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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. **Clarke's Life 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. Clarke.**
* 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 safe.*
*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:
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) DIRECTION.'**
*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.
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