(alias AMBROSE), a noted character in English ecclesiastical history, was born about 1620 at London. He was the son of a ribbon-weaver, who, having seceded from the Anabaptists among whom he had preached, after the Restoration conformed to the doctrines of the English Established Church, took orders, and held a benefice. Titus was educated at Merchant Taylors' School in London, and at the University of Cambridge. Having received ordination, he was made chaplain to the duke of Norfolk, who also settled him in a small living. He was subsequently accused of perjury, but he escaped conviction, and became chaplain in one of the king's ships, from which he was disgracefully expelled. Shortly afterwards he embraced Roman Catholic doctrines. Later he entered the college at St. Omer, and resided for some time among the students. On his return from a mission to Spain in 1677, the Jesuits, who were heartily tired of their convert, dismissed him from their seminary; and it is probable that resentment for this dismissal, combined with a prospect of gain, induced him to contrive the atrocious scheme known as the "Popish Plot," which alone has preserved his name in history. The English people were in Oates's time greatly agitated by religious controversy. It was generally asserted and believed that king Charles was at heart a Roman Catholic; and his brother, the duke of York, afterwards James II, was an active and avowed zealot on the same side. The growing confidence of the Roman Catholics was unconcealed; and with or without special reason, the cry so often since heard arose, and was everywhere reechoed, that the "Protestant religion was in danger." In this fevered state of general feeling Oates saw his opportunity, and dexterously and boldly availed himself of it. In September, 1678, he made a disclosure before Sir Edmundbury Godfrey, a noted and active justice of the peace, and afterwards before the council and the House of Commons, to the effect "that the pope felt himself entitled to the possession of England and Ireland on account of the heresy of prince and people, and had accordingly assumed the sovereignty of these kingdoms; that power to govern them had been delegated by the pope to the Society of Jesuits, who, through Oliva, the general of their order, had issued commissions appointing various persons whom they could trust to the chief offices of state, both civil and military. Lord Arundel (he said) was to be chancellor; lord Powis, treasurer; lord Bellasis, general of the papal army; lord Stafford, paymaster; Sir William Godolphin, privy seal; and Coleman, secretary of state. All the dignities, too, of the Church he alleged to be newly appropriated, and many of them to Spaniards and other foreigners. Two men, named Grove and Pickering, he declared, were hired to shoot the king, and Sir George Wakeman. the queen's physician, had engaged to poison him, the queen herself being privy to the scheme. He also stated that the Roman Catholics were to rise in different districts of the kingdom; and that every means would be adopted for the extirpation of Protestantism." His evidence was confirmed by two men named Torige and Bedloe, especially the latter, who was of low extraction and bad reputation. (For the list of persons, both Jesuits and men of importance in the kingdom, who suffered imprisonment and execution through the accusations of Oates, we must refer to the general histories of the time.)
Notwithstanding the almost universal credence which was given to him at the time, it has subsequently been placed beyond doubt that the plot which Oates pretended to reveal was an infamous fabrication. His circumstances, his character, the nature of his evidence, the manner of its production, not at one time but at several times, though he had previously professed to have told all that he knew, the mode in which the first disclosure was made, together with inconsistency and errors, evidently betray imposture. It may be urged that the universal credit given to Oates's evidence at the time is a strong proof that his story was true. There are circumstances, however, which account for the ready belief with which his accusations were received, although they do not prove their truth. The English Protestants had long apprehended an attempt on the part of the Roman Catholics to restore their religion and re-establish their power; and an anxiety on this account had latterly been augmented in some degree, by the conduct of the king, and in a still greater degree by the duke of York's open profession of the old religion, and his attachment to its adherents. Moreover, there were immediately connected with Oates's disclosure two events giving it an apparent corroboration, which was eagerly assumed to be real by the feverish minds of contemporary partisans. The first of these was the sudden and violent death of Sir Edmondbury Godfrey, the magistrate who had taken Oates's depositions. No proofs could be adduced to show the manner of his death whether he committed suicide or was murdered; but the fact that he had taken Oates's evidence, and had been active in searching out the supposed plot, was sufficient to convince the Protestants, excited as they were, that he had been murdered by Roman Catholics, partly out of revenge and partly to aid the escape of their conspirators. The second apparent corroboration of Oates's evidence — which, though no real confirmation, had at the time an influence in maintaining its credibility — is that it led to the discovery of a plot, though not such a plot as he disclosed (see Hallam, Const. Hist. 2:571). Oates denounced Coleman, the secretary of the duchess of York; and upon searching his house there were found among his correspondence with Pere la. Chaise papers which proved a combination for the purpose of re- establishing Roman Catholicism in England. That it was a plot, that it was on the part of the Roman Catholics, and discovered through Oates, was sufficient in the state of public feeling then prevailing to reflect credit on his disclosures, though Coleman's plans did not coincide with the schemes which Oates pretended to have discovered. During the closing years of the reign of Charles II Oates was protected by the government, and received a pension of £1200 a year. In the following reign, as might be expected, his enemies revenged themselves. The duke of York had not long succeeded his brother on the throne before Oates was tried and convicted of perjury, sentenced to imprisonment for life, and to be whipped and stand in the pillory at intervals. The punishment was enforced with such dastardly brutality as to leave no doubt that it was intended, under cover of carrying out the sentence, to take away his life. He survived, however; and after much urgent petitioning he was, after the accession of king William, declared by Parliament the subject of an illegal trial, and therefore pardoned and granted anew a pension of £400 a year. He was not much heard of after this event, and died in 1705 in comparative obscurity. Oates is considered as the author of Εἰκὼν βασιλικη , or the Picture of the late King James drawn to the Life (Lond. 1696, 4to, 3d ed.): — The Tryall of Richard Langhorn, Esq., Counsellor at Law,for conspiring the Death of the King, etc. (published by authority [ibid. 1679, fol.]): — The true Speeches of Thomans Whitebread, Provincial of the Jesuits in England; William Harcourt, pretended Rector of London; John Fenwick,
Procurator for the Jesuits in England; John Gavin and Anthony Turner, all Jesuits and Priests, before their Execution at Tyburn, June 20, 1679, etc. (ibid. 1679, fol.): The Report of the Conmmittee upon the Conplaint of Mfr. Peter Norris (ibid. 1680, fol.): — The Popish damnable Plot against our Religion and Liberties, etc. (ibid. 1680, fol.): — A Collection of Letters and other Writings relating to the horrid Popish Plott, etc. (published by order of the House of Commons [ibid. 1681, fol.]). See State Trials., x 1079-1330; Evelyn, Diary; North, Examen; Burnet, Hist. of his Own Times, vol. i; Crosby, Hist. of the Baptists Neal, Hist. of the Puiritans; Collier. Eccles. Hist. (see Index in vol. viii); Hume, Hist. of England; Macaulay, Hist. of England; Darling, Cycl. Bibliog. 2:1224; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; Knight, Pict. Hist. of England, 3:717 sq.; and especially the article in the English Cyclopaedia s.v.