Murder, papists and propaganda in early modern prose murder pamphlets dr lynn robson


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In December 1682, Robert Sherburn committed the ‘barbarous crime’ of wife-murder. According to the broadside account of the murder printed early in 1683, he ‘Throtled or Suffocated’ his wife and ‘by Trampling upon her, and many furious Blows on her Stomach & Bowels, beat the Breath out of her Body and killed her’. The broadside, entitled The Bloody Papist,1 was printed while Sherburn awaited his ‘deserved Doom’ in Lincoln prison (sig. A1v). The writer describes Sherburn as a ‘Zealous and Obstinate’ Catholic and makes an explicit connection between his ‘Mock-Religion’ and his propensity to murder. Sherburn’s presentation in this pamphlet is typical of the intemperate violence, wily reasoning, cowardliness, treachery and deceit that were expected from such a ‘Notorious Papist’.

The publication of a murder narrative in which ‘an honest Loving and Industrious Woman’ was killed by her violent and possibly mad Papist husband so close to the heated, nervous and paranoid years of the Popish Plot and Exclusion Crisis was no accident. The stereotypical hate-figure of the male, Catholic murderer is evident in murder pamphlets from the 1580s to the final two decades of the seventeenth century. However, the figure of the ‘bloody papist’ does not appear consistently throughout the century. Instead, its emergence is crisis-related, associated with particular moments of politico-religious pressure when the threat from Catholics was perceived as most acute: the arrival of the English Jesuits, Edmund Campion and Robert Persons in 1580; the Gunpowder Plot; and the Popish Plot and Exclusion Crisis. Robert Sherburn’s representation provides a platform from which it is possible to assess both the origins of this stereotype and its subsequent manifestations. The existence of these propagandist murder pamphlets not only confirms that ‘it is the problem of popery which gives the seventeenth-century experience its essential unity’2 but also that cheap print played a significant role in creating and sustaining the image of the ‘bloody papist’ in the cultural memory of early modern readers.

Murder pamphlets were particularly suited to being used as religious propaganda. There was a congruence between the conventions of early modern anti-papist rhetoric, in which Catholics were created as the ‘perfectly symmetrical negative image’ to true English Protestants,3 and the structure of murder narratives which created a similar binary opposition between the active, sinful murderer and his/her passive, innocent victim. Equally, just as Catholicism was regarded as ‘foreign’ (both in terms of being ‘un-English’ and representing allegiance to a foreign ruler) so murder was represented as ‘foreign’ to any sense of humanity as it was ‘unnaturall’ and ‘barbarous’.4 The understanding that murder was rooted in original sin also finds a parallel in the representations of Catholics: like murder, papists were spawned by the devil and so writers could claim that papists were by definition murderers, or vice versa.5 In a political climate in which open avowals of Catholicism were associated with treason,6 the linking of murder to religious confession was an invitation to the reader to consider the relationship between the murderer, his/her victim and the state. In so doing, ideas of the Catholic ‘other’ and the Protestant ‘self’ were brought under scrutiny.


The earliest extant murder pamphlet which deliberately connects the crime of murder with the religion of the murderer is A True Report of the Late Horrible Murther Committed by William Sherwood (1581).7 The narrative describes how Sherwood murdered Richard Hobson (a fellow Catholic) during a violent quarrel over a bad debt, while both were imprisoned for recusancy. The pamphlet writer establishes that as Catholics and recusants, murderer and victim were already criminals. However, Sherwood was clearly more criminal than Hobson because he was also ‘a derider of Gods Ministers, a disturber of Preachers, a contemner of the service confirmed by her Majestie, calling it divelish’ (sig. A3v). His shameless and very loud popery meant that Sherwood’s hands ‘itched to commit murder’. After the murder he deceitfully tried to deny his guilt despite the presence of eye-witnesses and the irrefutable evidence of cruentation – post-mortem bleeding from Hobson’s wounds.8 On the eve of his execution Sherwood showed that he was ‘false and dissolute […] driving of[f] his Christian brethren with dry scoffes’ (sig. B2r), and at the gibbet he made ‘obstinate speeches’ confirming the Pope’s supremacy and his own contempt for all Protestants (sig. B2v). At the moment of his execution, rather than being ‘a meeke Lambe’, Sherwood ‘fled downe the Ladder to flye from the Butcher, thereby shewing the unstablenesse of his faythe’ (sig. B3r). He was eventually executed ‘in the middest of his Lattine Pater noster’ (sig. B3v), his treasonous liturgy cut short by the forces of Protestantism.9

Sherwood’s adoption of a Latin prayer is not represented as a personal, spiritual choice but as a political and criminal one. The writer of A True Report connects an individual recusant’s crime with a threat to the entire nation. Once the readers ‘see how boldly [Sherwood] imbraced foraine jurisdiction’ then they will understand how ‘the happy peace of this land’ (sig. B3v) is threatened by incipient armed rebellion by all English Catholics. The warning is clear: if a Papist will kill a friend and fellow believer, then what would he do to all those of the ‘contrary profession’ (sig. B2r)? The reasons for making such a connection are apparent in the date of the pamphlet and the fact that both murderer and victim were recusants. In 1580, Edmund Campion and Robert Persons had landed in England at the head of a Jesuit mission, after a decade in which the Catholic threat to the Protestant government seemed to be intensifying and recusancy appeared to be on the increase.10 Despite protestations that their intentions were entirely spiritual, Campion and Persons transformed their ‘spiritual’ mission into one involving issues of ‘secular obedience and treason’, specifically engaging with the issue of recusancy through the circulation of print and manuscript (‘Papists, Puritans’, p. 597). Campion was arrested in July 1581, given a ‘show trial’ and executed on 1 December. William Sherwood was executed in June 1581, when the confrontation between the Jesuits and the English Protestant state was moving towards its climax. In that same month, Persons reported to the Pope that, ‘they are publishing most threatening proclamations against us, as well as books, sermons, ballads, libels, fables, comedies’.11

The representation of William Sherwood – violent, murderous, cowardly and treacherous – is generic rather than individualised. The introductory pages of A True Report contain horrific images of the cruelty of ‘Papists’, who are ‘lyke madde Dogges […] byting all that come in their way’ (sig. A2v), and are also an ‘infection’ and a ‘plague’ (sig. A3r). The pamphlet’s narrative, its writer promises, will issue such a warning against Catholics that all ‘good Christians […] will learn to spew them out of their stomackes for ever’ (sig. A2r). When not de-humanised as animals, illnesses, or rotten food, Catholics are shown to possess a blood lust which threatens to pollute both public and private spaces:

[They] delight their eies with beholding our channelles, running and reking, with the warme blood of Protestauntes […] they will washe their handes in the blood of their owne brethren, in their owne chambers. (sig. A2v)

The fearsome images of streets running with blood and indiscriminate killing which encompasses the papists’ confessional allies appear to be aimed at recalling for readers the horrors of what as described in Acts and Monuments as, ‘the tragicall & furious massaker in France’ on St Bartholomew’s Day 1572, when ‘above ten thousand, men and women, old and young, of all sortes and conditions’ were killed. Bodies were thrown into the Seine so that, ‘not onely the River was all steined therewith, but also streames in certaine places of the citie did run with goare blood of the slaine bodies’. The slaughter was so indiscriminate that ‘not only the Protestantes, but also certaine whom they thought indifferent papistes’ were ‘put to the sword in the steed of Protestantes.12 The text describes how the violence and madness enacted on the streets of Paris spread to all parts of France, a fear echoed by the writer of A True Report.

The embedded criminality and treachery of Catholics comes from the Pope for, ‘once [he has] given them a Soppe, they are rightly never sober after: if the[y] have once powred his licker into them theyr Vessels can hardly be made cleane’ (A True Report, sig. A4r). The imagery of ingestion recalls the writer’s hope that the lessons of the pamphlet will cause readers to ‘spew’ out the Papists’ poisonous influence. The wine-soaked ‘soppe’ the Pope gives to Catholics recalls the one given by Christ to Judas Iscariot to identify him as His betrayer. The reference to the Last Supper is an evocation of the Communion and the Mass: rites which may seem similar but are fundamentally opposed to each other. Such an image brings the doctrinal conflict about transubstantiation to the heart of A True Report and confirms the insidious nature of popery. The Catholic Mass is rotten at its heart – it is a rite celebrated by those who appear to be faithful Englishmen but in fact give their allegiance to a foreign power.

The threat of treachery from within the nation is a central theme of George Closse’s pamphlet The Parricide Papist, printed in 1606, less than a year after the Gunpowder Plot, ‘so damnable a stratageme, as was never plotted against any Christian or Heathen State’ (sig. B2r). The attempted murder of the king, his family and his government was the ultimate treachery, and this pamphlet illustrates its full horror by allegorising it into the story of parricide in Cornwall. Closse tells how Inigo Jeanes of Padstow murdered his father (called James) when he would not allow Inigo to celebrate mass in his household. After the murder Inigo killed himself by cutting open his own stomach. The use of disembowelling as a method of suicide recalls part of the punishment for high treason that the Gunpowder plotters and those Catholic priests accused with them had recently undergone.13 According to Closse, ‘no reason but his [i.e. Inigo’s] unreasonable Religion plunged him into these inexorable enormities’ (sig. B4r). The crime of parricide alone is outside humanity and human law, but it is made worse by Inigo’s Catholicism which, ‘not onely opposeth the Creature against the Creator, man against GOD, and man against man, but transformeth theyr whole natures, ingendering in them unnatural thoughts and desires’, such as ‘execrable Sodomitries’ and ‘thrice detested Parricides’ (sig. B1r).14

Closse makes it clear that his narrative should be read as a clear warning to the English Protestant state:

If to murther parents […] is to murther Princes, which are in most eminent dignitie of polyticall parentage, if to murther a whole Commonwealth, your native country […] bee not an inexplicable parricide, then I must, and will confesse, I have over-leaped my limits. (sig. C1r-C1v)

Like the writer of William Sherwood’s story, Closse connects the murder in Cornwall with the history of national and international Catholic treachery. Not only were ‘the Prince of Orange [William the Silent]; and the French King deceased [Henry III], murthered by Papists’ but ‘King John of England’ was ‘long agoe murdered by Monks’ and ‘our late renowned Maiden Queene more often attempted with treacheries’. Such actions show papists are ‘damnable parricides’ and their murderous history culminates in their attempt to ‘blow up with gun-powder our potent King’ (sig. C1r).

These two pamphlets about English Catholic murderers employ the rhetoric of European massacres and assassinations to confirm popery as foreign and also to demonstrate its insidious nature. Catholicism is represented as a personal threat to the monarchs and through them to the stability of the English nation as a whole. The external threat of popery conceals itself within the intimate fabric of English family life. William Sherwood and Inigo Jeanes are represented as single eruptions of the plague of Catholic rebellion and violence which constantly threatened Protestantism in England.


There is a gap of some seventy years between the appearance of The Parricide Papist and the next cluster of extant pamphlets dealing explicitly with male Catholic murderers.15 Just as murder pamphlets dealing with the figure of the bloody papist re-appeared at booksellers during the years of the Popish Plot and Exclusion Crisis so did those narrating the key events of English Protestant historiography.16 The cultural memory sustained by these texts was one of the reasons that the Popish Plot – entirely a fabrication of print – was able to gain such credence.17 As Scott suggests, the Restoration ‘succeeded too well’ as it not only restored the structures of early Stuart government, but also ‘its fears, divisions and crises’ including the ‘most politically destructive’ fears associated with religion (Algernon Sidney, pp. 6-9).

Just as A True Report exploited anxieties about Campion’s mission to England, so also the fear of murderous Jesuits is an important strand in the story of Robert Brown, ‘a Romish priest or Jesuit’ from Northumberland who murdered his illegitimate child. Brown’s story was printed in 1679 in A Strange and Wonderful Relation of a Barbarous Murder committed by James Robison [sic] a Brick-layer upon the body of his wife,18 although the crime had actually been committed some two years previously. The figure of the male infanticide is not unusual in the murder pamphlets19 but the narration of Brown’s crime not only confirms the endemic ‘cruelty’ of Catholics but also suggests the existence of corrupt Catholic households far from the visible Catholicism at Charles II’s court.20

During a visit to a local Catholic household, Robert Brown met and immediately desired ‘a beautiful virgin […] likewise of the Romish profession’ (sig. A3v), but his attempts at seduction were rebuffed. Angered by this rejection, Brown eventually ‘blasted all her Virgin honours’ with a combination of violence and ‘certain powerful drugs to incence and stir up an impatient desire to venerial copulation’ (sig. A4r). When the girl became pregnant Brown desperately tried first to marry her off to ‘one of his creatures’ and then to abort the pregnancy with yet more drugs: both attempts failed. After the birth of his son, Brown murdered the baby with a ‘pen knife’ and threw the weighted corpse into a pond. The murder was undiscovered for a year, during which time the Popish Plot exploded and Brown ‘fled for Religion, or rather Treason’. The murder was discovered when the girl’s maid (the only other person privy to these horrific events) lay dying and asked for a ‘protestant Minister’ to whom she confessed everything. The girl was arrested, tried and condemned as an ‘accessary to wilful murder’ but eventually reprieved ‘by the mediation of Friends and much cost and trouble’ (sig. A4v). Unusually for the murder pamphlets the known murderer remains unpunished at the end of the narrative.

The point of publishing this account in 1679 is clear. It was only a year since Titus Oates had printed the articles claiming that there was a Catholic conspiracy to kill the King and put his brother, James, on the throne and the continuing anti-papist hysteria made such a story commercial.21 However, there is a question about why it was preceded in the pamphlet by the story of James Robinson’s cold-blooded and vicious killing of his wife, particularly as the story of the infanticide was old news compared to the currency of the wife-murder: Robinson was executed on 5 August 1679. The pamphleteer makes it clear that the two accounts should be read together, as they are connected by their message to the reader, ‘let these sad Examples be a warning to all, least subtle villains by cunning devices, contrive their ruine and destruction, not only of body, but of Eternal welfare too’ (sig. A4v).

‘Subtle villains’ with ‘cunning devices’ recall the image of the concealed and treacherous papist. Overtly, these accounts are only connected by the crime of murder, as they are distant from each other not only in terms of time and geography but also by the contrast of a Catholic whose criminality emerges from his religious profession with a murderous husband of no stated religion. However, as the writer makes clear, they are closely connected in terms of narrative intention. Narrative intimacy suggests the possibility of reading wife-murder as anti-papist allegory in the late 1670s and early 1680s, just as parricide could be interpreted in this way in 1606. Robinson was of ‘a headstrong humour, rash and self–will’d’; terms similar to those used to describe William Sherwood and Inigo Jeanes. He married a ‘beautiful and civil Maiden’ who briefly inspired in him a ‘most wonderful Conversion’ (sig. A1v). The surface meaning of this is that Robinson turned away from dissolution towards marital sobriety but the parallel meaning of religious conversion is important. The religious imagery continues as the writer describes Robinson’s relapse when he was ‘incensed’ in his cruelty towards his wife by ‘a notorious Harlot he kept’, recalling the personification of the Catholic church as the ‘whore of Babylon’. Religion and politics combine as the pamphlet writer describes how Robinson plotted with his ‘secret Caball’ to murder his wife.22

The decision to graft Robert Brown’s story onto James Robinson’s and insist that they should be read together may well have been an opportunistic one in the summer of 1679. Nevertheless, this pamphlet does suggest a shift in the use of the rhetoric of murder as religious propaganda as Robinson’s dissolute and drunken life and the inference of his political sympathies (like Charles II, he had a ‘Caball’) are sufficient to suggest that he may be at the very least understood as a crypto-Catholic. It does not really matter that the pamphlet writer is unable to state unequivocally that Robinson was indeed a Catholic, just the suggestion of it by political and social association is sufficient to prove his criminality. This is different from A True Report and The Parricide Papist where overt Catholicism determined political allegiance to a foreign power. In A Strange and Wonderful Relation a murderous English Jesuit priest from Northumberland is associated with a murderous husband from London whose dissolute and drunken habits mirrored those of the Court, which was itself perceived as endangered by Catholic influences. Here politics implies religious allegiance rather then the other way around.23

Beyond the political implications, the pairing of the stories of Robinson and Brown suggests that Catholicism is fatal to all natural and sacred bonds; through the twin figures of infanticide and wife-murderer the entire fabric of family life is torn asunder. Domestic government provided by overt and crypto-Catholics is shown as tyrannical, violent, weak and false. As we have already seen, The Bloody Papist (printed some three years later) continues to use these stereotypes. The contribution Sherburn’s Catholicism made to his crime is emphasized in the final paragraph of the account where the author notes that ‘the Papists’ had given out that Sherburn ‘was Distracted’ when he committed the murder, a victim of recurring ‘Phrensy’ since he was ‘Distemper’d in mind in his Youth about 20 years ago’. The writer’s scepticism about this claim leaps from the page. He appears to use the language of accurate and rational reporting but the tone is one of wariness about Catholic speciousness:

They believe his Phrensy might again revert and seize him; and though he now seem’d recovered of his late Sickness, and to be very well again, and went about his Business; yet they affirm he was still Melancholy and in one of those Frantick Fitts, not knowing what he did, Committed this Lamentable Mischief. But how far they will be able to make these things appear, or whether they are only related in favour of him, and for the Credit of their Religion, I shall not undertake to determine. (sig. A1r)

Perhaps hysteria was devalued as a rhetorical tool so soon after the Popish Plot, but this apparently more measured, even-handed tone still succeeds in underlining for the reader many anti-Catholic stereotypes: the wily reasoning of Jesuits; their cowardliness; and the possibility of their intemperate violence. The faithful reporting of facts only serves to trap Catholics into an inescapable rhetorical prison: if they are mad then they must be feared; if they hide behind claims of madness they are cowardly and treacherous, and if Sherburn truly was mad, even his insanity was inconsistent – often appearing like sanity – thus confirming both untrustworthiness and concealment. The title of The Bloody Papist, its use of anti-papist stereotypes established almost a century previously and then revived in polemic of the Popish Plot, insists that the murder should be interpreted through the events of very recent history.

The representations of Robert Brown, James Robinson and Robert Sherburn echo those of William Sherwood and Inigo Jeanes, bringing together their crimes and their confessional allegiance to mark them as incipient traitors. The stories of murders by male Catholics are made part of English Protestant historiography, intertwining with other texts such as Foxe’s Acts and Monuments and narratives of treason and massacres to promulgate the powerful emotional and ideological force of anti-popery in the cultural memory of early modern readers. However, the narrative of the propagandist murder pamphlet is modulated to respond to different politico-religious crises, directing the reader’s attention towards a different hate figure. A True Report and The Parricide Papist hold up the figure of the treacherous Englishman, behind whom is the vague (although nonetheless powerful) threat of European Catholicism, exemplified by references to the Pope. In these pamphlets, Catholicism is conceived not as an ‘overt enemy’ but one that ‘rose by stealth and deception’ (‘Anti-popery’, p. 73) and which involves ‘Church-Papists’ who are ‘the most dangerous subject[s] the Lord hath’ (The Cry and Revenge of Blood, sig. C1v). A Strange and Wonderful Relation and The Bloody Papist manipulate the same fears towards a single and much more easily identified figure, suggesting that behind the faces of Brown, Robinson and Sherburn lies the feared figure of the autocratic Duke of York and the possibility of English Protestants dying once again at the hands of a Catholic monarch.24 The Duke of York’s personality is invoked as proof not only of his Catholicism but also of his potential violence. In a letter written in March 1679, Lord Shaftesbury describes James as ‘heady, violent and bloody’ (cited in Making of a Great Power, p. 122) and one year later an anonymous poem characterizes him as ‘a plotting false Duke that delights in Blood’.25 An uncontrollable temper which could look like temporary madness and which led to violence, blood lust, plots and treachery are all terms made familiar by the intertwining of the rhetoric of murder with that of religious bigotry.

In A True Report and The Parricide Papist the murderers represented the forces of Catholicism which threatened the monarch who was the embodiment of the idea of the English Protestant ‘self’. In A Wonderful Relation and The Bloody Papist, an allegorical reading of wife-murder and infanticide constructs the future monarch not as the potential victim but as the potential murderer: irredeemably ‘other’ in his bloodiness, violence and treachery and therefore a threat to English Protestantism rather than its staunch defender.

Dr Lynn Robson works as a Teaching Fellow in the Department of English and for the Academic Writing Programme at the University of Warwick. Her research interests include early modern cheap print and the literary culture of non-conformists and dissenters in the seventeenth century. E-mail:

1 Wing B3286.

2 Jonathan Scott, Algernon Sidney and the Restoration Crisis 1677-1683 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 6.

3 Peter Lake, ‘Anti-popery: the structure of a prejudice’ in Anne Hughes and Richard Cust (eds), Conflict in Early Stuart England (London: Longman, 1989), p. 73.

4 For example: Wing E3684, Thomason E117 [20], An exact relation of the bloody and barbarous murder committed by Miles Lewis, and his wife (1646); Wing C188 A cabinet of grief, or, The French Midwife’s miserable moan for the barbarous murther committed on the body of her husband (1688); STC 18288 Two most unnaturall and bloodie murthers (1605); and STC 23808a, John Taylor, The unnaturall father: or the cruel murther committed by One John Rowse (1621).

5 In STC 5698 The Cry and Revenge of Blood (1620), Thomas Cooper asserts that the ‘sinne of Murther’ is the ‘chiefe darling and glorious sinne’ of ‘that Scarlet-coloured Whore’ – the Catholic Church. According to Cooper, the ‘Divel’ was the father of the Catholic Church and he was ‘a murtherer from the beginning’ (sig. C3r).

6 Lake and Questier show how the Elizabethan state construed the Catholic threat represented by Campion and Persons ‘in terms of secular obedience and treason’: ‘Papists, Puritans and the Public Sphere: The Campion Affair in Context’, Journal of Modern History 72 (2000), 587-627, p. 597.

7 STC 22432.

8 It was believed that divine providence caused the wounds of a murder victim to bleed afresh in the presence of the murderer.

9 Peter Lake and Michael Questier give similar examples from pamphlets about the executions of other Catholics who were not convicted of murder: The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 241-42.

10 In 1570 the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis had promised divine favour to any Catholic who succeeded in assassinating Elizabeth I and in 1571 the Ridolfi Plot was discovered. The projected marriage between Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou in the late 1570s caused ‘noisy expressions of alarm from the pulpits and from the press’: Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), pp. 199-200. The apparent increase in the numbers of recusants could have been due either to an actual increase in the numbers of Catholics refusing to attend Protestant divine services or because the authorities were getting better at detecting them (‘Puritans, Papists’, p. 599).

11 Robert Persons, Letters and Memorials of Father Robert Persons, S.J., ed. Leo Hicks, Catholic Records Society Publications, vol. 39 (Catholic Record Society, 1942), p. 66, cited in ‘Puritans, Papists’, p. 596.

12 John Foxe, The seconde Volume of the Ecclesiasticall historie conteyning the acts and monuments of martyrs [] Newly recognized and inlarged by the author Iohn Foxe (London, 1597), p. 1948. Acts and Monuments was read systematically and thoroughly, used as an appendix to the Bible, and was often the book in which families recorded their histories of births, deaths and marriages: Patrick Collinson, The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (London: Macmillan, 1988), p. 12. Robin Clifton asserts that Acts and Monuments was ‘the book most read in England after the Bible and influential beyond this as a source for a host of Rome-baiting pamphlets’: ‘The Popular Fear of Catholics During the English Revolution’, Past and Present 52 (1971), 23-55, p. 35.

13 The conspirators were executed on 30 and 31 January 1606; Father Henry Garnet on 3 May. Pamphlet accounts of the trials of the plotters were available in 1606. The inventory of Sir Roger Townshend’s library made in 1625, records ‘Proceedings against the late Traytors in 4’ [i.e. quarto], dated ‘1606’: R. J. Fehrenbach and E. S. Leedham-Green, Private Libraries in Renaissance England (New York: Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1992), I, p. 82.

14 Sodomy was ‘the archetypically popish sin’ not only because it was proverbially associated with monastic life but also because it involved ‘the abuse of natural faculties and impulses for unnatural ends’ and so ‘perfectly symbolized the wider idolatry at the heart of the popish religion’ (‘Anti-popery’, p. 75). See also Alan Stewart, Close Readers: Humanism and Sodomy in Early Modern England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), ch. 2. By the time of the Popish Plot, accusations of sodomy, like much anti-papist rhetoric, had become a free-floating signifier which was applied to any kind of religious non-conformism: see Paul Hammond, ‘Titus Oates and “Sodomy”’, in Jeremy Black, ed., Culture and Society in Britain 1660-1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997).

15 Representations of Catholic murderers did not disappear altogether in the intervening decades. See: STC 24757 A Pitilesse Mother that most unnaturally at one time murthered two of her owne children (1616) and Wing B3267, Thomason E.375 [20] Bloody newes from Dover (1647) – both of these pamphlets are about maternal infanticide. See also Wing M2582, Thomason E.173 [22] The Apprentices Warning-piece (1641) in which Peter Moore implicates ‘White a Papist’ in the origins of his murder of his master. Moore describes how White ‘did oftentimes seduce me to abuse Gods Ministers, and to spend my time in Diabolicall study of reading Magicke, in which I tooke too much delight, which now doth very much oppresse my soule’ (sig. A4r).

16 For example, The Histories of the Gunpowder Treason and the Massacre at Paris (1676), Gilbert Burnet’s A relation of the barbarous and bloody massacre of about an hundred thousand Protestants begun at Paris, and carried on all over France, by the Papists in the year 1572 (1678) and A Seasonble [sic] Warning to Protestants from the cruelty and treachery of the Parisian massacre (1680).

17 David Cressy, Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), p. 177. Geoffrey Holmes pinpoints the rhetoric surrounding the Gunpowder Plot as helping to forge ‘an inescapable association of “Popery” with violence and terror’ which in turn laid the foundations for the ‘melodrama, tragedy and pure fantasy’ of the Popish Plot some seventy years later: The Making of a Great Power (London: Longman, 1993), p. 120. Raymond shows how the Popish Plot was ‘shaped by shared memories of […] earlier events’, in particular the ‘fears and jealousies of 1641’: Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 331, 355-359. It is ironically appropriate that recycled texts should be associated with the Popish Plot which was, as Dolan points out, all about the ‘power of stories’ where ‘narrative was the event’ (Frances E. Dolan, Whores of Babylon: Catholicism, Gender and Seventeenth-Century Print Culture (Ithaca & New York: Cornell University Press, 1999), p. 157.

18 Wing S5874A.

19 Examples include: STC 18286.5 Sundrye strange and inhumaine Murthers (1591); Two most unnaturall and bloodie murders (1605); STC 19614 Newes from Perin in Cornwall (1618); Wing T2071 Treason and Murther (1674); and Wing B3266 Bloody news from Devonshire (1694).

20 Catherine of Braganza had fourteen priests in her household, ten of whom were English or Irish and the Duchess of York also maintained priests in her household: John Kenyon, The Popish Plot (London: Heinemann, 1972), pp. 21-27. Charles II’s leading mistress was Louise de la Keroualle and his chief ally was Louis XIV. In 1677, Andrew Marvell warned of ‘a design […] to change the Lawfull Government of England into an Absolute Tyranny and Convert the established Protestant Religion into down-right Popery’: An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (1677), p. 3. Despite such perceptions of Catholic power, Bishop Compton’s census of 1673 confirmed that the Catholic community was actually very small: Geoffrey Holmes, The Making of a Great Power (London: Longman, 1993), p. 121. Kenyon estimates that there was a steady decline in the numbers of Catholics throughout the seventeenth century and by 1676 there were approximately 260, 000 (4.7% of an estimated population of 5 million), although the largest Catholic community was in London (Popish Plot, pp. 21-27).

21 An unsolved death was very much part of the events of the Popish Plot. In 1678, Oates was questioned by the Privy Council about the truth of his claims and one of the reasons that he was believed was that Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, the Justice of the Peace to whom he had sworn an oath of veracity, was found dead, possibly murdered. His death was attributed to Jesuits. See Alan Marshall, The Strange Death of Sir Edmund Godfrey: Plots and Politics in Restoration London (Thrupp: Sutton, 1999) for a full account of this incident.

22 The original ‘cabal’ of ‘ministers carrying out secret and self-interested designs’ was formed by five of Charles II’s chief advisers in 1667. Two of them, Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington and Sir Thomas Clifford, were crypto-Catholics: Mark Kishlansky, A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714 (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 244.

23 This trend continues in Wing U66A The Unhappy Citizen (1691), which reports James Selby’s murder of a Mrs Bartlet. Selby’s blatant Toryism is exploited by the pamphleteer for its associations with Catholicism and opposition to William III; all three are then connected to Selby’s propensity to commit murder and confirm his guilt.

24 In The Parricide Papist ‘James’ was the father murdered by his treacherous Catholic son. The fact that ‘James’ was Robinson’s Christian name may have made the decision to harness together his story and Robert Brown’s irresistible.

25 ‘The Responses: Or, Letany for Letany’ cited in Tim Harris, London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II: Propaganda and Politics from the Restoration until the Exclusion Crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 115.


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