- Popish Plot
The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that gripped England, Wales and Scotland in Anti-Catholic hysteria between 1678 and 1681. Oates alleged that there existed an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, accusations that led to the execution of at least 15 men and precipitated the Exclusion Bill Crisis. Eventually Oates' intricate web of accusations fell apart, leading to his arrest and conviction for perjury.
- 1 Background
- 2 Plot
- 3 Godfrey murder
- 4 Trial of the Five Catholic Lords
- 5 Other accusations
- 6 Long-term effects of the Plot
- 7 Gallery of playing cards
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The fictitious Popish Plot was exacerbated by many historical events in the sixteenth century and was only believed because circumstances before 1687 had increased anti-Catholic sentiment among the mostly Protestant population of England. Anti-Catholic fears are observed as early as 1533 with the English Reformation. Also, the Ridolfi plot in 1571, the Babington Plot of 1580, and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 all contributed to anti-Catholic paranoia. The rule of Mary I, the attack of the Spanish Armada, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 were other events that were important contributors to anti-Catholic sentiment and intensified Protestant hatred of Catholics, making the plot against Charles II seem believable.
During the English Reformation (1533-1540), King Henry VIII took control over the Church in England, causing religious tension between English Catholics and the Protestant Church of England. Henry VIII broke away from the Bishop of Rome mostly because he wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which the pope would not grant.
Mary I (1553-1558), daughter of Catherine and Henry was a Catholic and sought to return the Church in England to union with the Holy See. During her three-year rule, some three hundred Protestants were executed. Protestants would forever remember her rule and as John Kenyon remarks, “Nor was there any doubt as to what would happen if Catholics seized control: all good Protestants would burn.” The persecution she had initiated always lurked in the back of Enlightenment minds.
The Ridolfi Plot
In 1571, Roberto di Ridolfi, an ardent Catholic, plotted to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I of England and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. He believed that there was a need for foreign intervention to restore Catholicism and bring Mary to the throne. Ridolfi was involved in the failed Northern Rebellion. After the failure, Ridolfi realised that foreign assistance was needed to overthrow the Elizabeth. He found assistance in the Bishop of Ross and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. They planned to have the Duke of Alba invade England with 10,000 men and assassinate Elizabeth I. Unfortunately, the plot was discovered and the Duke of Norfolk was arrested and later executed. Elizabeth spared Mary (who was living in England, having fled the Scottish Reformation, even though she believed she was involved. Ridolfi was out of town when the plot was discovered and never returned to England; therefore he was unpunished.
The Babington Plot
The Babington Plot (1586) was aimed at displacing Elizabeth I and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. Anthony Babington, a Catholic nobleman, was the key conspirator and devoted his life to returning England to Catholicism. He plotted with other Catholic Englishmen and King Phillip II of Spain to rescue Mary from prison and place her on the throne. Babington met John Ballard, a Jesuit priest who put Babington in charge of organising English Catholics. Babington started corresponding with Mary through ciphered letters. However, their letters were being intercepted by Elizabeth’s spies and, in 1586, a letter sent by Babington outlining the details of the plot was decoded. Ballard, Babington and six others were arrested while Mary was sentenced to death for her involvement and was beheaded on February 8th, 1587.
The Spanish Armada
In 1588, a Spanish fleet sailed against England because Phillip II of Spain deemed Elizabeth to be an illegitimate ruler of England. Elizabeth had further angered Phillip by her support of the Dutch Revolt that advocated the advance of Protestantism in the Netherlands, at that tome a Spanish possession. The Spanish Armada was repulsed, which gave encouragment to the Protestants throughout Europe,because they thought that God was supportive of Protestantism.
The Gunpowder Plot
The Gunpowder Plot was an attempted assassination of King James I. The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament on November 5th, 1605 and install James’ Catholic daughter Elizabeth as monarch. Guy Fawkes was in charge of the explosives and was discovered the night before the attack guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. This was an actual plot and so that made the fabricated Popish Plot of 1687 more believable. The Jesuits became scapegoats after this incident.
The Great Fire of 1666
When the Great Fire of London occurred in 1666, rumors floating around about arson and the first to be blamed were Catholics, especially the Jesuits. Kenyon remarks, “At Coventry, the townspeople were possessed by the idea that the papists were about to rise and cut their throats….” Kenyon also comments, “A nationwide panic seemed likely, and as homeless refugees poured out from London into the countryside, they took with them stories of a kind which were familiar to them in 1678 and 1679.”
All of these previous historical events influenced the Popish Plot’s believability because there was a growing fear by Protestants of increasing Catholic influence in England. Further, Charles' heir, his brother James Stuart, Duke of York had embraced Catholicism, and the King's wife, Catherine of Braganza, was also Catholic. Charles' wars and religious policies during the 1670s led to conflict with parliament. In 1672, Charles issued the Royal Declaration of Indulgence, in which he purported to suspend all penal laws against Catholics and other religious dissenters.
Charles II did not want to share power, but he was financially reliant on Parliament. He believed that an alliance with Catholic France would provide money and aid him in becoming absolute monarch. As the power of the Cabal Ministry waned Thomas Osborne, Lord Danby assumed more influence in his role as Lord High Treasurer. Danby sought to divert the Charles from a Francophile foreign policy.
The fictitious Popish Plot unfolded in a very peculiar fashion. Oates and Israel Tonge had written a large manuscript that accused the Catholic Church authorities of approving the assassination of Charles II. The Jesuits in England were to carry out the task. The manuscript also named nearly 100 Jesuits and supporters, supposedly involved in this assassination plot; nothing in the document was ever proven to be true.
Oates slipped a copy of the manuscript into the wainscot of a gallery in Sir Richard Barker's house.The following day Tonge claimed to find the manuscript, and showed it to an acquaintance, Christopher Kirkby, who was shocked and decided to inform the King. Kirkby was a chemist and a former assistant in Charles's scientific experiments. On 13 August 1678, whilst Charles was out walking in St. James's Park, the chemist informed him of the plot. Charles was dismissive but Kirkby stated that he knew the names of assassins who planned to shoot the King and, if that failed, the Queen's physician, Sir George Wakeman, would poison him. When the King demanded proof, the chemist offered to bring Tonge who knew of these matters personally. Charles told Kirkby to present Tonge before Danby. Tonge then lied to Danby, saying that he had found the manuscript but did not know the author.
Danby advised the King to order an investigation. Charles II denied the request, maintaining that the entire affair was absurd. He told Danby to keep the events secret so as not to put the idea of regicide into people's minds. However, word of the manuscript spread to the Duke of York, who publicly called for an investigation into the matter. During the investigation, Oates' name arose.
On 6 September Oates was summoned before the magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey to swear an oath prior to his testimony before the King. Oates claimed he had been at a Jesuit meeting held at the White Horse Tavern in the Strand, London on April 24, 1678. According to Oates, the purpose of that meeting was to discuss the assassination of Charles II. The meeting discussed a variety of methods which included: stabbing by Irish ruffians, shooting by two Jesuit soldiers, or poisoning by the Queen's physician, Sir George Wakeman.
Oates and Tonge were brought before the Privy Council later that month. The council interrogated Oates. On 28 September he made 43 allegations against various members of Catholic religious orders—including 541 Jesuits—and numerous Catholic nobles. He accused Sir George Wakeman, the Queen's physician, and Edward Colman, the secretary to the Duchess of York (Mary of Modena), of planning the assassination. Although Oates may have selected the names randomly, or with the help of the Earl of Danby, Coleman was found to have corresponded with a French Jesuit, which condemned him. Wakeman was later acquitted.
Others Oates accused included Dr. William Fogarty, Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin, Samuel Pepys, and Lord Belasyse. With the help of Danby the list grew to 81 accusations. Oates was given a squad of soldiers and he began to round up Jesuits.
The allegations gained little credence until the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a member of Parliament and strong supporter of Protestantism. His disappearance on 12 October 1678, the finding of his body on 17 October, and the subsequent failure to solve his murder sent the Protestant population into an uproar. He had been strangled and run through with his own sword. Many of his supporters blamed the murder on Catholics. As Kenyon commented, “Next day, the 18th, James wrote to William of Orange that Godfrey’s death was already ‘laid against the Catholics’, and even he, never the most realistic of men, feared that ‘all these things happening together will cause a great flame in the Parliament.’” The Lords asked King Charles to banish all Catholics from a radius of 20 miles around London, which Charles granted on October 30th, 1678, but it was too late because London was already in a panic.
Oates seized on this murder as proof that the Plot was true. The murder of Godfrey and the discovery of Edward Coleman’s letters provided a solid basis of facts for the lies of Oates and the other informers who followed him. Oates was called to testify before the House of Lords and the House of Commons on October 23, 1678. He testified that he had seen a number of contracts signed by the Superior General of the Jesuits. The contracts appointed officers that would command an army of Catholic supporters to kill Charles II and establish a Catholic monarch. To this day, no one is certain who killed Sir Edmund Godfrey.
King Charles, aware of the unrest, returned to London and summoned Parliament. He remained unconvinced by Oates' accusations, but Parliament and public opinion forced him to order an investigation. Parliament truly believed that this plot was real, declaring, “ This House is of opinion that there hath been and still is a damnable and hellish plot contrived and carried out by the popish recusants for assigning and murdering the King.” Tonges was called to testify on October 25th, 1678 where he gave evidence on the Great Fire and, later, rumours of another similar plot. On November 1st, both Houses ordered an investigation in which a Frenchman, Choqueux, was discovered to be storing gunpowder in a house nearby. It was later uncovered that he was simply the King’s firework maker.
Trial of the Five Catholic Lords
Oates became more daring and accused five Catholic lords (The Earl of Powis, The Viscount Stafford, The Lord Arundell of Wardour, The Lord Petre and The Lord Belasyse) of involvement in the plot. The King reputedly dismissed the accusations, but the Earl of Shaftesbury had the lords arrested and sent to the Tower. Seizing upon the anti-Catholic tide, Shaftesbury publicly demanded that the King's brother, James, be excluded from the royal succession, prompting the Exclusion crisis. On 5 November 1678, people burned effigies of the Pope instead of those of Guy Fawkes. At the end of the year, the parliament passed a bill, a second Test Act, excluding Catholics from membership of both Houses (a law not repealed until 1829).
On 25 October 1678 the Lords Arundell, Stafford, Powis, Petre, and Belasyse were arrested and committed to the Tower. On 1 November the House of Commons resolved to proceed by impeachment against "the five popish lords". On 23 November all Arundell's papers were seized and examined by the Lords' committee; on 3 December the five peers were found guilty of high treason; and on 5 December the Commons announced the impeachment of Arundell. A month later Parliament was dissolved, and the proceedings were interrupted. In March 1679, it was resolved by both houses that the dissolution had not invalidated the motions for the impeachment. On 10 April 1679 Arundell and three of his companions (Belasyse was too ill to attend) were brought to the House of Lords to put in pleas against the articles of impeachment. Arundell complained of the uncertainty of the charges, and implored the peers to have them "reduced to competent certainty". But this plea was on 24 April voted irregular, and on 26 April the prisoners were again brought to the House of Lords and ordered to amend their pleas. Arundell replied by briefly declaring himself not guilty. The trial was fixed for 13 May, but a quarrel between the two houses as to points of procedure, and the legality of admitting bishops to a capital trial, followed by a dissolution, delayed its commencement till 30 November 1680. On that day it was decided to proceed first against Lord Stafford, who was condemned to death on 7 December and beheaded on 29 December. On 30 December the evidence against Arundell and his three fellow-prisoners was ordered to be in readiness, but there public proceedings stopped. Petre died in the Tower in 1683. His companions remained there till 12 February 1684 when an appeal to the court of King's Bench to release them on bail was successful. On 21 May 1685 Arundell, Powis, and Belasyse came to the House of Lords to present petitions for the annulling of the charges and on the following day the petitions were granted. On 1 June 1685 their liberty was formally assured on the ground that the witnesses against them had perjured themselves, and on 4 June the bill of attainder against Stafford was reversed.
On 24 November, Oates claimed the Queen was working with the King's physician to poison him and enlisted the aid of "Captain" William Bedloe. The King personally interrogated Oates, caught him out in a number of inaccuracies and lies, and ordered his arrest. However, a few days later, with the threat of constitutional crisis, Parliament forced the release of Oates.
Hysteria continued. Noblewomen carried firearms if they had to venture outdoors at night. Houses were searched for hidden guns, mostly without any significant result. Some Catholic widows tried to ensure their safety by marrying Anglican widowers. The House of Commons was searched—without result—in the expectation of a second Gunpowder Plot being perpetrated.
Anyone even suspected of being Catholic was driven out of London and forbidden to be within ten miles of the city. Oates, for his part, received a state apartment in Whitehall and an annual allowance. He soon presented new allegations, claimimg assassins intended to shoot the King with silver bullets so the wound would not heal. The public invented their own stories, including a tale that the sound of digging had been heard near the House of Commons and rumours of a French invasion in the Isle of Purbeck.
However, public opinion began to turn against Oates. Having had at least 15 innocent men executed, the last being Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh on 1 July 1681. The Chief Justice, William Scroggs began to declare people innocent and the King began to devise countermeasures.
On 31 August 1681, Oates was told to leave his apartments in Whitehall, but remained undeterred and even denounced the King and the Duke of York.. He was arrested for sedition, sentenced to a fine of £100,000 and thrown into prison.
When James II acceded to the throne in 1685 he had Oates retried for perjury. Oates was subsquently sentenced to be stripped of clerical dress, imprisoned for life and pilloried and whipped on an annual basis. Oates spent the next three years in prison. At the accession of William of Orange and Mary in 1689, he was pardoned and granted a pension of £260 a year but his reputation did not recover. The pension was suspended, but in 1698 was restored and increased to £300 a year. Oates died on 12 or 13 July 1705.
Long-term effects of the Plot
The Society of Jesus suffered the most between 1678 and 1681. During this period, nine Jesuits were executed and twelve were died in prison. Three other deaths were also attributable to the plot. They also lost Combe in Herefordshire, which was the Jesuit headquarters of South Wales. A quote from French Jesuit Claude de la Colombiere highlights the plight of the Jesuits during this time period. He comments, “The name of the Jesuit is hated above all else, even by priests both secular and regular, and by the Catholic laity as well, because it is said that the Jesuits have caused this raging storm, which is likely to overthrow the whole Catholic religion.”
Other Catholic religious orders such as the Carmelites, Franciscans, and the Benedictines were also affected by the fictitious plot. They were no longer permitted to have more than a certain number of members or missions within England. John Kenyon points out that European religious orders throughout the Continent were affected by the plot since many of them depended on the alms of the English Catholic community for their existence. Many Catholic priests were arrested and tried because the Privy Council wanted to make sure to catch all of those who might possess information about the plot.
The fictitious plot had consequences for ordinary British Catholics. On October 30 1687, a proclamation was made that required all Catholics who were not tradesmen or property owners to leave London and Westminster. They were not to enter a twelve-mile radius of the city without special permission. Throughout this period Catholics were subject to fines, harassment and imprisonment.It was not until the early 19th century that the vestiges of anti-Catholic prejudice were removed by the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, although anti-Catholic sentiment remained among politicians and the general populace.
Gallery of playing cards
Titus Oates uncovers plot
Magistrate Edmund Berry Godfrey with Oates
Nathaniel Reading in Pillory
Edward Colman a victim of Oates's plot
The execution of the five Jesuits
- ^ Heald, Henrietta (1992). Chronicle of Britain. Jacques Legrand. p. 605. ISBN 0192116959.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 3.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 10.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 10.
- ^ Fraser, pp.305–308 and Hutton, pp.284–285
- ^ Mark Knights, "Osborne, Thomas, first duke of Leeds (1632–1712)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
- ^ Heald, Henrietta (1992). Chronicle of Britain. Jacques Legrand. p. 603. ISBN 0192116959.
- ^ Pollock, John p. 13
- ^ Alan Marshall, "Tonge, Israel (1621–1680)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
- ^ Brown, Molly (1999). The Invitation to a Funeral. Saint Martin's Press Inc.. ISBN 0312970943.
- ^ Pollock, John p. 73–74
- ^ Williams, Sheila (1958). "The Pope-Burning Processions of 1679, 1680 and 1681". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. p. 104–118. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from JSTOR database.
- ^ a b Williams, Sheila p. 104–118
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 78.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 78-81.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 84-85.
- ^ Holmes, Peter (2004). "Howard, William, Viscount Stafford (1612–1680)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13948. Retrieved 2011-03-22. Subscription or UK public library membership required
- ^ s:Arundell, Henry, third Baron Arundell of Wardour (DNB00)
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 205.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 206.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 209-211.
- ^ Kenyon, John (1972). The Popish Plot. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 219.
- Douglas C. Green (Hg.), Diaries of the Popish Plot, New York 1977.
- John Kenyon, The Popish Plot, 2d ed., 1985, repr. Phoenix Press 2001. ISBN 1842121685.
- John Pollock, The Popish Plot: A Study in the History, Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1417965762.
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