on Charles II during his last illness.

St James’s Gazette – Saturday 02 June 1888


About the year 1650—and for how many years earlier it is difficult to say—there stood in Creechurch-lane, Leadenhall-street, a large gabled house which, in less bustling times, would have excited the suspicion of the authorities. As it was, the residents in the locality regarded it with no little curiosity. Its tenant and owner, one Moses Athias, was understood to be a clerk employed by the rich Spanish merchant and shipowner Don Antonio Fernandez de Carvajal, whose mansion almost faced the top of the lane ; but his dignified bearing and the marked respect paid to him by many of the foreign merchants, including Carvajal himself, seemed hardly consistent with this theory. The gossips wondered what use he had for so large a house, with its basement so strongly barred and its upper windows so impenetrably curtained; and strange tales were sometimes told of papistical mysteries enacted within its walls by the swarthy strangers and their mincing and bejewelled spouses, who flocked thither at frequent but regular intervals. Muffled melodies were frequently heard, in the still morning air, proceeding from the upper stories; and once when Dame Well-beloved Hold the-Fort was hurrying to market she averred that through the half-open door she saw Senor Athias’s outlandish servant standing in the vestibule enveloped from top to toe in shroud and with leathern thongs on his arms and head. This servant was even more mysterious than his master. He was very unlike the rest of the Spanish colony, with his coarse features, bushy iron grey beard and little corkscrew curls, and his bent figure surmounted a high fur cap and clothed in long woollen coat He called himself Benjamin Levy, but his master’s friends had been heard to refer to him as el viejo Asquenazy.

The house was a secret synagogue, the headquarters of the Spanish and Portuguese Marranos in England. From the time of the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I. in 1290, some remnant of the ancient people had managed to keep a foothold in the country; and there is good reason for believing that, when Torquemada procured the banishment of the Spanish and Portuguese Hebrews from the Peninsula, many of the fugitives found an asylum on these shores. We have, however, no certain record of Marrano — that is, a Spanish or Portuguese crypto-Jew — in England before 1550, when one Ferdinando Lopez, a Jewish physician who had escaped from the Lisbon Inquisition, was brought before the Lord Mayor on a criminal charge. That he was not the only crypto Jew in England at the time is shown by the fact that two years previously the Privy Council had ordered the compilation of a list of “certain persons suspected to be Jews” in the metropolis. Whatever Hebrew community there was, however, it received a considerable accession of Marranos from the Spanish prisoners captured by English naval commanders during the reign of Elizabeth. When the Earl of Essex sacked Cadiz in he took prisoner the Spanish Resident in the town, Alonzo de Herrera, and brought him to England. On regaining his liberty Herrera declared himself to be a Jew, and afterwards proceeded to Amsterdam, where he joined the synagogue and became a writer of cabbalistic books. In 1590 a shipload of Marranos, on their way to Holland, were captured on the high seas and conducted to London. Among them was the beautiful Maria Nunez; who was invited to Court, and is said to have broken the heart of an English duke. At a still earlier date Rodrigo Lopez arrived here, also as a prisoner of war. He became distinguished member ot the College of Physicians, and was employed as domestic medical attendant successively the Earl of Leicester and the Queen. In 1594 he was tried on charge of receiving bribe from Philip II of Spain to poison Elizabeth, and was executed. Mr. S. L. Lee has done much to show that Lopez, “the perjured and murdering traitor and Jewish doctor,” as he was called in the indictment at the trial, was the original of Shylock. It may interest Mr. Donnelly to learn that Bacon applied for the then vacant attorney-generalship, in order to be able to conduct the prosecution of Lopez. Until the outbreak of the Civil War we hear nothing more of Marranos in England ; but the community must have steadily increased in the meantime, as on the establishment of the Protectorate at least fifteen of the leading foreign merchants of London were of the proscribed race, and they possessed in Creechurch-lane the secret synagogue to which reference has already been made. Here a certain Moses Israel Athias officiated as rabbi, and a Polish Jew named Benjamin Levy was employed as beadle. The Marranos disguised their religious identity as carefully as though they were still at the mercy of the Grand Inquisitor, and they regularly attended mass at the Spanish Ambassador’s chapel It seems that in 1643 even the Portuguese Resident, Antonio de Souza, was numbered among the Marrano congregation. His son-in law, Antonio Fernandez de Carvajal, was one of the financial props of the Commonwealth and the principal source of the early and copious intelligence so useful to Cromwell in his foreign policy.

Until the Inquisition was finally abolished in Spain and Portugal, Marranos, many of them with romantic histories, continued to arrive in this country in an almost uninterrupted stream. During the whole of the eighteenth century they formed the bulk of the Sephardi congregation. Among them was Fernando Mendez, who came over as physician to Catherine of Braganza and attended Charles II in his last illness. His descendants comprise members of some of the noblest families in England. Three other distinguished Marrano medicos were Henriques or Jacob de Castro Sarmento, a Fellow of the Royal Society and Physician to the Portuguese Embassy; Samuel Nunez, who had been medical attendant to the Grand Inquisitor; and Isaac Henriques Sequera, who enjoyed one of the largest London practices of his day. When Don Jose Cortissos, the contractor general for the allied forces of Great Britain, Portugal, and Holland in the war against Spain in 1706, settled in England, he joined the Synagogue as Jew. Among the most interesting tombstones in the old Hebrew burial-ground in Mile-end is one which tells how “Abigail, widow of Gaspar Mendez Furtado, of Portugal, after suffering the tortures of the Inquisition, fled for protection to England.” Next to it is an inscription to the memory of her daughter “Rebecca, wife of Benjamin D’Israeli,” the grandfather of Lord Beaconsfield. In 1803, when an Alien Registration Act was passed, a large number of Marranos were found among the members of the Portuguese Synagogue; and on the counterfoils of the certificates of residence granted to them the London magistrates we frequently meet with the memorandum, “Fugitive from the persecution of the Inquisition.” One such counterfoil runs as follows: Isaac Penha, apothecary, born at Seville, in Spain, 1713; went from Seville to Lisbon; came to England flying from the Inquisition, his mother having been burnt alive for Judaism.” Similar memoranda often occur in the marriage and death registers of the Bevis Marks Synagogue.

It is impossible to tell how many of the English Marranos had preserved an untainted Hebrew lineage previous to their settlement in this country, but that a large proportion had not done so is beyond question. To cite only few examples : Alonzo de Herrera was lineally descended from the great Captain, Gonsalvo de Cordova, the conqueror of Naples; Antonio de Souza was chief of one of the most distinguished Gentile families in Portugal; Don Jose Cortissos was a relative of the noble family of Da Villa; and Isaac Henriques Sequera was partly of Huguenot extraction. Within living memory the Lousada family, which is of considerable prominence in the Anglo Jewish community, has successfully established its claim to a Spanish dukedom which was certainly not founded by a Jew.

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