Shrine of St Oliver Plunkett, Drogheda
On the Chief Justice asking Dr. Plunket what he had to say in his defence, he replied:—
"My lord, I tell you I have no way to defend myself; as I have been denied time to bring over my records and my witnesses, ten or twelve in number. Were they here, or were I in Ireland, where both they and I should be known, I would defy all the malice of the world; but when I was to be tried in Ireland, they would not appear, knowing that their statements were false and malicious. These men used to call me Oliver Cromwell out of spite."
The Chief Justice then having recapitulated against him, pointing out their absurdity and improbability, and proving in a way calculated to convince every impartial hearer, that his accusers were perjurers, and merely animated by a fell spirit of avarice and revenge. He concluded by protesting again that in his present circumstances, without witnesses and records, it was impossible for him to make a proper defence.
The recapitulation of the evidence by the Solicitor-General and Sergeant Jeffries followed, replete with envenomed remarks against the archbishop and the Catholic religion. Scarce had Sergeant Jeffries concluded, when a stranger stepping forward in the court handed a paper to Dr. Plunket. It contained the names of witnesses who might be called in his defence, and the crier at once read aloud the names; "David Fitzgerald, Eustace Commines, and Paul Gorman;" but Gorman alone appeared, and besides the declaration that " he thought Dr. Plunket did more good in Ireland than hurt, and that he never heard of any misdemeanour of him," the only matter of importance which he avowed was that " friar Moyer, when in discourse with him, said, if there was law to be had in Ireland he would show Mr. Plunket his share in it."
On the Lord Chief Justice delivering his charge to the jury, Dr. Plunket once more declared:—
"I can say nothing to it, but give my own protestation that there is not one word of what is said against me true, but all plain romance; I never had any communication with any French minister, cardinal, nor other."
The jury without delay came to their decision, and the foreman announcing" guilty," Dr. Plunket exclaimed "Deo gratias" thanks be to God.
Whilst all England was excited to the highest pitch of fanaticism, and ready to believe every absurd story regarding Catholics, it cannot surprise us that the jury should have come to such a decision; and surely any twelve men ignorant of the character of the accusers, and therefore judging them to be honourable men, and who, at the same time, had been taught to recognize in the very fact of the accused being Roman Catholic primate of Ireland a prima facie evidence of his treasonable designs, could, with difficulty, have come to a contrary conclusion. But whosoever, after reading the preceding chapters, reviews the prepared testimony of these wretched men, will easily detect not only evidence of their malignant enmity against the primate, but, moreover, manifest indications of the falsehood of their tale. Thus, to say nothing of the monstrous accusations of preparing a fund for the maintenance of an army of 60,000 men at a time when Dr. Plunket wrote those beautiful letters which we have seen, and which reveal to us the extreme indigence to which he and his fellow prelates were reduced, and the sad destitution of the Catholics of Ireland, it is friar MacMoyer himself, an associate and a leader of a tory band, who inculpates the tories as having carried away his papers, whilst the other witnesses were obliged to have recourse to other like accidents, in order to account for the absence of the document to which they referred, and which should have been produced:—then, again, the appointment of Dr. Plunket is sworn to have originated with the French king, in order to advance his designs of conquest:—another witness declares the extent of his authority to be to suspend at his pleasure all bishops and priests throughout Ireland, who would not contribute to the national fund:—by another, the sending of a band of tories to France is made a proof of his treason, though, in reality, it was the Lord Lieutenant who had thus removed them from the kingdom, after the archbishop had induced them to submit, and obtained the thanks of the government as well as of the nation for his paternal endeavours in their regard. The seminary at which the children of many of the Protestant gentry were educated, is made a sort of standing council for deliberating on the best means of extirpating all the Protestants and changing the government. It is said that he destined Carlingford to be the landing-place of the French; and yet Florence MacMoyer swore that it was thus destined in 1667, two years before Dr. Plunket was consecrated to the see of Armagh; that port, too, is extolled by the witnesses; and the Solicitor-General in his recapitulation styles it " a very large port, in which ships of the largest burden may come up;" whilst, as we learn from the Archbishop of Cashel, and other sources, it was then, as it is now, a most miserable and insignificant little port; in fine, friar MacMoyer inculpates the justice before whom he first accused the primate, as being an accomplice in these treasonable designs, because he refused to receive his evidence; and yet the Duke of Ormond refused, in like manner, to receive it, and the Protestant juries not only refused to credit his sworn testimony, but instead of the accused, condemned himself to prison on account of his notorious crimes. But these things being all unknown, perhaps, to the twelve citizens of London, who sat in judgment to try Dr. Plunket for the highest crime of which he could stand accused before the law; without a dissentient voice—almost without deliberation, they pronounced him guilty.
The verdict being recorded, the court arose. On the 14th of July, Dr. Plunket was again brought to the bar to receive judgment in accordance with that verdict. On leave being given to speak, Dr. Plunket again pointed out the difficult position in which he had been placed, refuted the charges made against him, and proved the wickedness and malice of his accusers :—
"My lord, may it please your lordship, I have something to say, which, if your lordship will consider seriously, may occasion the court's commiseration and mercy. I have, my lord, for the offences with which I am now charged, been already arraigned in Ireland. At the day fixed for my trial there, my accusers voluntarily absented themselves, seeing I had records and witnesses to convict them, and to show what men they were, and the prepensed malice that they did bear to me; and, so, finding that I could, clear myself evidently, they absconded; from that day no one appeared against me in Ireland: but, hither they came and procured that I should be brought where I could not have a jury that knew the qualities of my adversaries, or who knew me, or the circumstances of the places, times, or persons. The jury here, as I say, consisting of strangers to these affairs, my lord, they could not know many things that conduce to a fair trial; it was morally impossible they should know them.
"I have been accused principally and chiefly for surveying the ports, for fixing upon Carlingford for the landing of the French, for the having of 70,000 men ready to join the French, for collecting money for the agents in this matter, for assisting the French, and enlisting this great Utopian army. A jury in Ireland, consisting of men that lived in that country, would immediately understand the folly of such charges, and any man in the world that hath but seen Ireland in a map, would easily see there was no probability that Carlingford should be a place fit for the French to land in. Though never in Ireland, yet by the map he would see the invaders must come by the narrow seas all along to Ulster, exposed to rocks and every other danger, for the purpose of landing at Carlingford, which is a poor town and of no strength, with a very bad harbour and with a very small garrison, which had not been so if it had been a place of any consideration.
"And then I had influence only upon one province, as is well known, though I had the title of Primate of all Ireland, as the Archbishop of Canterbury hath of all England, though the Archbishop of York did not permit him to meddle with his province; and it is well known by the gentry there, and those that are accustomed to the place, that in all the province of Ulster, take men, women, and children of the Roman Catholics, they would not supply 70,000. This a jury on the spot, my lord, would have known very well: therefore, the laws of England, which are very favourable to the prisoner, have provided that there should be a jury of the place where the offence was committed, as Sir Thomas Gascoigne, as I have heard, had a Yorkshire jury, though he was tried at London.
"After my coming here, I was kept a close prisoner for six months; no one was permitted to come to me, nor did I know how things stood in the world. I was brought here the 3rd of May to be arraigned and I petition your lordships to have some time to prepare for my trial, proposing to have it put off till Michaelmas, but your lordships did not think fit to grant so long, but only till the middle of this month. In the mean time my witnesses, who were ready at the seaside, would not come over without passes; and I could not get over the records without an order from hence, which records would have shown that some of the accusers were indicted in Ireland and found guilty of high crimes; some having been imprisoned for robberies, and others being men of infamous character; so I petitioned, the 8th of this month, that I might have time for but twelve days more; but your lordships, when the motion was made, thought that it was only to put off my trial, and refused my motion. Now my witnesses are come to Coventry yesterday morning, and they will be here in a few days; but in the meantime I have been left at the mercy of my adversaries, who were some of my own clergy, whom, for their debauched lives, I had corrected, as is well known.
"I will not deny, that as long as there was any toleration and connivance, I did execute the functions of a bishop; but that, by the 2nd of Elizabeth, is only praemunire, and no treason. But, my lord, whilst I have been left without means of defence, my enemies have had full time to prepare their wicked charges against me. I did beg for twelve days' time, whereby you might have seen, as plain as the sun, what those witnesses are that began the story and say those things against me. And, my lord, for the raising of the 70,000 men, and the monies that are collected of the clergy in Ireland, they cannot he true, for they are a poor clergy, that have no revenue nor land—they live as the Presbyterians do here; there is not a priest in all Ireland that hath, from certain or uncertain sources, above three score pounds a-year, and that I should collect from them sums sufficient for the raising of an army, or for the landing of the French at Carlingford, if it had been brought before a jury in Ireland would have been thought a mere romance.
"If they had accused me of a praemunire for the exercise of my episcopal function, perhaps they had said something that might be believed; but, my lord, as I am a dying man, and hope for salvation by my Lord and Saviour, I am not guilty of one point of treason they have sworn against me, no more than the child that was born but yesterday. I have an attestation under my lord of Essex's hand, concerning my good behaviour in Ireland, and not only from him, but from my lord Berkeley, who was also governor there, which the king's attorney saw; but here I was brought—here I was tried, without having time to bring witnesses, so that I could not prove my innocence, as otherwise I might Hence if any case in the world deserve compassion, surely my case does; and it is such a rare case, that I do not believe you will find an instance that one arraigned in Ireland should be tried here afterwards for the same fact. My lord, if there be anything in the world that deserves pity, this does; for I can say, as I hope for mercy, I was never guilty of any one point they have sworn against me; and if my petition for time had been granted, I could have shown how all was prepense malice against me, and have produced all circumstances that could make out the innocence of a person, but having been left without any means of defence I am at your mercy."
The Chief Justice then proceeded to pass sentence; having said in the course of his address: "I appeal to all that heard your trial, if they could so much as doubt but that you were guilty of what you were charged with. For, consider, here were persons of your own religion, the most of them priests—I think almost all of them in orders." Dr. Plunket corrected him, saying:—
"There were two friars and a priest, whom I have endeavoured to correct seven years, and they were renegades from our religion, and dastard apostates."
And shortly afterwards, the Chief Justice extolling the evidence of friar Duffy, Dr. Plunket said:—
"I had sufficient evidence to prove he was an apostate, and was chastised by me, and, therefore, had pretended malice against me."
On the conclusion of the Lord Chief Justice's discourse, Dr. Plunket again addressed him :—
"May it please your lordship to give me leave to speak one word. If I were a man that had no care of my conscience in this matter, and did not think of God Almighty, or conscience, or heaven, or hell, I might have saved my life, for I was offered it by divers people here, so I would but confess my own guilt and accuse others. But, my lord, I had rather die ten thousand deaths than wrongfully accuse anybody. And the time will come when your lordship will see what those witnesses are that have come in against me. I do assure your lordship, if I were a man that had not good principles, I might easily have saved my life; but I had rather die ten thousand deaths, than wrongfully to take away one farthing of any mans goods, one day of his liberty, or one minute of his life."
Lord Chief Justice.—" I am sorry to see you persist in the principles of that religion."
Dr. Plunket.—" They are those principles that even God Almighty cannot dispense withal."
With the usual solemnity the sentence of a traitor was then pronounced against him; but against a man breathing those noble sentiments, such a sentence should be of little avail. His conduct during the whole course of trial, his fearless denunciation of the injustice which was committed in thus compelling him to stand his trial deprived of all means of defence—his solemn protestations of innocence and of the prepense malice of his perjured accusers—but above all, the exalted sentiments of Christian morality, worthy of a spiritual pastor, who in his own life traced out the path which his children might pursue, must have extorted the admiration even of his enemies, and the sentence which followed, far from being a triumph over him, but crowned his cause and rendered his victory complete.
Taken from - MEMOIRS OF THE MOST REV. OLIVER PLUNKET, WHO SUFFERED DEATH FOR THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE YEAR 1681.