"Protestant witnesses out of employment, companions and understrappers to Oates, and Bedloe, and Carstairs"

The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that filled England with anti-Catholic hysteria between 1678 and 1681. Oates alleged an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, accusations that led to the execution of at least 15 men and precipitated the Exclusion Bill Crisis. Eventually Oates' intricate web of accusations fell apart, leading to his arrest and conviction for perjury.

Those accused by Oates of plotting to kill the King included the Queen, who Oates claimed was working with the King's physician to poison him. He was backed up by William Bedloe, who perjured himself for cash.  The King personally interrogated Oates, caught him out in a number of inaccuracies and lies, and ordered his arrest. However, a couple of days later, Parliament forced Oates's release with the threat of a constitutional crisis.

Titus Oates in the pillory
Public DomainTitus Oates in the pillory - Credit: Robert Chambers' Book of Days

As the hysteria continued, anyone suspected of being Catholic was driven out of London and forbidden to come within ten miles of the city. Oates received a state apartment and an annual allowance of £1,200. However as more and more high ranking men fell under Oates' accusations, public opinion began to turn against him. In August 1681, Oates was told to leave his apartments. He responded by denouncing the King and the Duke of York. He was arrested for sedition, fined £100,000 and thrown into prison. When James II came to the throne in 1685 he had Oates retried for perjury and sentenced to life imprisonment.