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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Titus Oates

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Confidential servants named Kirkby. Kirkby having given the king his information, Oates was sent for (13th August), and in a private interview gave details, in forty-three articles, of the plot and the persons who had engaged to assassinate Charles. The general improbability of the story was so manifest, and the discrepancies were so glaring, that neither then nor at any subsequent time did Charles express anything but amused, FIG. I. - Panicle of Oat, Arena saliva. (After Le Maout.) incredulity. To bolster up the case a fresh packet of five forged letters was concocted (31st August); but the forgery was transparent, and even Sir William Jones, the attorney-general, though a violent upholder of the plot, dared not produce them as evidence.

Oates now (6th September) made an affidavit before Sir Edmond Berry Godfrey to an improved edition of his story, in eighty-one articles. Among the persons named was Coleman, secretary to the duchess of York, whom Godfrey knew, and to whom he sent word of the charges. Coleman in turn informed the duke, and he, since the immediate exposure of the plot was of the utmost consequence to him, induced Charles to compel Oates to appear (28th September) before the privy council. Here Oates delivered himself of a story the falsehood of which was so obvious that the king was able to expose him by a few simple questions. At this moment an accident most fortunate for Oates took place. Amongst the papers seized at his request were Coleman's, and in them were found copies of letters written by the latter to Pere la Chaise, suggesting that Louis should furnish him with money, which he would use in the French and Catholic interest among members of parliament. Among them, too, were these passages: "Success will give the greatest blow to the Protestant religion that it has received since its birth"; "we have here a mighty work upon our hands, no less than the conversion of three kingdoms, and by that perhaps the utter subduing of a pestilent heresy, which has so long domineered over great part of the northern world." The credit of Oates was thus, in the eyes of the people, re-established, and Coleman and others named were imprisoned. Charles was anxious for his brother's sake to bring the matter to a conclusion, but he dared not appear to stifle the plot; so, when starting for Newmarket, he left orders with Danby (see Leeds, Duke Of,) that he should finish the investigation at once. But Danby purposely delayed; an impeachment was hanging over his head, and anything which took men's minds off that was welcome.

On the 12th of October occurred the murder of Godfrey, and the excitement was at its highest pitch. On the 21st of October parliament met, and, though Charles in his speech had barely alluded t o o the plot, all other business was put aside and Oates was called before the House. A new witness was wanted to support Oates's story, and in November a man named William Bedloe came forward. At first he remembered little; by degrees he remembered everything that was wanted. Not even so, however, did their witness agree together, so, as a bold stroke, Oates, with great circumstantiality, accused the queen before Charles of high treason. Charles both disbelieved and exposed him, whereupon Oates carried his tale before the House of Commons. The Commons voted for the queen's removal from court, but, the Lords refusing to concur, the matter dropped. It was not, however, until the 18th of July 1679 that the slaughter of Jesuits and other Roman Catholics upon Oates's testimony and that of his accomplices was to some extent checked. Sir George Wakeman, the queen's physician, was accused of purposing to poison the king, and the queen was named as being concerned in the plot. The refusals of Charles to credit or to countenance the attacks on his wife are the most creditable episodes in his life. Scroggs had intimation that he was to be lenient. Sir Philip Lloyd proved Oates to have perjured himself in open court, and Wakeman was acquitted. On the 26th of June 1680, upon Oates's testimony, the duke of York was presented as a recusant at Westminster. But the panic had now worn itself out, and the importance of Oates rapidly declined; so much so that after the dissolution in 1682 he was no more heard of during Charles's reign, but enjoyed his pension of £600 or £900, it is uncertain which, in quiet. Shortly before the death of Charles, James brought, and won, a civil action against Oates, with damages of £ioo,000; in default of payment Oates was taken to prison; while there he was indicted for perjury, and was tried in May 1685, soon after the accession of James II. He was convicted and received a severe sentence, with repeated floggings, the execution of which was expected to kill him, and which was rigorously carried out; but to the astonishment of all he survived.

Oates was in prison for three and a half years. Upon the flight of James, and during the excitement against the Catholics, he partially gained his liberty, and brought an appeal against his sentence before the Lords, who, while admitting the sentence to be unjust, confirmed it by a majority of thirty-five to twentythree. The Commons, however, passed a bill annulling the sentence; and a conference was held in which the Lords, while again acknowledging that legally they were wrong, adhered to their former determination. The matter was finally settled by Oates receiving a royal pardon, with a pension of boo a year. The remainder of his life was spent in retirement, varied by a good deal of sordid intrigue. In 1691 he became acquainted with William Fuller, whom he induced to forge another plot, though not with the success he had himself attained. He married a wealthy widow in 1693, but his extravagance soon brought him into straits. In 1696 he dedicated to William III. a book called Eikon Basilike, an elaborate tissue of invection against "the late king James." In 1698 he obtained admission as a member of the Baptist Church, and used to preach at Wapping; but in 1701, as the result of a financial scandal, he was formally expelled from the sect. He died on the 12th of July 1705.


- Oates's, Dangerfield's and Bedloe's Narratives; State Trials; Journals of Houses of Parliament; North's Examen; the various memoirs and diaries of the period; Fuller's Narrative; Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel; Burnet's History; Narcissus Luttrell's Relation. Lingard's History gives an exhaustive and trustworthy account of the Popish terror and its victims; and the chief incidents in Oates's career are graphically described by Macaulay. On the question of the place of his education see Notes and Queries (22nd December 1883). See also T. Seccombe's essay in Twelve Bad Men (1894), where a bibliography is given.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Titus Oates'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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