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Ep 168: Titus Oates, Conspiracy or fantasy?


Titus Oates is standing in the pillory while two men drive a cart with gallows past him. Mezzotint. Source Wellcome Collection.

Meet Titus Oates, finally getting his just desserts. There are plenty of contemporary depictions of him in the stocks. This one coming with a devil perched on a nearby gallows for good measure. What did Titus do to deserve this? Fiona explains all in this week's episode.

Titus Oates in the Stocks - Vivian Smith ~1907 - Sarjeant Gallery

In this, much more recent version, painted in the early 1900s, Vivian Smith creates a real sense of menace. Titus is gaunt - almost skeletal, and behind him there are massed guards, behind them appears to be some sort of riot. Everywhere there are blades, and danger. For me it really captures the idea of a country on a knife edge. Titus said there was a catholic plot to kill the King. The fear of such a plot was then used to whip up tension and anti catholic sentiment. "Plotters" were put on trial and executed. Until it gradually became clear that there was no evidence, and that Titus was a serial liar. Some accounts call him boorish, others praise his oratory. He certainly caused a stir. Here he is:


Titus Oates by Godfrey Kneller

Playing Card Set about the Plot - by Francis Barlow 1679

There was even a set of playing cards about the "plot". Here we see Titus giving his deposition to Judge Godfrey ( or Godfree if you prefer!) And then telling the King and Council about it. The King and Godfrey (Godfree) look remarkably alike, especially in their choice of hat. But while the king was the supposed victim of the plot it was Godfrey who was murdered. The discovery of his body used by some as proof of the plot's existence.


I love it when the title of a book is so long, you need a little lie down and a nap, before tackling the book itself.

In fact here's that catchy title again in full:

A true narrative of the horrid plot and conspiracy of the popish party against the life of His sacred Majesty, the government, and the Protestant religion: with a list of such noblemen, gentlemen, and others that were the conspirators: and the head-officers both civil an military, that were to effect it. Published by the order of the Right Honourable the Lords spiritual and temporal in Parliament assembled. Humbly presented to His most excellent Majesty. By Titus Otes, D.D. [with] The King"s evidence justifi"d: or Doctor Oates"s vindication of himself, and the reality of the plot, against a traiterous libel, called The compendium; contrived by the Jesuits, to the dishonour of the King and kingdom. [with] A modest vindication of Titus Oates.


Should you wish to buy a copy, at the time of writing there was one available online. A mere £5,950. (plus £4.99 shipping).


Bizarrely you can also buy a poster that is a perfectly pleasant, if not particularly exciting drawing of the house where Titus lived. I'm not sure if this counts as an early version of celebrity spotting, or even Through the Keyhole. This might have been one of a series of architectural drawings that just happened to be his house. My favourite thing about it....


Reproduction of Titus Oates Oat Lane London. By Hosmer Shepherd

Titus Oates lived in Oat Lane. Somehow perfect for a man who seems to have invented fibs wherever he went. A warning to us all of the perils of mass media - in his case the pamphlet, and false news.


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