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Titus Oates.

Titus Oates (15 September 1649 – 12/13 July 1705) was a 17th-century perjurer who fabricated the "Popish Plot", a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill King Charles II.

Early life

Titus Oates was born in Oakhammarker. His father, Samuel, was the rector of Marsham in Norfolk before becoming an Anabaptist during the Puritan Revolution and rejoining the Church of England at the Restoration. Titus was educated at Merchant Taylors' Schoolmarker, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridgemarker, and St John's College, Cambridgemarker. Known as a less than astute student, he was ejected from both colleges. A few months later, he became an Anglican priest and Vicar of the parish of Bobbingmarker in Kentmarker. During this time Oates was charged with perjury having accused a schoolmaster in Hastings of sodomy. Oates was put in jail, but escaped and fled to Londonmarker.

In 1677 he got himself appointed as a chaplain of the ship Adventurer in the English navy. He was soon accused of buggery (i.e., sodomy, which was a capital offence in Englandmarker at the time) and spared only because of his clergyman's status.

After the navy he joined the household of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk as an Anglican chaplain. On Ash Wednesday, 1677 he was received into the Catholic church. At the same time Titus agreed to co-author a series of anti-Catholic pamphlets with Israel Tonge, whom he had met through his father Samuel, who had once more reverted to the Baptist doctrine.

He is described by Dryden in Absolam & Achitophel thus-"Sunk were his eyes, his voice was harsh and loud,Sure signs he neither choleric was nor proud :His long chin proved his wit, his saint-like graceA church vermilion and a Moses' face."

Contact with the Jesuits

Oates was involved with the Jesuit houses of St. Omer (in Francemarker) and the Royal English College at Valladolidmarker, Spainmarker (like many diocesan seminaries of the day, this was a Jesuit-run institution). Oates was admitted to the course in Valladolid by the support of Richard Strange, despite a lack of basic competence in Latin. He later claimed, falsely, that he had become a Catholic doctor of Divinity. Thomas Whitbread took a much firmer line with Oates than Strange had, and in June 1678 expelled him from St. Omer.

When he returned to London, he rekindled his friendship with Israel Tonge. Oates explained that he had pretended to become a Catholic to learn about the secrets of the Jesuits and that, before leaving, he had heard about a planned Jesuit meeting in Londonmarker.

The Popish Plot

Oates and Tonge wrote a lengthy manuscript that accused the Roman Catholic Church of approving an assassination of Charles II. The Jesuits in England were to carry out the task. In August 1678, King Charles was warned of this supposed plot against his life by the chemist Christopher Kirkby, and later by Tonge. The king was unimpressed but handed the matter over to his minister Earl of Danby, who was more willing to listen, and who was introduced to Oates by Tonge.

Dr Oates discovers the plot
The King's Council interrogated Oates. On 28 September Oates 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 to assassinate the king. Although Oates probably 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 Dublinmarker, Samuel Pepys, and Lord Belasyse. With the help of the Earl of Danby the list grew to 81 accusations. Oates was given a squad of soldiers and he began to round up Jesuits, including those who had helped him in the past.

On 6 September 1678, Oates and Tonge approached an Anglican magistrate. On 12 October, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, an Anglican magistrate, disappeared and was found dead five days later in a ditch at Primrose Hillmarker. He had been strangled and run through with his own sword. In September Oates and Tonge had sworn an affidavit in front of Godfrey detailing their accusations. Oates exploited this incident to launch a public campaign against the "Papists" and alleged that this murder had been the work of the Jesuits.

On 24 November, Oates claimed the Queen was working with the King's physician to poison the King, and Oates enlisted the aid of "Captain" William Bedloe, who was ready to say anything for money. The King personally interrogated Oates, caught him out in a number of inaccuracies and lies, and ordered his arrest. However, a couple of days later, Parliament forced Oates' release with the threat of constitutional crisis. Oates soon received a state apartment in Whitehallmarker and an annual allowance of £1,200.

Oates was heaped with praise. He asked the College of Armsmarker to check his lineage and produce a coat of arms for him. They gave him the arms of a family that had died out. There were even rumours that Oates was to be married to a daughter of the Earl of Shaftesbury.

After nearly three years and the executions of at least 15 men who are now thought to be innocent of the Plot, opinion began to turn against Oates. The last high-profile victim of the climate of suspicion was Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, who was executed on 1 July 1681. Judge William Scroggs began to declare more people innocent, as he had done in the Wakeman trial, and a backlash took place.


On 31 August 1681, Oates was told to leave his apartments in Whitehall, but remained undeterred and denounced the King, the Duke of York, and just about anyone he regarded as an opponent. He was arrested for sedition, sentenced to a fine of £100,000 and thrown into prison.

Engraving of a pilloried Titus Oates
When James II acceded to the throne, he had a score to settle. He had Oates retried and sentenced for perjury to annual pillory, loss of clerical dress, and imprisonment for life. Oates was taken out of his cell wearing a hat with the text "Titus Oates, convicted upon full evidence of two horrid perjuries" and put into the pillory at the gate of Westminster Hall (now New Palace Yardmarker) where passers-by pelted him with eggs. The next day he was pilloried in London and a third day was stripped, tied to a cart, and whipped from Aldgatemarker to Newgatemarker. The next day, the whipping resumed. The judge was Judge Jeffreys who stated that Oates was a "shame to mankind".

Oates spent the next three years in prison. At the accession of William of Orange and Mary in 1688, he was pardoned and granted a pension of £5 a week but his reputation did not significantly recover. The pension was later suspended, but in 1698 was restored and increased to £300 a year. Titus Oates died on 12 July or 13 July 1705.

References to Oates in later history

During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Douglas-supporting newspapers called Lincoln a coward, "so frightened of Douglas that he sat . . with . . teeth chattering." One newspaper called Lincoln a "Modern Titus Oates", implying that Lincoln was an imposter.


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