Titus Oates (1649 – 1705): a great scoundrel

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Titus Oates (1649 – 1705): a great scoundrel

Titus Oates / findagrave.com

Titus Oates / findagrave.com

Oates had an erratic career; he was certainly a pathological liar, and lived in a dream world of his own, people with conspirators whom he determined to stamp out, not recognising himself in them.

Has ordained as an Anglican clergyman, but he accused a schoolmaster of his acquaintance of maintaining sexual relations with his pupils. The court found Oates guilty of false accusation and sent him to prison to cool off. Released, he got into the Navy as a chaplain, but was quickly drummed out – prosecuted (perversely enough) for sodomy.

Of went Oates in disgrace to Valladolid in Spain, where he pretended to study with the Jesuits in order to convert to Catholicism. He was expelled in short order but nothing bothered, he went to St. Omer in France where  (he said) he intended to become a priest. In 1678 the rascal appeared in London wearing the robes of a Doctor of Divinity from the University of Salamanca! He declared that he had come to London because of a plot he had discovered to murder King Charles II and murder Protestants all over the city (as had indeed happened in the Massacre of the Huguenots inParis(1572). Perhaps he got the idea from that incident of evil memory.

The King who was possessed of a sense of humour was informed but did nothing. Then things started to get ugly. Oates made his declaration before a magistrate and it was duly written down and recorded. The magistrate was Sir Edmund Godfrey, who was found shortly afterwards with his cut throat from ear to ear on Primrose Hill. This crime was never solved, but scribes of the time thought that Oates had killed the magistrate himself in order to add credibility to his theory. One would not be surprised.

Now that things had become deadly serious Titus Oates was summoned to explain himself before the Privy Council. The King cross-examined Oates, and caught him out in contradictions and lies. The people of London liked Oates and believed him, notwithstanding the results of the Privy Council’s investigation. Oates was the Hero of the Hour, because Anglicans detested Catholics, and would burn them if they could.

All over the Home Counties prominent Catholics were arrested and questioned following Oates’ evidence. Many were convicted; the Duke of York’s chaplain, himself a Catholic, was found to have made an entry in his diary looking forward to the day when his master would sit on the throne. York was the King’s brother James, who would indeed become James II (q.v.), though the reign was brief.

Charles II had suffered exile, ostracism and hatred for most of his life, but this charming and unreliable man actually signed death warrants for Catholics. One supposes he was temporising until the tumult had quietened. It was nevertheless reprehensible. “Let the blood lie on those who condemn them, for God knows I sign with tears in my eyes,” he sighed.

The unstoppable Oates continued to cry that there was a ‘Popish Plot’ to place brother James on the British throne before the actual King had died. The country was in an uproar. It had all been invented by Titus Oates, who was now standing up before crowds stating that the Catholics were about to burn London and other important cities; and the mob believed him. It is possible that the idiotic theory was helped along the road by Lord Shaftesbury, a Chief Minister, who wanted to guarantee the exclusion of James (who was a Catholic) from the throne. Eighty people were executed before at last Oates was discredited by superior evidence. He was whipped through the streets and placed in the pillory by order of the Council, but never repented of his lies. Later, in the reign of William III  (of Orange q.v.) he received a pension! It is difficult to think of any other rascal quite as bad as Titus Oates. In modern times there was a teacher who persuaded the most eminent historian of the day (Lord Dacre) to publish what he said were Hitler’s Diaries; Jeffrey Archer the ex-Tory MP and novelist comes to mind, said to have had his best-selling novels written by a computer though this was difficult to prove; there have always been scoundrels, but few managed to get so many people executed (eighty, remember) on the basis of his own wild and feverish dream. Psychologists think that Oates did all this to avenge himself on those Jesuits inSpainand France who refused to accept him as a Catholic.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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