The Mystery of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey
by Andrew Lang
When London was a pleasanter place than it is to-day, when anglers
stretched their legs up Tottenham Hill on their way to fish in the Lee;
when the 'best stands on Hackney river' were competed for eagerly by
bottom fishers; when a gentleman in St. Martin's Lane, between the hedges,
could 'ask the way to Paddington Woods;' when a hare haunted Primrose Hill
and was daily pursued by a gallant pack of harriers; enfin, between three
and four on the afternoon of October 17, 1678, two common fellows stepped
into the White House tavern in the fields north of Marylebone, a house
used as a club by a set of Catholic tradesmen. They had been walking in
that region, and, as the October afternoon was drawing in, and rain was
falling, they sought refuge in the White House. It would appear that they
had not the means of assuaging a reasonable thirst, for when they
mentioned that they had noticed a gentleman's cane, a scabbard, a belt,
and some add a pair of gloves, lying at the edge of a deep dry ditch,
overgrown with thick bush and bramble, the landlord offered the new comers
a shilling to go and fetch the articles.* But the rain was heavy, and
probably the men took the shilling out in ale, till about five o'clock,
when the weather held up for a while.
*A rather different account by the two original finders, Bromwell
and Walters, is in L'Estrange's Brief History, iii. pp. 97, 98. The
account above is the landlord's. Lords' MSS., Hist. MSS. Com., xi. pp.
2, 46, 47.
The delay was the more singular if, as one account avers, the men had not
only observed the cane and scabbard outside of the ditch, on the bank, but
also a dead body within the ditch, under the brambles.* By five o'clock
the rain had ceased, but the tempestuous evening was dark, and it was
night before Constable Brown, with a posse of neighbours on foot and
horseback, reached the ditch. Herein they found the corpse of a man lying
face downwards, the feet upwards hung upon the brambles; thus half
suspended he lay, and the point of a sword stuck out of his back, through
his black camlet coat.** By the lights at the inn, the body was identified
as that of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a Justice of the Peace for
Westminster, who had been missing since Saturday October 12. It is an
undeniable fact that, between two and three o'clock, before the body was
discovered and identified, Dr. Lloyd, Dean of St. Asaph's, and Bishop
Burnet, had heard that Godfrey had been found in Leicester Fields, with
his own sword in his body. Dr. Lloyd mentioned his knowledge in the
funeral sermon of the dead magistrate. He had the story from a Mr. Angus,
a clergyman, who had it from 'a young man in a grey coat,' in a
bookseller's shop near St. Paul's, about two o'clock in the afternoon.
Angus hurried to tell Bishop Burnet, who sent him on to Dr. Lloyd.***
Either the young man in the grey coat knew too much, or a mere rumour,
based on a conjecture that Godfrey had fallen on his own sword, proved to
be accurate by accident; a point to be remembered. According to Roger
Frith, at two o'clock he heard Salvetti, the ambassador of the Duke of
Tuscany, say: 'Sir E. Godfrey is dead... the young Jesuits are grown
desperate; the old ones would do no such thing.' This again may have been
a mere guess by Salvetti.****
*Pollock, Popish Plot, pp. 95, 96.
**Brown in Brief History, iii. pp. 212-215, 222.
***L'Estrange, Brief History, iii. pp. 87-89.
****Lords' MSS. p. 48, October 24.
In the circumstances of the finding of the body it would have been correct
for Constable Brown to leave it under a guard till daylight and the
arrival of surgical witnesses, but the night was threatening, and Brown
ordered the body to be lifted; he dragged out the sword with difficulty,
and had the dead man carried to the White House Inn. There, under the
candles, the dead man, as we said, was recognised for Sir Edmund Berry
Godfrey, a very well-known justice of the peace and wood and coal dealer.
All this occurred on Thursday, October 17, and Sir Edmund had not been
seen by honest men and thoroughly credible witnesses, at least, since one
o'clock on Saturday, October 12. Then he was observed near his house in
Green Lane, Strand, but into his house he did not go.
Who, then, killed Sir Edmund?
The question has never been answered, though three guiltless men were
later hanged for the murder. Every conceivable theory has been tried; the
latest is that of Mr. Pollock: Godfrey was slain by 'the Queen's
confessor,' Le Fevre, 'a Jesuit,' and some other Jesuits, with lay
assistance.* I have found no proof that Le Fevre was either a Jesuit or
confessor of the Queen.
*Pollock, The Popish Plot, Duckworth, London, 1903.
As David Hume says, the truth might probably have been discovered, had
proper measures been taken at the moment. But a little mob of horse and
foot had trampled round the ditch in the dark, disturbing the original
traces. The coroner's jury, which sat long and late, on October 18 and 19,
was advised by two surgeons, who probably, like the rest of the world,
were biassed by the belief that Godfrey had been slain 'by the bloody
Papists.' In the reign of mad terror which followed, every one was apt to
accommodate his evidence, naturally, to that belief. If they did not,
then, like the two original finders, Bromwell and Walters, they might be
thrown, heavily ironed, into Newgate.*
*Lords' MSS. P. 47, note 1.
But when the Popish Plot was exploded, and Charles II. was firm on his
throne, still more under James II., every one was apt to be biassed in the
opposite direction, and to throw the guilt on the fallen party of Oates,
Bedloe, Dugdale, and the other deeply perjured and infamous informers.
Thus both the evidence of 1678-1680, and that collected in 1684-1687, by
Sir Roger L'Estrange, J.P. (who took great trouble and was allowed access
to the manuscript documents of the earlier inquiries), must be regarded
*L'Estrange, Brief History of the Times, London, 1687.
The first question is cui bono? who had an interest in Godfrey's death?
Three parties had an interest, first, the Catholics (IF Godfrey knew their
secrets); next, the managers of the great Whig conspiracy in favour of the
authenticity of Oates's Popish Plot; last, Godfrey himself, who was of an
hereditary melancholy (his father had suicidal tendencies), and who was
involved in a quandary whence he could scarcely hope to extricate himself
with life and honour.
Of the circumstances of Godfrey's quandary an account is to follow. But,
meanwhile, the theory of Godfrey's suicide (though Danby is said to have
accepted it) was rejected, probably with good reason (despite the doubts
of L'Estrange, Hume, Sir George Sitwell, and others), by the coroner's
*Sitwell, The First Whig, Sacheverell.
Privately printed, 1894, Sir George's book—a most interesting
volume, based on public and private papers—unluckily is introuvable.
Some years have passed since I read a copy which he kindly lent me.
The evidence which determined the verdict of murder was that of two
surgeons. They found that the body had been severely bruised, on the
chest, by kicks, blows of a blunt weapon, or by men's knees. A
sword-thrust had been dealt, but had slipped on a rib; Godfrey's own sword
had then been passed through the left pap, and out at the back. There was
said to be no trace of the shedding of fresh living blood on the clothes
of Godfrey, or about the ditch. What blood appeared was old, the surgeons
averred, and malodorous, and flowed after the extraction of the sword.
L'Estrange (1687) argues at great length, but on evidence collected later,
and given under the Anti-Plot bias, that there was much more 'bloud' than
was allowed for at the inquest. But the early evidence ought to be best.
Again, the surgeons declared that Godfrey had been strangled with a cloth
(as the jury found), and his neck dislocated. Bishop Burnet, who viewed
the body, writes (long after the event): 'A mark was all round his neck,
an inch broad, which showed he was strangled.... And his neck was broken.
All this I saw.'*
*Burnet, History of his own Time, ii. p. 741. 1725.
L'Estrange argued that the neck was not broken (giving an example of a
similar error in the case of a dead child), and that the mark round the
neck was caused by the tightness of the collar and the flow of blood to
the neck, the body lying head downwards. In favour of this view he
produced one surgeon's opinion. He also declares that Godfrey's brothers,
for excellent reasons of their own, refused to allow a thorough
post-mortem examination. 'None of them had ever been opened,' they said.
Their true motive was that, if Godfrey were a suicide, his estate would be
forfeited to the Crown, a point on which they undoubtedly showed great
Evidence was also given to prove that, on Tuesday and Wednesday, October
15 and 16, Godfrey's body was not in the ditch. On Tuesday Mr. Forsett, on
Wednesday Mr. Harwood had taken Mr. Forsett's harriers over the ground, in
pursuit of the legendary hare. They had seen no cane or scabbard; the dogs
had found no corpse. L'Estrange replied that, as to the cane, the men
could not see it if they were on the further side of the bramble-covered
ditch. As to the dogs, they later hunted a wood in which a dead body lay
for six weeks before it was found. L'Estrange discovered witnesses who had
seen Godfrey in St. Martin's Lane on the fatal Saturday, asking his way to
Paddington Woods, others who had seen him there or met him returning
thence. Again, either he or 'the Devil in his clothes' was seen near the
ditch on Saturday afternoon. Again, his clerk, Moore, was seen hunting the
fields near the ditch, for his master, on the Monday afternoon. Hence
L'Estrange argued that Godfrey went to Paddington Woods, on Saturday
morning, to look for a convenient place of suicide: that he could not
screw his courage to the sticking place; that he wandered home, did not
enter his house, roamed out again, and, near Primrose Hill, found the
ditch and 'the sticking place.' His rambles, said L'Estrange, could
neither have been taken for business nor pleasure. This is true, if
Godfrey actually took the rambles, but the evidence was not adduced till
several years later; in 1678 the witnesses would have been in great
danger. Still, if we accept L'Estrange's witnesses for Godfrey's trip to
Paddington and return, perhaps we ought not to reject the rest.*
*Brief History, iii. pp. 252, 300, 174, 175; State Trials, viii. pp.
1387, 1392, 1393, 1359-1389.
On the whole, it seems that the evidence for murder, not suicide, is much
the better, though even here absolute certainty is not attained. Granting
Godfrey's constitutional hereditary melancholy, and the double quandary in
which he stood, he certainly had motives for suicide. He was a man of
humanity and courage, had bravely faced the Plague in London, had
withstood the Court boldly on a private matter (serving a writ, as
Justice, on the King's physician who owed him money in his capacity as a
coal dealer), and he was lenient in applying the laws against Dissenters
To be lenient was well; but Godfrey's singular penchant for Jesuits, and
especially for the chief Catholic intriguer in England, was probably the
ultimate cause of his death, whether inflicted by his own hand or those of
We now study Godfrey's quandary. On June 23, 1678, the infamous miscreant
Titus Oates had been expelled from the Jesuit College of St. Omer's, in
France. There he may readily have learned that the usual triennial
'consult' of English Jesuits was to be held in London on April 24, but
WHERE it was held, namely in the Duke of York's chambers in St. James's
Palace, Oates did not know, or did not say. The Duke, by permitting the
Jesuits to assemble in his house, had been technically guilty of treason
in 'harbouring' Jesuits, certainly a secret of great importance, as he was
the head and hope of the Catholic cause, and the butt of the Whigs, who
were eager to exclude him from the succession. Oates had scraps of other
genuine news. He returned to London after his expulsion from St. Omer's,
was treated with incautious kindness by Jesuits there, and, with Tonge,
constructed his monstrous fable of a Popish plot to kill the King and
massacre the Protestant public. In August, Charles was apprised of the
plot, as was Danby, the Lord Treasurer; the Duke of York also knew, how
much he knew is uncertain. The myth was little esteemed by the King.
On September 6, Oates went to Godfrey, and swore before him, as a
magistrate, to the truth of a written deposition, as to treason. But
Godfrey was not then allowed to read the paper, nor was it left in his
hands; the King, he was told, had a copy.* The thing might have passed
off, but, as King James II. himself writes, he (being then Duke of York)
'press'd the King and Lord Treasurer several times that the letters'
(letters forged by Oates) 'might be produced and read, and the business
examined into at the Committee of Foreign Affairs.'** Mr. Pollock calls
the Duke's conduct tactless. Like Charles I., in the mystery of 'the
Incident,' he knew himself guiltless, and demanded an inquiry.
*Kirkby, Complete Narrative, pp. 2, 3, cited by Mr. Pollock. At the
time, it was believed that Godfrey saw the depositions.
of James II. i. p. 518. Cited from the King's original Memoirs.
On September 28, Oates was to appear before the Council. Earlier on that
day he again visited Godfrey, handed to him a copy of his deposition, took
oath to its truth, and carried another copy to Whitehall. As we shall see,
Oates probably adopted this course by advice of one of the King's
ministers, Danby or another. Oates was now examined before the King, who
detected him in perjury. But he accused Coleman, the secretary of the
Duchess of York, of treasonable correspondence with La Chaise, the
confessor of Louis XIV.: he also said that, on April 24, he himself was
present at the Jesuit 'consult' in the White Horse Tavern, Strand, where
they decided to murder the King! This was a lie, but they HAD met on
ordinary business of the Society, on April 24, at the palace of the Duke
of York. Had the Jesuits, when tried, proved this, they would not have
saved their lives, and Oates would merely have sworn that they met AGAIN,
at the White Horse.
Godfrey, having Oates's paper before him, now knew that Coleman was
accused. Godfrey was very intimate with many Jesuits, says Warner, who was
one of them, in his manuscript history.* With Coleman, certainly a
dangerous intriguer, Godfrey was so familiar that 'it was the form
arranged between them for use when Godfrey was in company and Coleman
wished to see him,' that Coleman should be announced under the name of Mr.
* Pollock, p. 91, note 1.
**Ibid. p. 151, note 3. Welden's evidence before the Lords' Committee,
House of Lords MSS., p. 48. Mr. Pollock rather overstates the case. We
cannot be certain, from Welden's words, that Coleman habitually used the
name 'Clarke' on such occasions.
It is extraordinary enough to find a rigid British magistrate engaged in
clandestine dealings with an intriguer like Coleman, who, for the purpose,
receives a cant name. If that fact came out in the inquiry into the plot,
Godfrey's doom was dight, the general frenzy would make men cry for his
blood. But yet more extraordinary was Godfrey's conduct on September 28.
No sooner had he Oates's confession, accusing Coleman, in his hands, than
he sent for the accused. Coleman went to the house of a Mr. (or Colonel)
Welden, a friend of Godfrey's, and to Godfrey it was announced that 'one
Clarke' wished to see him there. 'When they were together at my house they
were reading papers,' said Welden later, in evidence.* It cannot be
doubted that, after studying Oates's deposition, Godfrey's first care was
to give Coleman full warning. James II. tells us this himself, in his
memoirs. 'Coleman being known to depend on the Duke, Sir Edmund Bury (sic)
Godfrey made choice of him, to send to his Highness an account of Oates's
and Tongue's depositions as soon as he had taken them,' that is, on
September 28.** Apparently the Duke had not the precise details of Oates's
charges, as they now existed, earlier than September 28, when they were
sent to him by Godfrey.
*See previous note (Pollock, p. 151, note 3.)
**Life of James II. i, p. 534.
It is Mr. Pollock's argument that, when Godfrey and Coleman went over the
Oates papers, Coleman would prove Oates's perjury, and would to this end
let out that, on April 24, the Jesuits met, not as Oates swore, at a
tavern, but at the Duke of York's house, a secret fatal to the Duke and
the Catholic cause. The Jesuits then slew Godfrey to keep the secret
*Pollock, p. 153.
Now, first, I cannot easily believe that Coleman would blab this secret
(quite unnecessarily, for this proof of Oates's perjury could not be, and
was not, publicly adduced), unless Godfrey was already deep in the
Catholic intrigues. He may have been, judging by his relations with
Coleman. If Godfrey was not himself engaged in Catholic intrigues, Coleman
need only tell him that Oates was not in England in April, and could not
have been, as he swore he was, at the 'consult.' Next, Godfrey was not the
man (as Mr. Pollock supposes) to reveal his knowledge to the world, from a
sense of duty, even if the Court 'stifled the plot.' Mr. Pollock says:
'Godfrey was, by virtue of his position as justice of the peace, a
Government official.... Sooner or later he would certainly reveal it....
The secret... had come into the hands of just one of the men who could not
afford, even if he might wish, to retain it.'* Mr. Pollock may conceive,
though I do not find him saying so, that Godfrey communicated Oates's
charges to Coleman merely for the purpose of 'pumping' him and surprising
some secret. If so he acted foolishly.
*Pollock, p. 154.
In fact, Godfrey was already 'stifling the plot.' A Government official,
he was putting Coleman in a posture to fly, and to burn his papers; had he
burned all of them, the plot was effectually stifled. Next, Godfrey could
not reveal the secret without revealing his own misprision of treason. He
would be asked 'how he knew the secret.' Godfrey's lips were thus sealed;
he had neither the wish nor the power to speak out, and so his knowledge
of the secret, if he knew it, was innocuous to the Jesuits. 'What is it
nearer?' Coleman was reported, by a perjured informer, to have asked.*
*State Trials, vii. 1319. Trial of Lord Stafford, 1680.
To this point I return later. Meanwhile, let it be granted that Godfrey
knew the secret from Coleman, and that, though, since Godfrey could not
speak without self-betrayal—though it was 'no nearer'—still
the Jesuits thought well to mak sikker and slay him.
Still, what is the evidence that Godfrey had a mortal secret? Mr. Pollock
gives it thus: 'He had told Mr. Wynnel that he was master of a dangerous
secret, which would be fatal to him. "Oates," he said, "is sworn and is
perjured."'* These sentences are not thus collocated in the original. The
secret was not, as from Mr. Pollock's arrangement it appears to be, that
Oates was perjured.
*Pollock, p. 150.
The danger lay, not in knowledge that Oates was perjured—all the
Council knew the King to have discovered that. 'Many believed it,' says
Mr. Pollock. 'It was not an uncommon thing to say.'* The true peril, on
Mr. Pollock's theory, was Godfrey's possession of PROOF that Oates was
perjured, that proof involving the secret of the Jesuit 'consult' of April
14, AT THE DUKE OF YORK'S HOUSE. But, by a singular oversight, Mr. Pollock
quotes only part of what Godfrey said to Wynell (or Wynnel) about his
secret. He does not give the whole of the sentence uttered by Wynell. The
secret, of which Godfrey was master, on the only evidence, Wynell's, had
nothing to do with the Jesuit meeting of April 24. Wynell is one of
L'Estrange's later witnesses. His words are:
Godfrey: 'The (Catholic) Lords are as innocent as you or I. Coleman will
die, but not the Lords.'
Wynell: 'If so, where are we then?'
Godfrey: 'Oates is sworn and is perjured.'
* * *
'Upon Wynell's asking Sir Edmund some time why he was so melancholy, his
answer has been, "he was melancholy because he was master of a dangerous
secret that would be fatal to him, THAT HIS SECURITY WAS OATE'S
DEPOSITION, THAT THE SAID OATES HAD FIRST DECLARED IT TO A PUBLIC
MINISTER, AND SECONDLY THAT HE CAME TO SIR EDMUND BY HIS (the Minister's)
*Pollock, p. 152.
**L'Estrange, part iii. p. 187.
We must accept all of Mr. Wynell's statement or none; we cannot accept,
like Mr. Pollock, only Godfrey's confession of owning a dangerous secret,
without Godfrey's explanation of the nature of the danger. Against THAT
danger (his knowing and taking no action upon what Oates had deposed)
Godfrey's 'security' was Oates's other deposition, that his information
was already in the Minister's hands, and that he had come to Godfrey by
the Minister's orders. The invidiousness of knowing and not acting on
Oates's 'dangerous secret,' Godfrey hoped, fell on the Minister rather
than on himself. And it did fall on Danby, who was later accused of
treason on this very ground, among others. Such is Wynell's evidence, true
or false. C'est a prendre ou a laisser in bulk, and in bulk is of no value
to Mr. Pollock's argument.
That Godfrey was in great fear after taking Oates's deposition, and
dealing with Coleman, is abundantly attested. But of what was he afraid,
and of whom? L'Estrange says, of being made actual party to the plot, and
not of 'bare misprision' only, the misprision of not acting on Oates's
information.* It is to prove this point that L'Estrange cites Wynell as
quoted above. Bishop Burnet reports that, to him, Godfrey said 'that he
believed he himself should be knocked on the head.'** Knocked on the head
by whom? By a frightened Protestant mob, or by Catholic conspirators? To
Mr. Robinson, an old friend, he said, 'I do not fear them if they come
fairly, and I shall not part with my life tamely.' Qu'ils viennent! as
Tartarin said, but who are 'they'? Godfrey said that he had 'taken the
depositions very unwillingly, and would fain have had it done by
others.... I think I shall have little thanks for my pains.... Upon my
conscience I believe I shall be the first martyr.'*** He could not expect
thanks from the Catholics: it was from the frenzied Protestants that he
expected 'little thanks.'
*L'Estrange, iii. p. 187.
**Burnet, ii. p. 740.
***State Trials, vii. pp. 168, 169.
Oates swore, and, for once, is corroborated, that Godfrey complained 'of
receiving affronts from some great persons (whose names I name not now)
for being so zealous in this business.' If Oates, by 'great persons,'
means the Duke of York, it was in the Duke's own cause that Godfrey had
been 'zealous,' sending him warning by Coleman. Oates added that others
threatened to complain to Parliament, which was to meet on October 21,
that Godfrey had been 'too remiss.' Oates was a liar, but Godfrey, in any
case, was between the Devil and the deep sea. As early as October 24, Mr.
Mulys attested, before the Lords, Godfrey's remark, 'he had been blamed by
some great men for not having done his duty, and by other great men for
having done too much.' Mulys corroborates Oates.* If Godfrey knew a secret
dangerous to the Jesuits (which, later, was a current theory), he might be
by them silenced for ever. If his conduct, being complained of, was
examined into by Parliament, misprision of treason was the lowest at which
his offence could be rated. Never was magistrate in such a quandary. But
we do not know, in the state of the evidence, which of his many perils he
feared most, and his possession of 'a dangerous secret' (namely, the
secret of the consult of April 24) is a pure hypothesis. It is not
warranted, but refuted, by Godfrey's own words as reported by Wynell,
when, unlike Mr. Pollock, we quote Wynell's whole sentence on the subject.
(see previous exchange between Godfrey and Wynell.)
*Lords' MSS., P. 48.
The theories of Godfrey's death almost defy enumeration. For suicide,
being a man of melancholic temperament, he had reasons as many and as good
as mortal could desire. That he was murdered for not being active enough
in prosecuting the plot, is most improbable. That he was taken off by
Danby's orders, for giving Coleman and the Duke of York early warning, is
an absurd idea, for Danby could have had him on THAT score by ordinary
process of law. That he was slain by Oates's gang, merely to clinch the
fact that a plot there veritably was, is improbable. At the same time,
Godfrey had been calling Oates a perjurer: he KNEW that Oates was
forsworn. This was an unsafe thing for any man to say, but when the man
was the magistrate who had read Oates's deposition, he invited danger.
Such were the chances that Godfrey risked from the Plot party. The
Catholics, on the other hand, if they were aware that Godfrey possessed
the secret of the Jesuit meeting of April 24, and if they deemed him too
foolish to keep the secret in his own interest, could not but perceive
that to murder him was to play into the hands of the Whigs by clinching
the belief in a Popish plot. Had they been the murderers, they would
probably have taken his money and rings, to give the idea that he had been
attacked and robbed by vulgar villains. If they 'were not the damnedest
fools' (thus freely speaks L'Estrange), they would not have taken
deliberate steps to secure the instant discovery of the corpse. Whoever
pitched Godfrey's body into the bramble-covered ditch, meant it to be
found, for his cane, scabbard, and so on were deliberately left outside of
the ditch. Your wily Jesuit would have caused the body to disappear,
leaving the impression that Godfrey had merely absconded, as he had the
best reasons for doing. On the other hand, Oates's gang would not, if they
first strangled Godfrey, have run his own sword through his body, as if he
had committed suicide—unless, indeed, they calculated that this
would be a likely step for your wily Jesuit to take, in the circumstances.
Again, an educated 'Jesuit,' like Le Fevre, 'the Queen's confessor,' would
know that the sword trick was futile; even a plain man, let alone a
surgeon, could detect a wound inflicted on a corpse four or five days old.
Two other theories existed, first, that Godfrey hanged himself, and that
his brothers and heirs did the sword trick, to suggest that he had not
committed suicide by strangulation, but had been set on and stabbed with
his own sword. In that case, of course, the brothers would have removed
his rings and money, to prove that he had been robbed. The other theory,
plausible enough, held that Godfrey was killed by Catholics, NOT because
he took Oates's deposition (which he was bound to do), but because he
officiously examined a number of persons to make discoveries. The
Attorney-General at the trial of Godfrey's alleged murderers (February
1679), declared that Sir Edmund had taken such examinations: 'we have
proof that he had some... perhaps some more than are now extant'* This
theory, then, held that he was taken off to prevent his pursuing his
zealous course, and to seize the depositions which he had already taken.
When this was stated to Charles II., on November 7, 1678, by the perjured
Bedloe, the King naturally remarked: 'The parties were still alive' (the
deponents) 'to give the informations.' Bedloe answered, that the papers
were to be seized 'in hopes the second informations taken from the parties
would not have agreed with the first, and so the thing would have been
disproved.'** This was monstrously absurd, for the slayers of Godfrey
could not have produced the documents of which they had robbed him.
*State Trials, vii. p. 163.
**Pollock, p. 385.
The theory that Sir Edmund was killed because Coleman had told him too
many secrets did not come to general knowledge till the trial of Lord
Stafford in 1680. The hypothesis—Godfrey slain because, through
Coleman, he knew too many Catholic secrets—is practically that of
Mr. Pollock. It certainly does supply a motive for Godfrey's
assassination. Hot-headed Catholics who knew, or suspected, that Godfrey
knew too much, MAY have killed him for that reason, or for the purpose of
seizing his papers, but it is improbable that Catholics of education, well
aware that, if he blabbed, Godfrey must ruin himself, would have put their
hands into his blood, on the mere chance that, if left alive, he might
betray both himself and them.
It is now necessary to turn backward a little and see what occurred
immediately after the meeting of Coleman and Godfrey on September 28. On
that day, Oates gave his lying evidence before the Council: he was allowed
to go on a Jesuit drive, with warrants and officers; he caught several of
the most important Jesuits. On September 29, the King heard his tale, and
called him a 'lying knave.' None the less he was sent on another drive,
and, says Mr. Pollock, 'before dawn most the Jesuits of eminence in London
lay in gaol.' But Le Fevre, 'the Queen's confessor,' and the other
'Jesuits' whom Mr. Pollock suspects of Godfrey's murder, were not taken.
Is it likely (it is, of course, possible) that they stayed on in town, and
killed Godfrey twelve days later?
Meanwhile Coleman, thanks to Godfrey's warning, had most of September 28,
the night of that day, and September 29, wherein to burn his papers and
abscond. He did neither; if he destroyed some papers, he left others in
his rooms, letters which were quite good enough to hang him for high
treason, as the law stood. Apparently Coleman did not understand his
danger. On Sunday night, September 29, a warrant for his apprehension was
issued, and for the seizure of his papers. 'He came voluntarily in on
Monday morning,' having heard of the warrant. This is not the conduct of a
man who knows himself guilty. He met the charges with disdain, and made so
good a case that, instead of being sent to Newgate, he was merely
entrusted to a messenger, who was told 'to be very civil to Mr. Coleman.'
Charles II. went to the Newmarket Autumn Meeting, Coleman's papers were
examined, and 'sounded so strange to the Lords' that they sent him to
Newgate (October 1). The papers proved that Coleman, years before, had
corresponded (as Oates had sworn) with the confessor of Louis XIV. and had
incurred the technical guilt of treason. Either Coleman did not understand
the law and the measure of his offence (as seems probable), or he thought
his papers safely hidden. But the heather was on fire. The belief in
Oates's impossible Plot blazed up, 'hell was let loose'.*
*State Trials, vii. p. 29.
Coleman had thought himself safe, says James II., then Duke of York. 'The
Duke perceiving' (from Godfrey's information of September 28) 'Oates had
named Coleman, bade him look to himself, for he was sure to find no
favour, and therefore, if he had any papers that might hurt him, to secure
them immediately; but he, apprehending no danger, let them be seized,
however kept close himself, and sent to advise with the Duke whether he
should deliver himself up or not. The Duke replyd, "He knew best what was
in his papers; if they contain'd any expression which could be wrested to
an ill sence, he had best not appear, otherwise the surrendering himself
would be an argument of innocency." He did accordingly,' and was condemned
in November, and hanged.*
*Life of James II., i. p. 534.
King James's tale agrees with the facts of Coleman's surrender. 'He came
in voluntarily.' He did not appreciate the resources of civilisation at
the service of the English law of treason: he had dabbled in intrigue
without taking counsel's advice, and knowing for certain that Oates was an
inconsistent liar, Coleman took his chance with a light heart. However,
not only did some of his letters bring him (though he could not understand
the fact) within the elastic law of treason; but Oates's evidence was
accepted when conspicuously false; Coleman was not allowed to produce his
diary and prove an alibi as to one of Oates's accusations, and a new
witness, Bedloe, a perjurer who rivalled Oates, had sprung up out of the
filth of London streets. So Coleman swung for it, as Godfrey, according to
Wynell, had prophesied that he would.
Coleman's imprisonment began twelve days before Godfrey's disappearance.
At Coleman's trial, late in November, a mere guess was given that Godfrey
was slain to prevent him (a Protestant martyr) from blabbing Catholic
secrets. This cause of Godfrey's taking off was not alleged by Bedloe.
This man, a notorious cosmopolitan rogue, who had swindled his way through
France and Spain, was first heard of in the Godfrey case at the end of
October. He wrote to the Secretaries of State from Bristol (L'Estrange
says from Newbury on his way to Bristol), offering information, as pardon
and reward had been promised to contrite accomplices in the murder. He
came to town, and, on November 7, gave evidence before the King. Bedloe
gave himself out as a Jesuit agent; concerning the Plot he added monstrous
inventions to those of Oates.
'As to Sir Edmund Godfrey; was promised 2,000 guineas to be in it by Le
Fere' (Le Fevre, 'the Queen's confessor),' [by] 'my Lord Bellasis
gentleman, AND THE YOUNGEST OF THE WAITERS IN THE QUEENE'S CHAPEL, IN A
PURPLE GOWN, and to keep the people orderly.'*
*See Pollock, pp. 384, 387. The report is from Secretary Coventry's
MSS., at Longleat. The evidence as to Bedloe's deposition before the
King (November 7) is in a confused state. Mr. Pollock prints (pp. 383,
384, cf. p. 110) a document from 'Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 11058, f. 244.'
This is also given, with the same erroneous reference, by Mr. Foley, in
Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, vol. v. p. 30,
note. The right reference is 11055. The document is quite erroneously
printed, with variations in error, by Mr. Foley and Mr. Pollock. Bedloe
really said that Godfrey was lured into Somerset House Yard, not into
'some house yard' (Foley), or 'into a house yard' (Pollock). Bedloe, so
far, agreed with Prance, but, in another set of notes on his deposition
(Longleat MSS., Coventry Papers, xi. 272-274, Pollock, 384-387), he
made Somerset House the scene of the murder. There are other errors. Mr.
Pollock and Mr. Foley make Bedloe accuse Father Eveley, S.J., in whom
I naturally recognised Father Evers or Every, who was then at Tixall in
Staffordshire. The name in the MS. is 'Welch,' not Eveley. The MS. was
manifestly written not before September 12. It does not appear that
Bedloe, on November 7, knew the plot as invented by Oates, on which
compare Mr. Pollock, p. 110, who thinks that 'it is quite possible that
Charles II. deceived him,' Bishop Burnet, 'intentionally,' on this head
(Burnet, ii. 745-746, 1725). By printing 'he acquainted' instead of 'he
acquainteth the Lords,' in the British Museum MS., and by taking the
document, apparently, to be of November 7, Mr. Pollock has been led
to an incorrect conclusion. I am obliged to Father Gerard, S.J., for a
correct transcript of the British Museum MS.; see also Note iii., 'The
Jesuit Murderers,' at the end of this chapter, and Father Gerard's The
Popish Plot and its Latest Historian (Longman's, 1903).
Bedloe here asserts distinctly that one accomplice was an official of the
Queen's chapel, in her residence, Somerset House: a kind of verger, in a
purple gown. This is highly important, for the man whom he later pretended
to recognise as this accomplice was not a 'waiter,' did not 'wear a purple
gown;' and, by his own account, 'was not in the chapel once a month.'
Bedloe's recognition of him, therefore, was worthless. He said that
Godfrey was smothered with a pillow, or two pillows, in a room in Somerset
House, for the purpose of securing 'the examinations' that Godfrey had
taken. 'Coleman and Lord Bellasis advised to destroy him.' His informant
was Le Fevre. One Walsh (a 'Jesuit'), Le Fevre, Lord Bellasis's man, and
'the chapel keeper' did the deed. The chapel keeper carried him' (Godfrey)
'off.' 'HE DID NOT SEE HIM' (Godfrey) 'AFTER HE WAS DEAD.'
On the following day Bedloe told his tale at the bar of the House of
Lords. He now, contradicting himself, swore THAT HE SAW GODFREY'S DEAD
BODY IN SOMERSET HOUSE. He was offered 2,000 guineas to help to carry him
off. This was done by chairmen, 'retainers to Somerset House,' on Monday
night (October 14).*
*Pollock, p. 387, Lords' Journals, xiii. p. 343.
On that night, Bedloe saw Samuel Atkins, Mr. Pepys's clerk, beside the
corpse, by the light of a dark lantern. Atkins had an alibi, so Bedloe
shuffled, and would not swear to him.
On November 14, before the Lords' Committee, Bedloe again gave evidence.
The 2,100 pounds were now 4,000 pounds offered to Bedloe, by Le Fevre,
early in October, to kill a man. The attendant in the Queen's chapel was
at the scene (a pure figment) of the corpse exposed under the dark
lantern. The motive of the murder was to seize Godfrey's examinations,
which he said he had sent to Whitehall. At a trial which followed in
February 1679, Mr. Robinson, who had known Godfrey for some forty years,
deposed that he had said to him, 'I understand you have taken several
examinations.' 'Truly,' said he, 'I have.' 'Pray, Sir, have you the
examinations about you, will you please to let me see them?' 'No, I have
them not, I delivered them to a person of quality.'*
*State Trials, vii. 168.
This person of quality was not the Duke of York, for it may be noted that,
on the day before his disappearance, Godfrey had, in fact, received back
from the Lord Chief Justice the original copy of Oates's depositions. This
copy was found in his house, after his death, and handed over by his
brother to the Government.* To get the examinations was always the motive
of the murder, with Bedloe. The hour of Godfrey's death was now 2 P.M.;
now 3, or 4, or 5 P.M., on October 12. The body was hidden in various
rooms of Somerset House, or under the high altar in the Queen's Chapel.
The discrepancies never affected the faith given to Bedloe.
*Lords' MSS., Hist. MSS. Commission Report, xi. Appendix, part ii.,
At the end of December came in a new accomplice-witness. This was an
Irishman, Miles Prance, a silversmith, who had a business among Catholics,
and worked for the Queen's Chapel. Unlike all the other informers, Prance
had hitherto been an ordinary fellow enough, with a wife and family, not a
swindling debauchee. He was arrested on December 21, on information given
by John Wren, a lodger of his, with whom he had quarrelled. Wren had
noticed that Prance lay out of his own house while Godfrey was missing,
which Prance admitted to be true.*
*Op. cit. p. 51. Prance both said, and denied, that he slept out
while Sir Edmund was missing. He was flurried and self-contradictory.
Bedloe, passing through a room in the House of Commons, saw Prance in
custody, and at once pretended to recognise in him the 'chapel keeper,'
'under waiter,' or 'man in the purple gown,' whom he had seen by the light
of a dark lantern, beside Godfrey's body, in a room of Somerset House, on
October 14. 'There was very little light' on that occasion, Bedloe had
said, and he finally refused, we saw, to swear to Atkins, who had an
alibi. But, as to Prance, he said: 'This is one of the rogues that I saw
with a dark lantern about the body of Sir Edmund, but he was then in a
periwig.'* The periwig was introduced in case Prance had an alibi: Oates
had used the same 'hedge,' 'a periwig doth disguise a man very much,' in
*L'Estrange, iii. pp. 52, 53, 65.
**State Trials, vii. 27.
What was Bedloe's recognition of Prance worth? Manifestly nothing! He had
probably seen Prance (not as a 'waiter') in the Queen's Chapel. Now he
found him in custody. Cautious as regards Atkins, six weeks earlier,
Bedloe was emboldened now by a train of successes. He had sworn away
Coleman's life. His self-contradictions had been blindly swallowed. If
Prance could prove an alibi, what was that to Bedloe? The light of the
dark lantern had been very bad; the rogue, under that light, had worn a
periwig, which 'doth disguise a man very much.' Bedloe could safely say
that he had made an innocent error. Much worse blunders had not impaired
his credit; later he made much worse blunders, undetected. He saw his
chance and took it.
Prance, who denied everything, was hurried to Newgate, and thrown, without
bed or covering, into the freezing 'condemned hole,' where he lay
perishing of cold through the night of December 21, December 22, and the
night of that day. On December 23, he offered, no wonder, to confess. He
was examined by the Lords, and (December 24) by the Council.
Prance knew, all the world knew, the details about Godfrey's bruises; the
state of his neck, and the sword-thrusts. He knew that Bedloe had located
the murder in Somerset House. As proclamations for the men accused by
Bedloe had long been out, he MAY have guessed that Le Fevre, Walsh, and
Pritchard were wanted for Godfrey's murder, and had been denounced by
Bedloe. But this is highly improbable, for nothing about Godfrey's murder
is hinted at in the proclamation for Le Fevre, Walsh, and Pritchard.* We
have no reason, then, to suppose that Prance knew who the men were that
Bedloe had accused; consequently he had to select other victims, innocent
men of his acquaintance. But, as a tradesman of the Queen, Prance knew her
residence, Somerset House, the courts, outer stairs, passages, and so on.
He knew that Bedloe professed to have recognised him there in the scene of
the dark lantern.
*Lords' Journals, xiii. p. 346; Lords' MSS., p. 59.
Prance had thus all the materials of a confession ready made, but not of a
confession identical with Bedloe's. He was 'one of the most acute and
audacious of the Jesuit agents,' says Mr. Pollock.* Yet Mr. Pollock argues
that for Prance to tell the tale which he did tell, in his circumstances
of cold and terror, required a most improbable 'wealth of mental
equipment,' 'phenomenal powers of memory, imagination, and coolness,' if
the tale was false.** Therefore Prance's story of the murder was true,
except in the details as to the men whom he accused. On December 24, he
was taken to the places which he described (certainly lying in his tale),
and preserved consistency, though, after long search, he could not find
one of the rooms in which he said that the corpse was laid.***
**Ibid. p. 146.
***Lords' Journals, xii. pp. 436-438.
As Prance, by Mr. Pollock's theory, was one of the most acute of Jesuit
agents, and as he had all the materials, and all the knowledge necessary
for a confession, he had, obviously, no difficulty in making up his
evidence. Even by Mr. Pollock's showing, he was cool and intellectual
enough; for, on that showing, he adapted into his narrative, very subtly,
circumstances which were entirely false. If, as Mr. Pollock holds, Prance
was astute enough to make a consistent patchwork of fact and lie, how can
it be argued that, with the information at his command, he could not
invent a complete fiction?
Again, Prance, by misstating dates wildly, hoped, says Mr. Pollock, to
escape as a mere liar.* But, when Prance varied in almost every detail of
time, place, motive, and person from Bedloe, Mr. Pollock does not see that
his own explanation holds for the variations. If Prance wished to escape
as a babbling liar, he could not do better than contradict Bedloe. He DID,
but the Protestant conscience swallowed the contradictions. But again, if
Prance did not know the details of Bedloe's confession, how could he
possibly agree with it?
*Pollock, p. 160.
The most essential point of difference was that Bedloe accused 'Jesuits,'
Le Fevre, Walsh, and Pritchard, who had got clean away. Prance accused two
priests, who escaped, and three hangers on of Somerset House, Hill, Berry
(the porter), and Green. All three were hanged, and all three confessedly
were innocent. Mr. Pollock reasons that Prance, if guilty (and he believes
him guilty), 'must have known the real authors' of the crime, that is, the
Jesuits accused by Bedloe. 'He must have accused the innocent, not from
necessity, but from choice, and in order to conceal the guilty.' 'He knew
Bedloe to have exposed the real murderers, and... he wished to shield
them.'* How did he know whom Bedloe had exposed? How could he even know
the exact spot, a room in Somerset House, where Bedloe placed the murder?
Prance placed it in Somerset YARD.
*Pollock, p. 148.
It is just as easy to argue, on Mr. Pollock's other line, that Prance
varied from Bedloe in order that the inconsistencies might prove his own
falsehood. But we have no reason to suppose that Prance did know the
details of Bedloe's confession, as to the motive of the murder, the hour,
the exact spot, and the names of the criminals. Later he told L'Estrange a
palpable lie: Bedloe's confession had been shown to him before he made his
own. If that were true, he purposely contradicted Bedloe in detail. But
Mr. Pollock rejects the myth. Then how did Prance know the details given
by Bedloe?* Ignorant of Bedloe's version, except in two or three points,
Prance could not but contradict it. He thus could not accuse Bedloe's
Jesuits. He did not name other men, as Mr. Pollock holds, to shield the
Jesuits. Practically they did not need to be shielded. Jesuits with seven
weeks' start of the law were safe enough. Even if they were caught, were
guilty, and had the truth extracted from them, involving Prance, the truth
about HIM would come out, whether he now denounced them or not. But he did
not know that Bedloe had denounced them.
*Pollock, pp. 142, 143.
Mr. Pollock's theory of the relation of Bedloe to Godfrey's murder is
this: Bedloe had no hand in the murder, and never saw the corpse. The
crime was done in Somerset House, 'the Queen's confessor,' Father Le
Fevre, S.J., having singular facilities for entering, with his friends,
and carrying a dead body out 'through a private door'—a door not
mentioned by any witnesses, nor proved to exist by the evidence of a
chart. This Le Fevre, with Walsh, lived in the same house as Bedloe. From
them, Bedloe got his information. 'It is easy to conjecture how he could
have obtained it. Walsh and Le Fevre were absent from their rooms, for a
considerable part of the nights of Saturday and Wednesday, October 12 and
16. Bedloe's suspicions must have been aroused, and, either by threats or
cajolery, he wormed part of the secret out of his friends. He obtained a
general idea of the way in which the murder had been committed and of the
persons concerned in it. One of these was a frequenter of the Queen's
chapel whom he knew by sight. He thought him to be a subordinate official
*Pollock, pp. 157, 158.
On this amount of evidence Bedloe invented his many contradictions. Why he
did not cleave to the facts imparted to him by his Jesuit friends, we do
not learn. 'A general idea of the way in which the murder was committed'
any man could form from the state of Godfrey's body. There was no reason
why Walsh and Le Fevre 'should be absent from their rooms on a
considerable part of the night of Saturday 12,' and so excite Bedloe's
suspicions, for, on his versions, they slew Godfrey at 2 P.M., 5 P.M., or
any hour between. No proof is given that they were in their lodgings, or
in London, during the fortnight which followed Oates's three successful
Jesuit drives of September 28-30. In all probability they had fled from
London before Godfrey's murder. No evidence can I find that Bedloe's
Jesuits were at their lodgings on October 12-16. They were not sought for
there, but at Somerset House.* Two sisters, named Salvin, were called
before the Lords' Committee, and deposed that Bedloe and Le Fevre had
twice been at their house when Walsh said mass there.**
*Lords' Journals, xiii. pp. 343 346.
**Ibid. p. 353.
That is all! Bedloe had some acquaintance with the men he accused; so had
Prance with those he denounced. Prance's victims were innocent, and
against Bedloe's there is not, so far, evidence to convict a cat on for
stealing cream. He recognised Prance, therefore he really knew the
murderers—that is all the argument.
Mr. Pollock's theory reposes on the belief, rejected by L'Estrange, that
the Jesuits 'were the damnedest fools.' Suppose them guilty. The first
step of a Jesuit, or of any gentleman, about to commit a deliberate deeply
planned murder, is to secure an alibi. Le Fevre did not, or, when
questioned (on Mr. Pollock's theory) by Bedloe, he would have put him off
with his alibi. Again, 'a Jesuit,' 'the Queen's confessor,' does not do
his murders in the Queen's house: no gentleman does. But, if Le Fevre did
commit this solecism, he would have told Bedloe a different story; if he
confessed to him at all. These things are elementary.
Prance's confession, as to the share of Hill, Berry, and Green in the
murder, was admittedly false. On one point he stumbled always: 'Were there
no guards at the usual places at the time of the carrying on this work?'
he was asked by one of the Lords on December 24,1678. He mumbled, 'I did
not take notice of any.'* He never, on later occasions, could answer this
question about the sentries. Prance saw no sentries, and there is nowhere
any evidence that the sentries were ever asked whether they saw either
Prance, Le Fevre, or Godfrey, in Somerset House or the adjacent Somerset
Yard, on October 12. They were likely to know both the Queen's silversmith
and 'the Queen's confessor,' and Godfrey they may have known. Prance and
the sentries had, for each other, the secret of fern-seed, they walked
invisible. This, of itself, is fatal to Prance's legend.
*Lords' Journals, xiii. p. 438.
No sooner had Prance confessed than he withdrew his confession. He prayed
to be taken before the King, knelt, and denied all. Next day he did the
same before the Council. He was restored to his pleasant quarters in
Newgate, and recanted his recantation. He again withdrew, and maintained
that his confession was false, before King and Council (December 30), 'He
knows nothing in the world of all he has said.' The Lord Chancellor
proposed 'to have him have the rack.'*
*State Papers, Domestic, Charles II., Dec. 30, 1678, Bundle 408.
Probably he 'did not have the rack,' but he had the promise of it, and
nearly died of cold, ironed, in the condemned cell. 'He was almost dead
with the disorder in his mind, and with cold in his body,' said Dr. Lloyd,
who visited him, to Burnet. Lloyd got a bed and a fire for the wretch, who
revived, and repeated his original confession.* Lloyd believed in his
sincerity, says Burnet, writing many years later. In 1686, Lloyd denied
that he believed.
*Burnet, ii. p. 773.
Prance's victims, Hill, Berry, and Green, were tried on February 5, 1679.
Prance told his story. On one essential point he professed to know
nothing. Where was Godfrey from five to nine o'clock, the hour when he was
lured into Somerset House? He was dogged in fields near Holborn to
somewhere unknown in St. Clement's. It is an odd fact that, though at the
dinner hour, one o'clock, close to his own house, and to that of Mr.
Welden (who had asked him to dine), Sir Edmund seems to have dined
nowhere. Had he done so, even in a tavern, he must have been recognised.
Probably Godfrey was dead long before 9 P.M. Mr. Justice Wild pressed
Prance on this point of where Godfrey was; he could say nothing.* Much
evidence (on one point absurd) was collected later by L'Estrange, and is
accepted by North in his 'Examen,' to prove that, by some of his friends,
Godfrey was reckoned 'missing' in the afternoon of the fatal Saturday.**
But no such evidence was wanted when Hill, Berry, and Green were tried.***
The prosecution, with reckless impudence, mingled Bedloe's and Prance's
contradictory lies, and accused Bedloe's 'Jesuits,' Walsh and Le Fevre, in
company with Prance's priests, Gerald and Kelly.**** Bedloe, in his story
before the jury, involved himself in even more contradictory lies than
usual. But, even now, he did not say anything that really implicated the
men accused by Prance, while Prance said not a word, in Court or
elsewhere, about the men accused by Bedloe.*****
*State Trials, vii. 177.
**This is said in 1681 in A Letter to Miles Prance.
***North, Examen, p. 201.
****State Trials, vii, 178 (Speech of Serjeant Stringer).
Lord Chief Justice Scroggs actually told the jury that 'for two witnesses
to agree as to many material circumstances with one another, that had
never conversed together, is impossible.... They agree so in all things.'*
The two witnesses did not agree at all, as we have abundantly seen, but,
in the fury of Protestant fear, any injustice could be committed, and
every kind of injustice was committed at this trial. Prance later pleaded
guilty on a charge of perjury, and well he might. Bedloe died, and went to
his own place with lies in his mouth.
*State Trials, vii. 216.
If I held a brief against the Jesuits, I should make much of a point which
Mr. Pollock does not labour. Just about the time when Prance began
confessing, in London, December 24, 1678, one Stephen Dugdale, styled
'gentleman,' was arrested in Staffordshire, examined, and sent up to town.
He was a Catholic, and had been in Lord Aston's service, but was dismissed
for dishonesty. In the country, at Tixall, he knew a Jesuit named Evers,
and through Evers he professed to know much about the mythical plot to
kill the King, and the rest of the farrago of lies. At the trial of the
five Jesuits, in June 1679, Dugdale told what he had told privately, under
examination, on March 21, 1679.* This revelation was that Harcourt, a
Jesuit, had written from town to Evers, a Jesuit at Tixall, by the night
post of Saturday, October 12, 1678, 'This very night Sir Edmundbury (sic)
Godfrey is dispatched.' The letter reached Tixall by Monday, October 14.
*Fitzherbert MSS; State Trials, vii. 338.
Mr. Pollock writes: 'Dugdale was proved to have spoken on Tuesday, October
15, 1678, of the death of a justice of the peace in Westminster, which
does not go far.'* But if this is PROVED, it appears to go all the way;
unless we can explain Dugdale's information without involving the guilty
knowledge of Harcourt. The proof that Dugdale, on Tuesday, October 15,
spoke at Tixall of Godfrey's death, two days before Godfrey's body was
found near London, stands thus: at the trial of the Jesuits a gentleman,
Chetwyn, gave evidence that, on the morning of Tuesday, October 15, a Mr.
Sanbidge told him that Dugdale had talked at an alehouse about the slaying
of a justice of peace of Westminster. Chetwyn was certain of the date,
because on that day he went to Litchfield races. At Litchfield he stayed
till Saturday, October 19, when he heard from London of the discovery of
Godfrey's body.** Chetwyn asked Dugdale about this, when Dugdale was sent
to town, in December 1678. Dugdale said he remembered the facts, but, as
he did not report them to his examiners (a singular omission), he was not
called as a witness at the trial of Berry, Green, and Hill. Chetwyn later
asked Dugdale why he was not called, and said: 'Pray let me see the copy
of your deposition sworn before the Council. He showed it me, and there
was not a syllable of it, that I could see, BUT AFTERWARDS IT APPEARED TO
*Pollock, p. 341, note 2.
**State Trials, vii. 339, 341,
Lord Chief Justice. 'That is not very material, if the thing itself be
Chetwyn. 'But its not being there made me remember it.'
Its later appearance, 'there,' shows how depositions were handled!
Chetwyn, in June 1679, says that he heard of Dugdale's words as to the
murder, from Mr. Sanbidge, or Sambidge, or Sawbridge. At the trial of Lord
Stafford (1680) Sanbidge 'took it upon his salvation' that Dugdale told
him nothing of the matter, and vowed that Dugdale was a wicked rogue.* Mr.
Wilson, the parish clergyman of Tixall, was said to have heard Dugdale
speak of Godfrey's death on October 14. He also remembered no such thing.
Hanson, a running-man, heard Dugdale talk of the murder of a justice of
the peace at Westminster as early as the morning of Monday, October 14,
1678: the London Saturday post arrived at Tixall on Monday morning. Two
gentlemen, Birch and Turton, averred that the news of the murder 'was all
over the country' near Tixall, on Tuesday, October 15; but Turton was not
sure that he did not hear first of the fact on Friday, October 18, which,
by ordinary post from London, was impossible.
*State Trials, vii. 1406.
Such was the evidence to show that Dugdale spoke of Godfrey's death, in
the country, two or three days before Godfrey's body was found. The fact
can scarcely be said to be PROVED, considering the excitement of men's
minds, the fallacies of memory, the silence of Dugdale at his first
examination before the Council, Sanbidge's refusal to corroborate Chetwyn,
and Wilson's inability to remember anything about a matter so remarkable
and so recent. To deny, like Sanbidge, to be unable to remember, like
Wilson, demanded some courage, in face of the frenzied terror of the
Protestants. Birch confessedly took no notice of the rumour, when it first
reached him, but at the trial of Green, Berry, and Hill, 'I told several
gentlemen that I did perfectly remember before Thursday it was discoursed
of in the country by several gentlemen where I lived.'* The 'several
gentlemen' whom Birch 'told' were not called to corroborate him. In short,
the evidence seems to fall short of demonstrative proof.
*State Trials. vii. 1455.
But, if it were all true, L'Estrange (and a writer who made the assertion
in 1681) collected a good deal of evidence* to show that a rumour of
Godfrey's disappearance, and probable murder by bloody Papists, was
current in London on the afternoon of the day when he disappeared,
Saturday, October 12.*** Mr. Pollock says that the evidence is 'not to be
relied on,' and part of it, attributing the rumour to Godfrey's brothers,
is absurd. THEY were afraid that Godfrey had killed himself, not that he
was murdered by Papists. That 'his household could not have known that he
would not return,' is not to the point. The people who raised the rumour
were not of Godfrey's household. Nor is it to the point, exactly, that,
being invited to dine on Saturday by Mr. Welden, who saw him on Friday
night, 'he said he could not tell whether he should.'** For Wynell had
expected to dine with him at Welden's to talk over some private business
about house property.*** Wynell (the authority for Godfrey's being 'master
of a dangerous secret') did expect to meet Godfrey at dinner, and, knowing
the fears to which Godfrey often confessed, might himself have originated,
by his fussy inquiries, the rumour that Sir Edmund was missing. The wild
excitement of the town might add 'murdered by Papists,' and the rumour
might really get into a letter from London of Saturday night, reaching
Tixall by Monday morning. North says: 'It was in every one's mouth, WHERE
IS GODFREY? HE HAS NOT BEEN AT HIS HOUSE ALL THIS DAY, THEY SAY HE IS
MURDERED BY THE PAPISTS.'**** That such a pheemee might arise is very
conceivable. In all probability the report which Bishop Burnet and Dr.
Lloyd heard of the discovery of Godfrey's body, before it was discovered,
was another rumour, based on a lucky conjecture. It is said that the
report of the fall of Khartoum was current in Cairo on the day of the
unhappy event. Rumour is correct once in a myriad times, and, in October
1678, London was humming with rumours. THIS report might get into a letter
to Tixall, and, if so, Dugdale's early knowledge is accounted for; if
knowledge he had, which I have shown to be disputable.
*Letter to Miles Prance, March, 1681. L'Estrange, Brief History,
iii. pp. 195-201.
**Lords' MSS., p. 48; Pollock, p. 93, and note 2.
***L'Estrange, Brief History, iii. pp. 188, 190, 195.
****Examen, p. 201. Anglicised version of the author's
original Greek text.
Dugdale's talk was thought, at the time, to clinch the demonstration that
the Jesuits were concerned in Godfrey's murder, L'Estrange says, and he
brings in his witnesses to prove, that the London rumour existed, and
could reach the country by post. In fact, Chetwyn, on the evidence of
Sanbidge, suggested this improvement of his original romance to Dugdale,
and Sanbidge contradicted Chetwyn. He knew nothing of the matter. Such is
the value of the only testimony against the Jesuits which deserves
We do not propose to unriddle this mystery, but to show that the most
recent and industrious endeavour to solve the problem is unsuccessful. We
cannot deny that Godfrey may have been murdered to conceal Catholic
secrets, of which, thanks to his inexplicable familiarity with Coleman, he
may have had many. But we have tried to prove that we do not KNOW him to
have had any such Catholic secrets, or much beyond Oates's fables; and we
have probably succeeded in showing that against the Jesuits, as Sir
Edmund's destroyers, there is no evidence at all.
Had modern men of science, unaffected by political and religious bias,
given evidence equivalent to that of the two surgeons, one might conceive
that Godfrey was probably slain, as Macaulay thought, by hotheaded
Catholics. But I confess to a leaning in favour of the picture of Godfrey
sketched by L'Estrange; of the man confessing to hereditary melancholy;
fretted and alarmed by the tracasseries and perils of his own position,
alarming his friends and endangering himself by his gloomy hints;
settling, on the last night of his life (Friday, October 11), with morbid
anxiety, some details of a parish charity founded by himself; uncertain as
to whether he can dine with Welden (at about one) next day; seen at that
very hour near his own house, yet dining nowhere; said to have roamed,
before that hour, to Paddington Woods and back again; seen vaguely,
perhaps, wandering near Primrose Hill in the afternoon, and found dead
five days later in the bush-covered ditch near Primrose Hill, his own
sword through his breast and back, his body in the attitude of one who had
died a Roman death.
Between us and that conclusion—suicide caused by fear—nothing
stands but the surgical evidence, and the grounds of that evidence are
Surgical evidence, however, is a fact 'that winna ding,' and I do not rely
on the theory of suicide. But, if Godfrey was murdered by Catholics, it
seems odd that nobody has suggested, as the probable scene, the Savoy,
which lay next on the right to Somerset Yard. The Savoy, so well described
by Scott in Peveril of the Peak, and by Macaulay, was by this time a
rambling, ruinous, labyrinth of lanes and dilapidated dwellings, tenanted
by adventurers and skulking Catholics. It was an Alsatia, says Macaulay,
more dangerous than the Bog of Allen, or the passes of the Grampians. A
courageous magistrate might be lured into the Savoy to stop a fight, or on
any similar pretence; and, once within a rambling old dwelling of the
Hospital, would be in far greater peril than in the Queen's guarded
residence. Catholic adventurers might here destroy Godfrey, either for his
alleged zeal, or to seize his papers, or because he, so great a friend of
Catholics as he was, might know too much. The body could much more easily
be removed, perhaps by water, from the Savoy, than from the guarded gates
of Somerset House. Oates knew the Savoy, and said falsely that he had met
Coleman there.* If murder was done, the Savoy was as good a place for the
deed as the Forest of Bondy.
*State Trials, vii. 28.
* * *
NOTE I. CHARLES II. AND GODFREY'S DEATH.
The Duke of York, speaking of Bedloe's evidence before the Lords (November
8), says, 'Upon recollection the King remembered he was at Sommerset House
himself, at the very time he swore the murder was committed:... his having
been there at that time himself, made it impossible that a man should be
assaulted in the Court, murder'd, and hurryd into the backstairs, when
there was a Centry at every door, a foot Company on the Guard, and yet
nobody see or knew anything of it.* Now evidence was brought that, at 5
P.M. on Saturday, October 12, the Queen decided to be 'not at home.' But
Bedloe placed the murder as early as 2 P.M., sometimes, and between two
o'clock and five o'clock the King may, as the Duke of York says, have been
at Somerset House. Reresby, in his diary, for November 21, 1678, says that
the King told him on that day that he was 'satisfied' Bedloe had given
false evidence as to Godfrey's murder. The Duke of York probably repeats
the King's grounds for this opinion. Charles also knew that the room
selected by Bedloe as the scene of the deed was impossible.
Life of James II, i. pp. 527, 528.
NOTE II. PRANCE AND THE WHITE HOUSE CLUB.
The body of Godfrey was found in a ditch near the White House Tavern, and
that tavern was used as a club by a set of Catholic tradesmen. Was Prance
a member? The landlord, Rawson, on October 24, mentioned as a member 'Mr.
PRINCE, a silversmith in Holborn.' Mr. PRANCE was a silversmith in Covent
Garden. On December 21, Prance said that he had not seen Rawson for a
year; he was asked about Rawson. The members of the club met at the White
House during the sitting of the coroner's inquest there, on Friday,
October 18. Prance, according to the author of 'A Letter to Miles Prance,'
was present. He may have been a member, he may have known the useful ditch
where Godfrey's corpse was found, but this does not rise beyond the value
*Lords' MSS. pp. 46, 47, 51.
NOTE III. THE JESUIT MURDERERS.
There is difficulty in identifying as Jesuits the 'Jesuits' accused by
Bedloe. The chief is 'Father Le Herry,'* called 'Le Ferry' by Mr. Pollock
and Mr. Foley. He also appears as Le Faire, Lee Phaire, Le Fere, but
usually Le Fevre, in the documents. There really was a priest styled Le
Fevre. A man named Mark Preston was accused of being a priest and a
Jesuit. When arrested he declared that he was a married layman with a
family. He had been married in Mr. Langhorne's rooms, in the Temple, by Le
Fevre, a priest, in 1667, or, at least, about eleven years before 1678.**
I cannot find that Le Fevre was known as a Jesuit to the English members
of the Society. He is not in Oates's list of conspirators. He does not
occur in Foley's 'Records,' vol. v., a very painstaking work. Nor would he
be omitted because accused of a crime, rather he would be reckoned as more
or less of a martyr, like the other Fathers implicated by the informers.
The author of 'Florus Anglo-Bavaricus'*** names 'Pharius' (Le Phaire),
'Valschius' (Walsh), and 'Atkinsus,' as denounced by Bedloe, but clearly
knows nothing about them. 'Atkinsus' is Mr. Pepys's clerk, Samuel Atkins,
who had an alibi. Valschius is Walsh, certainly a priest, but not to be
found in Foley's 'Records' as a Jesuit.
*Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 11055, 245.
**Lords' Journals, xiii. 331, 332. Lords' MSS., p. 99.
***Liege, 1685, p. 137.
That Le Fevre was the Queen's confessor I find no proof. But she had a
priest named Ferrera, who might be confused with Le Faire.* He was accused
of calling a waterman to help to take two persons down the river on
November 6, 1678. He was summoned before the Lords, but we do not know
that he came. Ferrera MAY have been the Queen's confessor, he was 'one of
the Queen's priests.' In 1670 she had twenty-eight priests as chaplains;
twelve were Portuguese Capuchins, six were Benedictines, two, Dominicans,
and the rest seculars.** Mrs. Prance admitted that she knew 'Mr. Le
Phaire, and that he went for a priest.'*** Of Le Fevre, 'Jesuit' and
'Queens confessor,' I know no more.
*Lords' MSS., p. 49.
**Maziere Brady, Episcopal Succession in England, p. 124 (1876).
***Lords' MSS p. 52.
It appears that Mr. Pollock's authority for styling Le Fevre 'the Queen's
confessor' is a slip of information appended to the Coventry notes, in the
Longleat MSS., on Bedloe's deposition of November 7.* I do not know the
authority of the writer of the slip. It is admitted that the authority of
a slip pinned on to a letter of Randolph's is not sufficient to prove John
Knox to have been one of the Riccio conspirators. The same slip appears to
style Charles Walsh a Jesuit of the household of Lord Bellasis. This Walsh
is unknown to Foley.
*Pollock, pp. 155, 157, note 2, in each case.
As to Father Pritchard, a Jesuit, Bedloe, in the British Museum MS.,
accuses 'Penthard, a layman.' He develops into Pridgeot, a Jesuit.* Later
he is Father Pritchard, S.J. There was such a Jesuit, and, according to
the Jesuit Annual Letter of 1680, he passed sixteen years in the South
Wales Mission, and never once went to London. In 1680 he died in
concealment.** It is clear that if Le Fevre was the Queen's confessor, the
sentries at Somerset House could prove whether he was there on the day of
Godfrey's murder. No such evidence was adduced. But if Le Fevre was not
the Queen's confessor, he would scarcely have facilities for smuggling a
dead body out of 'a private door.'
*Longleat MS., Pollock, p. 386.
**Foley, v. 875-877.