1679: Five Jesuits, for the Popish Plot

Add comment June 20th, 2020 Headsman

Five Jesuits were hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1679, in the largest single mass execution of England’s “Popish Plot” hysteria.

This club of five is the five of clubs in a Popish Plot-themed deck of cards. Here are more images from the same series.

During this 1678-1681 outbreak of anti-Catholic paranoia, according to the French priest Claude La Colombiere, “the name of the Jesuit [became] hated above all else, even by priests both secular and regular, and by the Catholic laity as well, because it is said that the Jesuits have caused this raging storm, which is likely to overthrow the whole Catholic religion.”

This clique of course had a long tradition on the Isles of positioning as treasonable foreign agents dating to the Elizabethan age.

The five Jesuits of concern to us today, Thomas White aka Thomas Whitebread, John Fenwick, William Harcourt aka William Harrison, John Gavan, and Anthony Turner, were accused by Popish Plot confabulator Titus Oates of having “consulted together and agreed to put the said Lord the King [i.e., the reigning king, Charles II] to death and final destruction, and to change the lawful established religion of this kingdom to the superstition of the Roman Church.”

The prisoners made a deft and eloquent defense, impugning the credibility of the embittered ex-priest Oates who could produce no evidence to support his conspiratorial charges — all the stuff that would become the common perception a few years later when a disgraced Oates stood in the pillory for the bloodbath unleashed by his fabulisms.

But in 1679 — what with being hated above all else — the trial was a foregone conclusion. They were hanged to death, then quartered posthumously.

In common with almost all the victims of the Popish Plot persecutions, all five denied their guilt at their executions.

I am come now to the last scene of mortality, to the hour of my death, an hour which is the horizon between time and eternity, an hour which must either make me a star to shine for ever in the empire above, or a firebrand to burn everlastingly amongst the damned souls in hell below; an hour in which, if I deal sincerely, and with a hearty sorrow acknowledge my crimes, I may hope for mercy; but if I falsely deny them, I must expect nothing but eternal damnation; and therefore, what I shall say in this great hour, I hope you will believe. And now in this hour, I do solemnly swear, protest and vow, by all that is sacred in heaven and on earth, and as I hope to see the face of God in glory, that I am as innocent as the child unborn of those treasonable crimes, which Mr. Oates, and Mr. Dugdale have sworn against me in my trial … [if I] palliate or hide the truth, I wish with all my soul that God may exclude me from his heavenly glory, and condemn me to the lowest place of hell-fire.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1811: Thomas White and John Newbolt Hepburn of the Vere Street Coterie

1 comment March 7th, 2011 Headsman

Two centuries ago today, two men were hanged at Newgate Prison for buggery as a result of one of 19th century England’s most notorious anti-gay police raids.

Brits whose sexual palate ran beyond the stiff upper lip braved the force of the law to frequent molly houses, private clubs catering to homosexuality, cross-dressing, and the like.

In 1810, bobbies* busted mollies at one such establishment at the White Swan in London’s Vere Street. A press which evidently preferred its nicknames as vanilla as its coition dubbed these apprehended sodomites the Vere Street Coterie.

According to Phoenix of Sodom, a lasciviously queer-loathing account of the Coterie’s misadventures and of “the vast geography of this moral blasting evil” infesting London,

The fatal house in question was furnished in a style most appropriate for the purposes it was intended. Four beds were provided in one room – another was fitted up for the ladies’ dressing-room, with a toilette, and every appendage of rouge, &c. &c. A third room was called the Chapel, where marriages took place, sometimes between a “female grenadier”, six feet high and a “petit maitre” not more than half the altitude of his beloved wife! There marriages were solemnized with all the mockery of “bridesmaids” and “bridesmen”; the nuptials were frequently consummated by two, three or four couples, in the same room, and in the sight of each other. The upper part of the house was appropriated to youths who were constantly in waiting for casual customers; who practised all the allurements that are found in a brothel, by the more natural description of prostitutes. Men of rank, and respectable situations in life, might be seen wallowing either in or on beds with wretches of the lowest description.

It seems the greater part of these quickly assumed feigned names, though not very appropriate to their calling in life: for instance, Kitty Cambric is a Coal Merchant; Miss Selina a Runner at a Police Office; Blackeyed Leonora, a Drummer; Pretty Harriet, a Butcher; Lady Godiva, a Waiter; the Duchess of Gloucester, a gentleman’s servant; Duchess of Devonshire, a Blacksmith; and Miss Sweet Lips, a Country Grocer. It is a generally received opinion, and a very natural one, that the prevalency of this passion has for its object effeminate delicate beings only: but this seems to be, by Cook’s account, a mistaken notion; and the reverse is so palpable in many instances, that Fanny Murry, Lucy Cooper, and Kitty Fisher, are now personified by an athletic bargeman, an Herculean Coal-heaver, and a deaf Tyre-Smith: the latter of these monsters has two sons, both very handsome young men, whom he boasts are full as depraved as himself. These are merely part of the common stock belonging to the house; but the visitors were more numerous and, if possible, more infamous, because more exalted in life.

This intriguing little window into proto- or pre-gay culture opens to us at some cost to its participants, six of whom were confined to the pillory where the dangerous mob (“chiefly consisting of women”) bombarded them

with tubs of blood, garbage, and ordure from their slaughter-houses, and with this ammunition, plentifully diversified with dead cats, turnips, potatoes, addled eggs, and other missiles … They walked perpetually round during their hour [the pillory swivelled on a fixed axis]; and although from the four wings of the machine they had some shelter, they were completely encrusted with filth … On their being taken down and replaced in the caravan, they lay flat in the vehicle; but the vengeance of the crowd still pursued them back to Newgate, and the caravan was so filled with mud and ordure as completely to cover them.

Worse was to come.

Not arrested on the initial bust or included on the pillory, a 16-year-old regimental drummer named Thomas White was snitched out by a fellow-drummer for having also been a White Swan regular … and in fact, “an universal favourite … very deep in the secrets of the fashionable part of the coterie.”

The stool pigeon’s motivation was the usual in such cases: said pigeon was also making a bit on the side from the Coterie, and he had a mind to avoid his own self being completely covered with mud and ordure and dead cats and turnips.

This James Mann’s report to his superior officer, and subsequent testimony to the magistrates, got White and his partner in vice Ensign John Hewbolt Hepburn hanged for sodomy.

Our correspondent in Phoenix of Sodom notes the presence among that “vast concourse of people” who witnessed their deaths several nobles whom he clearly takes to be a vanguard of that homosexual agenda, “the Duke of Cumberland, Lord Sefton, Lord Yarmouth, and several other noblemen.” No word on Miss Sweet Lips or Blackeyed Leonora.

Merrie Olde England would go on issuing hempen discharges to gay soldiers for years to come.

As a footnote, the Rev. John Church, who might be the earliest openly homosexual Christian minister in England, was rumored to have performed gay marriages at the club.

* Okay, technically, “bobbies” didn’t yet exist.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Soldiers

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