Edmund Berry Godfrey

Edmund Berry Godfrey

Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (23 December,162112 October,1678) was an English magistrate whose mysterious death caused anti-Catholic uproar in England. Contemporary documents also spell the name Edmundbury Godfrey.

Early life

Edmund Berry Godfrey was probably born in Selling, now in the district of Swale, Kent, the eleventh son of eighteen children born to Thomas Godfrey (1586-1664), a member of an old Kentish family and his second wife. He studied at Westminster School and at Christ Church, Oxford and after entering Gray's Inn became a prominent wood and coal merchant. He became justice of the peace for Westminster and received a knighthood in September 1666 for his services during the Great Plague when he had stayed in his post regardless of the circumstances. In 1669 Godfrey was briefly imprisoned for a few days because he had the King's physician, Sir Alexander Fraizer, arrested for owing him money.

Strictly Anglican in religion, Godfrey had a number of Catholic acquaintances, including Edward Colman, Catholic secretary of the Duke of York, the future James II.

The Mystery

In 1678 Godfrey become involved with the schemes of Titus Oates when Oates invented the Popish Plot and begun an anti-Catholic campaign. Titus Oates and Israel Tonge appeared before Godfrey and asked him to take their oath that the papers they presented as evidence were based on truth. Godfrey demanded first to know the contents of the papers and when he had received a copy on September 28, took their depositions. He might have warned Coleman of the content of the accusations.

When Oates's accusations became known, the public became concerned. Godfrey has been supposed to have been concerned that he might be one of the victims of the scare but made no extra security precautions. On 12 October 1678 he did not return home and was found dead in a ditch on Primrose Hill on 17 October. Godfrey was lying face down and had been impaled with his own sword.

Two committees unsuccessfully investigated the murder. They received conflicting statements about Godfrey's whereabouts before the murder. There was no evidence of struggle on the spot where the body had been found and Godfrey still had his money and rings. On the other hand, curious people had already trampled the ground when investigators arrived. The body was covered with bruises and a circular mark around Godfrey's neck revealed that he had been strangled. The sword wound had not bled, meaning that Godfrey was already dead when he was impaled, maybe for 4-5 days. Authorities announced a reward of £500 for information about the murderers.

Oates exploited the situation and encouraged the public perception that the murder was the work of Catholic plotters. There was a commemorative dagger and medal, sermons and pamphlets.

Later "Captain" William Bedloe, who claimed to be a "reformed" Catholic plotter, claimed that he had been taken to Somerset House on the night of 14 October to see the body of Godfrey (although on the previous day he had claimed just the opposite). He said he had seen two men, including Samuel Atkins, secretary to Samuel Pepys. Atkins was arrested but was able to prove that he had been on a yacht at Greenwich at that time. Bedloe claimed that Catholic plotters had killed Godfrey in order to steal his papers about the depositions (note that the witnesses whose words had been recorded were still alive). He changed his story several times afterwards but the House of Lords retained him as a witness.

On 21 December, Miles Prance, Catholic servant-in-ordinary to England's Catholic Queen consort, Catherine of Braganza, was arrested and taken to Newgate prison. His lodger (who was in debt to Prance), John Wren, testified that he had been away for the four nights before Godfrey's body was discovered. Bedloe claimed to recognize him.

On 23 December-24 December, Prance announced that he had had a part in the murder but that the main instigators were some Catholic priests. Three of the priests would have witnessed the murder in the courtyard of Somerset House where Godfrey had been lured. Godfrey would have been strangled and body taken to Hampstead. Prance named three men, Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill, who were arrested. (Coincidentally, the site where Godfrey was murdered was known at the time as "Greenberry Hill".)

Prance later recanted his confession before the king and the council and was thrown back to prison. As a result he recanted his recantation and recanted two more times, ending up verifying his original story. The three men were sentenced to death 5 February 1679 and hanged at Greenberry Hill.

Prance's story was later discredited and he pleaded guilty to perjury. Because the three men were executed on false evidence, the murder remains officially unsolved.

There have been many theories of what really happened to Sir Godfrey and who killed him. He might have been murdered either by Catholics, who could have been afraid that he knew some of their real secrets; supporters of Oates because of his contacts to Catholics or because he knew Oates was lying; or just by random hooligans. Some claim suicide, either because Godfrey was in a quandary between Catholics and Anglicans and, due to his contacts to Coleman, possibly under suspicion or just because of his melancholy nature. L'Estrange (1687) claimed that Godfrey had hanged himself; his brothers would have concealed the evidence lest his estate had been forfeit. It has also been surmised that the Whig leaders were responsible for killing Godfrey, partly because they understood how much he knew of the falsehood of the plot, and partly because his death could so easily and so usefully be blamed on the Catholics.

Modern analysis

John Dickson Carr, in his book "The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey" (1936), analyzed all the above mentioned theories and exposes their weak points and contradictions. Then he scrutinizes the evidence, and deduces that Godfrey was murdered by Philip Herbert, 7th Earl of Pembroke who took his revenge for having been prosecuted for murder some time earlier by Godfrey. The earl had been found guilty but had escaped execution by means of a pardon from the House of Lords. This same theory was expounded by English historian Hugh Ross Williamson, in his "Historical Whodunits" (1955). The introduction to the 1999 film Magnolia contains a sequence based on the death of Godfrey.

External links

* [http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/bookslit/shortstories/TheValetsTragedyandOtherStories/chap6.html Andrew Lang - The Mystery of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey]
* [http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Sir_Edmund_Berry_Godfrey Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 about Godfrey]
* [http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article-9037168/Sir-Edmund-Berry-Godfrey Britannica Concise]
* [https://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp01802 National Portrait Gallery]


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См. также в других словарях:

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  • Oates, Titus — born Sept. 15, 1649, Oakham, Rutland, Eng. died July 12/13, 1705, London English fabricator of the Popish Plot. Son of a Baptist preacher, he was ordained in the Church of England. Although jailed for perjury in 1674, he became chaplain to the… …   Universalium

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