Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Condign Comeuppance of the Punished Perjurer

                 There was a change in public perception, as the Whigs were thought to be manoeuvring for political position rather than for the general good, intolerant and antagonistic, whereas Charles II began to be seen as steady, restrained and open to compromise, and sympathy shifted in his favour. Lord Chief Justice Scroggs sensed the change of mood and moved his position accordingly, and began to acquit persons accused by Oates. 

Titus Oates

The most prominent was Sir George Wakeman, the Queen’s physician, was had, apparently, been paid £15,000 by the Jesuits to poison the King. Oates swore that he had not seen Wakeman before and then gave evidence that he had seen him twice before, which when pointed out, Oates said that he was ill and asked to be excused, which Justice Scroggins refused. Bedloe accused Scroggins of not summing up correctly and Scroggins, in effect, told him to shut up. The jury asked if they could bring a verdict of guilty of misprision of treason, were told that they couldn’t, so instead returned a not guilty verdict. 

The Tryal of G Wakeman

So Oates, Bedloe and the other regular witnesses were not believed in this case, marking the beginning of their downturn. The following day, the Portuguese ambassador called in person on Scroggins, to thank him on behalf of the Queen. Wakeman went to the continent until things cooled down. Scroggins was suspected of being bribed, there was talk of a barrel of gold being delivered to his house, and Parliament, prompted with stories of drunkenness and bad language supplied by Oates and Bedloe, looked into charges of bias in his cases, called for his removal from the bench, and achieved this aim in April 1681. 

Titus Oates - An Exact Discovery - 1679

Titus Oates brought charges against Adam Elliott that were disproved, with Oates being fined £20 in a retaliatory case brought by Elliott. Oates had claimed that Elliott, a parson, had been captured at Barbary, converted to Islam, murdered his master and escaped, a story which fell apart when this ‘master’ turned up in the retinue of the ambassador of Morocco, very much alive and well in London, (he also asserted his right to owning Elliott, and demanded that his slave return to Morocco with him). In April 1681, Oates’s allowance was reduced to £2 per week, and removed all together in August of the same year, when he was also banned from court. 

Titus Oates, the Pope and the Devil

In May 1684, Oates was arrested at the Amsterdam coffee-house on charges of using defamatory language about the Duke of York and brought before the infamous Judge Jeffreys who, after a brief trial, found him guilty and fined him £100,000. Unable to pay this vast sum, Oates was loaded with heavy chains and cast into the King’s Bench prison. His situation worsened in February 1685, when Charles II died (after a deathbed conversion to Catholicism) and his brother became King James II. The new King had two charges of perjury brought against Oates and he was tried again on the new charges. Jeffreys presided again and told the jury, even before they retired, that Oates “… has deserved much more punishment than the laws of this land can inflict.”   

Titus Oates in the Pillory

Found guilty of the misdemeanours (perjury was not a felony, so did not carry the death penalty), he was fined a further 2,000 marks, stripped of his clerical garb, was sentenced to parade all the courts of Westminster wearing a paper above his head declaring his crimes and then made to stand in the pillories at Westminster-Gate and at Royal Exchange for an hour each on two days with the same paper above him, and to be whipped by the public hangman from Aldgate to Newgate on one day and from Newgate to Tyburn two days later. He would be close confined for life and also, for the rest of his life, on five days per year, he was to stand for two hours in the pillories around London. 

Oates in the Pillory and Oates flogged

The whippings were a particularly savage punishment – Jack Ketch, the hangman, tied Oates to the back of a horse-drawn wagon, and with a whip made with six lashes, he flogged Oates as he passed through the streets. After a day in Newgate prison, an insensible Oates was dragged out and tied to a tumbrel, and Ketch recommenced the flogging. It is estimated that Oates suffered over three thousand lashes and that his back was entirely stripped of skin – it was probably hoped that this would kill him (naval floggings of one hundred lashes often killed a man), but he lay in gaol for ten weeks as his back healed. Then he was loaded with chains and thrown into a cell, until the days came round when he was taken out and pilloried (prisoners often died in the pillory when unsympathetic crowds pelted them with stones). 

Titus Oates in the Pillory

Another version says that Oates was treated well in prison, received numerous gifts from Protestant well-wishers and even had an illegitimate son by a bed-maker in the King’s Bench prison. He was released in 1688, when William and Mary were invited to take the crown in the Glorious Revolution after James II was deposed, (William, Prince of Orange, was James’s nephew and son-in-law, Mary was James’s eldest surviving daughter by his first wife, Anne Hyde), but as the House of Lords debated the legality of his sentence, Oates sent a petition for a bill to reverse his sentence to the House of Commons. Such was the position between the two Houses that whatever the one decided, the other would decide the opposite; one wag suggested that as Oates had been flogged from Newgate to Tyburn, the sentence should be reversed and he should be flogged from Tyburn to Newgate. The Lords sentenced him back to prison for breach of privilege but the prorogation of Parliament in August 1688 freed him again, and the Commons managed to get him a pension of five pounds a week. 

Titus Oates and the Popish Plot - 1816

So Oates married a Muggletonian widow, Mrs Margaret Wells of Bread Street, who had nothing much in the way looks but did have £2,000, causing much ribald conversation in the London coffee-houses. He pressed the King for an increase and was granted £500 to clear his debts with £300 per year for life, and with some small economical respite, he rejoined the Baptists as a minister. That didn’t last long, as they objected to his bad language and his insistence on wearing clerical garb, and after a case of assault and an attempt to defraud a widower, he was expelled from the sect as ‘a disorderly person and a hypocrite.’ 

Titus Oates

He died in 1705, and he has been described as ‘the bloodiest villain since the world began,’ which is some going, considering the competition. Roger North, the lawyer and biographer wrote, 
In a word, he was a most consummate cheat, blasphemer, vicious, perjured, impudent, and saucy, foul-mouth'd wretch, and, were it not for the Truth of History and the great Emotions in the Public he was the cause of, not fit to be remembered.” 
He was directly responsible for the deaths of thirty-five people by judicial murder, and indirectly responsible for the deaths and misery of many thousands of innocent people through his lies and fabrications.

And what of the other players ...

No comments:

Post a Comment