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From the Popish Plot to the Death of King Charles the
Second, in the Year 1681-5,
THE king baving concluded a peace with the Dutch, became mediator between the French and the confederates, at the treaty of Nimeguen; where the former managed the English court so dexterously, that the emperor and Spaniards were obliged to buy their peace, at the expence of the best part of Flanders.
From this time to the end of the king's reign, we meet with little else but domestic quarrels between the king and his parliament; sham plots, and furious sallies of rage and revenge, between the court and country parties. The nonconformists were very great sufferers by these contests; the penal laws being in full force, and the execution of them in the hands of their avowed enemies.
No sooner was the nation at peace abroad, but a formidable plot broke out at home, to take away the king's life, to subvert the constitution, to introduce popery, and to extirpate the protestant religion root and branch. It was called the POPISH Plor, from the nature of the design, and the quality of the conspirators, who were no less than pope Innocent XI. cardinal Howard his legate; and the gener. als of the jesuits in Spain and at Rome.* When the king was taken off, the duke of York was to receive the crown as a gift from the pope, and hold it in fee. If there happened any disturbance, the city of London was to be fired, and the infamy of the whole affair to be laid upon the presbyterians and fanatics, in hopes that the churchmen, in the heat of their fury, would cut them in pieces, which would make way for the more easy subversion of the protestant religion. Thus an insurrection, and perhaps a sec
* Eachard, p. 934.
ond massacre of the protestants, was intended; for this purpose they had great numbers of popish officers in pay, and some thousands of men secretly listed to appear as occasion required ; as was deposed by the oaths of Bedloe, Tongue, Dr. Oates, and others.
The discovery of this plot, spread a prodigious alarm over the nation, and awakened the fears of those who bad been lulled into a fatal security. The king's life was the more valuable because of the popish successor, who was willing to run all risks for the introducing his religion. The murder of Sir Edmundbury Godfrey* at this juncture,
• The death of this gentleman, an able magistrate and of a fair eharacter, was deemed a much stronger evidence of the reality of the plot, than the oath of Oates. The foolish circumstance of his name being anagramatized to " I find murdered by rogues.” helped to confirm the opinion of his being murdered by papists. His funeral was celebrated with the most solemn pomp. Seventy-two elergymen preceded the corpse, which was followed by a thousand persous, most of whom were ol eminence and rank. Granger's Hist. of England, vol. iii. p. 400. 8vo.
This shews the interest which the public took in this event. So great was the alarm this plot raised, that posts and chains were put up in all parts of the city, and a considerable number of the trained bands drawn out night after night, well armed, and watching with as much care as is a great insurrection were expected before the morning. The general topics of conversation were designed massacres, to be perpetrated by assassins ready for the purpose, aud by recruits from abroad. A sudden darkness at eleven o'clock, on the Sunday after the murder of Sir Edmunbury Godfrey, so that the ministers could not read their notes in the pulpits without candles, was looked upon as awfully ominous. The minds of people were kept in agitation and terror by dismal stories and frequent executions Young and old quaked with fear. Not a house was upprovided with arms. No oue went to rest at night without the apprehension of some tragical event to happen before the morning. Tbis state of alarm and terror lasted uot for a few weeks only, but montlis. The pageantry of mock processions, employed on this occasion, heightened the aversion to popery, and inflamed resentment against the conspirators. In one of these, amidst a vast croud of spectators, who filled the air with their acclamations, and expressed great satisfaction in the show, there were earried on men's shoulders, through the principal streets, the effigies of the pope and the representative of the devil bebind him, whispering in his ear and caressing him, (though he afterwards deserted him, before he was committed to the flames, together with the likeness of the dead body of Sir Edmunbury Godfrey, earried before him by a man on horseback, to remind the people of his execrable murder. A great number of dignitaries in their copes, with crosses, of monks, friars, jesuits, and popish bishops with their mitres. trinkets, and appartenances, formed the rest of the procession.
Dr. Calamy's own Life, MSS. p. 67-8. Ed.
a zealous and active protestant justice of peace, increased men's suspicions of a plot, and the depositions upon oath of the abovementioned witnesses, seen.ed to put it beyond all doubt; for upon their impeachment, Sir G. Wakeman the queen's physician, Mr. Ed. Coleman the dake of York's secretary, Mr. Richard Langhorne, and eight other Romish priests and jesuits, were apprehended and secured. When the parliament met, they voted that there was a damnable hellish plot contrived and carried on by popish rescusants against the life of the king and the protestant religion. Five popish lords were ordered into custody, viz. lord Stafford, Powis, Arundel, Petre, and Bellasys. A proclamation was issued against papists; and the king was addressed to remove the duke of York from his
person and councils.
Though the king gave himself no credit to the plot, yet finding it impracticable to stem the tide of the people's zeal, he consented to the execution of the law upon several of the condemned criminals ; Mr. Coleman, and five of the jesuits, were executed at Tyburn, who protested their innocence to the last; and a year or two forward lord Stafford was beheaded on Tower-hill. But the court party turned the plot into ridicule ; the king told lord Halifax, 6 that it was not probable that the papists should conspire to kill bim, for have I not been kind enough to them? (says his majesty.") Yes, (says his lordship) you have been too kind indeed to them ; but they know you will only trot, and they want a prince that will gallop.” The court employed their tool Sir Roger L'Estrange,* to write a weekly paper against the plot; and the country party encouraged Mr. Car to write a weekly packet of advice from Rome, discovering the frauds and superstitions of that court; for which he was arraigned, convicted, and fined in the court of King's-bench,and his papers forbid to be printed. An admirable order for a protestant court of judicature !
But it was impossible to allay the fears of the parliament, who had a quick sense of the danger of popery, and there
This person of whom we have already spoken, formerly called “Oliver's Fidler," was now the admired - Buffoon of High-church.” He called the shows, mentioned in our last note, “ Hobby-horsing processions." Calamy's MSS, p. 67, Ed.
fore passed a bill, to disable all persons of that religion from sitting in either house of parliament, which is still in force, being accepted out of the act of toleration.* The act requires all members of parliament to renounce by oath the doctrine of transubstantiation, and to declare the worship of the virgin Mary, and of the saints, practised in the church of Rome, to be idolatrous. Bishop Gunning argued against charging the church of Rome with idolatry ; but the house paid him little regard ; and when the bill was passed he took the oath in common with the rest.
The duke of York got bimself excepted out of the bill,+ but the fearg of his accession to the crown were so great, that there was a loud talk of bringing a bill into the house, to exclude him from the succession as a papist, upon which the king came to the house November 9, and assured them, that he would consent to any bills for securing the protestant religion, provided they did not impeach the right of succession, nor the descent of the crown in the true line, nor the just rights of any protestant successor. But this not giving satisfaction, bis majesty towards the end of December, first prorogued and then dissolved the parliament, after they had been chosen almost eighteen years.
may proper to observe concerning the popish plot, f that though the king's life might not be immediately struck at, yet there was such strong evidence to prove the reality
* Burnet, vol. ii. p. 211. † This point was carried in favor of the duke by no more than two votes. Had it been negatived, he would, in the next place, have been voted away from the king's presence. Sir John Reresby's Memoirs,
Ed. It was an happy effeet of the discovery of this plot, that while it raised in the whole body of the English protestants alarming apprehensions of the dangers to which their civil and religious liberties were exposed, it upited them against their common enemy. Mutual prejudices were softened; animosities subsided; the disseuters were regarded as the true friends of their country, and their assemblies began to be more public and numerous. At this time an evening lecture was set up in a large room of a coffee-house, in Exchange-Alley: it was conducted by Mr. John Shower, Mr. Lambert, Mr. Dorrington, and Mr. Thomas Goodwin; and it was supported and attended by somo of the principal merchants, and by several who afterwards filled the most eminent posts in the city of London.
Tong's Life of Shower, p. 17, 18. Ed.
of a plot to subvert the constitution and introduce popery, that no disinterested person can doubt it. Mr. Rapin, who had carefully considered the evidence, concludes that there was a meditated design, supported by the king and the duke of York, to render the king absolute, and introduce the popish religion ; for this is precisely what was meant by the plot : the design of killing the king was only an appen. dage to it, and an effect of the zeal of some private persons, who thought the plot would be crowned with the surer success, by speedily setting the dake of York
the throne. Bishop Burnet adds,* that though the king and he agreed in private conversation, that the greatest part of the evidence was a contrivance, yet he confesses it appeared by Coleman's letters, that the design of converting the nation, and of rooting out the northern heresy, was very néar being executed. To which I beg leave to add, that though the design of killing the king did not take place at this time, his majesty felt the effects of it, in his violent death, four or five years afterwards.
This year died Mr. Thomas Vincent, M. A. the ejected minister of Milk-street, born at Hertford, May 1634, and educated in Christ-Church, Oxford.f He was chaplain to Robert earl of Leicester, and afterwards minister of Milkstreet, London, till the act of uniformity took place. He was an humble and zealous preacher, of moderate principles, and an unspotted life. He continued in the city throughout the whole plague, the awfulness of which gave him a peculiar fervency and zeal in his ministerial work. On this occasion he published some very awakening trea
. This corresponds with his declarations to Sir John Reresby; whom at one time he told, in the presence of the lord treasurer, at the duchess of Portsmouth's lodgings, “ He took it to be some artifice, and that he did not believe one word of the whole story.” At another time his majesty said to him, “ Bedloe was rogue, and that he was satisfied he had given some false evidence concerning the death of Sir Edmunda bury Godfrey." Memoirs, p. 67, 72.
Dr. Grey refers to Eachard and bishop Burnet, as fully discrediting Mr. Neal's account of this plot ;'and with this view gives a long passage from Carte's History of the duke of Ormond, vol. ii. p. 517.
The reader may see the evidence both for and against it fully and fairly stated by Dr. Harris, Life of Charles II. vol. ii. p. 137-157. Ed. + Page 498-214.
Cal. cont. p. 30.