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of the sectaries were broken up, preachers and petty leaders seized, and hundreds of worshipers, especially Quakers and Anabaptists, thrown into prison. In particular every effort was made to stamp out the literature by which the proscribed party sought to rouse its people. The Mirabilis Annus, the Phoenix of the Solemn League and Covenant, the Book of Prodigies and that of the Wise Virgins,“ with scores of others, filled with the language of prophecy, shadowed forth the fall of the monarchy and the recall of the godly to power.
Printed in secret, smuggled from hand to hand, carried by itinerant booksellers, peddlers and carters, sold from house to house, or secretly at fairs, these found their way everywhere. A licenser of the press was appointed to repress the evil. Booksellers and printers, their wives, their apprentices and helpers were arrested, houses searched, carriers' carts overhauled, tracts and books and unbound sheets seized and burned by the thousand.? Sir Roger L'Estrange, the licenser, lately declared that in three years he had destroyed editions of six hundred such tracts. The printers in many cases made a strong defence. Some of them found powerful patrons, among whom were noted such men as William Howard of Escrick, and even the Presbyterian councillor, the Earl of Anglesey.s But as time went on this evil was checked, though it was never quite destroyed.
In all this London was the forefront of offence, and in other matters as well the City caused no little uneasiness. In the elections to Parliament it had returned four strong dissenters, and letters then intercepted by the government revealed its hostility to unlimited monarchy and episcopacy.' The spies sent through its streets and environs now found their way into public houses to count the men and horses there, into churches and conventicles to note those present and the language used, into the jails to worm secrets from prisoners or enlist them as informers.10 They reported that men looked forward to “another bout," when Anabaptist joined Presbyterian, that dangerous men were coming to the city in large numbers, that even certain royal advisers were implicated in agita
2 Among them John Bunyan. Cal. St. P. Dom., 1661-1662, pp. 23, 54, 87.
• Cf. especially Giles and Elizabeth Calvert “arrested for the usual practices”, passim as above.
• Cal. St. P. Dom., 1670, pp. 369, 502 ; id., 1661-1662, p. 282,
tion, and that prayers were offered up for “a leader to come and redeem Zion ", in such churches as All Hallows the Great and St. Sepulchre's. 11 City authorities were accordingly urged by the court to suppress sedition, to reform the militia and the night watch, and to ensure the return of churchmen and royalists to city offices in the ensuing elections, and these admonitions were accompanied by arrests and the dispersal of meetings on every hand.12
The investigation soon developed the fact that the Post Office, which almost alone among the public offices had escaped reorganization, was a centre of sedition.13 The former headquarters of the republicans had been the Commonwealth Club in Bow Street. This under the same management but under a new name, the Nonsuch House, was the chief resort of the postmaster, Colonel Bishop, and many of the clerks, who maintained the republican traditions of the place.14 Reinforced by similar information against many postmasters throughout England,15 this news roused the administration to action. After violent opposition Colonel Bishop was finally replaced by a follower of the Duke of York, one Daniel O'Neale, many clerks and postmasters were dismissed and the service reorganized.16 This was the more important in that through the Post Office passed all manner of political information, of peaceful and warlike opposition to the administration. The inspired cordwainer in Reading who was defended against the county authorities, and even against a King's messenger by the corporation ;17 the new mayor of Coventry, a dissenting butcher, formerly Lambert's recruiting agent ;18 and the prospective mayor of Preston, a " decimator and sequestrator”, whom the loyalists urged the government to arrest or
otherwise handsomely frighten”,19 personified the more peaceful endeavors of the rejected party to entrench themselves in the boroughs. Of more violent designs the administration in this summer of 1661 found little definite trace. Reports of secret meetings, night ridings, fanaticism attendant on the news of the regicide
11 Ibid., pp. 73, 81, 110-123 passim.
18 Id., 1663–1664, pp. 156-157 ; ibid., pp. 80, 92, 480 ; cf. also Jusserand, A French Ambassador at the Court of Charles II., p. 193.
Cal. St. P. Dom., 1661-1662, pp. 116-123, passim.
19 Ibid., p. 93.
executions, rumors of risings, were the most that could be unearthed.20
But a week before Parliament met there came into Secretary Nicholas's hands information of the utmost importance.
It was to the effect that on November 10 or ui a certain Richard Churme, of Wichenford, Worcestershire, had come upon a stranger lying by the roadside sorting letters. When he had gone Churme found a package which had been accidentally dropped, and secured it before the stranger discovered his loss and returned to look for it. The package was sent to Sir John Packington, J.P. and M.P. for Worcestershire, and, after copies had been made and sent to neighboring magistrates, it was forwarded to London with several examinations taken in regard to it. The two letters enclosed purported to have been written by one “Ann Ba" to a Nr. Sparry, parson of Martley, and to a Captain Yarrington of the old army. They spoke of the need of money, of “the company ” having increased to 300, of an oath taken November 1, of news sent to Hereford, Gloucester, Worcester and Shrewsbury, of “a fatal blow against their adversaries,” of “hopes for merry days ”, and “that the business would soon be done "21 Two persons deposed further that Captain Yarrington had said he “had a commission to cure people of the simples ", that "there would be news ere long", and that Colonel Turton's man had said " they ” were to rendezvous at Edgehill the night of November 9. All this was confirmed and enlarged from apparently independent sources, 22 and many circumstances combined to heighten the probability of the information. The West country and Midland loyalists were greatly excited.
Alarms were sent in every direction. Neighboring towns, especially those named in the letters, were put in a state of defence.23 The militia was called out, and many suspicious characters seized. Sparry and Yarrington were secured, examined before the Worcester justices, and sent to London. There before the Secretary and the Council they “ denied all ”, and no further results appeared.24
20 Staffordshire, Shropshire, Chester, Carlisle, Wilts, Windsor, Lowestoft, Durham, Dublin, Kent, London, etc. Cal. St. P. Dom., 1661, pp. 79-134 passim ; id., 1661-1662, pp. 62-212 passim.
21 Cal. St. P. Dom., 1661-1662, pp. 143-148.
24 Cf. Calamy, Nonconformist Memorials, ed. Palmer, I. 30, 31. Yarrington escaped, went to London, was recaptured, put in the Marshalsea and kept for some time as a prisoner or spy. In 1681 he published an account of this alleged plot, apparently in connection with the Exclusion agitation. Ralph, I. 53, quotes an extract. For Yarrington's examination cf. Cal. St. P. Dom., June 23, 1662, p. 417. For Sparry of. Calamy ut supra.
Such was the story which made its way through England on the eve of the new session and met the members as they came up to London. It was not, on its face, wholly probable. Careful investigation would have enabled the administration to establish its value without much question. But there was neither time, nor opportunity, nor, one may suspect, inclination, to look too closely into information which was so extremely useful to the dominant party. They took full advantage of it. The royal speech was largely devoted to the “ Presbyterian plot”. The Commons embodied the information given them by Packington and others in a message to the Lords, requesting the Upper House to join them in asking for a proclamation to expel “ loose and suspicious persons ” from London and Westminster. 25 The proclamation was issued26 and, that none of the accompaniments of popular alarm might be wanting, one of the Vennerites, John James, was convicted of persisting in seditious practices and executed a week after the session began.27 It was no wonder that under the stimulus of such excitement the Anglicans were able to force through the Corporation Act introduced the preceding June. By its provisions the commissioners were empowered to root out from those “nests of sedition ", the borough corporations, not merely those refusing the oaths of allegiance and supremacy and that renouncing the Solemn League and Covenant, but all who were hostile to the government even though they took the oaths and repudiated the Covenant. Against this measure the Presbyterians fought desperately, and, in spite of the alleged plot, they might have had some success. But on December 19 the King sent a message to the Houses concerning a new plot, asking advice and co-operation in suppressing the danger. The appeal was effective. The Corporation Act was passed and a committee appointed to sit during the approaching recess to investigate the new conspiracy. Thus for the third time the fear of the sectaries played a decisive part in Restoration politics.28
The committee thus appointed was furnished with information by the Chancellor to the effect that a design to subvert the government had been on foot since before the return of the King. The Long Parliament men, the Commonwealth party, the City, the disbanded soldiers, the purchasers of lands, the Independents and the Fifth Monarchy men were implicated and each group, save the
% Parl. Hist., IV. 222-224.
first, furnished three members to a committee which sat generally in the old republican headquarters in Bow Street and thence directed the affair. Their first care had been the choice of Parliament men, especially from London, as a precedent for the country at large, the second a petition for a preaching ministry and liberty of conscience. Their other plans were in ferred from the fact that there was an inner committee of seven, bound by oaths of secrecy, chosen, it was said, to direct the design, to raise men and collect money.? Five of the seven, including Sir James Harrington and Major Wildman,39 reputed chiefs of the republicans, had already been arrested. The former was charged with having presided over the committee of twenty-one in the preceding March. He was examined by Sir George Carteret, Sir Edward Walker, and his kinsman the Earl of Lauderdale, with small result. He denied all knowledge of the alleged meetings in Bow Street. Though he admitted his acquaintance with Wildman, Barebones, Neville and Portman, he declared he had seen none of them for a long time save Neville, and with him he had dined publicly in the safest company in England, those devout royalists, Gascoigne and Legge 31
In other quarters the commissioners were more successful, and on January 10 Mr. Waller reported the result to the Commons. There was to have been a meeting in London on December 10 or it, and Shrewsbury, Coventry and Bristol were to have been seized in January or February. The stories of Salmon and Wildman did not agree and the former had a list of 160 old officers. The plan was to overthrow the government or at least to give notice abroad that England was divided against itself. The regicides on the Continent were in the plot, which was fomented by certain foreign princes. Arms were bought and the plotters needed but a footing to succeed. They were to have begun with assassination, which moved one of the committee to discover the design. Upon this the leaders had been seized and troops of horse sent to Bristol and Coventry 32
The immediate danger as revealed in this report does not, at this distance, seem to have been great, but its effect on the Commons was very considerable. Vane and Lambert were hurried to trial, the militia and the revenue bills were expedited, and the treasons
>> Journals H.C., XI. 359 b. ff.; Parl. Hist., IV. 227; Hist. MSS. Comm. Reports, XII. 9, p. 51.
* Cal. St. P. Dom., 1661-1662, pp. 253, 347. Bremen, Parker, Gladman and Berry arrested May 18, 1662, ibid., p. 376. Barrow, ibid., p. 354.
31 Howell, State Trials, VI. 114 ff.; Lister, Life of Clarendon, II. 279–281.
* Pari. Hist., IV. 226 ff.; Howell, State Trials, VI. 114 ff.; Journals H. C., XI. 359 b., 476 ; Secret Hist., I. 426-427 n.; Rapin says 140 officers.
AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XIV.-33.