Tuesday, 1 July 2014
The Execution Of St Oliver Plunkett
Friday, the 11th of July 1681, was the day fixed for the execution; and at an early hour Dr. Plunket was conducted from prison to the scaffold at Tyburn. The dauntless spirit which he displayed whilst awaiting in prison the carrying out of the fatal sentence, and the heroic sanctity with which he disposed himself to receive the martyr's crown, belong rather to the next chapter; for the present it will suffice to give some extracts from a manuscript narrative, presented the same year to the Sacred Congregation, and which was not improbably composed by Father Teyling, a distinguished member of the Society of Jesus. It is entitled, "a brief narrative of the imprisonment, accusations, and death of Monsignor Plunket, archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, executed at Tyburn, in London, the 11th of July, 1681." Many of the facts, however, which it contains have already been commemorated from other sources, wherefore we shall be content with presenting those passages which add new circumstances connected with the imprisonment and death of our holy prelate:—
"The glorious death of this prelate, deserving of eternal memory, as well for his innocence as for the heroic constancy with which he supported his atrocious penalty, has awakened in many a devout curiosity to learn its circumstances, and especially in those who well remember to have known and conversed with him in this city of Rome, where he lived for so many years, at first as student of the Irish College, and afterwards as professor of theology for many years in the College of the Propaganda. Wherefore, not to defraud so holy a desire, whilst we await a more complete narrative of those facts, we shall here relate what is known for certain, partly from various letters, and partly from his own discourse, which may now be had in print in many languages.
"Although he was, from the commencement, sought for with great diligence, nevertheless he, for awhile, escaped every danger, till, at length, detected by the cunning of the spies, he was arrested in the month of December, 1679, in the city of Dublin, and immediately cast into prison, where he was detained with the greatest rigour, being obliged, amongst other things, to purchase, at a price truly exorbitant, and wholly incompatible with his means, the most ordinary conveniences of furniture and food. After suffering for more than six months in that prison he was at length, on the 31st of July, 1680, conducted, under a close guard, to Dundalk, thirty-six miles distant from Dublin, there to stand his trial."
The narrative then proceeds with the various facts till the removal of his trial to London, regarding which iniquitous proceeding it remarks:—
"Everyone will see, that nothing less than a heroic virtue and magnanimity was required to receive this blow with that peace of soul, and with that perfect charity for his enemies with which the primate bore it. . . The good prelate, on the 11th of November, was removed from the castle of Dublin, and conducted, under a close guard, to London, where he arrived in the depth of the past most rigid winter; and although he was of a most delicate complexion, yet the only relief he received after so severe a journey, was to be thrown into a most opprobrious and disastrous prison, called Newgate, where for a-while he had to undergo such trials, as even the accused of most vile condition are not subjected to. Thus the entire winter and spring passed on, and in the mean time his accusers, living at large in London, arranged and matured all their plans to encompass his destruction."
The account of his trial and sentence is then given, and the narrative thus continues:—
"At the same time and place sentence of death was also passed against a certain Fitzharris, a man, for many and heinous crimes, deserving of that punishment: this served to form a contrast with Dr. Plunket, and add new lustre to his innocence. On the sentence of death being passed, Fitzharris, by the terror of his looks, his trembling, and the complete failure of strength, showed that his heart was not less guilty than feeble. On the contrary, the primate, as well when awaiting sentence, as whilst it was being passed, and after it, displayed such a frankness of soul and heart—such a serene and joyous countenance, and was so composed in all his actions and deportment, that all were able to perceive not only his perfect innocence, but, moreover, his singular virtue, which was master and superior to every emotion of passion. And concerning all this, the Catholics, who were present, wrote endless praises, attesting that none could wish for a deportment more noble, more amiable, more worthy of him whom he there represented. Having heard the sentence (turning his thoughts to his soul, and no-wise solicitous as to the sufferings destined for his body), he asked as a favour from the judge to be allowed to treat of spiritual matters with a Catholic priest, 'You will have,' replied the judge, ' a minister of the Church of England.' But he answered: 'I am obliged for your good intentions, but such a favour would be wholly useless to me.'
"The primate being re-conducted to prison after this public and so glorious trial, there arose between the Catholics and the Protestants an eager strife who would visit him and converse with him—the former attracted by a singular devotion, the latter by an extraordinary curiosity; and he, during the few days that he survived, received both with such courtesy, with such a sweetness, and calmness, and amiableness of manner, that the Catholics departed truly edified, and the Protestants were not only exceedingly contented with his deportment, but also rendered more affectionate towards the Catholics. Before his execution he was able to confer with a spiritual father (a man of great merit, who was then, as he is yet, a glorious confessor of the faith in that prison),[ This was Father Corker, as we learn from the letters of the Archbishop of Cashel.] to whom he manifested, as that which most disturbed him, his having no horror of death, on account of which he feared that he was not well prepared for it, which shows his humility, and with what worthy sentiments he approached his death, as the only scruple "which disturbed him was one derived from a special and excessive grace which God granted to him. On his part he was nowise negligent in disposing himself for this great grace; for, in addition to the sufferings of prison, to the afflicting journeys so patiently borne by him, to the generous and repeated pardon which he so often breathed for his enemies in exchange for their many outrages, he added, moreover, many voluntary penances, and especially a rigorous fast on bread and water, three times each week, during the whole time that he was in prison in London, as the keeper of the prison, a Protestant, attested after Dr. Plunket's death, not without eulogy and admiration.
"At length, on the 11th of July, the day destined for the carrying out of the fatal sentence, the keeper of the prison, imagining that the apprehension of approaching death, and horror of the atrocious punishment, would have made some impression on that soul hitherto so resolute, went early in the morning to visit him, and if necessary, too, to give him courage and comfort him; but he was yet more surprised and filled with astonishment on finding that the prelate, on being awakened, was as little moved by the approach of sufferings as though his body were insensible to pain, whilst, nevertheless, he was of an ardent and delicate temperament. In a little while the announcement was made that everything was in order, wherefore he was taken from prison, and stretched (with his face uppermost) and tied with cords upon a wooden hurdle (as is there customary), and thus drawn by a horse to Tyburn.
"It had been a hundred years, perhaps, since a Catholic bishop was thus executed there, and hence the curiosity to see a victim of such exalted dignity, and already so famed for his noble deportment, gathered together an immense multitude of spectators, who partly awaited him on the road side, partly at the place of execution. Such as he had shown himself when receiving sentence of death did he now prove himself in this last scene when undergoing death itself, being ever serene and tranquil, even to his last breath; so that he universally excited that esteem and sympathy which is invariably evoked by an heroic virtue oppressed by an extreme rigour; so that few could be found even amongst the Protestants to entertain a doubt as to his innocence.
"On the scaffold he delivered a short discourse, in which, after protesting his innocence as to the charges of conspiracy made against him, he prayed for life and health to the king and all the royal family, gave a most complete pardon to all his enemies and adversaries, and, in fine, supplicated the Divine Majesty to be propitious to him, through the merits of Christ, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, and of all the holy Angels and Saints of Paradise. Which form of prayer, so simple and yet so pious, was remarked by the spectators, who never remembered to have heard from any other such an express mention of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints.
"On the same day, and in the same place, Fitzharris was executed; and to the last the contrast of his manner and actions displayed in brighter light the happy lot of the primate; and whilst Dr. Plunket excited compassion on account of the atrocious and unmerited suffering, and became universally loved for his innocence, and extolled to the skies for his constancy, Fitzharris was abhorred for his wicked deeds, despised for his vile cowardice, and uncompassioned in his suffering, as being his due.
"The primate, before death, asked and obtained permission to be buried with the fathers of the Society of Jesus who, during the present persecution, sacrificed their lives at Tyburn. He was therefore interred with them in the church of St. Giles; and we cannot but remark the devotion and great esteem which the English Catholics displayed for this sacred deposit; and together with it they interred a copper plate, on which was inscribed the following inscription :—
"' In this tomb resteth the body of the Most Rev. Oliver Plunket, late archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, who, when accused of high treason, through hatred of the faith, by false brethren, and condemned to death, being hanged at Tyburn, and his bowels being taken out and cast into the fire, suffered martyrdom with constancy, in the reign of Charles the Second, King of Great Britain, on the 1st day of July, 1681.'
"Here we may remark, that by referring to this inscription it is not our intention to ratify the title of martyr till holy Church will authenticate it: as, also, we must add, that the aforesaid date is not contrary to that given above, as the 1st of July, according to the old style, still used in England, is equivalent to the 11th of July, according to our Gregorian computation.
"Some few circumstances yet remain connected with the death of Dr. Plunket, which cannot be passed over in silence, and which we now add :—
"1st. It is deserving of attention that all the accusers, judges, and other opponents of Dr. Plunket were not able to attach the mask of conspiracy to his cause, or conceal its being a manifest and direct cause of religion. The plots in England were pretended to be directed against the life of the king, but neither the death of the king nor the advancement of any other cause could be put forward as the scope of the pretended Irish conspiracy, but only the establishment of the faith.
"2nd. It has been written that two English lords (who were successively viceroys in Ireland) declared to the king, that it was impossible to believe or deem probable any of the accusations against the primate, for they had experienced him a man full of zeal for the public peace; nay, one of the most efficacious in Ireland in appeasing seditious movements.
"3rd. It is certain that, on the part of one of the first noblemen in England, his life was offered him, should he consent to accuse others: which offer, although resolutely rejected by him, is said to have been renewed to him on the scaffold, God permitting this temptation for the greater merit of one who thus, in such innocence, sacrificed his life.
"4th. The Superior of a certain religious order, a man of great prudence, who was present at the primate's death, writes, that on the scaffold, by the singular composure of soul and actions, he seemed like an angel descended from paradise, who was joyously arrived at the moment of once more returning thither.
"5th. All write, with one accord, that this innocent victim has done and yet performs great good in England, not only by the edification which he gave to the Catholics, but, moreover, by the change of ideas and sentiments which he occasioned in many Protestants, who now commence to regard all these conspiracies as malicious fictions; and there are great grounds for believing that the fruit which England will derive from his blood will not end here. The archbishop himself wrote from prison in London (and the letter written with bis own hand is still in Rome), that he has experienced in the English Catholics the most exalted piety, faith, and Christian charity, which any one could desire: and he gives the names of many families and individuals who, it seems, gave to him, though a stranger and unknown to them, large sums of money to enable his witnesses to come from Ireland, and offered themselves, moreover, as most ready to undergo any other expense, or render him any service. He, therefore, in the letter referred to, professes an unspeakable love for those so bounteous benefactors: and we may hope, that as he has, whilst living, done so much by his example, so now he will be efficacious in obtaining from heaven most abundant blessings for those by whom he deemed himself so benefited on earth."
Such were the glorious sentiments with, which the archbishop encountered the barbarous sentence which had been unjustly decreed against him. None, even amongst his enemies, dared to insinuate his guilt, or pretend that any deeds of conspiracy could be imputed to him: all felt the attractions of his innocence and sanctity, and could scarce find words to express their admiration and esteem. Even amongst subsequent writers, no matter how ardent defenders they may have been of the Protestant cause, none have reproached his memory with the reputed guilt, but all have uniformly recorded his innocence of the charges thus made against him. We have already quoted the words of the Protestant bishop Burnet: we may now add the testimonies of some few others. Thus, for instance, Echard, in his History of England (vol. iii. p. 631), after stating that Dr. Plunket had an attestation of his innocence, under the hands of the two viceroys, Essex and Berkeley, adds that he himself was "Assured, by an unquestionable hand, that the Earl of Essex was so sensible of this good man's hardship, that he generously applied to the king for a pardon, and told his majesty that these witnesses must needs be perjured; for these things sworn against him could not possibly be true. Upon which the king, in a passion, said, 'Why did you not attest this at his trial? it would have done him good then. I dare not pardon anyone.' And so concluded with the same kind of answer he had given another person formerly, 'His blood be upon your head, not mine.'"
The continuation of " Sir Richard Baker's Chronicle," p. 70, not only corroborates this fact of the Earl of Essex, but gives us the general Protestant sentiment of the time in regard of the perjured witnesses, and the accusations which they brought against the primate.
"In the meantime, (he writes) came on the trial of Dr. Oliver Plunket, Popish titular Archbishop of Armagh, who called himself primate of all Ireland. He was a worthy and good man, who notwithstanding the high title given him, was in a very mean state of life, as having nothing to subsist on but the contributions of a few poor clergy of his own religion in the province of Ulster, who having little themselves, could not spare much to him. In these low circumstances he lived, though meanly, quietly and contentedly, meddling with nothing but the concerns of his function, and dissuading all about him from entering into any turbulent or factious intrigues. But while the Popish plot was warm, some lewd Irish priests, and others of that nation, hearing that England was disposed to hearken to good swearers, thought themselves well qualified for the employment, so they came over with an account of a plot in Ireland, and were well received by Lord Shaftesbury. They were also examined by the Parliament, and what they said was believed. They were very profligate wretches, and some of the priests among them had been censured by Plunket for their lewdness, so partly out of revenge, and partly to keep themselves in business, they charged a plot upon that innocent, quiet man, so that he was sent for over, and brought to trial. The evidences swore that upon his being made primate of Ireland, he engaged to raise sixty or seventy thousand Irish to be ready to join with the French, to destroy the Protestant religion, and to get Dublin, Londonderry, and all the seaports into their hands; and that beside the French army, there was a Spanish army to join with them, and that the Irish clergy were to contribute to this design. Plunket, in his defence, alleged the improbability of all that was sworn against him; which was apparent enough. He alleged that the Irish clergy.were so poor, that he himself, who was the head of the whole province, lived in a little thatched house, with only one servant, having never above sixty pounds a-year income, so that neither he nor they could be thought very likely to carry on a design of this nature. But the fact being positively sworn against him, and the jury unacquainted with the witnesses' characters, and the scene of action, he was brought in guilty and condemned. It is said that the Earl of Essex was so sensible of the injustice done him, that he applied to the king for a pardon, and told him that the matters sworn against Plunket were so absurd in themselves, that it was impossible for them to be true. But the king answered in a passion, 'Why did you not declare this, then, at the trial? it would have done him some good then; but I dare pardon nobody,' and concluded by saying, 'His blood be upon your head, and not upon mine.'
With peace and calm Dr. Plunket prepared himself in prison to receive in a worthy manner the glorious privilege of dying for the faith, with which God wished to crown his earthly labours. On the day after the final sentence had been passed against him, he thus wrote to his friend and fellow-prisoner, Father Corker:—
"I am obliged to you for the favour and charity of the 20th, and for all your former benevolence; and whereas I cannot in this country remunerate you, with God's grace I hope to be grateful in that kingdom which is properly our country. And truly God gave me, though unworthy of it, that grace to have fortem animum mortis terrors carentem. I have many sins to answer for before the Supreme Judge of the high bench, where no false witnesses can have an audience. But as for the bench yesterday, I am not guilty of any crime there objected to me. I would I could be so clear at the bench of the All-powerful. However, there is one comfort, that He cannot be deceived, because He is omniscious, and knows all secrets, even of hearts; and cannot deceive, because all goodness; so that I may be sure of a fair trial, and will get time sufficient to call witnesses, nay, the judge will bring them in a moment, if there will be need of any. You and your comrade's prayers will be powerful advocates at that bench; here, none are admitted for "Your affectionate friend,
This composure of soul, and tranquil resignation to the will of God, is attested not only by the friends of the illustrious primate, but also by Protestants who, perchance, had occasion to contemplate and admire his fortitude and heavenly deportment in prison. Sir Richard Bulstrode, for instance, attests that "Captain Richardson, keeper of Newgate, being asked by the Lieutenant of the Tower, how this prisoner had behaved himself, he replied, 'Very well, for when I came to him this morning, he was newly awake, having slept all night without any disturbance; and when I told him he was to prepare for his execution, he received the message with all quietness of mind, and went to the sledge as unconcerned as if he had been going to a wedding.' "
In addition to the particulars of. the closing scene of Tyburn, which we have already presented from the anonymous narrative, we learn many further circumstances connected with Dr. Plunket's execution, from the often referred to letter of the Archbishop of Cashel:—
"The first (i.e. the 11th) of July, 1681, being at length arrived, this great bishop (Dr. Plunket) was brought to the place of execution, destined for public malefactors, being placed upon a sledge trailed on the ground, and drawn by horses, and accompanied by a numerous guard of military, as well as by a multitude of spectators and royal officers; and to all he gave occasion of surprise and edification, because he displayed such a serenity of countenance, such a tranquillity of mind and elevation of soul, that he seemed rather a spouse hastening to the nuptial feast, than a culprit led forth to the scaffold.
"Being arrived at the place of execution, he mounted a car which had been placed there on purpose, and delivered a discourse, which lasted an hour, clearing himself of the accusations for which he suffered —calling God, and the whole heavenly court to witness his innocence as to the pretended conspiracy—and declaring himself an unworthy Catholic prelate, who laboured to preserve and advance the true faith in a just and lawful manner, and by no other means,—and pardoning his accusers, the friars, and their accomplices, the judges, and all who procured or concurred in his death: and he delivered this discourse with such sweetness and energy, that it seems, he moved to compassion even his executioner, and much more so, those who assisted as spectators. Having finished his address, he made a lengthened prayer to God, and passed to a better life, with a fortitude and spirit truly apostolic.
"His discourse is everywhere to be met with in print, and was applauded even by the adversaries of our religion, who could not fail to admire the singular courage, and extol the many heroic acts of the pretended culprit, and to censure the manner of proceeding of the court, and the sentence pronounced against him; the better part of them, and especially those of the province of Armagh, being well acquainted with, and having ever esteemed the deceased prelate, as a man of honour, whilst they knew the accusers to be wicked men, and their accusations incredible.
"An event so unexpected has overwhelmed the Catholics with affliction, seeing thus put to death the head of the clergy in this kingdom, through the perjured testimony of villains, who themselves had often merited the penalty of robbers .... And he being the first in this kingdom condemned on account of the imaginary conspiracy, it was feared that all the Catholics of the kingdom would be deemed culpable, and guilty of the same deeds, as if united with their head, and this increased their tribulation. But on the other hand, when they consider the glorious death of this sacred victim, and the applause and compassion which he merited even from the Protestants, and the honour he thus rendered to the Church, to his country, and to his sacred dignity, they are filled with consolation.
"And in truth, his holy life merited for him this glorious death; for during the twelve years of his residence here, he showed himself vigilant, zealous, and indefatigable above his predecessors, nor do we find within the memory of those of the present century, that any primate or metropolitan visited his diocese and province with such solicitude and pastoral zeal as he did, reforming depraved morals amongst the people, and the scandalous life of some of the clergy, chastising the guilty, rewarding the meritorious, consoling all; benefiting, as far as was in his power, and succouring the needy, wherefore he was applauded and honoured by the clergy and people, with the exception of some wicked enemies of virtue and religious observance. He held many diocesan synods and provincial councils, to the great spiritual advantage of both clergy and people. He instituted schools of moral theology for the young priests, and procured, as far as was possible to have the children of Catholics educated by Catholic masters, a rare thing in these parts; and in this and other things belonging to his pastoral charge, he showed himself untiringly solicitous. All this was attested more than once by the clergy of the province of Armagh, in synodal letters addressed to the Sacred Congregation, with unusual acclamations and applause, extolling their metropolitan, and reverently thanking his Holiness and the Sacred Congregation, for having chosen as their primate a person so conspicuous and so worthy.
"This prelate merited from the English government more favour than he received, since he was thus oppressed in London by the impious calumnies of his enemies. He bore great affection for that nation, and showed himself ever attentive tq the interests of the king, and to the peace of the present government. He gave signal proofs of this during the many years that he' lived in Rome, having been attentive to assist its noble youths who went thither to contemplate the grandeur of that city, and procuring for them courtesy and honours even from the chief nobility of that great court,where, too, on every occasion he spoke of the king of England with esteem and praise.
"His affection and manner of discourse did not change since his arrival in Ireland, where he spoke with zeal of the interests of the king and of the present government, exhorting all to a due subordination to the political laws of the kingdom, to peace and fraternal love among all; ordering in his synods that the clergy should labour to procure the tranquillity of the subjects, and that they should pray for the king and royal family. Of the sincerity of these desires he gave a great proof, which was applauded by all. There was in the province of Armagh a multitude of famous tories, who pestered that province with robberies and murders, of which Protestants were principally the victims. He, at the desire of the Viceroy, went in search of them, not without his own great risk, and having found them, he exhorted them to live as it became good Christians, and to allow the other subjects of his majesty to live in peace; and having treated with them in a kind and paternal manner, he induced them to lay aside their plunderings and to submit to the Government; as in fact they did; and all going to Dublin, he obtained for them pardon from the Viceroy, and they were placed on shipboard and transferred to other countries, to the great delight and advantage of that province; and all extolling the charity of the prelate who, by this means, saved the lives of these tories, and, at the same time, preserved the lives and property of the inhabitants of those districts.
"What has been said of his manner of acting in this kingdom, and how devoted he was to the service of the king and the welfare of his country, was known to the king and to many in the kingdom; and, nevertheless, when his cause was transferred to England, and he himself obliged to appear there, it is not known that any one of them took the slightest trouble to speak or write one word in favour of his merits. Of all that he did in Rome for the English nation, many of the nobility who are now in England can bear testimony; and yet not one of them took a step to manifest his innocence. From all this we may learn to do good for heavenly motives, and to await its recompense from God alone.
"Many Catholics do not hesitate to call him martyr, being convinced that he suffered for the Catholic faith; and although he was accused on three principal charges, as he himself writes—first, of having sought to establish and propagate the Catholic faith; second, of plotting the death of the king; third, of seeking to bring in the French—.the second and third were only as if means to attain the first, as even the adversaries themselves laid down. In truth, they might be styled two chimeras; so that the only real cause of his suffering was the propagation of the faith; and he confessed publicly, in regard of the first accusation, that he had discharged the office of a prelate ex ce quo et bono, without doing or seeking to do any injury to any being in the world.
"And as Boetius finds a place in the martyrology for having defended the Catholic faith against the Arians, although the pretext of his death was an imaginary conspiracy against King Theodoric; and, in like manner, St. Hermenegild, for having professed and sought to advance the true faith, although the pretext of his death was a similar conspiracy against King Leo vi gildus and his kingdom, with the aid of the Greek emperor; so, too, they argue in the present instance. But it is not our province to decide this.
"However this may be, it is certain that the memory of this glorious prelate will ever be revered in these kingdoms, as, on the contrary, the name of his impious accusers will ever be held in abomination, for having, with sacrilegious impiety, shed this sacred and innocent blood, and procured, with like impiety, to insult the Holy See and the court, as well of Rome as of other Catholic sovereigns, by their wicked and sacrilegious depositions, declaring them promoters of the feigned conspiracy, which, in truth, was forged in hell. They included, too, in their accusations against the primate, the Catholics of Ireland as aiders in advancing that engine, from which will result the ruin of our people, unless God, in a special manner, protects them; and on this account it is that, as I am of opinion, from the time of the institution of the order of St. Francis, the name of friar was never less revered in these parts, not only amongst Catholics, but also amongst the adversaries of our holy faith."
These words need no comment; they present, as if in a picture, the scene of Tyburn—sad, indeed, when looked on with the eyes of this world, but truly glorious when contemplated with the eye of faith. The death of the good prelate corresponded with his life; and his dispositions of soul and heavenly sentiments fully accorded with the glorious consummation of his career as bishop of God's Church. The discourse which he delivered from the scaffold, with as great calmness and energetic zeal as though he were addressing from the pulpit his own immediate flock, moved all the assembled multitude, and even his executioner to compassion; and surely no one even now-a-days can read without emotion even the dead letters of the printed discourse, especially the concluding passages, in which he prays forgiveness to all his enemies, and supplicates from the Almighty pardon for his own faults and eternal rest in heaven. Dr. Plunket composed this discourse in prison, and left it to his friends, written with his own hand; for he feared lest his dying words should be misrepresented, or any false sentiments be imputed to him. It was immediately printed and translated into various languages, as we learn from Dr. Brennan. We give it in full, from the printed copy in the archives of Propaganda:—
"I have some few days past abided my trial at the King's Bench, and now very soon I must hold up my hand at the King of King's Bench, and appear before a Judge who cannot be deceived by false witnesses or corrupted allegations; for He knoweth the secrets of hearts; neither can He deceive any or give an unjust sentence, or be misled by respect of persons: He being all goodness, and a most just Judge, will infallibly decree an eternal reward for all good works, and condign punishment for the smallest transgression against His commandments, which being a most certain and undoubted truth, it would be wicked, and contrary to my eternal welfare, that I should now, by declaring anything contrary to the truth, commit a detestable sin, for which, within a very short time, I must receive sentence of everlasting damnation; after which there is no reprieve or hope of pardon. I will, therefore, confess the truth, without any equivocation, and make use of the words according to their accustomed signification; assuring you, moreover, that I am of that certain persuasion, that no power, not only upon earth, but also in heaven, can dispense with me, or give me leave to make a false protestation; and I protest upon the word of a dying man, that as I hope for salvation at the hands of the supreme Judge, that I will declare the naked truth with all candour and sincerity; and that my affairs may be better known to all the world. It is to be observed, that I have been accused in Ireland of treason and praemunire, and that there I was arraigned and brought to my trial; but the prosecutors (men of flagitious and"infamous lives) perceiving that I had records and witnesses who would evidently convict them, and clearly show my innocency and their wickedness, they voluntarily absented themselves, and came to this city to procure that I should be brought hither to my trial, where the crimes were not committed, where the jury did not know me or the qualities of my accusers, and were not informed of several other circumstances conducing to a fair trial. Here, after six months' close imprisonment (or thereabouts), I was brought to the bar, the 3rd of May, and arraigned for a crime for which I was before arraigned in Ireland; a strange resolution, a rare fact, of which you shall hardly find a precedent these five hundred years past; but (whereas) my witnesses and records were in Ireland, the Lord Chief Justice gave me five weeks time to get them brought hither; but by reason of the uncertainty of the seas, of wind, and weather, and the difficulty of getting copies of records, and bringing many witnesses from many counties in Ireland, and many other impediments (of which affidavit was made) I could not at the end of five weeks get the records and witnesses brought hither; I, therefore, begged for twelve days more, that I might be in a readiness for my trial, which the Lord • Chief Justice denied, and so I was brought to my trial, and exposed, as it were, with my hands tied, to those mercilesa perjurers, who did aim at my life by accusing me of these following points:—
First—That I have sent letters by one Nial O'Neal (who was my page) to M. Baldeschi, the Pope's Secretary, to the Bishop of Aix, and to the Prince Colonna, that they might solicit foreign powers to invade Ireland; and also to have sent letters to Cardinal Bouillon to the same effect.
Secondly.—To have employed Captain Con O'Neal to the French king for succour.
Thirdly.—To have levied and exacted monies from the clergy of Ireland, to bring in the French, and to maintain 70,000 men.
Fourthly.—To have had in a readiness 70,000 men, and lists made of them, and to have given directions to one friar Duffy, to make a list of 250 men in the parish of Foghart, in the county of Louth.
Fifthly.—To have surrounded all the forts and harbours of Ireland, and to have fixed upon Carlingford as a fit harbour for the French's landing.
Sixthly.—To have had several councils and meetings where there was money allotted for introducing the French.
Finally.—That I held a meeting in the county of Monaghan, some ten or twelve years past, where there were 300 gentlemen of three several counties, to wit, Monaghan, Cavan, and Armagh, whom I did exhort to take arms to recover their estates.
"To the first I answer, that Nial O'Neal was never my page or servant, and that I never sent letter or letters by him to M. Baldeschi, or to the Bishop of Aix, or to the Prince Colonna; and I say, that the English translation of that pretended letter produced by the friar MacMoyer is a mere invention of his, and never penned by me, or its original, in English, Latin, Italian, or any other language. I affirm, moreover, that I never wrote letter or letters to Cardinal Bouillon, or any of the French king's ministers; neither did any one who was in that court either speak to me or write to me, directly or indirectly, of any plot or conspiracy against the king or country. Further, I vow that I never sent agent or agents to Rome, or to any other, about any civil or temporal affairs; and it is well known (for it is a precept publicly printed) that clergymen (living where the government is not of Roman Catholics) are commanded by Rome not to write to Rome, concerning any civil or temporal affairs. And I do aver that I never received letter or letters from the Pope, or from any of his ministers, making the least mention of any such matters, so that the friar Mac Moyer and Duffy swore as to such letter or letters, agent or agents.
"To the second I say, that I never employed Captain Con O'Neal to the French king, or to any of his ministers; and that I never wrote to him, or received letters from him; and that I never saw him but once, nor ever spoke to him, to the best of my remembrance, ten words; and as for his being in Charlemont or Dungannon, I never saw him in these towns, or knew of his being in these places; so that as to Con O'Neal, friar MacMoyer's depositions are most false.
"To the third I say, that I never levied any money for a plot or conspiracy for bringing in the Spaniards or French, neither did I ever receive any on that account from priests or friars, as priest MacClave and friar Duffy most untruly asserted. I assure you I never received from any clergyman in Ireland but what was due to me, by ancient custom, for my maintenance, and what my predecessors these hundred years were wont to receive; nay, I received less than many of them. And if all what the Catholic clergy of Ireland get in the year were put in one purse, it would signify little or nothing to introduce the French, or to raise an army of 70,000 men, which I had enlisted and ready, as friar MacMoyer most falsely deposed; neither is it less untrue what friar Duffy attested, viz., that I directed him to make a list of 250 men in the parish of Foghart, in the county of Louth.
"To the fifth I answer, that I never surrounded all the ports or harbours of Ireland, and that I never was at Cork, Kinsale, Bantry, Youghal, Dungarvan, or Knockfergus; and these thirty-six years past I was not at Limerick, Dungannon, or Wexfort. As for Carimgfort, I never was in it but once, and staid not in it above half an hour; neither did I consider the port or haven; neither had I it in my thoughts or imagination to fix upon it, or any other port or haven, for landing of French or Spaniards, and while I was at Cariingfort (by mere chance passing that way), friar Duffy was not in my company, as he most falsely swore.
"To the sixth I say, that I never was at any meeting or council where there was mention made of allotting or collecting of monies for a plot or conspiracy; and it is well known that the Catholic clergy of Ireland, who have neither lands or revenues, and hardly are able to keep decent clothes on their backs, and life and soul together, can raise no considerable sum, nay, cannot spare as much as would maintain half a regiment. "
"To the seventh I answer, that I never was at any meeting of 300 gentlemen in the county of Monaghan, or of any gentlemen of the three counties of Monaghan, Armagh, and Cavan, nor of one county, nor of. one barony; and that I never exhorted gentleman or gentlemen, either there or in any other part of Ireland, to take arms for the recovering of their estates; and it is well known that there are not, even in all the province of Ulster, 300 Irish Roman Catholics who had estates or lost estates by the late rebellion, and, as it is well known, all my thoughts and desires were for the quiet of my country, and especially of that province.
"Now to be brief, as I hope for salvation, I never sent letter or letters, agent or agents, to Pope, king, prince, or prelate, concerning any plot or conspiracy against my king or country: I never raised sum or sums of money, great or small, to maintain soldier or soldiers, all the days of my life: I never knew or heard (neither did it come to my thoughts or imagination) that the French were to land at Cariingfort; and I believe that there is none who saw Ireland, even in a map, but will think it a mere romance: I never knew of any plotters or conspirators in Ireland, but such as were notorious or proclaimed (commonly called tories), whom I did endeavour to suppress. And as I hope for salvation, I always have been, and am entirely innocent of the treasons laid to my charge, and of any other whatsoever.
"And though I be not guilty of the crimes of which I am accused, yet I believe none came ever to this place in such a condition as I am, for if even I should acknowledge (which in conscience I cannot do, because I should belie myself) the chief crimes laid to my charge, no wise man that knows Ireland would believe me. If I should confess that I was able to raise 70,000 men in the districts of which I had care, to wit, in Ulster, nay, even in all Ireland, and to have levied and exacted monies from the Catholic clergy, for their maintenance, and to have proposed Carlingfort for the French's landing, all would but laugh at me, it heing well known that all the revenues of Ireland, both spiritual and temporal, possessed by his majesty's subjects, are scarce able to raise and maintain an army of 70,000 men. If I will deny all these crimes (as I did and do), yet it may be that some who are not acquainted with the affairs of Ireland will not believe that my denial is grounded on truth, though I assert it with my last breath. I dare mention farther, and affirm, that if these points of 70,000 men, &c., had been sworn before any Protestant jury in Ireland, and had been even acknowledged by me at the bar, they would not believe me, no more than if it had been deposed and confessed by me, that I had flown in the air from Dublin to Holyhead.
"You see, therefore, what a condition I am in, and you have heard what protestations I have made of innocency, and I hope you will believe the words of a dying man. And that you may be the more induced to give me credit, I assure you that a great peer sent me notice, 'that he would save my life, if I would accuse others;' but I answered, ' that I never knew of any conspirators in Ireland, hut such (as I said before) as were publicly known outlaws; and that to save my life I would not falsely accuse any, nor prejudice my own soul. Quid prodest homini, &c. To take away any man's life or goods wrongfully ill hecometh any Christian, especially a man of my calling, heing a clergyman of the Catholic Church, and also an unworthy prelate, which I do openly confess. Neither will I deny to have exercised in Ireland the functions of a Catholic prelate, as long as there was connivance or toleration; and by preaching, and teaching, and statutes, to have endeavoured to bring the clergy (of which I had a care) to a due comportment, according to their calling; and though thereby I did but my duty, yet some, who would not amend, had a prejudice for me, and especially my accusers, to whom I did endeavour to do good; I mean the clergyman (as for the four laymen who appeared against me, viz., Florence MacMoyer, the two Neales, and Hanlon, I was never acquainted with them); but you see how I am requited, and how, by false oaths, they brought me to this untimely death, which wicked act, being a defect of persons, ought not to reflect on the order of St. Francis or on the Roman Catholic clergy, it being well known that there was a Judas among. the twelve apostles, and a wicked man, called Nicholas, amongst the seven deacons; and even as one of the said deacons, to wit, holy Stephen, did pray for those who stoned him, so do I for those who, with perjuries, spill my innocent blood, saying, as St. Stephen did, 'f,ord, lay not this sin to them.' I do heartily forgive them, and also the judges who (by denying me sufficient time to bring my records and witnesses from Ireland) did expose my life to evident danger. I do also forgive all those who had a hand in bringing me from Ireland to be tried here, where it was morally impossible for me to have a fair trial. I do, finally, forgive all who did concur, directly or indirectly, to take away my life; and I ask forgiveness of all those whom I ever offended by thought, word, or deed. I beseech the All-powerful that His divine Majesty grant the king, the queen, and the Duke of York, and all the royal family, health, long life, and all prosperity in this world, and in the next everlasting felicity.
"Now that I have shown sufficiently (as I think) how innocent I am of any plot or conspiracy, I would I were able, with the like truth, to clear myself of high crimes committed against the divine Majesty's commandments (often transgressed by me), for which I am sorry with all my heart; and if I should or could live a thousand years, I have a firm resolution, and a strong purpose, by your Grace, oh, my God! never to offend you; and I beseech your divine Majesty, by the merits of Christ, and by the intercession of His blessed Mother and all the holy angels and saints, to forgive me my sins, and to grant my soul eternal rest. Miserere met Deus, &c. Puree animce, &c. In manus tuas, &c.
To this discourse Dr. Plunket added the following postcript before going out to execution, re-confirming the sentiments of the preceding discourse, and renewing the declarations which it contained :—
To the final satisfaction of all persons that have the charity to believe the words of a dying man I again declare before God, as I hope for salvation, what is contained in this paper is the plain and naked truth without any equivocation, mental reservation, or secret evasion whatever, taking the words in their usual sense and meaning, as Protestants do when they discourse with all candour and sincerity. To all which I have here subscribed my hand.
Having concluded his discourse on the scaffold, the archbishop knelt in prayer, and with eyes raised towards heaven, recited the psalm, " Miserere mei Deus," and many other devout prayers; and having breathed the aspiration, "in manus tuas Domine commendo spiritum meum," "into thy hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit" the cart was drawn away, and whilst at the hands of the executioner he received the disgraceful punishment of a traitor, he yielded his happy soul into the hands of his Creator.
To conclude this chapter, we shall add the letter of a Catholic gentleman, who, as we learn from the Archbishop of Cashel, was present at the execution. It was addressed to that dear friend of the martyred prelate, who transmitted it to Rome, and at the same time, deeming it a letter of edification, distributed many copies of it throughout the country, to the great consolation of the Catholics." It is dated, London, 15th of July, 1681, and is as follows:—
"On Friday last, despite all our endeavours, our good man was conducted to the fatal place of execution; whither he went to receive and encounter death with a soul so noble, and a fortitude so generous, that his adversaries—even malice itself—admired* his intrepidity and compassioned his lot. Never did he preach from the pulpit with greater vigour of soul than he displayed when delivering this discourse at the place of execution. In a word, he won more credit and repute, as well for himself as for his country, by one hour of suffering, than he could have acquired perhaps by hundreds of years of life; and I am persuaded that there was never a victim of the Irish nation which will reflect more credit on that kingdom, than this revered and truly Christian prelate; who, as a Jonas cast into the sea, will, we may hope, be a means of appeasing the tempest, and terminating our present persecutions. And of this, indeed, we have already had some evidence; for on the very day after the death of this martyr, the Earl of Shaftesbury, head of the anti-Catholic faction, was committed to the Tower of London, accused of high treason, where are also imprisoned on the same grounds, Lord Howard, and two others of the same party?; so that even already the scales have commenced to change their balance, and we have begun to hope for better times."
Dr. Plunket was the last victim to the anti-Catholic fury with which the English nation was then inflamed; and the next day, which witnessed the fall of Shaftesbury, and saw that arch-enemy of the Catholics conducted to the Tower, saw also the very witnesses whom he had fostered employ their perjured tales to hurry on his ruin. Many, indeed, even in after years, were called to share in Dr. Plunket's crown, but never with the formalities of a trial, or with the public and direct sanction of the government. With him was closed the bright array of heroes of the faith who at Tyburn received their martyr-crowns. The enemies of the Catholic Church had vainly hoped by shedding their blood to destroy the faith, but they forgot that the blood of martyrs is a fruitful seed—that the sword of persecution can only prune the vine and cause it to put forth new branches—and that the Church of God is, indeed, the mystic field, in which each grain cast into the earth buds forth remultiplied.
Taken from - MEMOIRS OF THE MOST REV. OLIVER PLUNKET, WHO SUFFERED DEATH FOR THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE YEAR 1681.