Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stephen College; August 31, 1681

On August 31, 1681, Stephen College was hung and quartered at Oxford Castle. According to the wikipedia entry on his life and death,

He was born about 1635, and worked at the trade of carpentry. He became known as an anti-Catholic political speaker. He had been a presbyterian until the Restoration of 1660, when he conformed to the church of England. He made himself notorious by his declamations against the papists, by writing and singing political ballads, and by inventing a weapon for self-defence at close quarters, which he called 'the protestant flail.' He knew many persons of rank. Lord William Russell and Lady Berkeley showed him kindness. He was one of the bitterest opponents of Lord William Stafford, and exulted over his condemnation and death. Among the writings attributed to him are coarse attacks on lawyers and Catholics. Among these are 'Truth brought to Light, or Murder will out;' 'Justice in Masquerade, or Scroggs upon Scroggs;' another beginning 'Since Justice Scroggs Pepys and Dean did bail;' 'The Pope's Advice and Benediction to his Judge and Jury in Eutopia;' 'The Wolf Justice' (against Scroggs); 'A Caution,' and 'A Satyr' against James, Duke of York, the Duchess of Portsmouth, and William Scroggs, whom he hated for acquitting George Wakeman.

College was obviously referring to the trend of acquittals in the Popish Plot trials after Titus Oates' perfidious perjury had finally been discovered. The Pepys referred to is indeed the diarist Samuel Pepys, who had been accused and barely escaped with his life. Once accused in the Popish Plot, he was assumed to be a Catholic, even though he wasn't and he had a hard time proving the negative.

When College was brought to trial, he found himself in the same position as Pepys--accused of being a Catholic!--

At nearly two o'clock in the morning the jury retired, and in half an hour gave their verdict of guilty. The court then adjourned until ten o'clock, when sentence of death was pronounced against him. He was visited in prison by two of the university divines, Dr. Marshall and Dr. Hall, who declared him to be penitent. His family was admitted to see him, and attempts made to obtain a remission of the sentence, but the sole concession granted was that his quarters should be delivered to his friends. On 31 August he was taken in a cart to the place of execution, and made a long speech, chiefly to clear himself from the charge of being a papist. He was then hanged and quartered. His body was buried the next evening at St. Gregory's Church, by St. Paul's.

His name is included on the plaque in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford as one of the "Reformation Martyrs"--although I'm not really clear how he was a martyr!


  1. Folks like College were sometimes described as "Protestant Jesuits".

  2. This story has flown completely over my head. Who would have been his prosecutors, his jury?...Friends of the Popish Plot victims? Was this angry reaction to the Plot hysteria?

  3. This story does represent the denouement of the Popish Plot, tubbs. College had supported the chief witnesses against William Howard, but had also urged resistance to Charles II and was accused of sedition. It's a strange tale of the Popish Plot denouncers testifying both for the defense and the prosecution of College. More detail here:,_Stephen_(DNB00)