Miles Prance

Miles Prance

Miles Prance (fl. 1678) was an English Roman Catholic who was caught up in and perjured himself during the Popish Plot and the anti-Catholicism of London during the reign of Charles II. He was born on the Isle of Ely, the son of a Roman Catholic, and he rose quickly from humble origins as an apprentice goldsmith to servant-in-ordinary to Catherine of Braganza, Charles II's queen. He was married and with a family, living in Covent Garden at the time of his arrest.

Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey died in October of 1678. Godfrey had been militating against Jesuits around the time of the Popish Plot. Prance was known to be Roman Catholic and suspicion fell upon him for the death, which appeared to be suicide. William Bedloe, later a Popish Plot accuser, investigated Prance and interrogated one John Wren, Prance's lodger who owed rent. Wren stated that Prance had been out of the house on the night of the murder. Prance was arrested and confined to Newgate Prison.

In prison, Prance confessed and then recanted. He then confessed to a different version and recanted that. Finally, after being visited by William Boys, Gilbert Burnet, and William Lloyd, he confessed and said that two Irish priests, a "Fitz-gerald" and a "Kelly", told him of a plot to kill Godfrey. He said that Henry Berry, Robert Green, Thomas Godden and Godden's servant, Lawrence Hill, followed and strangled Godfrey while Prance kept watch. They then hid Godfrey's body in the palace and waited before placing it in a ditch and running it through with Godfrey's own sword, to look like the discrediting death by suicide.

Berry, Green, and Hill were arrested, and Godden fled to Europe. Prance perjured himself in the trial, and all three men were executed. He then split the reward for finding the killers with Bedloe. Bedloe and Titus Oates used Prance to inform on several Roman Catholics during the Popish Plot. He offered evidence against Harcourt and Fenwick, two Jesuit priests, in June of 1679 and received a £50 pension from the King in January of 1680. He also helped Oates attack Roger L'Estrange and wrote pamphlets defending himself against charges of multiple contradictions. After the breaking of the Plot, he assumed a lower public profile.

However, when James II came to the throne, Prance was tried. He was found guilty of perjury in 1686 and was fined £100, ordered to stand in the pillory, and to be whipped. Catherine interceded on his behalf to prevent the last of these punishments, arguing that he had returned to the Roman Catholic faith and was repentant. He said that only fear for his life had compelled him to lie and inform and that his mistreatment in prison had coerced his testimony. In 1688, he tried to flee to France. He was captured, questioned before the House of Lords, and then permitted to leave England.


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