Titus Oates: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Titus Oates played a major role in one of England's most outrageous conspiracies. In this lesson, we'll look at Oates' life and see how he ended up involved in this event.

The Popish Plot

In 1678, an incredible plot was discovered to kill King Charles II of England and replace him with the Catholic Duke of York. Those implicated in planning this treachery were members of the Jesuit Order in England. Anti-Catholic sentiment raged as the accused members of the so-called Popish Plot were rounded up and executed. In the end, King Charles II was saved and 35 Catholics or Catholic sympathizers were executed for treason.

There was only one problem: the plot never actually existed. It was made up, invented to promote anti-Catholic fervor. The man behind this terrible lie was Titus Oates.

Titus Oates

Early Life

Titus Oates was born around 1649 in Rutland, England. His father was a Baptist preacher, but young Titus did not seem to have the same inclination towards learning. He first entered the Merchant Taylor's School in 1665 at the age of 16, but was expelled. He later entered Caius College and then St. John's, where he wasted his money and was forced to leave without having earned a degree.

Finally, he decided to enter the clergy and was ordained within the Church of England sometime around 1670. Even as an Anglican minister, he built up a reputation for being dishonest, and in 1674 he was actually arrested for perjury. Oates broke out of prison and escaped, taking a job as a chaplain in the Navy. He was soon dismissed for misconduct.

At this point, it should be clear that Titus Oates may not have been the most stable of characters. In 1676, however, something changed. He met Catholics for the first time, and became the Protestant chaplain in the predominantly Catholic household of the Duke of Norfolk. In 1677, he renounced the Anglican Church and entered into seminary to become a Catholic priest. He was first expelled by the Jesuits at the seminary in Valladolid, Spain, and later expelled by the Jesuits in the seminary of St. Omer's in France.

Titus Oates and Israel Tonge

There is one other person who plays into this story, but historians tend to disagree on exactly where he first entered the picture. Israel Tonge was an Anglican fanatic who hated the Catholics and blamed them for the Great Fire of 1666 that destroyed large chunks of London. Somewhere before 1677, Titus Oates met Israel Tonge, and apparently the two hit it off.

It's unclear how Oates and Tonge met, but after Titus Oates was expelled from St. Omer's he reconnected with his old friend, and the two became obsessed with striking against Catholics, and in particular, the Jesuits. Titus Oates would later claim that Tonge convinced him to join the Catholic seminary as an undercover Protestant, there to spy on and learn more about Catholic threats. Historians debate the veracity of that claim.

Regardless, in 1678 Titus Oates and Israel Tonge together concocted stories of a Jesuit plot to assassinate the king. They found a respected justice of the peace who believed their story and together quickly captured the public's attention.

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