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command of the King, laid the whole affair before them. Upon the first discovery, the High Church party were eagerly bent on pursuing the plot; but when they saw Lord Shaftesbury and his friends take it up with still more vehemence and activity, they became cool in the prosecution. Another circumstance may be mentioned, which tends to exculpate Shaftesbury from any share in inventing the story. It was a part of the pretended plot, though not generally noticed, that Popish priests should assume the disguise of dissenting ministers, in order to preach liberty of ,conscience. * This could never answer the purpose of Lord Shaftesbury, who was at this time chiefly supported by Non-conformists. It is also remarkable, that the first time Oates was examined respecting the Duke of York, he affirmed him to be totally ignorant of the plot, and gave many reasons in support of that opinion. Besides, the whole story is so wild and so absurd, that it is impossible for any one to believe that it was the invention of so able a man as Shaftesbury.
t Parliament met on the 21st Oct. In the King's speech the plot was taken notice of in the following terms: —"I now intend to acquaint you (as I always shall do with
* See Oates's Narrative.
any thing that concerns me) that I have been informed of a design against my person by the . Jesuits, of which I shall forbear any opinion, lest I may seem to say too much or too little; but I will leave the matter to the law, and in the mean time will take as much care as I can to prevent all manner of practices by that sort of men, and of others, too, who have been tampering in a high degree with foreigners, and contriving how to introduce Popery amongst us."
Lord Chancellor Finch, following the King, said, "His Majesty has told you, that he hath lately received information of designs against his own life by the Jesuits; and though he doth in no sort prejudice the persons accused, yet the strict enquiry into this matter hath been the means to discover so many other unwarantable practices of theirs, that His Majesty hath reason to look to them."
The letters of Coleman, and the murder of Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey, seem to have fully confirmed the general belief of the Popish Plot. Every party shared in this delusion, and Oates was generally styled the Saviour of the Nation. The country party, in general, were probably deceived with the rest. They were, indeed, more open to be imposed upon by a feigned plot than others, as they were thoroughly convinced that a design was carrying on against the Protestant religion. * In the paper which Lord Russell delivered to the Sheriffs on the scaffold, he speak thus: "As for the share I had in the prosecution of the Popish Plot, I take God to witness that I proceeded in it in the sincerity of my heart, being then really convinced (as 1 am still) that there was a conspiracy against the King, the nation, and the Protestant religion; and I likewise profess, that I never knew any thing either directly or indirectly, of any practice with the witnesses ; which'I looked upon as so horrid a tiling, that 1 could never have endured it."
The sincerity of Lord Russell is so generally acknowledged, that credit must be given to him for upright intentions at this singular period. The character of Lord Shaftesbury is not so pure as to free him equally from reproach. Perhaps he may have reasoned to himself in this manner: —" It is clear that designs exist somewhere to subvert our laws and religion. But the people who would never listen to us when we in
* So also was Mr. Evelyn. "For my part," he says, "I look on Oates as a vain insolent man, puffed up with the favour of the Commons, for having discovered something really true, more especially as detecting the real intrigue of Coleman, proved out of his own letters, and of a general design which the jesuited party of the Papists ever had, and still have to ruin the Church of England," &c. Vol. i. p. 479.
VOL. I. K
formed them of the conspiracy earned on with France, are now thoroughly awakened to a sense of their danger, when it has been drest up in wonders and horrors by the knavery of Oates. It is much better to promote their credulity than, by letting this plot fall, to incur the risk of their sinking again into a fatal apathy." Shaftesbury, who was not very scrupulous, may have satisfied his conscience with such arguments. But whatever may have been his secret views, the party in general seems to have given into the belief of the plot with the rest of the nation, including a majority of the ministers, and nearly the whole of the church.
The enquiries to which the plot gave rise soon involved the Duke of York.
Coleman, formerly the Duke's secretary, afterwards in disgrace, and at that time secretary to the Duchess, was the agent of a correspondence during the years 1674, 1675, and part of 1676, between James and the King of France, through the means of Fathers Ferrier and Le Chaise. It related chiefly to advances of money from the French king to obtain the dissolution of the English Parliament, and promote the French and Catholic interest. But nothing seems to have been concluded, the effectual negociations having been carried on, as we have seen, by other hands. In one of these letters, Coleman says,
"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 domineered over great part of this northern world a long time. There never were such hopes of success since the days of Queen Mary, as now in our days, when God has given us a prince, who is become (I may say by miracle) zealous of being the author and instrument of so glorious a work; but the opposition we are sure to meet with is also like to be great, so that it imports us to get all the aid and assistance we can; for the harvest is great and the labourers but few. That which we rely most upon, next to God Almighty's providence, and the fervour of my master the Duke, is the mighty mind of His Christian Majesty, &c."
Upon Coleman's examination by a committee of the Commons, he confessed the correspondence, but said there were hot more than three men in England privy to it, of whom the Duke of York was one, and he believed Lord Arundel another. He also confessed he had been sent by the Duke of York to Brussels upon a proposal from the nuncio, of money from the Pope, on condition that the Catholics should receive proportionable favour. But the nuncio had afterwards disowned any authority from the Pope. Undoubte&y