Debates in 1678: December (23rd-30th)

Pages 387-401

Grey's Debates of the House of Commons: Volume 6. Originally published by T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt, London, 1769.

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In this section

Monday, December 23.

Sir John Ernly brought the following Answer from his Majesty, to the Address about Mr Montagu's Papers, viz. "That his Majesty has sent several Letters he had received, to give you satisfaction in that matter, to be read in the House, and returned him back again."

The Speaker.] If you deliver the Articles at a Conference with the Lords, the Managers are to open them, Article by Article, as the nature of the Articles requires. If they be delivered at the Lords Bar, your Messenger is to tell the Lords, "That you have a charge of High Treason, &c. against the Earl of Danby," and then read the Articles. And then desire the Lords, "That he may be sequestered from his attendance in Parliament, and that the Lords would be pleased to put him into safe custody, &c."

The Letters the King sent were then read by the Speaker, and were to this effect:

"Nimeguen, November 5, 1678." Without direction. "The Swedish Ambassador Olivecrans began his visit with the discourse of the Plot; and that the design was not only against the King, but against all Protestant Princes, and no way to prevent it, but by making Peace—He doubted Montagu; for that about a year and a half ago, he held several Conferences with the Pope's Nuntio in France; that he had it from the Swedish Ambassador there, and the Master of the house where he lay. That there was a Marriage there depending between the Duke of Orleans's daughter, the King's niece, and the King of Spain. If the King did reflect upon former directions, he might know whether Montagu did negotiate it by his order, or not. The time this was, was about a year and a half ago, May 1677—He knew nothing of the matter, but in twelve or fifteen days he could know. I write not to the Secretary of this—I have obligations to Mr Montagu and my Lord Chief Baron, and it is a regret to me to mention Mr Montagu. I am, with perfect respect, and under the greatest obligations, &c."

The Speaker.] This Letter has no direction, and is subscribed by nobody.

The Answer. "The King never entered into any such Treaty, and Montagu had no instructions to treat of the said Match. It will be an acceptable service, if Oldenplank can discover the matter."

Another Letter: "Nimeguen, December 3, 1678. I have received the list of the Officers in the Popish Plot. The Abbé de Sures had a Conference three or four days with Montagu: When his friend hath a cypher, he shall know, &c."

Mr Montagu.] If I was ever in the Abbé de Sures's house in all my life, I will forfeit my head—He is a common news-monger. I protest, I was never alone in a room with the Pope's Nuntio in my life. If it be proved, I will forfeit my head. I desire that my Boxes and Cabinets may be opened, and my Papers viewed, and I will submit to his Majesty's pleasure.

Colonel Birch.] I am not fond of Oaths and Protestations; but when Montagu tells you "his head shall go for it, if ever he was in the Abbé's house," he has said enough. Let the King enquire into it, if he pleases.

The whole thing went off without any farther Question.

[An Address was ordered to be made to his Majesty, to desire him to have a greater regard and care to the safety and preservation of his person.]

[In the Afternoon Sir Henry Capel reported, That he had attended the Lords with the Articles of Impeachment against the Lord Treasurer; and had delivered the same into the hands of the Lord Chancellor.]

[Adjourned to]

Thursday, December 26.

Sir John Trevor reported from Newgate the Examination of Mr Prance, concerning the murder of Sir Edmundbury Godfrey (fn. 1); and added: There were some particulars in Prance's confession (fn. 2), which the Committee thought not for the service of the House to report, because they related to the Lords in the Tower.

The next business of the Committee was to take those five men whom Prance accused. (See the Note.) Serjeant Stringer and myself went to Mr Secretary Williamson for a Warrant to take them, and he very readily gave us a general Warrant. Then we desired the Captain of the Guard, Captain Tufton, to let us have two files of musketeers, in assistance of the Constable and Watch. Between one and two o'clock in the morning we met some Constables in Durham-yard, and we went to the Venetian Ambassador's house. The Ambassador looked out of the window, and asked, "what was the matter?" He said, "it was the Venetian Ambassador's house, and we ought to take notice of it; it was a violation of an Ambassador's house." When we showed him our authority, he was extremely respectful, and said, "He was an unhappy man, that he had had such a person as Gerrard in his house, but he was gone from him five or six weeks before."

Then we went to Somerset-House, where we doubled the Guards. Serjeant Stringer and myself liked not to be there alone. Then the Constable's guards increased to thirty. Then the Constable knocked at Berry's door; he was loth to come out, but we seized him. Then we enquired for Green, who lay over the Queen's stables, but we were told he was a prisoner in the Gate-house; but yet we went up to find the Irishman, (all the galleries over the stables were full of Papists;) Neale and Penruddock we seized, who were familiar with him; these we delivered to the Captain of the Guard, who engaged they should be secure till next morning. Then we went to Stanhope-street, and we took Laurence Hill, and sent him to Newgate. Then the Serjeant sent his Warrant to secure Green in the Gate-house, lest he should be delivered by any other Warrant. Prance said, "He knew Neale, but not Penruddock." Berry was from Whitehall sent by Warrant to Newgate. Green is removed to Newgate; so that none are missed but Gerrard and Kelly. Berry, upon his examination, said, "He was as innocent as the child unborn." Hill said so too, and Green was in the same story. And Captain Richardson said, "That Prance, when he was committed, had the same excuse."

Lord Ossory (fn. 3) went with the Serjeant and myself over the stables, where there was such a crew of odd strange fellows, that any eight or ten men would be afraid to go into those dark en tries: They were Irishmen. Lord Ossory sent to clear that place of all that were not sworn servants to the Queen, and said, "He would have done you the service of a Constable in Somerset-House. And that he would also clear all the House of such as are not the Queen's servants allowed by the late Act of Parliament."

Sir William Coventry.] If any man doubts where the murder of Sir Edmundbury Godfrey was committed, he has a hard faith. The Priest said, "That the thing was lawful, for the good of the Church;" and if so mean a man as Sir Edmundbury Godfrey, in comparison of the King, "for the good of their Church," all this is a confirmation to me of the design to murder the King. I wish it were as easy for us to preserve the King's Person, as to believe that he is in danger. All the use we can make of this, is, to be the more earnest and zealous to preserve the King's Person, and to take a course with these sort of persons. This is the great fruit of your secret Committee; and I would have those Gentlemen inform my Lord Chief Justice of the matter, that these men may be brought to speedy justice.

Serjeant Stringer.] It has been told you, "That these men deny all things they are accused of." No time has been lost—The persons have been examined this morning. The Committee know all the persons. They have Evidence given them of four Irish ruffians, that should have killed the King at Windsor; and I am sure four Irish ruffians killed Sir Edmundbury Godfrey. One of the four ruffians went to Windsor, though he says, "He went for liberty only to lie in Somerset-House." Three persons have been condemned for the Plot (fn. 4); but how they come to be reprieved, I know not. I am sure, against Ireland, Fenwick (fn. 5), and Grove, this person has given great Evidence.

Sir Robert Sawyer.] I move to know, why the Re corder of London does not issue out his Warrant for their execution.

Sir Thomas Littleton.] I close with that Motion. It was at first pretended, that Mr Oates and Mr Bedlow were set on, but Prance is a Witness of another kind. This Report made you is of two sorts; the one, examinations from Newgate; and the other, an account of his own transactions. This is not by Order of the Committee—The military power was called in aid of the civil. I am sorry they were so. I would not stand in need of Guards. I do not condemn it, but am willing for this time to excuse it. There were ways, before Guards were known, to search the King's Houses without help of the Guards. We that were so cautious of an Army and Guards, in our Act! I would have nothing of this entered upon your Books, nor copies given out of the Report. I desire to forget it, and have it buried in oblivion. The most decent way, and, I hope, the most efsectual, will be to send to the Recorder, to know why these persons are not executed, and he will give you an account of it.

Sir John Trevor.] The account I gave you of the Guards is no part of the Report. But it was the sense of the Committee that I should tell you of it. I would know, whether Littleton would have gone to Somerset-House with Constables only and club-men, and there was a whole company of foot in arms. I would know whether you would not have blamed us, if those persons we took had escaped. I would have it entered upon your Books, "That the Guards were in assistance of the Constables." We were resolved, if the Trained Bands had been up, to have called them to our assistance; but what a hubbub would that have made in their passage by Whitehall, they being then upon guard in St Margaret's Church-yard?

Serjeant Maynard.] As for searching the Ambassador's house, you would hardly have found a Constable to do that. Nothing was done in this, but what was necessary: And if it had not been done, the men had never been taken. There have been great providences of God in these discoveries, beyond all the means (I know) that have been used. It has not been our diligence, but God's mercy, and let him be praised for it! There is full evidence against Grove, as to other matter. God has helped us, and I hope he will do so still.

Sir Thomas Littleton.] Trevor said, "In such a case, amongst so many Irishmen, I durst not have gone without Guards"—I would have gone into Somerset-House with the Queen's Chamberlain as freely as I would come in here. But there was not only Somerset-House to search, and the Ambassador's house, but Stanhope-street, that blind place. I did not intend, by what I said of the Guards, to interrupt the business; but I would not have it entered upon your Books. What I said was in as gentle a manner as I could.

Lord Cavendish.] I would have nothing of this entered upon your Books. And pray let an end be of this Debate.

Sir Harbottle Grimstone.] I think, enough has been said to justify the Proceedings of your Committee, and they have my hearty thanks for what they have done. Now it is moved, "That we should send to the Recorder of London to know why Warrants are not sent for executing the condemned persons." If there be no Reprieve sent to the Keeper of Newgate, I would not send to know why they are not executed; but I would send for him to attend the House.

Mr Williams.] I believe there is no fault in the Recorder, but in another place. Pray send for him and hear him.

[Ordered, That the Recorder of London do attend this House to-morrow morning, and give an account why he does not issue out Warrants for executing the three persons that were lately condemned for High Treason.]

Information was given to the House, "That Lady Anne Cholmondeley (fn. 6) was invited to the Duke of Norfolk's house to dinner that day Sir Edmundbury Godfrey was murdered, and found the family in some disorder; and, nobody coming to entertain her, she went away."

Sir Francis Compton (fn. 7).] I believe there is a mistake in my sister's being there that day. All know our family to be Protestant, and I believe my sister would not conceal any thing she knew.

Sir William Coventry.] I would not discountenance any enquiry into this matter. If this Lady, or any of that honourable family, knew any thing worth revealing, they would not conceal it. Therefore if any thing be, let the Committee enquire it, and digest it for you.

Ordered, That [the Queen's Vice-Chamberlain, and] such Members of the House as are Officers of the Green-Cloth, do give an account what Papists, or reputed Papists, shelter themselves in Whitehall, St James's, Somerset-House, or any other of the King's Houses.

Friday, December 27.

The Recorder of London attending without, and being called in to the Bar, the Speaker told him the cause he was sent for.

Mr Recorder.] I hope I am not so unfortunate in the opinion of this House, as to be thought to neglect my duty in giving Judgment upon the Traytors found guilty. I did signify to the King, "That they were found guilty," and desired to know his commands (fn. 8). When I have the King's command by his Warrant, I shall not be afraid to put that Warrant in execution, and hang them all. He withdrew.

Mr Powle.] I am not well satisfied with what the Recorder has said. The King having sent no Message, the Recorder might have waited on the King again, for a Warrant, to have known his pleasure—The thing may else hang to perpetuity.

Sir Thomas Littleton.] When there is a stop of execution of Judgment, it must be by the Great Seal. Upon verbal conference, a stop of execution of Judgment is not justifiable.

The Speaker.] Pray satisfy yourselves, whether the Warrant for execution must be from the King, or is from the Recorder.

Sir Thomas Bludworth.] The custom of the Old Bailey is, that the King's Order is always for execution.

Mr Sacheverell.] This is a strange point in question. He that has power to condemn, has power to give Warrant for execution, all England over.

Sir Thomas Lee.] I would be fully informed whether it is the custom of that Court. I believe no execution is done by the King's Warrant.

The Speaker to the Recorder.] There arises some doubt whether it is usual in that Court to respite execution, till there be a Warrant from the King for execution.

Mr Recorder.] When the prisoners have received Judgment, the persons who have had benefit of Clergy, and such as are found guilty, are brought to the King in a paper. Then I wait upon the King with it, and the King, by word of mouth only, declares his pleasure, "That he will have such and such persons executed, such transported, and such pardoned." Then the Recorder gives order accordingly. The King's word is his Warrant in this.

Sir Robert Sawyer.] I move that the Recorder may declare to you, whether he has waited on the King for directions. If he has done that, he has done his part. If not, then give him directions to attend the King.

Sir Charles Harbord.] This is not a common case, but the case of the Kingdom. I would have the Recorder acquaint the King.

Mr Stanhope.] I am much troubled at this Debate. Here are men condemned for conspiring to murder the King, and execution is stopped and respited. It is said about town, "That the prisoners have had foul play, and that their Evidence was not heard." But if I am not mistaken, eight Judges sat at their Tryal, and several Justices of the Peace, and they say, "They never heard a more clear Evidence, than was given against the prisoners." But it is said here by a Member (fn. 9), "That there is an instrument under the Seal of St Omer's College to certify their being there at that time, &c." I am as little for shedding blood, as any man; but this is shedding blood, to defer this execution. I expect every minute that some mischief will befall the King, but I hope every Englishman will die upon the spot to revenge that blood.

Sir Thomas Lee.] I observe that, in all personal things, every thing that is amiss comes home to the King—This is an improper way of debating. The proper Question is, "Whether the Recorder has done his duty?" The stop is from him, and him only. This puts me in mind of something that fell from Mr Oates. He told you, "Grove, no doubt, should be pardoned by the Pope for killing the King." I know not but Mr Recorder will pardon him, if the Recorder can reprieve condemned men at this rate. When I see a Reprieve under the King's hand, I shall believe it, and not before. I am not for addressing the King in this matter, seeing that we had so ill success in the last we made for his safety (fn. 10), since we have no appointment of access to him about it. The Question is, "Whether the Recorder has done his duty?"

Mr Prodgers.] It is an observed method, when the Recorder waits on the King with an account of such names of the prisoners as are condemned, and have had Clergy, the King orders which he will have executed. I do not believe that the Recorder is in any fault.

Mr Palmes.] It is pretty evident, that there has been a delay of Justice somewhere; and a delay in the Recorder. If it be thus difficult to bring traytors to execution, I fear this is done by some great interest; it may be to do what these men are condemned for. Twenty days have now passed (fn. 11) since they were condemned, and no duty done by the Recorder. The King has signified no pleasure, and the Recorder has not done his duty. The default is in the King's Officers; punish them for their fault, and trouble not the King with Addresses. I think the Recorder is in fault.

Sir William Coventry.] The Law has so provided, that severities may be done without the King, but mercies not. As I apprehend the Recorder, he expects a verbal command from the King, and the King has some little time to consider. Usually the practice is, that the King is informed by the Judges, where the crime seems small, and yet the Law has reached it; and where the parties are penitent, or there is a discovery, and that is an inducement to the King to pardon or reprieve; but what I apprehended was an extrajudicial way. But if affidavits should be received against the Court, after hearing and Tryal over, that would be a strange thing; if so, that is a preparation to save other delinquents, under the same predicament; and should be locked upon with those eyes. I would be unwilling to thrust myself into matters of blood. I would stay a little longer to consider this—I would adjourn this Debate to Monday.

* * * * * *] I do not so much value the Reprimand to the Recorder; but this delay of execution seems to put a baffle upon the Evidence, as not sufficient.

Sir Thomas Littleton.] I think the Recorder has not performed his duty, for it is in his power to cause execution to be done. And I would have that the Question.

Sir Richard Temple proffering to speak, Sir Thomas Littleton said,] He has had the leave of the House to go into the country (fn. 12); and it is an absurd thing to have leave upon the Journal, and not to go.

Sir Thomas Clarges.] For Temple to tell you, "That his mother is dying," and to ask your leave to go into the country!—He ought not to sit here till that Order be rescinded. All things ought to be moved here with the gravity that becomes this place. I move that he may withdraw till the Order be rescinded.

Sir Richard Temple.] I never heard that leave was a command to go. I told you, "I sent my wife into the country to my mother, but as she was well, she returned again." The Motion from Littleton is a merry Motion, a Christmas Motion.

Mr Swynfin.] Whether the Recorder has done his duty, or is the occasion of the delay of execution,—if that Question should be put and passed, "That he has done his duty," it will confirm the delay of the execution. The House is sufficiently possessed of the thing. If you put the Question on his duty, and it be carried in the affirmative, it is the greatest blow to it that you could give. But this Debate may have good effect, the Question not.

Mr Powle.] I have respect for the Recorder; but by no means can he justify this extraordinary jail-delivery. These persons to be condemned by him, and he in nine or ten days never go to the King to know his pleasure about their execution!—This has already bred discontent in the Nation. Those that are the King's Officers put it from themselves, and lay it on the King—Other men must not lay their faults on the King. I believe, some great means have been used in this matter, and if you adjourn this Debate till Monday, you may adjourn it again to another time, and have the delays repeated.

Lord Cavendish.] If you adjourn this Debate a second time, it may be of very ill consequence. I will not say the design was to weaken the Witnesses, but I am sure the consequence of it is so. If you do not adjourn the Debate, at least direct the Recorder to apply to the King for direction, to know his pleasure, when these men shall be executed.

Mr Boscawen.] To send the Recorder to the King, &c. I never heard of that before. I would adjourn the Debate to Monday, and if execution be not done, at the Recorder's peril. The thing is a sad prospect; but to be unanimous, I would adjourn to Monday.

Sir Thomas Clarges.] Any thing of slackness in this matter will extremely animate the Papists. If there be slackness in the execution of these persons, who should have murdered the King, they will surely imagine it will be to the rest of the prisoners. It will satisfy the Nation, that we give no encouragement to things of this nature.

Sir Henry Capel.] I would not give this thing the assistance of this House, till the utmost extremity. Your sense is sufficiently known, and I would adjourn the Debate.

Sir Thomas Lee.] If you adjourn to Monday, the World will say that to this day you are satisfied with the Recorder—And then you will have new matter to examine. If Gentlemen do desire it, let us take the blame of it abroad upon us.

The farther Debate was adjourned to Monday [on a division, 184 to 112: But the Prorogation prevented its being resumed.]

Saturday, December 28.

On the Lords refusing to sequester the Earl of Danby from Parliament, &c.

Lord Cavendish.] The late Duke of Buckingham was impeached by the Commons of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and not of Treason, yet the Commons desired him to be sequestered from Parliament. I believe that Justice will not be done upon those Lords in the Plot, if the Lords proceed not against this Lord who has concealed the Plot so long.

Mr Powle.] The Question is, Whether you will take this matter, of not sequestering the Earl of Danby from Parliament, into consideration, the Army being so near the time of disbanding? I take not the Lords Reasons to be so cogent, but that they may, with some short consideration, be answered. And then I shall concur with Lord Cavendish's Motion.

Sir Thomas Lee.] This case is the whole method of Impeachment for the future—You know what became of the Earl of Clarendon's case. The Lords would not commit him to custody, and he went away, and you were forced to send an Act of Parliament after him.

Mr Sollicitor Winnington.] I propose to the consideration of the House, (with all correction and submission) whether this is not a distinct method of proceeding from other Courts. This is a Court of Record, and I have seen the Lords Entry, which any man may take out. And therefore it is a proper time to proceed in it now.

Sir John Mallet.] The Plea to a Capias must be, that he is in custody, and in the eye of the Law he is a Traytor till he has purged himself by Plea or Demurrer—and be in custody. He is near the Person of the King, and the not securing him will be a strange Precedent to other Traytors. I believe the House will prove this Treason, and, in the Judgment of the Law, he is a Traytor till he has purged himself.

Mr Bennet.] The Treasurer, accused of Treason, non solum vivit, sed in Senatum venit. This Conference with the Lords will put off this Debate till next day.

[A free Conference with the Lords was desired, and agreed to.]

Monday, December 30.

His Majesty, in the House of Lords, spoke as follows to both Houses:

"My Lords and Gentlemen,

"It is with great unwillingness that I come this day to tell you, I intend to prorogue you. I think all of you are witnesses that I have been ill used; the particulars of it I intend to acquaint you with at a more convenient time. In the mean time, I do assure you, that I will immediately enter upon the disbanding of the Army, and let all the World see, that there is nothing that I intend but for the good of the Kingdom, and for the safety of Religion. I will likewise prosecute this Plot, and find out who are the instruments in it: And I shall take all the care which lies in my power, for the security of Religion, and the maintenance of it, as it is now established. I have no more to say to you at this time, but leave the rest to my Lord Chancellor to prorogue you (fn. 13)."

Then the Lord Chancellor said,

"His Majesty hath commanded this Parliament to be prorogued to the 4th of February next, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to the 4th of February next (fn. 14)."

It was dissolved by Proclamation January 24 (fn. 15). And in the same Proclamation notice was given of his Majesty's intentions of calling another Parliament to meet the 6th of March following.

So ended this Long Parliament, [which had continued almost eighteen years, and was] the longest that ever had been before.


  • 1. The Committee of Secrecy had been ordered to examine him the day before.
  • 2. Prance was a goldsmith, who wrought for the Queen's Chapel, and the substance of his deposition was, "That Berry (the Porter of Somerset-House,) Green, (Cushion-man to the Chapel,) Gerrard and Kelly, (two Irish Priests,) and Hill, (servant to Dr Godden, who was Treasurer of the Chapel, and the most celebrated writer among the Papists) wheedled Sir Edmundbury Godfrey into Somerset-House, October 12, about nine at night, under pretence of appeasing a quarrel; where, near the Queen's stables, they suddenly threw him down, and strangled him with a handkerchief. That afterwards the body was carried into Dr Godden's lodgings, (where Hill lived) and after having been moved backwards and forwards into other rooms, above four days and nights, was carried out in a sedan, October 16, about twelve at night, and left in a ditch near Primrose-Hill, with his sword run through him by Gerrard himself, that he might be supposed to have been his own murderer." This was in a great measure confirmed by Bedlow, and on their evidence Green and Hill were condemned, and executed February 21, as was Berry, May 28. They all three insisted on their innocence to the last.
  • 3. The Earl of Ossory and the Duke of Monmouth were appointed by the King to take Prance's information, from place to place where the things were acted, and to report the matter to his Majesty in Council. See the Report in Ralph's Hist. Vol. II. p. 408.
  • 4. Ireland, Grove, and Pickering, who were condemned December 17. The two first were executed January 24, but the last not till May 9.
  • 5. Fenwick was not tryed till June 13, when he was condemned, and executed the 20th.
  • 6. Wife of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley, and sister to the Earl of Northampton, and the Bishop of London.
  • 7. Fourth brother to the Earl of Northampton, &c. and distinguished (like his father and brothers) in the Civil Wars. He was afterwards Lieutenant General of Horse, and Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal regiment of Horseguards, in which posts he died in 1716, in the 87th year of his age, the oldest Field Officer in Great Britain. Collins's Peerage.
  • 8. The Journal says, "That his Majesty was pleased to make this Answer, "That he would consider of it; and that he should suspend execution for some time."
  • 9. Birkenhead.
  • 10. See p. 389.
  • 11. This is a mistake, as they were condemned the 17th.
  • 12. It appears by the Journal, that Sir Richard Temple had leave to go into the country on the 23d.
  • 13. This Speech is not inserted in the Journal.
  • 14. Immediately after the Prorogation, Mr Secretary Williamson resigned the Seals, which were delivered by the King to the Earl of Sunderland, though he had given hopes of the place to Sir William Temple, then Ambassador in Holland, and had called him over for that purpose. But Temple, at his arrival, found the post filled, the Earl of Sunderland having paid Williamson 6000l. and 500 guineas, which Temple was not able or willing to give. Shortly after, the King dismissed the Earl of Danby, and put the Treasury into Commission. Rapin. Sir William Temple, in his Memoirs, contradicts what Rapin asserts: He says, "That the King sent for him over from the Hague, where he was Ambassador, to take possession of the office of Secretary of State in the room of Secretary Coventry; but on his arrival he declined the accepting it, though greatly pressed by the King, representing to his Majesty how necessary it was for him to have one of the Secretaries in the House of Commons, (where it had been usual to have them both) and that consequently it was very unfit for him to enter upon that Office before he got into the House, which was attempted, and failed."
  • 15. Some think this Parliament was dissolved, on purpose to protect the Popish Lords in the Tower, and divert, if possible, the house of the Popish Plot; or else to cover the Duke of York from the resentment of the Commons, and the general indignation of the people. Kennet.