1585: William Parry, Vile and Base

On this date in 1585, a Welsh doctor convicted of attempting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I paid the penalty of treason at Westminster.

Not to be confused with William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

Whether William Parry really did so plot is a bit obscure, but as a spy and double agent who made the bread to service his considerable debts by informing on supposed Catholic plots against Her Majesty, he’d been walking a dangerous line for several years.

(Actually, Parry had done well to win a royal pardon — and then a seat in Parliament! — after receiving a death sentence for assaulting one of his creditors several years earlier.)

Parry seemingly attempted to entrap one Sir Edmund Neville* into a proposed “plot” to assassinate the Queen, perhaps intending to then inform upon him. Instead, it seems, Neville ratted out Parry. (Some versions of the tale have Parry actually making the attempt, and losing his nerve at the last moment.)

If the extensive account of the trial given in the public-domain The Lives and Criminal Trials of Celebrated Men is to be credited, Parry remarkably pled guilty to treason — portraying himself as a sort of off-the-wagon Catholic, continually plagued by and resisting the temptation to plant a blade in the queen — and played for clemency.

Death I do confess to have deserved; life I do with all humility crave, if it may stand with the Queen’s honour and policy of the time … Pardon poor Parry and relieve him [of his troubled conscience].

He then embarked on a strange hair-splitting dispute with the judges over whether he had ever really meant to kill Elizabeth.

He was hung, drawn and quartered at Westminster within a fortnight, now maintaining his total innocence — notwithstanding his epigram in doggerel.

It was pittie
One so wittie
Leaving reason
Should to treason
So be bent.
But his gifts
Were but shifts
Void of grace:
And his braverie
Was but knaverie
Vile and base.

* Possibly a relative of fugitive Catholic noble Charles Neville, Earl of Westmoreland.

On this day..