Birthplace: Oakham, Rutland, England
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Bisexual
Executive summary: Popish Plot
Military service: British Royal Navy (expelled)
English conspirator, the son of Samuel Oates, an Anabaptist preacher, chaplain to Pride, and afterwards rector of All Saints' Church, Hastings. He was admitted on the 11th of June 1665 to Merchant Taylors' school, having, according to one authority, been previously at Oakham. There he remained a year, more or less, and "seems afterwards to have gone to Sedlescombe school in Sussex, from whence he passed to Caius College, Cambridge, on the 29th of June 1667, and was admitted a sizar of St John's, on the 2nd of February 1668-1669, aged 18." Upon very doubtful authority he is stated to have been also at Westminster school before going to the university. On leaving the university he apparently took Anglican orders, and officiated in several parishes, Hastings among them. Having brought malicious charges in which his evidence was rejected, he narrowly escaped prosecution for perjury. He next obtained a chaplaincy in the navy, from which he appears to have been speedily dismissed for bad conduct with the reputation of worse. He now, it is said, applied for help to Dr. Israel Tonge, rector of St. Michael's in Wood Street, an honest half-crazy man, who even then was exciting people's minds by giving out quarterly "treatises in print to alarm and awake his majesty's subjects." Oates offered his help, and it was arranged that he should pretend to be a Roman Catholic so as the better to unearth the Jesuit plots which possessed Tonge's brain. Accordingly he was received into the church by one Berry, himself an apostate, and entered the Jesuit College of Valladolid as Brother Ambrose. Hence he was soon expelled. In October 1677 he made a second application, and was admitted to St. Omer on 10th December. So scandalous, however, was his conduct that he was finally dismissed in 1678. Returning in June 1678 to Tonge, he set himself to forge a plot by piecing together things true and false, or true facts falsely interpreted, and by inventing treasonable letters and accounts of preparations for military action. The whole story was written by Oates in Greek characters, copied into English by Tonge, and finally told to one of Charles II's confidential servants named Kirkby. Kirkby having given the king his information, Oates was sent for (13th August), and in a private interview gave details, in forty-three articles, of the plot and the persons who had engaged to assassinate Charles. The general improbability of the story was so manifest, and the discrepancies were so glaring, that neither then nor at any subsequent time did Charles express anything but amused incredulity. To bolster up the case a fresh packet of five forged letters was concocted (31st August); but the forgery was transparent, and even Sir William Jones, the attorney-general, though a violent upholder of the plot, dared not produce them as evidence.
Oates now (6th September) made an affidavit before Sir Edmond Berry Godfrey to an improved edition of his story, in eighty-one articles. Among the persons named was Coleman, secretary to the duchess of York, whom Godfrey knew, and to whom he sent word of the charges. Coleman in turn informed the duke, and he, since the immediate exposure of the plot was of the utmost consequence to him, induced Charles to compel Oates to appear (28th September) before the privy council. Here Oates delivered himself of a story the falsehood of which was so obvious that the king was able to expose him by a few simple questions. At this moment an accident most fortunate for Oates took place. Amongst the papers seized at his request were Coleman's, and in them were found copies of letters written by the latter to Père la Chaise, suggesting that Louis should furnish him with money, which he would use in the French and Catholic interest among members of parliament. Among them, too, were these passages: "Success will give the greatest blow to the Protestant religion that it has received since its birth"; "we have here a mighty work upon our hands, no less than the conversion of three kingdoms, and by that perhaps the utter subduing of a pestilent heresy, which has so long domineered over great part of the northern world." The credit of Oates was thus, in the eyes of the people, re-established, and Coleman and others named were imprisoned. Charles was anxious for his brother's sake to bring the matter to a conclusion, but he dared not appear to stifle the plot; so, when starting for Newmarket, he left orders with Danby that he should finish the investigating at once. But Danby purposely delayed; an impeachment was hanging over his head, and anything which took men's minds off that was welcome.
On the 12th of October occurred the murder of Godfrey, and the excitement was at its highest pitch. On the 21st of October parliament met, and, though Charles in his speech had barely alluded to the plot, all other business was put aside and Oates was called before the House. A new witness was wanted to support Oates's story, and in November a man named William Bedloe came forward. At first he remembered little; by degrees he remembered everything that was wanted. Not even so, however, did their witness agree together, so, as a bold stroke, Oates, with great circumstantiality, accused the queen before Charles of high treason. Charles both disbelieved and exposed him, whereupon Oates carried his tale before the House of Commons. The Commons voted for the queen's removal from court, but, the Lords refusing to concur, the matter dropped. It was not, however, until the 18th of July 1679 that the slaughter of Jesuits and other Roman Catholics upon Oates's testimony and that of his accomplices was to some extent checked. Sir George Wakeman, the queen's physician, was accused of purposing to poison the king, and the queen was named as being concerned in the plot. The refusals of Charles to credit or to countenance the attacks on his wife are the most creditable episodes in his life: Scroggs had intimation that he was to be lenient. Sir Philip Lloyd proved Oates to have perjured himself in open court, and Wakeman was acquitted. On the 26th of June 1680, upon Oates's testimony, the duke of York was presented as a recusant at Westminster. But the panic had now worn itself out, and the importance of Oates rapidly declined; so much so that after the dissolution in 1682 he was no more heard of during Charles's reign, but enjoyed his pension of £600 or £900, it is uncertain which, in quiet. Shortly before the death of Charles, James brought, and won, a civil action against Oates, with damages of £100,000; in default of payment Oates was taken to prison; while there he was indicted for perjury, and was tried in May 1685, soon after the accession of James II. He was convicted and received a severe sentence, with repeated floggings, the execution of which was expected to kill him, and which was rigorously carried out; but to the astonishment of all he survived.
Oates was in prison for three and a half years. Upon the flight of James, and during the excitement against the Catholics, he partially gained his liberty, and brought an appeal against his sentence before the Lords, who, while admitting the sentence to be unjust, confirmed it by a majority of thirty-five to twenty-three. The Commons, however, passed a bill annulling the sentence; and a conference was held in which the Lords, while again acknowledging that legally they were wrong, adhered to their former determination. The matter was finally settled by Oates receiving a royal pardon, with a pension of £300 a year. The remainder of his life was spent in retirement, varied by a good deal of sordid intrigue. In 1691 he became acquainted with William Fuller, whom he induced to forge another plot, though not with the success he had himself attained. He married a wealthy widow in 1693, but his extravagance soon brought him into straits. In 1696 he dedicated to William III a book called Eikon Basilike, an elaborate tissue of invection against "the late king James." In 1698 he obtained admission as a member of the Baptist Church, and used to preach at Wapping; but in 1701, as the result of a financial scandal, he was formally expelled from the sect. He died on the 12th of July 1705.
Father: Samuel Oates (Anabaptist preacher, b. 1610, d. 1683)
Wife: (m. 1693)
University: Cambridge University
Escaped from Prison Dover (c. 1675)
Sodomy aboard The Adventurer (1677)
Converted to Catholicism 1677, expelled 23-Jun-1678
Perjury convicted Jan-1682
Slander convicted May-1682
Slander convicted Jun-1682
Defamation convicted 1684
Perjury pled guilty 15-Jun-1686
Converted to Baptist 1690, expelled 1701
Risk Factors: Alcoholism
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