Titus Oates

Titus Oates
Titus Oates

Titus Oates reportedly could only be described as ugly. He is said to have had a broad face with his mouth in the middle, deep-set eyes, a bull neck, wobbling chins and a high raspy voice. He had short bandy legs and long arms. During the time he lived, the people of Restoration England would have believed his deformities suggested an evil character. Undoubtedly, his pathological lying created a period of political and religious upheaval and caused the death of many innocent people.

Oates was born in Oakham, Rutlandshire on September 15, 1649. His father had a degree from Cambridge and was a rector in the Church of England. Oates began his education at Merchant Taylor’s School in 1665. He was expelled from the school and moved on to Sedlescombe School in Sussex. He was able to continue to college at Cambridge but was labeled a “dunce” and “illiterate”. He fell into debt and was expelled. Soon after leaving college, he took orders becoming an Anglican priest and officiated at several parishes, including acting as a curate to his father in Hastings. While there he accused a schoolmaster of sodomy. There was no evidence against the man and Oates was charged with perjury and sent to prison in Dover to await trial. He managed to escape from prison and, not being pursued, found his way to London where he obtained an appointment as chaplain on board a ship sailing for Tangier. Within twelve months, he was dismissed from the Navy for being accused of sodomy. He was spared because he was a clergyman.

In 1676, he was frequenting a club and met Catholics for the first time. He got a position as a Protestant chaplain in the household of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk. He met the educator, rector and man of letters, Dr. Israel Tonge. Tonge’s head was filled with anti-Catholic thoughts and he was writing pamphlets and stirring up alarms of conspiracies. Oates and Tonge came up with a plan where Oates would pretend to be Roman Catholic and try to uncover and expose plots, possibly for financial gain. In 1677, Oates was received into the Catholic Church. He entered the Jesuit Royal English College at Valladolid, Spain. Possibly due to his complete incompetence in Latin, he was expelled after five months and returned to London. At the end of 1677, he applied and was admitted to the English Jesuit College at St-Omer in France. He managed to last six months there before he was expelled for scandalous misconduct. He later falsely claimed he had become a Catholic Doctor of Divinity.

Back in London, he renewed his friendship with Tonge and the Popish Plot began. Starting with a fabricated manuscript alleging the Jesuits planned to assassinate King Charles II and replace him with his Catholic brother; James Duke of York, the plot grew to monstrous proportions. Innocent Catholics and Jesuits were brought up on charges and executed. Oates made a deposition in front of the magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey on September 6, 1678. On October 12, Godfrey was found murdered. Oates brought charges against Catholic lords and officers of the retinues of the Duchess of York and the Queen. Oates and another man, William Bedloe, even accused Queen Catherine of Braganza of being in on the conspiracy.

King Charles interrogated Oates himself and believing him to be a liar, wanted him arrested. But other political forces kept the arrest from happening. Parliament began asking for the Duke of York to be excluded from the throne, causing a crisis for King Charles. Amazingly, Oates was given an apartment at the Palace of Whitehall and even given an allowance. Eventually, the backlash went into effect and the Lord Chief Justice of England began to proclaim people innocent. Oates credibility finally came to an end. By August 31, 1681, he was told to leave his state apartment. He then began to denounce the King and his brother and anyone else who accused him of lying. In 1682, he was successfully prosecuted for perjury and his income reduced. He then tried to stir up more trouble but shortly before King Charles died, James brought and won a civil action against Oates for calling him a traitor. The fine was levied at £100,000. When he couldn’t pay the fine, he was imprisoned.

After the death of King Charles, James became King and one of the first things he did was retry Oates on charges of perjury. He was found guilty and sentenced to be stripped of his clerical dress, imprisoned for life and to be whipped through the streets of London five days a year for the remainder of his life. He was taken out of his cell and put in a pillory at the gate of Westminster Hall and people pelted him with eggs. The next day he was pilloried in London. The next day he was stripped, tied to a cart and whipped from Aldgate to Newgate. The whippings continued the next day.

Titus Oates in stocks

Oates was to spend time in jail until James was dethroned and replaced by his daughter Mary and son-in-law William of Orange. Oates left prison and petitioned for an appeal to the House of Lords. He was unsuccessful with the appeal but managed to get a royal pardon and have his income re-instated. Queen Mary revoked his pension but after her death it was started again. In 1691, he met a man named William Fuller and tried to instigate another Catholic plot but it made no headway. In 1693 he married a rich widow but was soon in debt again. In 1698, the Baptists accepted him as a minister but when he tried to rob a parishioner of their legacy in 1701, he was expelled once again from the church. He was to die in Axe Yard, London on July 12, 1705. The lies were finally silenced.

Further reading: “The Popish Plot” by John Kenyon, “The Popish Plot: A Study in the History” by John Pollack, “Oates Plot” from “Catholic Encyclopedia”

3 thoughts on “Titus Oates

  1. A couple of footnotes here. The first relates to his “scandalous conduct”. An anonymous broadside of 1681 accuses him of whipping ‘porkers’ to arouse his ‘Beastly Concupiscence’, whereupon he ‘Tilts at ’em with his Nasty Clyster-Pipe’ (The Character of an Ignoramus Doctor (London, 1681, p. 2).

    Gordon Williams (A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, vol. 1, London, 1994, p. 514), says ‘porkers probably means fat youths’ and the reference is presumably homosexual.

    The second is the fact that the 1689 Bill of Rights, which includes the prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment, was in part a protest against Oates’s beating (which left him with the skin hanging off his back), with scant regard for the Catholics who died or lost their homes as a result of his lies.


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