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Reign of Charles II. (Continued) page 10


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In 1675 a foreigner of the name of Buchateau, but who was called Louis Luzancy, had come to England, pretending to be a catholic who was desirous of joining the English church, and who gave information to some of the opposition leaders, that father St. Germain, confessor to the duchess of York, had threatened to murder him if he did not recant protestantism. This made a great sensation, and he then said that he had made the discovery of a popish plot, in which the king was to be killed, and the streets of London to run with the blood of massacred protestants. Though it was soon shown by Du Maresque, a French protestant clergyman, that Luzancy had fled from France for forgery, and a swindling transaction at Oxford soon proved that he was a great scoundrel, yet his story won him much patronage, he was ordained, and presented to the living of Dover-court, in Essex, during this present year. His pretended plot was very like this of Oates's, and might possibly be its model. He had accused Coleman of similar practices, but Coleman had boldly faced him and put him to silence. But now Coleman had fled, itself a sign of guilt; amongst his papers were found abundant evidences of his correspondence with the French court in 1674,1675, and 1676. In one letter he said to La Chaise, "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 for a long time domineered over a great part of this northern world. There never were such hopes of success since the days of queen Mary." He declared the duke devoted to the cause and also to the French king. He said, u I can scarcely believe myself awake, or the thing real, when I think of a prince in such an age as we live in, converted to such a degree of zeal and piety, as not to regard anything in the world in comparison of God Almighty's glory, the salvation of his own soul, and the conversion of our poor kingdom." He declared that Charles was inclined to favour the catholics, and that money would do anything with him. "Money cannot fail of persuading the king to anything. There is nothing it cannot make him do, were it ever so much to his prejudice. It has such absolute power over him he cannot resist it. Logic built upon money, has in our court more powerful charms than any other sort of argument." Therefore he recommended three hundred thousand pounds to be sent over on condition that parliament should be dissolved.

These discoveries perfectly electrified the public. That there was a plot they now had no doubt whatever, and the information touching so close on the real secret of Charles's pension, must have even startled him. Coleman, in these letters, stated parliament had been postponed in 1675 till April; to serve the French designs, by preventing Holland obtaining any assistance from England. Yet when Oates had been confronted with Coleman before his flight, though Oates pretended great intimacy with him, he actually did not recognise him. Another proof, if any were wanted, that Oates was acting on the knowledge of others, not on his own. Whoever they were, they had become acquainted with Coleman's French correspondence, and who so likely as Shaftesbury and the whigs who used to frequent this man's house, and who were themselves deep in a similar intrigue with the French court?

Still more astounding events, however, followed close- on this discovery. No sooner was this discovery in the letters of Coleman made, than Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey, the magistrate before whom Oates had made his affidavit of the plot, who was a particular friend of Coleman's, and had warned him of his danger, was missing, and was found murdered amongst some bushes in a dry ditch betwixt Primrose Hill and Old St. Pancras Church. Godfrey was of a sensitive disposition, which sometimes approached to insanity. On the apprehension of Coleman, Godfrey had been seized with great alarm, and expressed his conviction that he should be the first martyr of this plot. On the 12th of October he burnt a large quantity of papers, and that day he was seen hurrying about the town in a state of great abstraction of mind. From that day he was missing, and it was not till the sixth day that his body was found. He lay forward, resting on his knees, his breast, and the left side of his face. His sword was thrust through his heart with such violence, that it appeared at his back. His cane was stuck upright in the bank, his gloves lay near it on the grass, and his rings were on his fingers and his money in his purse. All these circumstances seemed to indicate suicide; and to confirm it, it was reported that when the sword was withdrawn, it was followed by a rush of blood. This, however, the doctors denied, and on being stripped, the purple mark round his neck showed that he had been strangled, and then thrust through, and his body, cane, and gloves so disposed as to persuade the parties that he had killed himself.

But who, then, were the murderers? This was never discovered, but the public, putting together all the circumstances, declared that the papists had done it, and that Oates's story was all true. That catholics, or at least such as were in the scheme of Coleman, had done it, appears very probable, although it has been argued that they had no motive. But it must be remembered that Godfrey was a Mend and associate of Coleman's. He had always been a partisan of the catholics; he gave Coleman warning to fly; he showed great alarm himself, and commenced burning papers. All these circumstances indicate complicity. That he was deep in the secrets of the party, and had dangerous papers in his possession, is clear. Coleman was in custody, and something might be drawn out of him. Godfrey might be arrested, and a man of his nervous temperament might reveal what concerned the lives of many others. There were the strongest motives, therefore, for those who had any concern in the dangerous conspiracy of Coleman, to have Godfrey at least out of the way.

The public mind was in the wildest state of alarm and fermentation. Every hour teemed with fresh rumours. Murders, assassinations, and invasions were the constant talk of the panic-struck public. The city put itself into a posture of defence; chains and posts were put up, and no man deemed himself safe.

In this state of the public mind parliament met on the 21st of October. Charles informed parliament that he had obtained more favourable terms for Spain by his army in Flanders, but that the expense had been enormous; the supplies were not only exhausted, the revenue of the next year was anticipated, and that it would require a liberal grant even to disband the army. He alluded but passingly to the plot, for it touched too nearly on the tender ground of his French secret, but said he deft the examination of the plot entirely to the law. But both Danby and the opposition rushed into the question, contrary to the wish of Charles. Danby was anxious to divert the house from the threatened impeachment of himself, and the opposition to establish a popish plot, to damage the duke of York's prospects in the succession. Charles was extremely incensed with Danby's part in it. "He told him that he would live to repent meddling with it. That though he did not believe it, it had given parliament a handle to ruin him by, as well as to disturb the king's own affairs" - which was only too true.

Oates was called before both houses, as well as Dr. Tongue, and such was the effect of their statements, that they had guards placed in the cellars under the parliament house, to prevent another gunpowder plot; and they implored Charles to order every Catholic, not a householder, to quit London, to dismiss all papists from his service, and have his food prepared only by orthodox cooks. Committees were appointed to search the conspiracy to the bottom. Shaftesbury took the lead in that of the lords, and there was busy work issuing warrants for searches and arrests, sending out informers and officers, examining and committing prisoners. In consequence of the charges made by Oates against lords Arundel, Powis, Bellasis, Petre, and Stafford, as having received appointments from the pope of the chief offices of state, they were arrested and committed to the Tower.

The commons introduced a new test act to exclude every catholic from parliament. This had indeed been effected in the commons in the preceding session by the oath of supremacy, and the declaration against transubstantiation; but this present test went to exclude the catholic peers from their house also. It prescribed the taking of the oaths of supremacy and allegiance, and a declaration that the church of Rome is an idolatrous church. Such a test had been frequently introduced before and thrown out, but in this public furore it rapidly passed the commons, and reached a third reading in the lords, when James, with tears in his eyes, entreated them to exempt him from so severe an exclusion, protesting that his religion should always remain a thing betwixt God and his own soul. A proviso, exempting him from its operation, was added to the bill; but in the commons this passed by only two votes. Thus the catholic peers were excluded by Titus Oates from their seats, and their successors did not regain them till 1829.

Under the stimulating effect of the repeated summonses of Oates before parliament, and his continually augmenting disclosures, both houses voted that "There had been and still was a damnable and hellish plot contrived and carried on by the popish recusants for assassinating and murdering the king, and for subverting the government, and rooting out and destroying the protestant religion." The great Titus Oates was declared "the saviour of his country," and a pension of twelve hundred pounds a year was, at their instigation, settled on him. To increase the effect of his disclosures, the funeral of the murdered Godfrey was conducted with every circumstance of public parade. He had been carried from Primrose Hill to his own house, and thousands had crowded thither to see the martyr of protestantism. Seventy-two protestant divines, in full canonicals, walked in procession to St. Martin's-in-the- Fields, where he was buried, and they were followed by a thousand gentlemen in mourning, including many members of parliament. Dr. Lloyd, his friend and rector of the parish, preached a sermon from the text, "As a man falleth before the wicked, so feilest thou." And he had two stout fellows in the pulpit with him, dressed as clergymen, to defend him from the papists.

The fury against the catholics now amounted to a frenzy. Two thousand suspected traitors were thrust into the prisons of the metropolis, and thirty thousand catholics, who refused to take the obnoxious oaths, were compelled to quit their homes in London, and remove to twenty miles distance from Whitehall The trained-bands and volunteers, to the number of twenty thousand, were occasionally kept all night under arms; batteries were planted, and every military precaution taken to prevent a surprise. The terror spread over the whole country; orders were issued to disarm the catholics everywhere, and every one was compelled to take the oaths, or give security for keeping 'the peace.

And who was this Titus Oates, who had been able to conjure up such a storm? - One of the most infamous of mankind. His real name was Ambrose. He was the son of a ribbon weaver) who turned anabaptist preacher during the commonwealth, and managed to secure an orthodox pulpit at the restoration. Titus was sent to Cambridge, where he took orders, and became a curate in different parishes, and afterwards chaplain on board a man-of-war. But wherever he went, the worst of characters pursued him, ńs addicted to a mischievous and litigious temper, and to the most debased and disgraceful vices. Out of every situation he was expelled with infamy, and was convicted twice of perjury by a jury; Reduced by his crimes to beggary, he fell into the hands of Dr. Tongue, and by him was engaged to simulate the character of a convert to catholicism, so as to be able to discover all that he could of the secret views and designs of the papists. He was reconciled, as the catholics term it, to the church by a priest of the name of Berry or Hutchinson, who was first of one religion and then of another, and nothing long, and sent to the Jesuits' College at Valladolid, in Spain But he was successively ejected both from that college and from St. Omer, with accumulated infamy. Returning to England, he became the ready tool of Tongue, who no doubt was also the tool of deeper and more distinguished agitators behind. The Jesuits had held one of their triennial meetings at the duke of York's. This Tongue and Oates converted into a special meeting, for the prosecution of their great national plot, but fixed it at the White Horse in the Strand. They then forged their mass of letters and papers, purporting to be the documents and correspondence of these Jesuits, planning the assassination of the king. These were written in Greek characters by Oates, copied into English ones by Tongue, and communicated as a great discovery to Kirby. Such were the apparent unravellers of the alleged plot; but these puppets had their strings pulled by far more masterly men, who were constantly extending their ground and linking up fresh machinery in the scheme. The weak part of the affair was, that on the testimony of Oates alone the whole rested. Those whom he criminated, to a man, steadily denied any knowledge or participation in any such plot as he pretended. It was necessary to have two witnesses for convicting traitors, and other tools were not long wanting. Government had offered a large reward and full pardon to any one who could discover the assassins of Sir Edmonds- bury Godfrey, and in a few days a letter was received from one William Bedloe, desiring that he might be arrested in Bristol and brought to London to give evidence. The warrant for his apprehension was, singularly enough, sent to Bedloe himself, who caused his own arrest by delivering it to the mayor of Bristol. This Bedloe turned out to be as thorough a scoundrel as Oates himself. He had been employed as a groom by lord Bellasis, and afterwards in his house; had travelled as a courier on the continent, and occasionally passed himself off as a nobleman. He had been seized and convicted of swindling transactions in various countries, and was just released from Newgate, when his eye was attracted by the reward of five hundred pounds for the discovery of the murderers of Godfrey.

In his first examination by the king and the two secretaries of state, he disavowed all knowledge of the plot, but said he had seen the dead body at Somerset House, where the queen lived, and that Le Fevre, the Jesuit, told him that he and Walsh, another Jesuit, a servant of lord Bellasis's, and a waiter in the queen's chapel, had smothered him betwixt two pillows, and that they offered him two thousand pounds to assist in conveying the body away. The next day, before the house of lords, he contradicted himself dreadfully, for the story of the two pillows did not accord with the state of the body when found. Now he said that he was not smothered but strangled with a cravat. And so far from knowing nothing of the plot, he confessed to knowing all about the commissions offered to the lords Arundel, Powis, Bellasis, and others, and he added wonders and horrors of his own. Ten thousand men, he said, were to land from Holland in Burlington Bay, and seize Hull; Jersey and Guernsey were to be invaded by a fleet and army from Brest; an army from Spain of twenty or thirty thousand men were to land at Milford Haven, and there be joined by Powis and Petre with another army. There were forty thousand men ready in London, to kill all the soldiers as they came out of their lodgings. That he was to have four thousand pounds for a great murder, meaning no doubt that of the king, and the government was to be offered to one, if he would hold it of the church. The king, Monmouth, Ormond, Buckingham, and Shaftesbury were to be killed. Lords Carrington and Brudenel were named as engaged in the plot, and were immediately arrested. When Charles heard this astounding story, so diametrically opposed to his former tales, he exclaimed, "Surely the man has received a new lesson during the last four-and-twenty hours!" and no doubt he had. These additions and improvements were constantly going on, without regard to the most glaring self-contradictions; but the temper of parliament made them disregard obvious falsehoods of the most flagrant kind. So long as there wag a chance of excluding the duke of York from parliament, these horrible stories were kept before the public imagination; but the moment the proviso passed in his favour, the attack was diverted into another and a higher channel Buckingham had formerly endeavoured to induce Charles to divorce the queen: now a deadly attack was made upon her, and it was a pretty strong indication of the quarter out of which it came.

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