Titus Oates (15 September 1649 – 12/13 July 1705), also called Titus
the Liar, was an English perjurer who fabricated the "Popish Plot", a
supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill King Charles II.
1 Early life
2 Contact with the Jesuits
3 Fabricating the Popish Plot
7 External links
Titus Oates was born at
Oakham in Rutland.
His father Samuel, a graduate of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge,
was a minister who moved between the Church of
England and the
Baptists; he became a
Baptist during the Puritan Revolution,:5
rejoining the established church at the Restoration, and was rector of
All Saints' Church at
Oates was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and other schools.
At Cambridge University, he entered Gonville and Caius College in 1667
but transferred to St John's College in 1669; he left later the
same year without a degree. A less than astute student, he was
regarded by his tutor as "a great dunce", although he did have a good
memory.:5 While at Cambridge, he also gained a reputation for
homosexuality and a "Canting Fanatical way".
By falsely claiming to have a degree, he gained a licence to preach
from the Bishop of London. On 29 May 1670 he was ordained as a
priest of the Church of England. He was vicar of the parish of Bobbing
in Kent, 1673–74, and then curate to his father at All Saints',
Hastings. During this time Oates accused a schoolmaster in
sodomy with one of his pupils, hoping to get the schoolmaster's post.
However, the charge was shown to be false and Oates himself was soon
facing charges of perjury, but he escaped jail and fled to London.
In 1675 he was appointed as a chaplain of the ship Adventurer in the
Royal Navy.:54–55 Oates visited Tangier with his ship, but was
soon accused of buggery, which was a capital offence, and spared only
because of his clerical status.:54–55 He was dismissed from the
navy in 1676.
In August 1676, Oates was arrested in
London and returned to Hastings
to face trial for his outstanding perjury charges, but he escaped a
second time and returned to London. With the help of the actor
Matthew Medburne[Note 1] he joined the household of the Catholic Henry
Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk as an Anglican chaplain to those members
of Howard's household who were Protestants. Although Oates was admired
for his preaching, he soon lost this position.
Ash Wednesday in 1677 Oates was received into the Catholic
Church. Oddly, at the same time he 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
He is described by
John Dryden in
Absalom and Achitophel
Absalom and Achitophel thus—:7
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 grace
A church vermilion and a Moses' face.
Contact with the Jesuits
Oates was involved with the
Jesuit houses of St Omer in France and the
Royal English College at
Valladolid in Spain. Oates was admitted to
the course in
Valladolid through 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 had Strange and, in
June 1678, expelled him from St Omer.:58
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 London.
Fabricating the Popish Plot
Main article: Popish Plot
Oates and Tonge wrote a lengthy manuscript that accused the Catholic
Church authorities in
England of approving an assassination of Charles
II. The Jesuits were supposedly to carry out the task. In August 1678,
King Charles was warned of this alleged plot against his life by the
chemist Christopher Kirkby, and later by Tonge. Charles was
unimpressed, but handed the matter over to one of his ministers,
Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby; Danby was more willing to listen and
was introduced to Oates by Tonge.
Oates reveals the plot to the King; one of a set of playing cards
depicting the Plot by Francis Barlow, c. 1679
Privy Council questioned 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, Queen Catherine of Braganza's physician,
and Edward Colman, the secretary to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York,
of planning to assassinate Charles.
Although Oates may have selected the names randomly, or with the help
of the Earl of Danby, Colman was found to have corresponded with a
Jesuit who was confessor to Louis XIV, which was enough to
condemn him. Wakeman was later acquitted. Despite Oates' unsavoury
reputation, his confident performance and superb memory made a
surprisingly good impression on the Council. When he named "at a
glance" the alleged authors of five letters supposedly written by
leading Jesuits the Council were "amazed". As Kenyon remarks, it is
surprising that it did not occur to the Council that this was useless
as evidence, if Oates had written all the letters himself.:79
Others Oates accused included Dr William Fogarty, Archbishop Peter
Talbot of Dublin,
Samuel Pepys MP, and John Belasyse, 1st Baron
Belasyse. With the help 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 had approached an Anglican
magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, and had sworn an affidavit
before him detailing their accusations. On 12 October, Godfrey
disappeared and five days later his dead body was found in a ditch at
Primrose Hill; he had been strangled and run through with his own
sword. Oates subsequently exploited this incident to launch a public
campaign against the "Papists" and alleged that the murder of Godfrey
had been the work of the Jesuits.
On 24 November 1678, Oates claimed the Queen was working with the
King's physician to poison the King. 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 few days
later, with the threat of a constitutional crisis, Parliament forced
the release of Oates, who soon received a state apartment in Whitehall
and an annual allowance of £1,200.
Oates was heaped with praise. He asked the
College of Arms
College of Arms to check
his lineage and produce a coat of arms for him and subsequently
received the arms of a family that had died out. Rumours surfaced that
Oates was to be married to a daughter of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st
Earl of Shaftesbury.
After nearly three years and the execution of at least 15 innocent
men, opinion began to turn against Oates. The last high-profile victim
of the climate of suspicion was Oliver Plunkett, Roman Catholic
Archbishop of Armagh, who was executed on 1 July 1681. William
Scroggs, the Lord Chief Justice of
England and Wales, began to declare
more people innocent, as he had done in the Wakeman trial, and a
backlash against Oates and his Whig supporters took place.
Engraving of a pilloried Titus Oates
On 31 August 1681, Oates was told to leave his apartments in
Whitehall, but he remained undeterred and even denounced the King and
his Catholic brother, the Duke of York. He was arrested for sedition,
sentenced to a fine of £100,000 and thrown into prison.
When the Duke of York acceded to the throne in 1685 as James II, he
had Oates retried, convicted and sentenced for perjury, stripped of
clerical dress, imprisoned for life, and to be "whipped through the
London five days a year for the remainder of his life."
Oates was taken from 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
Yard), where passers-by pelted him with eggs. The next day he was
London and the third day was stripped, tied to a cart,
and whipped from
Aldgate to Newgate. The next day, the whipping
resumed. The presiding judge at his trial was Judge Jeffreys, who
stated that Oates was a "shame to mankind", ignoring the fact that he
himself had helped to condemn innocent people on Oates' perjured
evidence. So severe were the penalties that it has been suggested that
the aim was to kill Oates by ill-treatment, as Jeffreys and his
colleagues openly regretted that they could not impose the death
penalty in a case of perjury.
Oates spent the next three years in prison. In 1689, upon the
accession of the Protestant William of Orange and Mary, he was
pardoned and granted a pension of £260 a year, but his reputation did
not recover. The pension was later suspended, but in 1698 was restored
and increased to £300 a year. Oates died on 12 or 13 July 1705, by
then an obscure and largely forgotten figure.
^ Medburne was arrested under suspicion of involvement in the Popish
Plot, he died in
Newgate Prison in 1680.
^ a b c d e f g h i j "Oates, Titus". Oxford Dictionary of National
Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press.
doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/20437. (Subscription or UK public library
^ a b c d Pollock, John (1903). The Popish Plot: a study in the
history of the reign of Charles II. London: Duckworth and Co.
^ "Oates, Titus (OTS667T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of
^ a b c Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Oates's Plot".
Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
^ a b c d Kenyon, J. P. (2000) . The Popish Plot. Reissue of the
1984 Pelican paperback. Phoenix Press.
^ Alan Marshall, ‘Tonge, Israel (1621–1680)’, Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
^ Pincus, Steve (2009). 1688: The First Modern Revolution. New Haven
and London: Yale University Press. p. 153.
Titus Oates at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Jane Lane [Elaine (Kidner) Dakers], Titus Oates, Westport,
Connecticut : Greenwood Press, 1971.
Emma Robinson, Whitefriars, or, The Days of Charles the Second :
an historical romance, London : H. Colburn, 1844 [G. Routledge,
ISNI: 0000 0000 6312 9777