Edward Coleman, John Fenwick, John Gavan, Robert Green, John Grove, Thomas Harcourt (aka Whitebread or Whitbread) William Harcourt,  Lawrence Hill, William Howard, William Ireland (aka Ironmonger), Thomas Jenison, Richard Langhorn, Oliver Plunkett, Thomas Thwing and Anthony Turner, all condemned in the so-called "Popish Plot" of 1679, together with their co-defendant and chronicler James Maurice (or Maurus) Corker; also William Bedloe, Stephen Dugdale and Titus Oates, the perjurers who witnessed against them, and Edmund Berry Godfrey and James Sharp, whose murders added to the general panic.

     The events surrounding the testimony of Titus Oates (1649-1705) and his associates (1679-81) must rank among the most shameful miscarriages of justice in English history. Sixteen innocent men were executed (barring one, who apparently escaped) for their part in an alleged plot to kill the king (Charles II), together with eight Catholic priests executed in the ensuing purge against Catholics, but the real death toll was much higher. According to one (admittedly partisan) account, "Hundreds of innocent people died through the Oates Plot; one Jesuit, William Culcheth, reckoned that four hundred perished in prison, some of them victims of the plague" (Bernard Basset, SJ, The English Jesuits, 1967). The account given in The Catholic Encyclopedia, while obviously also not ideologically neutral, makes less extravagant claims, and is probably a pretty fair summary of events.
     With the wisdom of hindsight, there seems little enough excuse for the authorities, and the public generally, to have lent the credence they did to the assertions of a plot, but in partial mitigation we should take into account the violence of the times, and the fear that this engendered. The murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (1621-78), justice of the peace for Westminster, is often cited as having fuelled the flames of popular panic, and the murder (of which I include a newspaper report, below) of James Sharp (1613-79), Archbishop of St. Andrews, was just one of a number of events that added to the general sense of unease. However, Sharp was killed by Scottish Covenanters and, whoever killed Godfrey, it was almost certainly not the Catholic priests at whose doorstep the blame was laid. The willingness of the public to blame the Catholics in general - and the Jesuits in particular - cannot be easily rationalised.
     Oates was expelled as army chaplain for stirring up sedition in 1649 and expelled from his church living for "improper practices" (DNB) in 1674. Over the next couple of years he started to inveigle himself into secret meetings of Catholics, with a view to betraying them for profit, and professed himself to be converted to Catholicism in 1677. He entered the Jesuit college at Valladolid, in Spain, but was expelled five months later for "scandalous behaviour" (DNB). He somehow managed to get admitted to the seminary at St. Omer, and was again expelled, after which he began to dream up a fictitious Catholic plot to murder the king, Charles II. William Bedloe (1650-1680) and Stephen Dugdale (1640?-1683), equally unsavoury characters who had also wormed their way into Catholic confidence, chipped in with further accusations and, swept up in a national panic, the courts were hasty to condemn and gainful employment for the executioners ensued.
     Bedloe fell ill and died, Dugdale drank himself to death, and Oates was finally exposed as a perjurer in 1685, when the Catholic James II came to the throne. He was sentenced to a punishment possibly even more horrific than the fate meted out to those executed on his evidence. "Oates was...to stand in the pillory annually at certain specified times, to be whipped upon Wednesday, 20 May, from Aldgate to Newgate, and upon Friday 22 May, from Newgate to Tyburn and to be committed close prisoner for the rest of his life" (DNB). Somehow, though, he not only survived the beatings and other privations but, on the accession of the Protestant William III in 1689, obtained release and a pension.
     The work shown here cites the testimony (letters, poems, dying speeches, etc.) of numerous of those executed. In alphabetical order, these are, Edward Coleman, a Protestant convert to Catholicism, thought to have joined the Jesuits, and (I think) the only one of those condemned who apparently had been involved in any kind of intrigue (he engaged in a correspondance that was probably treasonable from 1674 to 1675), John Fenwick (vere Caldwell), S.J., John Gavan, S.J., Robert Green, John Grove, Thomas Harcourt (vere Whitebread or Whitbread), S.J., William Harcourt (vere Aylworth) who, according to the DNB, escaped to Holland and died there  in September, 1679, though I doubt it, since I have here his speech before execution on June 20th, 1679 (!), Lawrence Hill, William Howard (i.e., Viscount Stafford), William Ireland (aka Ironmonger), S.J., Thomas Jenison, who died in prison, Richard Langhorn, Dr. Oliver Plunkett (Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and titular primate of Ireland), Thomas Thwing and Anthony Turner, S.J.
     These testimonies were gathered by James Maurice (or Maurus) Corker, a Benedictine monk and a convert from Protestantism, who was himself accused on Oates's testimony, but acquitted at trial (July 18th, 1679). However, he was kept in prison anyway (at Newgate), and on January 17th, 1680, was tried again and sentenced to death for treason. The sentence was not carried out, and he was released on the accession of James II. After James's abdication (1688), Corker was forced to leave England, and became Abbot of Lamspring (Westphalia) in 1690. The work featured below is just one of his works vindicating the victims of the Oates Plot.

A Remonstrance of Piety and Innocence, containing The Last Devotions and Protestations of Several Roman-Catholicks, Condemned and Executed on Account of the Plot. Faithfully taken from their own Mouths as they spoke them, or from the Originals Written and left under their own hands. To which are annexed certain Lessons. Psalms and Prayers, selected out of Holy Scripture... Hereunto is also added a Summary of Roman Catholick Principles... (London: 1683, 12mo, pp. 190). Some of the accounts of the condemned are taken from other sources; others were printed here for the first time. The additional material serves mainly to demonstrate that treason, lying under oath, etc., are contrary to Catholic doctrine. A very good copy, in a recent leather binding.

 

 

The London Gazette. Numb. 1406. Published by Authority. From Thursday May 8. to Monday May 12. 1679. (Printed by Tho. Newcomb in the Savoy, 1679. Single sheet folio). "Edinburgh, May 4. A Horrid Murder having been yesterday committed upon James late Archbishop of St. Andrews, Primate and Metropolitan of this Kingdom, the following Proclamation hath been ordered by His Majesties Privy Council to be published, for the Apprehending of the Assassinates." Not directly connected with the Popish Plot, but shows the level of public anxiety and the willingness to blame Catholics; the author rails against the "Bloody and Jesuitical Principles" which give rise to such murders, although the perpetrators later turned out to be Scottish Presbyterians.


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