21/01/2009

Grays and the Popish Plot

Posted in Local History at 10:15 pm by henrysgauntlet

People living in twenty-first century Britain often find it difficult to understand why Catholics are barred by a law dating from 1701 from becoming King or Queen of our country.   They are no less puzzled to discover that members of the royal family must give up their place in the line of succession if they marry a Catholic.

The reason for this lies in the history of England after the Reformation.   By the late-16th century, the overwhelming majority of the population was Protestant.   Practising Catholics were a tiny minority, most of them loyal to Queen Elizabeth.   However, there were Catholics in exile and England willing to plot to overthrow the Queen and her Stuart successors.   We still remember the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and, rather less often, the Popish Plot of 1679.

The Popish Plot was triggered by claims that King Charles II’s brother, James, Duke of York, was planning to succeed his brother with the help of Jesuit Priests and his cousin, Louis XIV, King of France.   The Church of England was to be overthrown and Parliament was to be abolished.   True religion and the liberties of England were to be overthrown. There was just enough colour in these allegations for Titus Oates to be able to instigate a series of trials of real or imagined Catholic conspirators.

Grays actually figured in the trial of one of those accused.   A man called John Lane was apparently sent to hide “by the waterside” in Grays by Lord Powis.   

The River Thames at Grays

The River Thames at Grays

He was provided with a new pair of shoes and ten shillings (50 pence in modern currency) to support himself.   It was all to no good.   Lane was apparently seen by one of Oates’s agents and had to flee from Grays after less than two weeks.   Shortly thereafter, he was on trial for his life.

It was the combination of Protestant fears about the safety of their religion and of English people generally for their liberties that led to the passing of the Act of Settlement in 1701, which governs succession to the throne to this day. Grays may not figure very prominently in this story but it does appear.   National history touched this locality too as it still does.

Author  –  Christopher Thompson

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1 Comment »

  1. […] And so to business.  I’ll begin with posts recounting historical happenings. The recent cold weather brought out not one but two posts abouts the early modern custom of the frost fair (1, 2). On a completely unrelated note, except that it also happened in an early-modern winter, at Executed Today witchcraft-historian Louise Yeoman tells the fascinating but tragic story of Anna Tait, executed 6th Jan 1634. Meanwhile, to round of this section, Sir Henry (of Gauntlet fame) discusses the Popish Plot. […]


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