Monday 27 June 2022

The Trial of Oliver Plunket


As we draw near to the feast of Saint Oliver Plunkett (Plunket), below is an article by Sir Shane Leslie (1885-1971) looking at the controversial trial which condemned Ireland's only canonized martyr. This paper was the first of two published in the July 1920 edition of The Dublin Review, marking Archbishop Plunkett's beatification a couple of months earlier.  The writer is an extremely interesting man in his own right, born into the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, he converted to both Catholicism and the cause of Irish nationalism in 1908. Although initially active in politics it was as a literary figure that he established his reputation. He published a number of historical studies including a volume on Saint Patrick's Purgatory at Lough Derg and was responsible for returning this historic island pilgrimage site to the jurisdiction of the Catholic Bishop of Clogher. In his paper on the trial of Oliver Plunket, Leslie lays out the sorry saga of the 'Popish Plot', the perjured testimony, and the less than stellar characters of the witnesses. It is an unedifying scene from which few, apart from Saint Oliver himself, emerge with any credit:



THE Popish Plot was not a lapse into fanaticism or hysteria on the part of the English people, but a sanely deliberate and in the end successful means of excluding the Stuarts from the throne. Ireland was only brought in as an afterthought, for it stood to reason that if there was a plot in England there must be a greater one in Ireland; to pervert a text, if these things were done in the dry, how much worse it must be in the green. As the English Catholics had been accused of the Fire of London, so one Murphy accused a Lady Neale and others of a design to burn Dublin. “Haec est potestas tenebrarum ac falsorum testium,” wrote Oliver Plunket reporting this to Rome (May 15th, 1679). This month one Hetherington escaped from prison and informed Shaftesbury of the plot in Ireland, who procured the transit of MacMoyer the Franciscan and Edmond Murphy, “titular chanter of Armagh,” who were the first to mention Plunket. The latter wrote a tract on “the first occasion of discovering the Plot carried on by Dr. Oliver Plunket.” ‘Tories and criminals in Irish prisons found they could obtain pardon and lucrative occupation by discovering the plot. As Ormonde wrote to Arran: “Those that went out of Ireland with bad English and worse clothes are returned well bred gentlemen. Brogues and leather straps are converted to fashionable shoes and glittering buckles, which next to the zeal Tories, Thieves and Friars have for the Protestant religion is a main inducement to bring in a shoal of informers. They find it more safe to be the King’s evidence than a cowstealer.” The connection between Jones, Bishop of Meath, and Shaftesbury was responsible for starting the idea of an Irish plot and procuring pardons for the informers who as often as they got out of prison were being rearrested. The first trace of damaging evidence against Plunket appears in a document in the British Museum, that a Colonel Fitzpatrick delivered to the Pope’s Internuncio at Brussels a letter signed by Plunket and three other bishops, recommending him as the only fit person to command an army for establishing the Roman religion under the French. The paper was seen by several clergy and laymen, reported the spy, apparently from Louvain, for according to the Franciscan and Dominican Superiors there FitzPatrick had carried a similar letter into France. The paper is endorsed as shown by the Duke of York (James II) to Charles II on October 20th, 1679.  (British Museum 32095 f. 196.] 

“That in or about May or June last Coll. FitzPatrick delivered to the Pope’s Internuncio at Brussels a ct or paper subscribed by four R.C. Bps two of wch were Plunket Archbp of Armagh and Tyrrel Bp of Clogher recommending the sd FitzPatrick for the only person fit to be entrusted General of an Army for establishing the R.C. Religion in Ireland under the French Sovereignty wch paper after its coming to the Internuncios hands was seen by several Clergy and laymen known to Father Daly procurator, F. O’Neill Commissary, F. MacShone Guardian of the Irish Franciscans and F. Macmahon alias Mathews Prior of the Dominicans in Lovain among whom tis also said the sd FitzPatrick carried such another instrument into France where he first arrived from Ireland and whence he went into Flanders with resolution to settle at Bruxells. But he was forced to remove from thence by his R.H. commands wch he obeyd not without much regret and murmuring.”

Eight days later Ormonde desired Plunket’s arrest, writing to Sir Hans Hamilton (October 28th, 1679): “It would be an extraordinary service to the King and of great advantage to me that Oliver Plunket might be apprehended.” Accordingly Hetherington arrested Plunket in Dublin (December 6th, 1679) while Murphy was drawing up evidence, “when one Hugh MacKenna made a proclamation throughout the City that the Informant was the cause of Plunket’s imprisonment.” MacKenna and then Murphy were arrested, the latter regretting that his “being imprisoned gave occasion to all the Primate’s friends to fill the town with all manner of scandalous evidences against the deponent.” (Ormonde Papers.)

As Murphy’s tract contains no evidence against Plunket, we must consider in view of the dates the unknown spy as the cause of his arrest. His conjunction with the Irish Friars at Louvain was not startling, for Plunket had aroused their enmity and unworthy Franciscans were to swear away his life. ‘The clan of MacKenna appear well in the tragic story. James, perhaps a brother of Hugh, was Plunket’s servant and was examined by the Lords’ Committee as a material witness in May and November, 1680, but he was faithful enough to be of no value to the prosecution.

The fate of Oliver Plunket can be accurately studied from the Ormonde Papers, of which only such as Carte printed were available to Cardinal Moran. The key to Ormonde’s policy was his knowledge that the informers were being used by his enemies to remove him from office and perhaps from life. ‘To save himself, though he would not instigate action against the bishops, he felt bound to help the informers. He could not afford to discourage the visionary plot with a prospect of far from visionary consequences to himself. He showed all the suave qualities. of Pilate. As English Governor in Ireland he knew Plunket was innocent, but he feared the Puritan mob lest they should say he was not Ceasar’s friend.

There was no evidence, for Mr. Secretary sent him word from London “ to tell your Grace that he learns of no other evidence against him than what has already been sent to your Grace.” The value of this had appeared in a letter written after his arrest (December 23rd, 1679):

“Unless his papers discover some further grounds I doubt little will be got from him. But if your Grace thinks fitting to try him with any questions it is left to your discretion and may possibly have the effect of making him believe we know more than we do.” Ormonde answered the next year (April 10th, 1680) that Plunket “has lain in the castle for no other reason known to him or to any other but myself here than his presuming to stay here in contempt of the proclamation. I have foreborne to have him examined ... and then we shall want anything wherewith to convince him or draw any acknowledgement from him that may lead towards a discovery of the truth.” The truth to Ormonde was false evidence of an imaginary plot. Yet he was troubled, for the English Government were urging him to arrest all the bishops, whereat he wrote that to tell him priests were perfidious was “to preach to him that there is pain in the gout and he protests that he would be sooner rid of them than of that disease,” possibly the only martyrdom he could qualify for. At the same time he wrote to his son Ossory (May 16th, 1680): “The titular Primate accused by them is not no more above them in gifts of nature than he ought by his place to be.” Ossory replied that Plunket’s servant and a friar had been examined in vain, for they “deny anything which can show the truth of Murphy or Moyer’s depositions, that crew being sent back unto you! ”* 

[* Evidence was gathering. Secretary Jenkins wrote (May 7th, 1680), “The material point in their depositions is that Moyer’s being at Marseilles in '73 saw a letter of Plunketts to the Secretary of the Propaganda in Rome purporting that 60,000 men were ready in Ireland but that they wanted arms and that therefore the Principe Colonna and Cardinal Grimaldi should be solicited to contribute. The rest was all wrangling between the Primate and these priests about jurisdiction.” And to Ormonde (May 14th, 1680), ‘‘It is his Majesty’s pleasure declared in Council that the said Plunkett be forthwith prosecuted and brought to trial for the crimes laid to his charge.’’ (State Papers.) ]

Ormonde decided to try him in July at Dundalk within his own diocese, against a petition of MacMoyer, who would not appear to face Plunket’s thirty-two witnesses. “Murphy fled because he knew well that the jury of Dundalk would have hanged him,” wrote Plunket to the Internuncio, and a month later: “MacMoyer is anxious that the trial should be deferred. Murphy fled from the kingdom and they await his return.” The situation was that there had been no trial, a process had been read and the Protestant jury had dismissed it. The accusers petitioned for a trial in London, and summoned to answer for what he called (borrowing a word from Sir Thomas More) “this utopian conspiracy,” Plunket reached London (October 29th, 1680) under the care of six attendants. He was brought before the House of Lords immediately and Longford wrote to Ormonde: “Plunket hath deceived all men living for he told his tale with modesty and confidence enough and without any manner of hesitation or consternation.” From a letter of Arran we learn that “Murphy was the first examined. One part was that the titular Primate told him he received money from you, which question being asked Plunket, he utterly denied and he had less encouragement from you than the two former chief Governors Lord Berkeley and Essex, which I observed Lord Essex did not like.” Essex and Shaftesbury had introduced Murphy to the Lords in May, upon which Ormonde had been ordered to bring on the trial. But the Grand Jury of Westminster returned an Ignoramus, and Murphy returned to Ireland with an order to hunt for witnesses, of whom Arran wrote, “Eight swear home against Plunket,” and Ormonde answered, “I suppose the Grand Jury had not before them the examinations taken against Plunket. If they had, sure they would not have returned Ignoramus upon his bill.”

The MSS. of the House of Lords contain his petition (November 8th, 1680). “Petitioner being very ancient and subject to divers infirmities has great want of his servant to attend him. Petitioner for the most part still lived in Ireland upon the benevolence of others and being brought to Dundalk last July when his trial was put off for want of sufficient proof and having spent there his small stock providing several witnesses for the defence of his innocence and for his own relief he was ever since maintained and also brought hither upon His Majesty’s charges, prays to be allowed his servant and to be maintained during his imprisonment.” At the same time the Earl Essex acquaints the Committee that having several original papers in his hands very material against Plunket, sent them into Ireland for his trial and now desired their return. His examination was on November 10th. “ Plunket on being brought and asked what he had to discover said he had never written to any French Messieurs. He had had no transaction with Mr. Mohun (Moyer?) except letters of civility. Earl Essex asked him if he were not with Mr. Mohun; he confessed; it was to make Plunket and the other Bishops of Ireland friends. Being asked if he knew not of any conspiracies he said he knew something of it; that about a hundred times he was threatened to be killed if he did not prosecute the Tories.* That his life being aimed at, he mistrusted that there was a plot against the English. Being asked if he could name any persons that had entered into recognizances to kill the Irish he made no answer.” 

[*“The Tories are in a great part reduced by Mr Oliver Plunketts apostleship.” (Sir Ellis Leighton, Sept. 24th, 1669.)]

With the New Year Ormonde had received a warning line from Sir John Davys: "Murphy the priest took occasion at the Committee to affirm that when he appeared before your Grace against the Tories he was well used, but when he discovered the plot he was ill treated.” Ormonde thought it wise to give Murphy fifty pounds, though “he has taken some from Carrick that profess here that they are able to say nothing of the Plot or Plotters.” Murphy’s net went far and wide though “neither the order of the House of Lords or ours did give so large authority to Murphy as Sir Hans apprehended.” In fact, Hamilton protested lest “ under pretence of discovering the Plot such bloody murderers shall be pardoned.” But Ormonde dared not raise a finger, for some of the informers were swearing “ that the said Duke of Ormonde was as guilty as Primate Plunket.”

It is impossible to discuss the legality of Plunket’s Trial in London for treason committed in Ireland. There were precedents as in the Trials of Brian O’Rourke and Connor Lord Maguire. Even so, the law of evidence was little understood and the prisoner was given no loop-hole for escape. He was given no notice of witnesses against him, or allowed to cross-examine them. The originals of documents brought against him needed not to be produced. Witnesses for the defence hardly dared come without an order and could not be put on their oath. Witnesses for defence are recorded as giving evidence on the wrong side. The opposite of this occurred in Plunket’s Trial, when evidence in his favour was ruled out as showing Catholic tampering!

A government in panic prefers its necessity to its own law. It is more damning to the Justice of England to consider the character of the evidence on which Plunket could be condemned. ‘The witnesses could not appear in Ireland owing to their criminal records and Plunket’s knowledge of their characters. Their evidence stands discounted by the fact that before the trial in London they fell out, and Edmond (to be distinguished from Owen) Murphy actually gave evidence in Plunket’s favour.

Luttrell has some significant passages in his Relations of State Affairs

 “March 15th, 1681.—John Macnamara one of the discoverers of the Irish Plot met in the streets one Bagot, who searched had in his pockets papers relating to the Earl of Tyrone and to Oliver Plunket.”

Macnamara’s information to the Commons (January 6th, 1680) had charged a French Commission against Tyrone, which was now the charge laid to Plunket. 

“April 14th.—One Lawrence Wier, John Macklin etc are lately come: from Ireland and have made a further discovery of the popish plot more especially in relation to Plunket.”

By May, Macnamara was served with a warrant for trying to suborn witnesses against the Queen and Ormonde. Also “‘There is a great feud between the Irish witnesses about the Plot. Some of them... (Edmond Murphy) have recanted their former evidence and do endeavour to invalidate the testimony of others.”

Meantime, as Father James Callaghan wrote to Ireland, “the Primate is upon the Newgate of London to his great woe.” On May 3rd, 1681, he was arraigned at the Bar of the King’s Bench for endeavouring the King’s death, and to levy war in Ireland and to alter the religion established and to introduce a foreign Power. He pleaded that he had already been arraigned in Ireland, but that witnesses had not appeared against him. He was given five weeks to produce witnesses for himself and on June 8th was brought to trial. Legally he had not been tried at Dundalk. He was not condemned there because the witnesses for the Crown did not appear. He was to be condemned in London for lack of the witnesses for the defence. The situation had appeared in a letter of Arran to Ormonde (April 16th, 1681): “I hear all the witnesses except Oates and Dugdale are out of pension so that you are like to have them in Ireland as soon as they have hanged the titular Primate for without doubt the jury will find him guilty there being so many witnesses point blank against him and their testimonies will be looked upon as valid.” The trial is recorded among the State Trials of England. For the Catholics it was a cause célébre, for no Primate had been tried since Thomas à Becket was posthumously arraigned by Henry VIII.

A full account was printed in folio at the time by Francis Tyton and Thomas Basset. He was tried before the new Chief Justice Pemberton, who had succeeded to the seat of Scroggs, in order to throw a little decorum on the trial of Edward FitzHarris, who was to be Plunket’s fellow sufferer. At best he was “indifferent honest.” The other Judges were Thomas Jones, who “being of Welsh extraction was apt to be warm,” and William Dolben, brother. of the Archbishop of York, “an arrant peevish old snarler.” (D.N.B.)

Plunket pleaded not guilty and based defence on his belief that he could not be tried in England. He believed that English Statutes were not received in Ireland unless there was express mention of Ireland. “The case is rare and scarce happens in five hundred years,” he pleaded. He offered to place himself before any Protestant jury in Ireland. Once he had his records against his accusers and his own witnesses, “I will defy all that is upon the earth and under the earth to say anything against me.” His witnesses dared not come without a pass. "We can’t furnish you with witnesses,” remarked Pemberton drily. The Attorney-General Sawyer, according to Burnet, “a dull hot man and forward to serve all the designs of the Crown,” accused him of registering men and collecting money (two diocesan requirements) with a view to introducing a foreign Power, for whose landing he was said to have personally selected Carlingford.

The witnesses against Plunket may be divided into those who gave fatal perjury and those who told rather in his favour. Florence Wyer said that he had obtained the Primacy on a promise to arrange things so as to surprise the kingdom. This he had only from schoolfellows, and when Pemberton asked for his own information he said he had heard the Primate say, referring to another candidate for the Primacy, “ Tis better as it is, for Duffy had not the wit to manage the things that I have under- taken for the general good of our religion.” What had he undertaken? asked Pemberton, and Wyer answered cautiously, “No further than those words. But I did conceive this was his meaning, because I knew partly of it myself knowing of the former plot.” Pemberton asked him how he knew Plunket had collected money to supply the French forces. “I have seen the money collected and I have seen his warrant sub poena suspensionis to bring it in to redeem their religion from the power of the English Government.” The Attorney-General asked, “How often were you in the Doctor’s company?” “Not very often,” replied Wyer, and Plunket broke in, “I never saw him with my eyes before in all my life.” The deeper the Justices went into the evidence the thinner it proved. The next witness, Henry O’Neal, “would not swear for all the world more than I know,” and confessed he never saw Plunket in his life. Owen Murphy could only give second-hand talk, but Hugh Duffy gave some fatal evidence. Plunket had raised money “to give to his agent at Rome.” Plunket wrote to Cardinal Bouillon to urge a French war against England rather than Spain. “Did Cardinal Bouillon show you my letter ?” asked Plunket. Yes! The gentry had collected to a Confirmation to plot a (visionary) rebellion in a well-named place called “Clouds” (the mis- pronunciation of Clones). He reported Plunket’s conversation about Carlingford and sending money to procure ammunition. Plunket remembered seeing him, but not present in a house, “‘ If you were, you were invisible.” As Duffy withdrew the Primate asked, "Mr. Duffy, one word with you. Is not this out of malice to me for correcting some of the clergy?” Duffy answered, “You had nothing to do with me for I was a Friar.” 

The priest Edmond Murphy appeared and proved as unmanageable as Sam Weller in the witness box. He pretended to forget former evidence and would only own to discourse with the Vicar-General. Pemberton interfered. “Sir, don’t trifle. Have you had any with him ?” “Yes,” said Murphy, “I think it was about this. If the Duke of York and the Duke of Monmouth fell out together that he had some men to raise about that matter and if the Duke of Monmouth would raise the Protestant religion...” But he was not allowed to finish his perfectly true prophecy of event. "You see he hath been in Spanish hands!” shouted the Attorney-General. “It makes me forget myself to see so many evidences come in that never knew Plunket,” replied Murphy, and denied former evidence, “I did not impeach Primate Plunket,” whereat Mr. Sergeant Jeffreys, who was one day to quench Monmouth’s rebellion in the Bloody Circuit, had him searched and so frightened that he “would scarce be persuaded to come back” into court where he insisted once more, “I know not how these people come to swear this business whether they had not malice against him.” “I reckon this man hath given the best evidence that can be,” said Dolben, anxious to get him out. “Yes,” said Pemberton, “it is evidence that the Catholics have been tampering with him.” Jeffreys then had him committed “ because he hath fenced from the beginning,” but doubtless pour encourager les autres. Maclegh or Maclane, a Clogher priest, said he was made Primate by the French King on condition of joining the French. Then MacMoyer produced the English copy he had made of a letter Plunket had written to Propaganda in Latin. Asked for the original he said the soldiers and Tories took it. However, he produced the Clones statutes in Plunket’s handwriting, though he changed the fifty pounds to be sent to Plunket’s agent in Rome to 500, as a more likely figure, “wherein Ireland was bound to send so much money to Rome upon such a design.” He said Plunket gave him the secret of the plot which the Primate pointed out was not likely since “I had denounced him throughout my whole Diocese.” Plunket was proceeding to prove MacMoyer a convicted criminal, when Jeffreys broke in, “Look you Dr. Plunket, if you ask him any questions that may tend to accuse himself he is not bound to answer them.” “He hath been convicted and found guilty,” cried Plunket, whereat Pemberton chimed in, “He is not bound to answer such a question,” and MacMoyer retorted, “It was a Tory swore against me that you did absolve.” Dolben, who seemed to take a fairer view than the other Judges, said, “Don’t tell us a story of your Tories!” But Pemberton would not let Plunket make his point. “Look you Mr. Plunket, don’t mispend your own time, for the more you trifle in these things the less time you will have for your defence.” In his defence the Primate would only say, “ Were I in Ireland, there both I and they should be known, but when I was to be tried there they would not appear and it is all false and only malice. These men used to call me Oliver Cromwell out of spite.” Sergeant Maynard added, “ You are very like him a destroyer of the government.”

MacMoyer then brought evidence that the letter which was opened in Italy was carried by Plunket’s page O’ Neale, whom Plunket replied came to Rome begging as a straggler. The Solicitor-General summed up. Duffy saw a letter which is confirmed by another letter seen by Moyer carried to Rome by O’Neale. In the substance of the unshown letters was the plot, “and this is fully proved.” At the last moment one of Plunket’s witnesses, Paul Gorman, arrived and said, “As I have a soul to save I never heard of any misdemeanor of him.” But the Lord Chief Justice summed up so dead against him that the jury returned a verdict of guilty. “Deo Gratias,” said the Martyr-elect. On June 15th, he was brought to the bar and condemned in spite of an eloquent speech pointing out how impossible it was that he should have planned a French landing in such a very bad harbour as Carlingford. He asked for delay, as his witnesses had reached Coventry. However, the Chief Justice was quite willing to leave them in Coventry, and proceeded to pass the savage sentence for High Treason. "God bless your worship,” cried Plunket.  "And now as I am a dead man to this world and as I hope for mercy in the other world I was never guilty of any of the Treasons laid to my charge as you will hear in time and my character you may receive from my Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Lord Berkeley, Lord Essex and the Duke of Ormonde.” A broadside was issued the same day on “ the condemnation of the two notorious traitors,” and an adventurous Mr. FitzHarris, condemned to suffer with Plunket, received some of that reflected fame which once befell two thieves.

Ormonde did not heed Plunket’s appeal, but he wrote to Arran (June 15th, 1681): “I wish for the honour of the justice of England that the evidence against Plunket had been as convincing as that against the other was, for we must expect that Papists at home and abroad will take his trial to pieces and make malicious remarks upon every part of it and some circumstances are liable to disadvantageous observation.”

Ormonde did not stir, though his opinion of the plot had been that “It was necessary to amuse the people as with new plots so with new actors in them, and we were not forgotten but reserved to the last. The discoveries now on foot in the N. and W. of this Kingdom can come to nothing by reason of the extravagant villainy and folly of the discoverers who are such creatures that no schoolboy would trust them with a design for the robbing of an orchard. Murphy is all out as debauched but a degree wiser than the others.” ‘To Jenkins he now wrote on the return of the witnesses desirous (May 23rd, 1681) “they slip not away or be not tampered with to suppress or mollify their evidence in favour of Plunket who is reasonably well allied and friended in these parts. This caution is chiefly applicable to Murphy....” But Ormonde believed the plot was directed against himself and realized that to save Plunket was to endanger himself. According to one of his papers, three persons were tempted about September, 1680, by Wyer, McClane and Moyer to join with them in charging Ormonde. Ormonde had to persuade himself that there had been a plot, though his guilty and hypocritical conscience appears in a letter written a few days after Plunket’s execution (July 14th, 1681) of a sea captain’s report “concerning a number of ships of war discovered by him upon the coast betwixt Carlingford and Strangeford. It may please God we are safe from an invasion especially now that Oliver Plunket is disposed of, but the good captain being as he says troubled with melancholy vapours, all this may prove but a visionary fleet!”

Plunket’s case had attracted considerable attention, and pamphlets survive in the absence of newspapers showing that the pen was as ever more potent than poison. The Character of a Tory served to inflame public opinion by alluding to his “English face, French heart and Irish conscience.” A lapsed Franciscan, John FitzGerald, published a narrative containing “several things relating to the Irish Plot managed by Plunket and now committed to the Gaol of Newgate.” Pamphlets were published describing his last days and execution, of which an entire collection may be found in the British Museum, for instance, The Last Speech and Confession of Oliver Plunket with an account of his behaviour in Newgate gives details not otherwise found. "He said his soul was now so well prepared for another world that he did not desire to continue any longer in this since he doubted whether ever he should attain to the same temper of mind again and contrary to the usual Roman uncharitableness desired all good Christians to pray for him.” At five the evening before his execution he retired to his devotions, Father Corker, his Benedictine fellow in prison, says, "Being now as it were at hearts-ease he went to bed at eleven of the clock and slept quietly and soundly till four in the morning.” Bulstrode’s Memoirs here add on the authority of his gaoler “that he was newly awake having slept all night without any disturbance and when I told him he was to prepare for his execution he received the message with all quietness of mind and went to the sledge as unconcerned as if he had been going to a wedding.” ‘The sledge was the hurdle on which a prisoner was “drawn,” lying face uppermost. One is reminded of the Martyr Bishop Fisher. The sense of justice of the Man in the Street was comforted by A Brief Relation of the Trial of Oliver Plunket, which said, ‘‘There were five or six witnesses against him who proved the treason positively upon him, and though he had all the liberty he could desire to make his defence yet he had very little to say for himself, only he pretended that those witnesses which should appear on his behalf were in Ireland.”

While in prison he bequeathed his living body to Father Corker, and when the barber asked whether he should leave the upper lip untrimmed, the Martyr, perhaps remembering the play Sir Thomas More made with his beard before execution, referred him to Father Corker, who gave leave for the moustache to be shaved. ‘We hear that some of his friends told him they had begged the body,” said the Broadside like a special extra of the time. At about ten in the morning Plunket left Newgate, having refused to drink a glass of sack without permission from Corker’s cell. Luttrell’s account reads: “About nine in the morning the sheriffs went and received the body of Edward FitzHarris from the Lieutenant, of the Tower, which was brought on a sledge through the City to Newgate, where Oliver Plunket being put in a sledge they were both drawn to Tyburn with a great guard and many spectators attending them. Being come to Tyburn Plunket got into the cart and there began a long harangue excusing himself and protesting as he hoped for salvation he was altogether innocent of anything was laid to his charge. Then he commended his soul to God, owning himself to be a Romish Prelate.” The Broadside gives further details. Mr. Plunket came first to Tyburn. He crossed himself thrice upon the breast and then delivered a paper to the Sheriff which he desired might be published. With the rope on his neck he made his last speech of innocency. “Because the old protestation that he was as innocent as the child unborn is now grown threadbare, he said that as he hoped for salvation he was altogether innocent of anything whatsoever which was charged against him.” He then pulled his cap over his eyes and continued praying half an hour. This detail fits in with Father Corker’s previous letter to Plunket ending, “I send you now a cap, an hankerchief and two guineas to give the Executioner at Tyburn. ”Though the sentence was to be cut down alive, the Broadside says, “Mr. Plunket was dead in a short time. After they had hanged a considerable time they were both beheaded and quartered and their quarters delivered to their friends.” Word was sent to Ormonde, “ Plunket and FitzHarris suffered yesterday, the former as a man prepared and the latter as a man surprised.”

The Broadsides continued. Plunket’s last speech was printed as “written by his own hand,” and caused so considerable a stir that Florence Wyer replied with a pamphlet called The Honesty and True Zeal of the King’s Witnesses, justified and vindicated against those unchristian-like equivocal protestations of Dr. Oliver Plunket. The witnesses were excused for absenting themselves at the Dundalk Trial, “where inevitably he must be tried by his own confederates who would sooner hang the judges than him!” They happened to be Protestants! “Incomprehensible was the Simony of this worthy Patriarch,” nor can the non-existent be comprehended ever. As for the Plot Money, “I have seen the money in the town of Castle Blayney,” asserted Wyer, and by a coincidence Lord Blayney was arrested that August “as being in Plunket’s Plot.” As for the Carlingford episode, it appeared that “walking to take the prospect of sea and land they chanced to pass by an old ruinated Church, where Plunket said although they be at present possessed by the heretick clergy we expect a sudden restoration of them.” This was hardly planning a landing, though “the very Irish Etimology of the word Carlingford verifies the Haven to be doubtless as good, unless somewhat narrow, as any in England or Ireland.” Wyer made Carlingford to mean Cath-ar-ling or Fight-on-stream, and presumably deep enough for a fleet. Unfortunately it means Cairlinn’s Fiord, being Danish and not Irish at all, for the Irish name of the locality means “swimming ford of horses!” Perhaps the King of France’s 70,000 men included horse marines!

Wyer concluded with a sneer at “the devotedly religious at Tyburn the first of this instant (who) had not their minds generally satisfied as wanting blood enough of Martyr Plunket to colour their handkerchiefs. I hope if their devotion will still continue they may attain to the full of their desires by dipping the rest of their handkerchiefs in the blood of many more.” This incredible pamphlet concludes with a threat presumably against Father Edmond Murphy for invalidating their evidence and a hope “that within short time he shall receive his quietus est by the hands of Katch at the foot of Mount Tyburn, but let Charon have a care of sinking his boat,” Wyer sympathetically adds, “by ferrying over the Stygian streams to Prince Beelzebub that masterpiece of all European knaves.”

Such is the only literary remains of the King’s witness against the Blessed Oliver Plunket! A letter from Sir Leoline Jenkins (September 20th, 1681) asks protection for Wyer, Moyer and Duffy, “the first charged my Lord Blayney with treason, but my Lords have thought fit to dismiss him.” Wyer is an anglicization of Moyer and Florence was the hereditary steward or Maor of the Canon of Patrick in virtue of which his family held Ballymaire in the Parochia Patricii. Maor is the Gaelic for the Stuart family, so that the King’s witness was similarly named. When McQuiggin, Plunket’s witness, arrived too late he was offered one hundred pounds “by the three O’Neills and a Friar with a hard name” to accuse Ormonde, whom we find writing to Arran (December 6th, 1681): “ Friar John Moyer is fallen in some degree under the danger of the law for advising some whom he himself has accused of high treason to depart the kingdom. God be praised they have neither sober heads nor stout hearts or hands to command! The McMoyers saith tradition changed their name to Maguire that no priest might bear the accursed name.”

A rare tract was published by William Hetherington in 1682 entitled The Irish Evidence convicted by their own oaths or their swearing and counterswearing plainly demonstrated. Hetherington attacked those Irish witnesses who, through remorse or fear, retracted their evidence, especially David FitzGerald, who, though he came to discover the Popish Plot, “abused the said four witnesses or some of them and asked them if they came to hang poor Plunket,” with the result that “they began to hearken to the voice of this man-catching Syren and forget the Popish Plot and set up the Irish Ha-loo-loo against Protestants”! Information showed that FitzGerald was manfully fighting and frightening the Irish witnesses, applying “Treats, Threats and Money” to turn them from compassing Plunket’s death. This information was sworn May 4th, one day after Plunket’s Trial. What is interesting is that FitzGerald was using the King’s name to save Plunket, “and further the said David FitzGerald told them that he would make His Majesty not to give any of the evidence that was in the City of London any money at all and that as soon as the Parliament sate at Oxford that those evidences would be all hanged . . . that His Majesty had told him the said FitzGerald that within one week after the Parliament were met at Oxford, they would be dissolved and that then everyone of the evidence might go home about their business.” This is the only clue to possible action to the credit of King Charles. FitzGerald was successful in breaking up the unanimity of the witnesses, and helping Murphy’s recantation, which should have sufficed to acquit Plunket. Mary Cox swore on July 8th, that “the night before Mr. Plunket was tried ” she heard Bernard Dennis describe “a crowd of people and enquiring what was the reason of it they told him it was a Subpoena served upon Murphy and he said Murphy had absconded for some time and he said Murphy did say he would appear the next day according to the Subpoena,” with what result the trial showed. In fact it was a running fight between Plunket’s friends and enemies to bribe and counter-bribe, frighten or subpoena the witnesses. It is noticeable that whereas Plunket’s servant was faithful, FitzGerald bought up Hetherington’s man George. Finally, Hetherington appealed to “some of the Papers of that Popish Traitor Bishop Plunket which were delivered to the King and Council.” What papers were these? Either they were valueless to the prosecution or, if they were of value, did the King suppress them (for they are not mentioned at the trial) and encourage FitzGerald to threaten Hetherington? What was going on behind the scenes during Plunket’s imprisonment the historian will probably never discover.

The guilt for Plunket’s execution must among statesmen be shared between Ormonde, Essex and Shaftesbury, whose “agent and stage-manager” Hetherington was (Bagwell). Ormonde acted out of fear and self-protection, but Shaftesbury’s influence in London largely brought about the crime. “The judicial murder of Plunket must be laid at his door” (D.N.B.). Dryden, the Catholic Laureate, was to attack him bitterly in the same year in the lines:

Of these the false Achitophel was first 
A name to all succeeding ages curst.
In lines as perennial as bronze he described how: 
The wished occasion of the plot he takes, 
Some circumstances finds but more he makes, 
By buzzing emissaries fills the ears
 Of listening crowds with jealousies and fears.

When Essex asked the King for a pardon too late the King cried, “ His blood be upon your head and not upon mine!” The royal curse was not unfulfilled, for Essex cut his throat in the Tower two years later. The King’s own deathbed was not unaffected by the Martyr’s prayer at Tyburn for his everlasting felicity. What an amazing irony that the King, who signed unwillingly the sentence of the Martyr, died giving the homage of his last breath to the Faith of Oliver Plunket.


The Dublin Review (July, 1920), pp. 1-19.

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