Category Archives: Seventeenth-Century Tidbits

Titus Oates and the Popish Plot

[Reposted from Quora Spaces.]

One of the ironies of English history is that the landmark 1689 Bill of Rights, with its prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment, was prompted, in part, by the ill-treatment of one of the great villains of the seventeenth century.

In 1678, for want of anything better to do, Titus Oates, a failed student of Cambridge University who conned his way into the priesthood, conspired together with a fanatical – and quite possibly clinically insane – clergyman called Israel Tonge to accuse English Jesuits of a plot to kill the king, Charles II.

They did this totally off the top of their heads, with no basis in fact whatsoever but, given the climate of the times, they were widely believed. The instruction to kill Charles, it was asserted, had come from the pope himself, and so the so-called plot came to be known as the Popish Plot.

As it happened, a strongly Protestant Member of Parliament, by the name of Edmund Berry Godfrey, was murdered shortly afterwards, and Oates seized on this as evidence that his pipe-dream of a plot was true. The press jumped on board and pretty soon a witch hunt of Catholics was under way.

This May 1679 issue of The London Gazette denounces the “Bloody and Jesuitical Principles” underlying another murder, that of James Sharp, the Archbishop of St. Andrews in Scotland. The true culprits turned out to be Presbyterians.

The country was in the grip of anti-Catholic hysteria. Following Godfrey’s murder, Catholics were banished from London and were not permitted within a 20-mile radius (later reduced to 10 miles) of the city. Several others (prominent among whom were Stephen Dugdale, Robert Jenison and Edward Turberville) jumped onto the bandwagon, and started accusing Catholics willy-nilly.

At least twenty-two Catholics were put to death, others died in grossly inhumane conditions in prison, and still others were killed by mobs.

Finally, Oates was exposed and it was acknowledged that there was not, and had never been, any such plot. A fat lot of good that did to the Catholics who had died, though, and the ban on Catholics (other than tradesmen and householders) entering London was maintained. Although Charles II himself was bitter about the number of people whose execution he had authorized as a result of the deception, anti-Catholic prejudice continued unabated, and scant remorse for the injustices done was expressed by the press or the populace at large.

Which is why I call it an irony that the Bill of Rights of 1689 was partly inspired by the punishment that Oates received. Make no mistake, he paid a high price. When James II, who had converted to Catholicism, came to the throne in 1785 he had Oates thrown in prison and sentenced to be whipped through the streets five days a year for the rest of his life. The presiding judge was Judge Jeffreys, “the Hanging Judge”, and it’s speculated that the aim was for the whippings to kill Oates, since Jeffreys could not impose the death penalty for perjury.

The irony is that, while remaining apparently unmoved by the executions, banishment from the capital and general mistreatment of Catholics, the public reacted strongly to the punishment meted out to Oates, the cause of all this suffering. John Phillips, for example, was outraged at “Protestant Judges condemning a Protestant, and the Detector of a most Horrid Popish Plot” (The Secret History of the Reigns of K. Charles II and K. James II [London, 1690], p. 187), impervious to the fact that the “horrid” plot he refers to was a complete fake.

The Bill of rights of 1689 was designed to prevent judges from overstepping the limits of their powers and inflicting punishments that went beyond their mandate.

A Remonstrance of Innocence, published in 1683, is a Catholic account of the deaths of those executed for their supposed involvement in the fake plot.

When James II was ousted, in 1689, Oates was pardoned, released from prison and given a pension. He died in relative obscurity in 1705.

  • The two illustrations to this post are from my collection of early modern publications. I’ve written a bit more about them and the context in which they were written here: Religious Controversy: POPISH PLOT.
  • For further details on Oates and the Poposh Plot, see Susan Abernethy’s informative blog post: Titus Oates.

Surgical Implements

A couple of weeks ago I posted in answer to a question on Quora about whether there was such a thing as necessary suffering. I began by saying that in an age before anaesthetics this question could hardly even have been asked. I then went on, in my wonted fashion, to discuss the issue in a rather abstract and philosophical way. This brings home the point rather more directly:

surgical

These surgical instruments from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are (left) lithotomy dilator; dental forceps; trepan; dental forceps;
(right) double-bladed bistoury; forceps for extracting arrow head; bullet extractor;
(below) surgical saw.

 

Disturbingly erotic…or not?

I posted this a few months ago, but I’m having some trouble with spambots on a few of my posts, so I’m republishing with a slightly different permalink to see if that resolves the problem. Apologies to those who’ve already seen it!
durer
An art historian is claiming that Dürer’s work is deeply erotic, in a highly explicit but subliminal way. The trouble is, she gives the answer away, and once you know the answer it’s impossible to unknow it! As a result, I can no longer look at the picture with objective eyes. So I’m asking you. Take a good look, spend several minutes and – here’s a hint – focus on other stuff going on in the picture, not on the woman breastfeeding the baby. It might also help if you half-close your eyes, forget that it’s representational art and think of it as something a bit like a Rorschach test. Think dirty!

Then take take a look at what Dr Garner says. Click on comments to see a summary of reactions so far…

Seventeenth-Century Tidbits #9: Armadillos in Unlikely Places

Edward Topsell,  The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes (London, 1607), says ‘0f the Tatvs, or Gvinean Beast’ that ‘The Merchants as I haue herd and Cittizens of London keepe of these with their garden wormes’, and in the following entry, ‘Of the Aiochtoctch’, ‘There are of these as I haue heard to be seen in Gardens of London, which are kept to destroy the Garden wormes’  (p. 706).

The illustration accompanying his ‘tatus’ is borrowed, he says, from Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (p. 705), and is fairly recognizably an armadillo:

tatusEnquiring minds might be wondering why they didn’t want worms in their gardens. This would presumably be because they hadn’t had the benefit of Darwin’s observations about the value and crucial significance of worms in the history of world (The Formation of Vegetable Mold Through the Action of Worms, 1881).

They might also be asking, if the tatus is an armadillo, what is the aiochtoctch (or aiotochth, as Topsell also spells it)?

It looks as if Topsell may have got his wires crossed and described the same beastie twice. George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
(1707-1788), tells us in his Histoire Naturelle that ‘le tatou’, or armadillo, is known as ‘Aiotochli au Mexique, tatu ou tatupeba au Bresil, chirquinchum à la Nouvelle Espagne’ (1799 edition, volume 3, p. 188). He would also appear to have miscatalogued it, since he includes it in the sections which treats ‘Of Animals Common to Both Continents’ (i.e., the Old World and the New).

I can’t find any other accounts of armadillos in early modern England, but it’s a fascinating thought. Not having access to a proper research library right now, I don’t have access to
Egmond, F. and P. Mason (1994), ‘Armadillo in Unlikely Places. Some Unpublished Sixteenth-Century Sources for New World Rezeptionsgeschichte in Northern Europe’, Ibero-Amerikanischens Archive 20: 3-52, but it’s a wonderful title, and sounds like just the thing for the whacky enquirer who wants to find out more!

Maybe armadillos turned up in all sorts of odd spots in those days. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, or even given them much thought until a tweet by Conversion Narratives caused me to drop whatever pointless task I was engaged in and turn my attention to this pivotal issue:

Question: Topsell says armadillos and duck-billed platypi both kept to eat worms in C16th/17th London gardens. Any (other) evidence of this? ConversionNarratives (@conversiontales) November 8, 2013

 

Seventeenth-Century Tidbits #8: November 5th at Blackfriars, 1623

There’s some interesting detail on  Victoria Buckley’s blog about the calamitous events of November 5th, 1623, when nearly a hundred Catholics were killed after the floor gave way in a garret where between two and three hundred had assembled to hear a sermon:

Crowds quickly assembled, many to assist in the rescue of survivors, others merely to taunt the unfortunate Catholic victims…

Seventeenth-Century Tidbits #1: Ladies Spat in the Theatre!

On the 25th of January, 1661, Samuel Pepys ‘went to the Theatre, where I saw again “The Lost Lady,” which do now please me better than before; and here I sitting in a dark place, a lady spit backward upon me by a mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a pretty lady, I was not troubled at all’ (The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Hayes Barton Press, 1950, p. 268). An excellent online edition of Pepys’s diary is being compiled and annotated here.