The Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR) is starting a new series of digital material. The first video in the series, Vegetable Harmonies, a short video with the Illuminations by Gherardo Cybo (1512-1600) on Mattioli’s Discorsi sopra la Materia Medica di Dioscoride Pedacio (BL Ms Additional 22333) accompanied by Monteverdi’s madrigal La Giovinetta Pianta (1592), was published just a few days ago:
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.
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
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.
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
twenty-two Catholics were put to death, others died in grossly inhumane
conditions in prison, and still others were killed by mobs.
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.
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.
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.
Bill of rights of 1689 was designed to prevent judges from overstepping
the limits of their powers and inflicting punishments that went beyond
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.
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.
This is a post on a website entitled “Bad News about Christianity“. The name gives a fairly good indication of what it’s all about, and there’s certainly a lot of detailed information on the website, but unfortunately there is no indication of the identity of the author[s]. This seems to be intentional.
Anyway, the post I wanted to draw people’s attention to is on Sadomasochism and Christianity. It’s a bit predictable in a way, I suppose, but it does draw together a lot of examples, saying:
…in any other context these images would be considered disturbing, sadomasochistic, deviant and unsuitable for children. They concentrate heavily on brutality, beating, flogging, piercing, torture, bleeding, nailing and death. Collecting and drinking blood is an especially popular theme in Christian art. Some Christians submit themselves to some of these sufferings – wearing crowns of thorns, flogging themselves, and even having themselves nailed to crosses.
Examples of suffering are drawn from the Bible, from accounts of saints, and so on, and the page is lavishly illustrated with bleeding hearts, flagellating penitents and so on.
What’s lacking is any real attempt to get to grips with the Christian perspective on suffering. The author mainly wants to show the spectrum of suffering embraced by Christianity, without going very much into why anyone might want to focus on suffering in this kind of way.
Still, despite the “look at these kooky Christians” approach, if you want a range of sources for Christian suffering this is probably as good a starting place as any.
“The ISIH was created in 1994 to promote the study and teaching of intellectual history in all its forms and to foster communication and interaction among the global community of scholars in the field.”
James A.T. Lancaster published a plug for my book back in 2014, and I had thought I’d posted an acknowledgement and thanks here, but either I’m wrong about that or it’s disappeared (I had some technical trouble a while back and a few posts may have been deleted).
So here it is again – a thank you from me, and a reciprocal plug for IHIS!