College, Stephen (DNB00)
|←Colledge, Thomas Richardson||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11
COLLEGE, STEPHEN (1635?-1681), the protestant joiner, was born about 1635, and probably in London. He worked at the trade of carpentry, and became known as a political speaker, denouncing what he called the superstitions of popery. He had been a presbyterian for twenty years, until the Restoration, when he conformed to the church of England. His ingenuity as a joiner brought him into contact with many persons of rank, who treated him with familiarity, encouraging him so far that he became ambitious of distinction. Lord William Russell and Lady Berkeley showed him imprudent kindness, considering him to be 'a man of more enlarged understanding than is commonly found in mechanics.' He made himself notorious by his declamations against the papists, by writing and singing political ballads, and by inventing a weapon resembling the modern life-preserver, which he called 'the protestant flail,' consisting of a short staff, loaded with lead, and attached to the wrist by a leathern thong, to be used with deadly force at close quarters. He was one of the bitterest opponents of Lord William Stafford, and exulted over his condemnation and death. Among the writings attributed to him are several attacks on the lawyers and Romanists, with malicious coarseness instead of poetic skill or satirical point. Among these are 'Truth brought to Light, or Murder will out;' 'Justice in Masquerade, or Scroggs upon Scroggs;' another beginning ' Since Justice Scroggs Pepys and Dean did bail;' 'The Pope's Advice and Benediction to his Judge and Jury in Eutopia;' 'The Wolf Justice ' (against Scroggs); 'A Caution,' and 'A Satyr' against the Duke of York, the Duchess of Portsmouth, and Scroggs, whom he hated for favouring Wakeman. When the parliament was removed to Oxford, in March 1681, College went thither on horseback, ostentatiously displaying weapons and wearing defensive armour, speaking threateningly against the king, and advocating resistance. In June 1681, after the condemnation of Edward Fitzharris, College was arrested, carried before Secretary Jenkins on the 29th, and committed to the Tower. He was indicted at the Old Bailey on 8 July for seditious words and actions, but saved by the influence of the whig sheriffs, Slingsby Bethel [q. v.] and Henry Cornish [q. v.] The latter packed a jury who, under the guidance of their foreman, John Wilmore, threw out the bill with 'ignoramus.' This did not deter the government from making an example of College. His conduct at Oxford had laid him open to a fresh trial there, where a jury might be readier to comply with the direction of the court lawyers. His state of mind and intemperance of language are shown in 'A Letter from Mr. S. College,' dated from the Tower, 15 Aug. Aaron Smith, an attorney, favoured by Russell and others of the revolutionary party, attempted through Henry Starkey to bribe the chief gaoler, Murrel, with four guineas, to obtain access to College. Being refused, he gained admission by an order from the attorney-general, Sir Robert Sawyer, and was seen to place papers in the hand of the prisoner. These papers on examination by the authorities were accounted seditious, or beyond the privileges of defensive counsel as then allowed by law. They were therefore seized. Only mutilated copies were given to the prisoner, after long altercation, when the trial began at the court-house on Wednesday, 17 Aug. 1681, before Lord Norreys, Lord-chief-justice North, and other judges. Three or four hours were also spent in wrangling over the indictment. The prisoner claimed, as a freeman of London, that he should be tried there, but he was told that for offences committed at Oxford he could be tried at Oxford. He pleaded hard for restoration of his papers, which would have guided him whom to challenge of the jury, and how to conduct his defence. He kept arguing in a circle, and at last pleaded not guilty. Aaron Smith had next to submit to be browbeaten and to enter into recognisances for appearance, while Henry Starkey was summoned for attempted bribery. The examination of witnesses lasted until midnight. Stephen Dugdale [q. v.] bore witness of treasonable talk, and that College avowed himself the author of sundry libels, the pretended 'Letter, intercepted, to Roger L'Estrange,' and the ballad of 'The Raree Show,' to the tune of Rochester's ' I am a senseless thing, with a hey; ' that College sang the latter and gave copies of it to be spread abroad; and that he made ' abundance of scandalous pamphlets,' all of which were seized in his custody, among' these being ' The Character of a Popish Successor.' Other witnesses for the prosecution were Edward Turberville, Masters, Bryan Haynes, the two Macnamaras, and Sir William Jennings. But Shewin, Hickman, and Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver tried to weaken the credit of Bryan Haynes, and Titus Oates violently assailed Turberville. The witnesses who had formerly been in league against the Romanists were now in direct conflict. Dugdale, Turberville, and John 'Narrative Smith' swore positively to the guilt of College; Oates, Boldron, and others contradicted their testimony, and exposed the worthlessness of their personal character. At the trial of Lord Stafford, College had been the chief asserter of Dugdale's respectability.
After Oates had laboured to invalidate the credit of his own former supporters, but now opponents, Serjeant Jeffreys argued to the jury that 'if these three witnesses were not believed, the evidence and discovery of the popish plot would be tripped up.' College had conducted his defence vigorously. At nearly two o'clock in the morning the jury retired, and in half an hour gave their verdict of guilty. The court then adjourned until ten o'clock, when sentence of death was pronounced against him. He was visited in prison by two of the university divines, Dr. Marshall and Dr. Hall, who declared him to be penitent. His family was admitted to see him, and attempts made to obtain a remission of the sentence, but the sole concession granted was that his quarters should be delivered to his friends. On 31 Aug. he was borne in a cart to the place of execution, and made a long speech, chiefly to clear himself from the charge of being a papist, admitting that he had been present once at a Romanist service, but only from curiosity. He denied that he was guilty of the treason whereof he had been convicted, and knew of no plot except the popish plot; that the witnesses against him had sworn falsely; but he admitted that he rode armed to Oxford, for the sake of defending the parliament from assaults of the papists, and that he had been very zealous for protestantism, and might have uttered in heat words of indecency against the king and his council; he finally desired the people to pray for him, and wished that his blood might be the last protestant's blood the church of Rome would shed. Having kissed his son he was then hanged and quartered. His body was carried to London by his friends, and buried the next evening at St. Gregory's Church, by St. Paul's. No trust can be placed in 'A Letter written from Oxford by Mr. Stephen College to his friends in London,' dated 1681; it is one of Nathaniel Thompson's ' pious frauds,' or a jest not intended to mislead anybody. Another clever party squib from the same publisher is mockingly entitled 'A Modest Vindication of the Proceedings of the late Grand Jury at the Old Baily, who returned the bill against Stephen College, Ignoramus.' It pretends to attribute their doing so to a loyal impulse, in order to bring about the sure punishment at Oxford, as if tried in London the petty jury would have acquitted him. Many ballads and lampoons were circulated against him at the time of his death, one of the best being Matthew Taubman's song, 'On the Death of the Protestant Joyner,' beginning,
Brave College is hang'd, the chief of our hopes,
Sung to the tune of 'Now, now the Right's done' (180 Loyal Songs, 1685, p. 64). The portrait of College is in the Cracherode collection, British Museum. Although the features are plebeian, with high cheek-bones, coarse nose and mouth, long upper lip, and massive chin, he has an intelligent expression of eye, and is dressed above his station, with flowing peruke, lace cravat, and rich cloak.
[The Arraignment, Tryal, and Condemnation of Stephen College for High Treason (Brit. Mus. 6495, i. 4); Sir John Hawles's Remarks upon the Trials of E. Fitzharris, Stephen College, and others; Lingard, x. 33 Cobbett's State Trials, vii. 1466, and viii. 549, &c.; Bulstrode; North's Examen; Notes upon Stephen College, by Roger L'Estrange, 2nd ed. 1681; Strange News from Newgate, or A Relation how the Ghost of College the Protestant Joyner appeared to Hone the Joyner since his condemnation. Printed for N. T., 1683; Stephen College's Ghost to the Fanatical Cabal, 1681, beginning 'From the unfathom'd bowels of those cells;' A Poem by way of Elegie upon Mr. Stephen College, beginning, 'Ah, College! how relentless is thy fate;' answered in A Modest Reply to the too hasty and malicious Libel entituled An Elegy, etc., beginning, 'Tis wicked with insulting feet to tread upon the monuments of the dead,' printed for R. Janeway, 1681; Granger, iv. 205; Loyal Poems and Satyrs upon the Times, collected by M. T. (Matthew Taubman), 1685; Have you any Work for a Cooper? or A Comparison between a Cooper's (Shaftesbury's) and a Joyner' s Trade, beginning 'The Cooper and the Joyner are two famous Trades,' 1681; most of these ballads and elegies are reproduced in the Bagford Ballads and the Roxburghe Ballads, iv. 262, 263, and v. 34 to 40, of the Ballad Society, including 'The Protestant Flail' and 'The Oxford Health;' Poems on Affairs of State, iii. 178-90, 1704. The verses below his portrait in the copper-plate declare that 'By Irish oaths and wrested law I fell, A prey to Rome, a sacrifice to hell,' &c.]