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Edward Squire and the Poisoned Pommel Affair

The central figure in this mysterious affair, that many claim was one of the early Cecil sham-plots, was Edward Squire, who had worked in the Queen’s stables before sailing with Drake and falling into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1598, following his return to England, Squire was arrested for attempting to murder the Queen by rubbing poison on the pommel of her saddle, and within a few months he was ‘hanged, bowelled and quartered’ at Tyburn.

In his confessions he laid the origin of the plot firmly at the feet of Henry Walpole whom he had met while in Seville and who was executed some years earlier. "When Walpole persuaded me to be employed against Her Majesty's person, he asked whether I could compound poisons. I said no, but that I had skill in perfumes.."

A contemporary copy of a letter from Robert Persons to his fellow Jesuit Henry Garnet, written soon after Squire's execution and dated 30 January 1599 provides us with an insight into the true nature of the incident. As well as containing much interesting detail, it marks the opening of a literary war between the government and Roman Catholic apologists concerning Squire’s alleged treason. Here Persons denounces ‘the whole fable of poyson’ as a fiction intended to discredit Spain and the Jesuits. ‘It seemeth to be one of the most notorious fables and tragical comedies that hath byn exhibited in all this tyme’.

Selected Bibliography

[1] Edwards, Francis, SJ., "Sir Robert Cecil, Edward Squier and the Poisoned Pommel", Recusant History, 25 (May, 2001)
[2] "Calendar of State Papers Domestic, 1598-1601"
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