The 17th-Century Tom Watson?

Daily Mail (London), October 28, 2015 | Go to article overview

The 17th-Century Tom Watson?


Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION Charles Moore recently compared Tom Watson to Titus Oates. What was the latter's crime?

BORN on September 15, 1649, in Oakham, Rutland, Titus Oates attended Merchant Taylor's School in 1665, but was expelled two years later and went to a school at Sedlescombe, near Hastings. He progressed to Cambridge in 1667 (his father was a minister and a graduate of Corpus Christi).

He first entered Gonville and Caius, and then St John's College. His reputation at Caius, according to a fellow student, was that of 'the most illiterate dunce, incapable of improvement'. At St John's, a Dr Watson wrote of him: 'He was a great dunce, ran into debt, and being sent away for want of money, never took a degree.' Despite this, he was ordained as an Anglican priest on May 29, 1670, and was given the living of Bobbing, in Kent, on March 7, 1673.

At about this time, he was convicted of perjury, having falsely accused Hastings schoolmaster William Parker of sodomy. Oates want to jail, but escaped and fled to London. In 1677, he was appointed chaplain of the Royal Navy ship Adventurer, but was soon dismissed, accused of 'unnatural acts'. He escaped capital punishment because he was a clergyman.

In early 1677, Oates became chaplain to the Protestants in the household of Roman Catholic Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk. There he was befriended by the fanatical anti-Jesuit Israel Tonge, who urged him to betray his Catholic masters to the government.

Oates went undercover and joined the Roman Catholic church in March 1677, but was expelled from seminaries at Valladolid in Spain and Saint-Omer in France.

Returning to London in 1678, he and Tonge concocted an account of a vast Jesuit conspiracy -- The Popish Plot -- to assassinate Charles II and place his Roman Catholic brother James, Duke of York, on the throne. They publicised the tale through a prominent justice of the peace, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, and their revelations seemed all the more plausible when Godfrey was found murdered in October 1678.

A wave of terror swept through London, and Oates was hailed as his country's saviour, even though Charles himself examined Oates and found his tale unconvincing. The witch hunt resulting from his testimony was responsible for the execution of at least 25 people but, as the frenzy subsided, inconsistencies were discovered in his story.

In June 1684, the Duke of York was awarded damages of PS100,000 in a libel suit against Oates, and when, in 1685, the Duke came to the throne as James II, Oates was convicted of perjury, pilloried, flogged and imprisoned.

James was deposed in 1688 and, at the accession of William of Orange and Mary in 1689, Oates was pardoned and granted a pension of PS260 a year. His reputation, however, still languished, and he died in July 1705, quite forgotten by the public.

Oates is remembered in Absalom And Achitophel the poetic political satire by John Dryden (1631-1700): '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.' Keith Rowland, Chichester, Sussex.

QUESTION Which is the oldest cricket club?

CHALVINGTON And Ripe Cricket Club, from Wealdon, East Sussex, is the oldest in the world. …

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