Friday, October 12, 2012

Edmund Berry Godfrey, RIP

Titus Oates and Israel Tonge were telling their story about the vast Jesuit wing conspiracy to kill Charles II. They swore a desposition to Edmund Berry Godfrey, a magistrate and then on October 12, 1678, he disappeared. His body was found on October 17, in a ditch on Primrose Hill. It was his mysterious death, impaled by his own sword that really gave impetus to Oates and Tonge's Popish Plot, as authorities assumed it was his knowledge of the Plot that led to his death. Catholics had murdered him to keep him from telling about the Plot, it was alleged--although there were indications that Godfrey had already warned Edward Colman, the Duchess of York's secretary (who would suffer hanging and quartering on December 3, 1678) that there was a plot to ensnare the royal family and its servants.

There is memorial to the magistrate in Westminster Abbey:

"Edmund Berry Godfrey, raised, for his services to King and Country, to the rank of Knight, having filled the office of Justice with a singular faithfulness and diligence, was snatched at last from the sight of his kinsfolk on 12th Oct. 1678, and found on the fifth day following, having suffered an abominable and hideous death. The rest let History tell. This monument, ravaged by age, was restored, and the epitaph to his brother Edmund added, by Benjamin, youngest son and now the sole survivor of the sons of Thomas Godfrey, 2nd April 1696".
 Edmund Berry Godfrey was born 23 December 1621, a son of Thomas, a Member of Parliament, and his second wife Sarah (Iles or Isles). His second name was taken from his godfather Captain John Berrie. He attended Westminster School, like his brother Edward, and Christ Church college Oxford. Ill health and deafness prevented him from completing his law studies. In 1650 he went into trade as a wood and coal merchant in London. He had a house in Westminster and became a local magistrate and was called the "best justice of the peace in England". In 1666 he was knighted for services in helping "to suppress the late fire in the City". In 1678 he became involved in the Popish Plot scandal. His body was found on Primrose Hill near Hampstead on 17 October with a sword wound and it was popularly said that he was murdered by Catholics. He was buried at St Martin in the Fields church, Westminster. Three men were executed for the murder but later many other theories were put forward.

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