Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Last Discourse of St. Oliver Plunket

by St. Oliver Plunket


The last speech of St. Oliver Plunket, Titular Primate of Ireland, who was executed at Tyburn on July 1, 1681.

Larger Work

Harleian Miscellany - Vol. VI

Publisher & Date

White and Co., London, 1810

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 Kings' 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 a wicked act, and contrary to my perpetual welfare, that I should now, by declaring anything contrary to 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, and as I hope for salvation, at the hands of the Supreme Judge), that I will declare the naked truth, with all candor and sincerity and that my affairs may be the better known to all the world.

It is to be observed, that I have been accused in Ireland of treason and praemunire (The offense under English law of appealing to or obeying a foreign court or authority, thus challenging the supremacy of the Crown.), 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 convince them, and clearly shew 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 objected 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 third of May and arraigned for a crime, for which I was before arraigned in Ireland. A strange resolution! a rare fact! of which, you will 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 of the difficulty of getting copies of records, and bringing many witnesses from several counties in Ireland, and for many other impediments (of which affidavit was made), I could not at the end of the 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 merciless perjurors, who did aim at my life, by accusing me of these following points:

First, That I have sent letters by one Nial O'Neale, who was my page, to Monsieur Baldeschi, the pope's secretary; to the Bishop of Aix, and to Principe Colonna, that they might solicit foreign powers to invade Ireland; and also to have sent letters to cardinal Bullion to the same effect.

Secondly, To have employed Captain Con O'Neale, 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 seventy-thousand men.

Fourthly, To have had in a readiness seventy-thousand men, and lists made of them; and to have given directions to one friar Duffy to make a list of two-hundred and fifty men, in the parish of Foghart, in the county of Lowth.

Fifthly, To have surrounded all the forts and harbours of Ireland, and to have fixed upon Carlingford, as a fit harbor, for the French's landing.

Sixthly, To have had several councils and meetings, where there was money allotted for introducing the French.

Finally, That [there was] a meeting, in the County of Monaghan, some ten or twelve years past, [where] there were three-hundred 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'Neale was never my servant or page; and that I never sent letter or letters by him to Monsieur Baldeschi, or the Bishop of Aix, or to Principe 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, (nor its original) either in English, Latin, Italian, or any other language. I affirm moreover, that I never wrote letter or letters to Cardinal Bullion, or any of the French king's ministers; neither did any, who was in that court, either speak to me, or write to me, directly or indirectly, of any plot or conspiracy against my king or country. Farther, I vow that I never sent agent or agents to Rome, or to any other court, about any civil or temporal affairs: and it is well known, (for it is a precept publicly printed,) that clergymen, living in countries, 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 other of his ministers making the least mention of any such matters: so that the Friars Macmoyer and Duffy swore most falsely, as to such letter or letters, agent or agents.

To the second, I say, that I never employed Captain Con O'Neale 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 Charlemount, or Dungannon, I never saw him in those towns, or knew of his being in those places: so that, as to Con O'Neale, 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 Spaniards or French; neither did I ever receive any upon that account, from priests or friars; as priest Mac-Clave and Friar Duffy most untruly asserted. I assure you, that 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 past, were used to receive; nay, I received less than many of them. And if all that 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 seventy-thousand men, which I had enlisted and ready; as Friar Mac-Moyer most falsely deposed. Neither is it less untrue, what Friar Duffy attested, viz, that I directed him to make a list of two-hundred and fifty men, in the parish of Foghart, in the County of Lowth.

To the fifth, I answer, that I never surrounded all the forts and harbors of Ireland and that I was never at Cork, Kinsale, Bantry, Youghal, Dungarvan, or Knockfergus; and, these thirty-six years past, I was not at Limerick, Dungannon, or Wexford. As for Carlingford, I was never in it but once, and stayed not in it, above half an hour. Neither did I consider the fort or haven; neither had I it in my thoughts or imagination to fix upon it, or upon any other fort or haven, for landing of French or Spaniards; and whilst I was at Carlingford (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 was never 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 nor revenues, and hardly are able to keep decent clothes upon 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 was never at any meeting of three-hundred 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 their estates. And it is well known that there are not, even in all the province of Ulster, three-hundred Irish Roman-Catholics, who had estates, or lost estates by the late rebellion and as it is well known, all my thoughts and endeavors 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 a soldier or soldiers, all the days of my life: I never knew nor heard, neither did it come to my thoughts or imagination, that the French were to land at Carlingford; and I believe, 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 and proclaimed, (commonly called Tories,) whom I did endeavor 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, who is in such a condition as I am; for if I should even 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 seventy-thousand 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 Roman clergy for their maintenance, and to have prepared Carlingford, for the French's landing, all would but laugh at me: it being 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 seventy-thousand men. If I will deny all those 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 upon truth, though I assert it, with my last breath. I dare venture farther, and affirm, that if these points of seventy-thousand men, etc. 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 Holy-head.

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; but 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, etc. To take away any man's life or goods wrongfully, ill becometh any Christian, especially a man of my calling; being 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 any connivance or toleration; and by preaching, teaching, and statutes, to have endeavored 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 endeavor to do good; I mean the clergymen: as for the four laymen, who appeared against me, viz. Florence Mac-Mover, the two Neals, 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 upon the order of St. Francis, or upon 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 to death; so do I, for those who, with perjuries, spill my innocent blood; saying, as St. Stephen did, "O Lord! 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 our king, 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 1 have shewed 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, O 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 mei Deus, etc. Parce anima, etc. In manus tuas, etc.


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 whatsoever; taking the words in their usual sense and meaning, as Protestants do, when they discourse with all candor and sincerity. To all which, I have here subscribed my hand, Oliver Plunket.

This synopsis of the circumstances of St. Oliver Plunket's trial was taken from Bishop Burnet's, History of his own Time, 1724

Dr. Oliver Plunket was. arraigned at the King's Bench, May 3, 1681, for "high treason, in endeavoring and compassing the king's" death, and to levy war in Ireland, and to alter the true religion there, and to introduce a foreign 'power.' The particulars of his trial, as well as his speech at the place of execution, may be found in the third volume of the State Trials, p. 294, Margrave's edit. Dr. Burnet gives us no very favorable idea of the equity of the proceedings against him. ' Some lewd Irish priests (says he) and others of that nation, ' hearing that England was at that time disposed to hearken to good swearers, thought themselves well qualified for the employment; so they came over to swear, that there was a great plot in Ireland, to bring over a French army, and to massacre all the English. The witnesses were brutal and profligate men, yet the earl of Shaftsbury cherished them much: they were examined by the parliament at Westminster and what they said was believed. Upon that encouragement it was reckoned, that we should have witnesses come over in whole companies. Lord Essex told me, that this Plunket was a wise and sober man, who was always in a different interest from the two Talbots; the one of these being the titular primate of Dublin, and the other came to be raised afterwards to be Duke of Tirconnell. These were meddling and factious men, whereas Plunket was for their living quietly, and in due submission to the government, without engaging into intrigues of state. Some of these priests had been censured by him for their lewdness: and they drew others to swear as they directed them. They had appeared the winter before, upon a bill offered to the grand jury: but as the foreman of the jury, who was a zealous Protestant, told me, they contradicted one another so evidently, that they would not find the bill. But now they laid their story better together and swore against Plunket, that he had got a great bank of money to be prepared, and that he had an army listed, and was in a correspondence with Franco, to bring over a fleet from thence. He had nothing to say in his own defense, but to deny all: so he was condemned; and suffered very decently, expressing himself in many particulars as became a bishop. He died denying every thing that had been sworn against him.

The following account of the manner of his execution is given in a little work, entitled, Ireland's Case: briefly stated; or a summary Account of the most remarkable Transactions in that Kingdom, since the Reformation.1675.

On the first of July 1681, Mr. Sheriff demanded his prisoner, who was carried to him on a sledge to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. In his passage to the place of execution, he made many ejaculatory prayers, full of the love of God, and charity to his neighbors. When he arrived at Tyburn, and was tied up, before the cart was drawn from under him, he made with wonderful cheerfulness this following: 'discourse.'

His speech ended, and his cap drawn over his eyes, he again recommended his happy soul with.raptures of devotion into the hands of Jesus, his Savior, for whose sake he died, till the cart was drawn from under him. Thus then he hung betwixt heaven and earth, an open sacrifice to God for innocence and religion. As he expired, the executioner ripped up his belly and breast, and pulling out his heart and bowels, threw them into the fire, ready kindled near the gallows for that purpose: the rest of his body, having been begged of the king, was carried by his friends to a house near St. Giles's church; the trunk, whereof was placed in a coffin, his head and arms to the elbow, being reserved out of the coffin, and disposed of elsewhere; then the body was interred in the church.yard, and a copper plate placed on his breast, whereon was engraven these following words, set here down for the satisfaction of the curious: "In this tomb resteth the body of the right reverend Oliver Plunket, archbishop of Armagh, and primate of Ireland, who in hatred of religion was accused of false witnesses, and for the same condemned, and executed at Tyburn; his heart and bowels being taken out and cast into the fire: he suffered martyrdom with constancy, the 1st of July, 1681, in the reign of king, Charles II."

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