Titus Oates and the Popish Plot

Titus Oates is depicted standing in the pillory after being convicted of perjury. Photo Credit -ARCHIVE PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

Titus Oates was a giant liar, and had been a giant liar all his life.  He was born at Oakham in Rutland on September 15, 1649.  His father was a minister who started out in the Church of England and became a Baptist briefly during the Puritan Revolution and fought with the New Model Army.  He came back to the Church of England during the Restoration, and became the rector of All Saint’s Church at Hastings.  A bit radical beginnings, but the family seemed to have righted itself.

Titus was sent to school at Cambridge and was described as a “great dunce” and gained a reputation for homosexuality, which was illegal at the time.  He transferred to St. John’s College in 1669, but could not manage to get a degree from either institution.  That did not keep him from claiming he had one from either and/or both schools.  This lie got him a licence to preach in London and he was ordained as a priest of the Church of England in May 1670.  He was appointed as the vicar of the parish of Bobbing in Kent then went on to as curate to his father at All Saints’, Hastings.  He was dismissed from this post for “drunken blasphemy”.  What did he do?  He wanted a post as a schoolmaster, so he falsely accused the man who had the job he wanted of sexual misconduct with one of his students.  When this was found to be false, Titus was accused of perjury and made a run for it instead of going to jail.  What to do then?  He joined the Royal Navy as a chaplain and was promptly accused of “buggery”.  Again, this was illegal and a capital offence at the time.  Titus was only spared because of his clerical status although he was forced out of the Royal Navy in 1676.

Titus returned home from his adventures at sea to an England bubbling with anti-Catholic hysteria.  Many people blamed the Catholics for setting the Great Fire of London ten years before.  The Puritan faction, the Whigs, led by Lord Shaftesbury had been egging the public on in their hatred of Catholics although the king favored toleration.  London was in the grips of an economic depression, and Catholics seemed like a great scapegoat.  Titus needed some way to propel himself back into the good graces of society.  So his mind came up with a lie.  On Ash Wednesday 1677, Titus was baptized into the Catholic Church.  Then he traveled to the Jesuit houses of St. Omer in France and the Royal English College at Valladolid, Spain.  He was expelled from Spain for “misdemeanour, seditious language and treasonable words too horrible to be repeated”.  However, he had what he needed for his ruse.

Returning to England in 1678, he wrote a scathing anti-Catholic manuscript with Israel Tonge.  Tone was a fanatically anti-Catholic clergyman, who was widely believed to be insane.  This manuscript outlined the Jesuit plan to assassinate King Charles II of England and plop his Catholic brother James, Duke of York, on the throne.  They claimed that during Titus’ time in France and Spain, he found out there were 100 Jesuits and their supporters who were waiting for the high sign to take out the king.  The manuscript stated the names of the assassins who were to shoot the king, and failing that the queen’s own doctor was to poison him.  The two put the manuscript in a place where an acquaintance who was an assistant in Charles’ scientific experiments would find it.  As expected, this man took it directly to the king who was skeptical but asked the authors to go to see his chief minister, Thomas Osborne, Lord Danby, Lord High Treasurer.  And they were off.

Titus swore his testimony to a magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, before the meeting with Lord Danby.  Strangely, Sir Edmund was murdered, which Titus claimed was by the Catholics and lent credence to his story.  Titus was brought before the Privy Council where he made breathtaking accusations.  Along with Sr George Wakeman, the Queen’s physician, he accused the Archbishop of Dublin and senior servants of Queen Catherine and the Mary of Modena, the Duchess of York.  Both of these ladies were allowed by international treaty to keep Catholic households.  Titus also accused notables of the day such as Dr. William Fogarty and Samuel Pepys.  He claimed they were in correspondence with the 541 Jesuits and numerous Catholic nobles, which later historians believe Titus probably forged.  The Council was “amazed” and took him seriously.  The gave Titus a squad of soldiers and sent him to work finding the traitorous Jesuits.

The first to be arrested were the Jesuits who Titus met at St. Omer and had expelled him.  Funny that.  This led to other arrests.  Titus was making up charges and facts left and right.  One group of Jesuit novices from St. Omer braved the terror of London to testify Titus could not have been in London listening to plotters as he testified as he was in St. Omer with them.  However, their testimony was counted as unreliable because they were Catholic and could receive a Papal dispensation to lie under oath.  Five men were hanged at Tyburn.  They all protested their innocence to a silent crowd before their death.  In the end after three years, fifteen innocent men were executed and 57 Jesuits died in jail.  

Spurred on by his triumphs, Titus accused the five most powerful Catholic lords- William Herbert, st Marquess of Powis, William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford, Henry Arundell, 3rd Baron Arundell of Wardour, William Petre, 4th Baron Petre and John Belasyse, 1st Baron Belasyse.  Even the king dismissed these accusations as absurd, but they were still arrested and sent to the tower by Lord Shaftesbury.  Shaftesbury also demanded that James, Duke of York, be stricken from the line of succession.  People began burning effigies of the Pope.  The second Test Act was passed, keeping Catholics from membership of both Houses of Parliament.  

The king managed to defend his brother and his queen from the accusations, but he was unable to save many others from the ridiculous frenzy of the plot.  The “five popish lords” were tried for high treason and kept in the Tower.  Lord Stafford was beheaded on December 29, 1678, Lord Petre died in the Tower, and the other two remained there until February 1684.  By this time, the furor was dying down.  Titus had denounced the Duke of York, but was arrested for sedition.  When Charles died and James took the throne in 1685, Titus was in a world of hurt.  He was arrested, retried and convicted of perjury.  His sentence was to be imprisoned for life and be “whipped through the streets of London five days a year for the remainder of his life.”  Titus was taken from his cell and forced to wear a hat with the words “Titus Oates, convicted upon full evidence of two horrid perjuries” written on it.  He was put in the pillory at the gate of Westminster Hall and passers by threw eggs at him.  Then he was tied to a cart naked and whipped from Aldgate to Newgate.  This became a daily occurrence.  As the death penalty was not available for perjury, they were trying to kill him through ill treatment.  

Titus remained imprison until the Glorious Revolution and the ascension of William and Mary.  Then he was pardoned and granted a pension.  He died relatively forgotten in 1705.  However, the Catholic hysteria he kicked off remained around for many years and flared up again in cycles.


The Loves of John Smith

mtiwnja4njmzotc0mtk1nzi0As we discussed in our previous post on Pocahontas (http://www.historynaked.com/pocahontas/), explorer John Smith had his life saved by the Native American princess.  Some historians have cast doubt on this story as the only source we have is a letter Smith wrote to Queen Anne describing the event in 1616 when Pocahontas journeyed to England.  Smith’s only journals from that time make no mention of the event and describe the Powhatan people as nothing but friendly.  What is known is Smith had a thing for princesses as another one made a significant impact on his life.

Before his journeys to the New World, John Smith was a bonafide pirate.  As a boy, Sir Francis Drake had been his hero, and in 1596 went to the Continent to join a company of English mercenaries.  He fought in France and in the Netherlands, picking up practical military skills and education.  He learned riding and Italian from Theodore Palaeologus, the riding master to the Earl of Lincoln.  Theodore was also an interesting character and was the last of the Byzantines.  (For more information on Theodore, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/constantinople-barbados-via-cornwall-strange-fate-last-byzantines/)  Along with his knowledge, Theodore also passed on to John a hatred of the Turks.  With a burning desire to strike a blow against the infidel, John found himself back on the Continent in 1600 looking for “brave adventures”.  En route to Hungary to join the Austrian army against Turks, his ship sank.  John made it to an island off Cannes, and was eventually picked up by a Captain La Roche, who made his living plundering ships in the Mediterranean.  This adventure in piracy  made John Smith a wealthy man and allowed him to finally make it to Graz and join the Austrian campaign against the Turks.

With the Austrians, John made a name for himself as a creative and resourceful soldier.  At the battle of Limbach, he was able to use an innovative system of signals to communicate with the besieged garrison in the town.  Then fooled the Turks into thinking the Austrians were attacking to the west by using string, cloth and powder to create the illusion of an army of flintlock muskets.  Then the real army attacked from the east after the Turks repositioned their troops.  At the siege of Alba Regals, he created “fiery dragons”, which were pots filled with gunpowder, covered with pitch, brimstone and turpentine.  Then these were coated with musket bullets.  These were then set on fire and flung into the Turkish lines.  To top this, he defeated three Turkish champions in single combat and won the right to put “three Turkish heads” on his shield.

This is all well and good, I hear you saying, but where is the princess?  Be patient.  I’m getting there.  After the siege of Alba Regals, he was wounded in a minor skirmish with the Tartars and left for dead.  From there, he was captured and taken to the slave market and in John’s words, “we all sold for slaves, like beasts in a market-place; where every merchant, viewing their limbs and wounds, caused other slaves to struggle with them to try their strength.”  He was bought by a Turkish nobleman, who gifted him to his Greek mistress in Constantinople, one Princess Charatza Tragabigzanda.  Charatza became smitten with her new English slave and even made plans to marry him.  She sent him to her brother to “to learne the language, and what it was to be a Turke, till time made her Master of her selfe.”  However, Charatza’s brother had other plans.  Instead of training him as a bureaucrat as he promised, he made John the slave to the Christian slaves, which was the lowest position in the household.  John was abused and mistreated terribly, and began to look for ways to escape.  One day, he was out threshing wheat and the brother came out to inspect his work and began beating him.  John snapped, and beat the brother with the threshing bat killing him.  He then stole his former master’s clothes and horse and got the heck out of Dodge leaving Charatza behind.

After he escaped, John Smith got bit by the colonization bug and headed to Virginia.  Perhaps he thought it was good a place as any to escape any slave hunters.  There he met Pocahontas and then returned home after a spark from a friend’s tobacco pipe ignited Smith’s gunpowder bag as he slept in Jamestown.  The explosion wounded him severely and blew off his genitals.  He barely survived the two month journey home.  He did return to the New World in 1615, and tried to start the first permanent colony in New England.  Unfortunately, his ships were ravaged by pirates and storms and it didn’t stick.  He did try to name a spot near the Isles of Shoals in New Hampshire Tragabigzanda, after Charatza, but that didn’t stick either.  It’s nice to know he didn’t forget her though.

Expedition to Spain-    George and Charles’ Not So Excellent Adventure

Charles as Prince of Wales Photo Credit - Historical Portraits Public Domain
Charles as Prince of Wales Photo Credit – Historical Portraits Public Domain

Previous postings have discussed James I infatuation with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.  The Duke was extremely handsome, and had the king wrapped around his finger. (For more speculation this relationship, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/homosexuality-throne-england-part-3/ )  The king called him “Steenie”, which was short for Stephen as the Duke bore a resemblance to a painting of St. Stephen.  Prince Charles, eventually King Charles I, was more reserved than his father so it was difficult to judge how Buckingham and the Prince got along.  However, together they did manage to embark on one of the larger fool’s errands in English history.

James was angling for a betrothal for Prince Charles with the Infanta of Spain.  English/Spanish marriages did not have the greatest track record-   Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary I and Philip- but James pushed on.  There was a minor problem with James’ son in law, Frederick attempting to claim the throne of Bohemia.  (For more on James’ daughter Elizabeth and her husband, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/winter-queen-elizabeth-stuart/ )  In 1618, the Protestant Estates underlined their opposition to a Catholic nominee by throwing people out the window.  They offered up the throne to any aspiring Protestant prince, and Frederick jumped in 1619.  In the end Frederick lost Bohemia to the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor and his home country of the Palatinate to the Spanish.  Rather awkward during marriage negotiations with Frederick’s  brother in law.  However, the Spanish assured James they were only in the Palatinate to make sure Frederick left Bohemia.  They just conveniently forgot to give it back.  But James swallowed the ridiculous story and pressed on with the marriage negotiations.

The Duke and the Prince came up with the brilliant idea of travelling to Spain to convince the Infanta in person to become his bride.  Sending the heir to the throne with a small retinue to a hostile country.  This might be the dumbest plan ever conceived.  However, James was so intent on avoiding a war with Spain he agreed.  In a letter to Buckingham, he called him “my sweete boyes and deare ventrouse Knights worthy to be putt in a new romanse.”  James may have gone round the bend at this point.

The plan was like something out of a bad movie.  The two came up with the unbelievably bad pseudonyms of “Tom and Jack Smith” and traveled complete with disguises.  Unfortunately, these were only false beards, which fell off en route.  They made it to Madrid and Charles was dead set on climbing the garden wall to see his future bride.  I believe the two of them didn’t have the sense God gave a goose between them.  The Spanish on the other hand were laughing fit to kill at the farce.    They were in the catbird seat, as they now had the heir to the throne and the King’s favorite in their control.  The perfect hostages.  Knowing that James must be desperate for the marriage to allow these to go on this madcap journey, the Spanish writing every demand they could think of into the marriage contract.  They insisted there would be a publicly protected Catholic Church in England where the Infanta could practice her religion and that said church would be open to the public for worship.  The also wrote in that Charles would be required to take instruction in the Catholic faith from the Infanta’s chaplain, and the religious education of any heirs would be in the charge of the Infanta and her staff until their adolescence.  What they were asking for in essence was heirs to the throne to be raised Catholic and King Charles to be instructed in Catholicism.  This was a bombshell in proudly Protestant England.

Pearl-studded portrait of the Duke of Buckingham, 1625 Photo Credit- Google Cultural Institute

The Spanish went on to say that the marriage treaty would be under a one year trial period where Charles would stay in Madrid and James and his government would have to align their policy to Spain’s liking.  Finally, James woke up and realized this was an extraordinarily bad deal.  Whether he had an epiphany that he was being played, or was genuinely frightened he would not see he his beloved “Steenie” or “babie Charles” again no one is sure.  However, it was enough to galvanize him into action.

Luckily, Charles and Buckingham were becoming rapidly disenchanted with their stay in Spain.  They figured out they were being treated not as honored guests but as hostages and were duly humiliated.  Also, there were tensions between the Spanish and the English party as Sir Edmund Verney had struck a priest in the face when he attempted to administer Catholic last rites to a dying English page.  It was time to go.  They blithely agreed to whatever the Spanish suggested and then once on the ship home made it clear they were not holding with anything they signed.  

Buckingham and Charles spun the whole trip into a Protestant triumph instead of a Spanish farce.  When Charles returned home in October 1623 bells were rung and bonfires lit in celebration.  The country prepared for war with Spain remembering the blow they struck to the Armada in Elizabeth’s time.  However, this time things did not go as smoothly and the army got the plague before they could even land in continental Europe.  Of the 12,000 men they had recruited only 3,000 made it to Zeeland.  They had to slink home in defeat.

Charles eventually married a French princess to gang up on Spain.  However, that caused its own problems, and that is another post.


Sources available on request


Margaret Tudor- Part I- The Sacrificial Lamb

Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of James IV of Scotland and mother of James V. Photo Credit- By Daniel Mytens, currently in The Royal Collection, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of James IV of Scotland and mother of James V. Photo Credit- By Daniel Mytens, currently in The Royal Collection, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

When people think of the Tudors, the first monarch that comes to mind is Henry VIII and then his many wives and children.  Even his sister Mary comes to mind more quickly than his older sister Margaret.    However, she played an important role in Tudor history.

Margaret was born November 28, 1489 and was the second child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.  She was named after her formidable grandmother, Margaret Beaufort.  She raised with her royal brothers and sister at the palace of Eltham, and learned skills that would befit her future role as a queen consort.  This included learning to play the lute and clavichord and some French and Latin.  Margaret was also a talented archer.

Margaret’s value as a pawn in her father’s negotiations with Scotland came to fruition when a treaty was signed in 1502 and sealed with her betrothal to James IV of Scotland.  The two were bound in proxy marriage that same year with Patrick Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, standing in for King James.  The fact that there was seventeen years difference between the two was unimportant.  1502 was not a good year for the Tudors, however, and Margaret suffered the loss of her older brother Arthur as well as her mother, Elizabeth, before she departed for Scotland in July 1502.  Margaret must have been very sorrowful and a bit afraid as she made her way north to her new life.  James was thirty and described as dashing, intelligent and interested in everything.  Margaret was only thirteen and unflatteringly described as “dumpy and small”.  However William Dunbar describes Margaret more kindly in his poem to celebrate her ascension to the Scottish throne, The Thrissil and the Rois:

O precius Margreit, plesand, cleir and quhit,

Mor blith and bricht na is the beriale scheme,

Moir deir na is the diamaunt of delit,

Mor semly na is the sapheir one to seyne,

Mor gudely eik na is the emerant greyne,

Moir riche na is the ruby of renoune,

Fair gem of joy, Margreit, of the I meyne:

Gladethe, thoue queyne of Scottis regioun

A bit of translation:  ‘Gladethe’= Rejoice! ‘na’= than; ‘beriale’= beryl; ‘eik’= also; ‘of the I meyne’= thee I mean: I speak of you.


The two were married on August 8, 1503 and Margaret was crowned queen in March 1504.  Margaret was homesick writing sad letters to her father saying things like “I would I was with your Grace now and many times more.”  Life in Scotland was strange for her and she never quite got used to the freedom of court and the boldness of the women.  For example, she was amazed to find at Stirling Castle a nursery full of the king’s bastard children.  They were all acknowledged and the king was an affectionate father to them all.  That is a hard thing for a young wife to come to grips with.  However, she must have gotten past it to do her duty as Margaret bore James six children during their ten year marriage.

The Battle of Flodden ended her husband’s life, and adding insult to injury it was at the hands of her brother, Henry VIII.  Henry was away fighting in France, but his army was led by his Queen Katherine of Aragon.  She got King James’ bloodstained and torn coat and sent it to Henry as a prize of war.  Legend said she had to be persuaded not to send his head.  What a nice thing to do to your brother-in-law.  Margaret and James’ only surviving child was seventeen months old and crowned James V.  James IV will named Margaret as regent for their small son as long as she remained a widow.

The Scottish nobles were not happy about this.  Many of them had not liked the alliance with England, and it certainly hadn’t bought them anything as their army and king lay dead on the field at Flodden.  They wanted to return to the Auld Alliance with France, which would not happen with an English princess as regent.  The stage was set for a showdown.


Sources available on request


Homosexuality and the Throne of England- Part 3

King James I early reign in England
King James I early reign in England

And we now move from the medieval period, past the Tudors who had their own problems with personal relationships, to the Stuarts. (Please see part 1 here: http://www.historynaked.com/homosexuality-throne-england/ and part 2 here:  http://www.historynaked.com/homosexuality-throne-england-part-2/)

James I

James I of England and VI of Scotland married Anne of Denmark and had the required heir and spare for the throne.  However, it was well known he enjoyed the company of his male favorites.  In fact, many of his subjects, including Sir. Walter Raleigh, called him “Queen James” openly.

His first relationship that could be considered questionable was with Esmé Stewart, 6th Lord of d’Aubigny.  They met when James was 13 and Stewart was 35 and recently arrived in Scotland from France.  Stewart rose to the rank of duke of Lennox through his favor with the king, and the two became extremely close.  James was eventually forced to exile Lennox as the Scottish nobles did not trust him for many reasons, one of which he was a former Catholic.  Even though Lennox retreated to France, the two kept up a secret correspondence and when Lennox died not long after he left his embalmed heart to James.

James’ next dalliance was Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset.  In 1607, he saw Carr at a royal jousting contest and became smitten with him.  James showered Carr with gifts as he recovered from the broken leg he suffered after being unhorsed.  Carr was made a gentlemen the bed chamber, Knight of the Garter, a Privy Counselor and Viscount Rochester.  Known for his handsome face and figure, young Carr was not known for his mental capacity.  To those at court, he was known as coarse, shallow and uncultured.  James did not seem to care as he was under the spell of Carr’s looks.  In 1613, the king paved the way for Carr to marry the very wealthy Frances Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.  It did not matter that they lady had been married already as a child.  Carr wanted her, so James packed the commission assessing the legitimacy of the marriage with friendly judges and bishops.  Unsurprisingly, the commission cleared the way for Carr and Howard’s marriage.  Carr was made Earl of Somerset as a wedding gift.  Ultimately, this wedding became his undoing as he was ultimately put in the tower for an involvement in a murder plot with his wife.  For more on that, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/frances-howard-queen-hearts-deadly-tarts/

The last of James’ major make relationships was George Villiers.  Things between Carr and James were souring, and by 1614 were going very poorly.  James met Villiers and was taken in again by his handsome face.  Villiers was described as “the handsomest-bodied man in England.”.  James called him “Steenie”, which was an illusion to the Biblical description of St. Stephan having “the face of an angel”.   Again, Villiers’ rise was quick-  moving from royal cupbearer in 1614 to the Earl of Buckingham in 1617.  The Privy Council was astounded by this and remonstrated James against such blatant favoritism.  James’ said in his defense, “”I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had his John, and I have my George.”   The 17th century poet Theophile de Viau wrote fairly explicitly about James’ relationship with Villiers saying “Apollo with his songs / debauched young Hyacintus, ….And it is well known that the king of England / fucks the Duke of Buckingham”.  It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

However, how much of this is truth and how much is hearsay?  Again, the only people who know what happens in a bed chamber are the ones in it.  However, this time there is some pretty suggestive testimony as well as some words from James’ own pen.13450880_286872531654836_4160029582409702290_n

An English observer said of James and Lennox, “from the time he was 14 years old and no more, that is, when the Lord Stewart came into Scotland… even then he began… to clasp some one in the embraces of his great love, above all others” and that James became “in such love with him as in the open sight of the people often he will clasp him about the neck with his arms and kiss him”.   When he fell out with Robert Carr, James accuses him of “creeping back and withdrawing yourself from lying in my chamber, notwithstanding my many hundred times earnest soliciting you to the contrary”.  Technically, he was a gentleman of the bedchamber so it could have been official business, but it seems a bit fishy.  James also wrote love letters to Buckingham calling himself Buckingham’s “dear dad and husband” and saying “I desire only to live in this world for your sake… I had rather live banished in any part of the Earth with you than live a sorrowful widow’s life without you..”  Buckingham writes back to James of a trip they took to Farnham, “sir, all the way hither I entertained myself, your unworthy servant, with this dispute, whether you loved me now… better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed’s head could not be found between the master and his dog”.

There is no doubt that Villiers and James were extremely close.  When James died Buckingham was at his side.

I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions


Sources available on request