Godfrey, Edmund Berry (DNB00)
|←Godfrey, Ambrose||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 22
Godfrey, Edmund Berry
GODFREY, Sir EDMUND BERRY (1621–1678), justice of the peace for Westminster, born 23 Dec. 1621, probably at Sel- linge, Kent, was eighth son of Thomas Godfrey, esq., by his second wife Sarah, daughter of Thomas Isles, esq., of Hammersmith. The father, born 3 Jan. 1585–6, belonged to an old Kentish family, and lived at different times at Winchelsea, Haling, and Selling, all in Kent, and at St. Giles's, Cripplegate, London. He had twenty children by his two wives. He was M.P. for Winchelsea in 1614, and sat for New Romney in Charles I's third parliament (1628–9), and in the Short parliament of 1640. He died 10 Oct. 1664, and was buried beneath an elaborate monument in Sellinge Church. His domestic diary (1608–55), preserved in Brit. Mus. Lansd. MS. 235, was printed by Mr. J. G. Nichols in the ‘Topographer and Genealogist,’ ii. 450–67. Peter, the eldest son by his second wife, inherited the estate of Hodiford, Kent (Berry, Kentish Genealogies). Edward, another son, died in June 1640, aged 12, just after his election to a king's scholarship at Westminster School, and was buried in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey. The ninth son, Michael, a London merchant (1624–1691), was foreman of the jury at the trial of Fitzharris in 1681, and had two sons, (1) Michael [q. v.], first deputy governor of the Bank of England, and (2) Peter, M.P. for London from 1715 till his death in November 1724.
Edmund was ‘christened the 13° January [1621–2].’ ‘His godfathers,’ writes his father in his diary, ‘were my cousin, John Berrie, esq., captain of the foot company of … Lidd … his other godfather was … Edmund Harrison, the king's embroiderer … They named my son Edmund Berrie, the one's name and the other's Christian name.’ Macaulay, J. R. Green, and others, have fallen into the error of giving Godfrey's Christian name as ‘Edmundsbury’ or ‘Edmundbury.’ Edmund was educated at Westminster School, but was not on the foundation. He matriculated at Oxford as a commoner of Christ Church 23 Nov. 1638, travelled abroad, entered Gray's Inn 3 Dec. 1640, and retired to the country in consequence of ‘a defect in his hearing’ (Extract from Christ Church Reg.; Foster, Gray's Inn Reg.; Tuke, Memoires). His father's family was too large for him to give Edmund, one of his youngest sons, a competency. Edmund accordingly returned to London to take up the trade of a wood-monger. Together with a friend and partner named Harrison he acquired a wharf at Dowgate. The business prospered, and before 1658 he set up a wharf on his own account at ‘Hartshorn Lane, near Charing Cross,’ now Northumberland Street, Strand. He resided in an adjoining house described at the time as in ‘Green's Lane in the Strand, near to Hungerford Market.’ His prosperity and public spirit led to his appointment as justice of the peace for Westminster, and he took an active part in the affairs of his own parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. He remained in London throughout the plague of 1665, and his strenuous efforts to maintain order and relieve distress were rewarded by knighthood (September 1666). The king at the same time presented him with a silver tankard. Godfrey showed much belief in and many attentions to Valentine Greatrakes, the Irish ‘stroker’ [q. v.], on his visit to London in 1666 (Greatrakes, Account, ed. 1723, pp. 36, 45). In 1669 he came into collision with the court. A customer, Sir Alexander Fraizer [q. v.], the king's physician, was arrested at his suit for 30l. due for firewood. The bailiffs were soundly whipped by the king's order; Godfrey, who was committed to the porter's lodge at Whitehall, narrowly escaped the like indignity, ‘to such an unusual degree,’ writes his friend Pepys, ‘was the king moved therein.’ Godfrey asserted that the law was on his side, and that he ‘would suffer in the cause of the people’ (Pepys). For a time he refused nutriment. He was released after six days' imprisonment (Tuke).
Godfrey moved in good society. He knew Danby, who became lord treasurer in 1673. His friends Burnet and William Lloyd, vicar of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, both affirm that ‘he was esteemed the best justice of the peace in England.’ His civility and courtesy were always conspicuous. He spent much in private charity. Some thought him ‘vain and apt to take too much upon him,’ but Burnet disputes this view. He was a zealous protestant, but ‘had kind thoughts of the nonconformists, and consequently did not strictly enforce the penal laws against either them or the Roman catholics.’ ‘Few men,’ says Burnet, ‘lived on better terms with the papists than he did.’ In 1678 ‘he was entering upon a great design of taking up all beggars and putting them to work,’ but gave at the same time 100l. for the relief of the necessitous poor of the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields (True and Perfect Narrative).
Godfrey went to Montpellier for his health early in 1678, and returned, after much travel in France, greatly benefited. Soon after his return Titus Oates brought his narrative of his ‘Popish plot’ to Godfrey (6 Sept. 1678), and made his first depositions on oath in support of his charges. Three weeks later he signed further depositions in Godfrey's presence, and on 28 Sept. laid his informations before the privy council. Oates swore that Godfrey complained to him on 30 Sept. of affronts offered him by both parties in the council—some condemning his officiousness and others his remissness in not disclosing his interviews with Oates earlier. Threats, adds Oates, were held out that his conduct would form a subject for inquiry when parliament met on 21 Oct. As the panic occasioned by Oates's revelations increased, Godfrey, according to Burnet, became ‘apprehensive and reserved;’ ‘he believed he himself should be knocked on the head.’ ‘Upon my conscience,’ he told a friend, ‘I shall be the first martyr; but I do not fear them if they come fairly: I shall not part with my life tamely’ (Tuke). But he declined the advice of his friends to go about with a servant.
On Saturday morning, 12 Oct. 1678, Godfrey left home at nine o'clock, was seen soon afterwards at Marylebone, called about parochial business on one of the churchwardens of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields at noon, and according to somewhat doubtful evidence was met late in the day between St. Clement's Church in the Strand and Somerset House. He did not return home that night. His servants, knowing his regular habits, grew alarmed. On the following Thursday evening (17 Oct.) his dead body was found in a ditch on the south side of Primrose Hill, near Hampstead. He lay face downwards, transfixed by his own sword. Much money and jewellery were found untouched in his pockets; his pocket-book and a lace cravat were alone missing. Next day an inquest was held at the White House, Primrose Hill. Two surgeons swore that there were marks about the neck which showed that Godfrey died of suffocation, and was stabbed after death. Other witnesses showed that the body was not in the ditch on the preceding Tuesday, and that it must have been placed there when dead. An open verdict of wilful murder was returned. The body was carried to Godfrey's house. Burnet saw it, and noticed on the clothes ‘drops of white wax lights,’ such as Roman catholic priests use, but no mention was made of this circumstance at the inquest. The funeral was delayed till 31 Oct. On that day the body was borne to Old Bridewell, and publicly lay in state. A solemn procession afterwards accompanied it through Fleet Street and the Strand to the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, where it was buried, and a sermon preached by William Lloyd, the vicar. Two proclamations, offering a reward of 500l. for the discovery of the murderers, were issued respectively on 20 and 24 Oct.
Godfrey was undoubtedly murdered. The public, panic-stricken by Oates's desperate allegations, promptly laid the crime at the door of Roman catholic priests, and popular indignation against the papists was roused to fever heat. Medal-portraits of Godfrey were struck, in which the pope was represented as directing the murder. Ballads and illustrated broadsides expressed similar sentiments. ‘An Hasty Poem,’ entitled ‘Proclamation promoted; or an Hue and Cry and inquisition after treason and blood,’ appeared as early as 1 Nov. 1678 (Lemon, Cat. Broadsides in possession of Soc. Antiq. Lond. 134). Sober persons who mistrusted Oates from the first, and were convinced of the aimlessness from a catholic point of view of Godfrey's murder, suggested that ‘being of a melancholy and hypochondriacal disposition’ Godfrey might have committed suicide. It was also rumoured that he was pursuing some secret amours, and was in heavy debt to the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. But these allegations were unsupported by evidence, and the theory of suicide is quite untenable.
A parliamentary committee under the presidency of Shaftesbury sat to investigate Oates's statements and Godfrey's murder. On 10 Nov. Bedloe, one of Oates's chief allies, informed the committee that the murderers were two of Lord Belasyse's servants. The king disbelieved the allegation. Danby, lord high treasurer, who discredited the testimony of Oates and his gang, was himself charged in a paper signed ‘J. B.’ and sent to members of parliament with being privy to a plot to take Godfrey's life. Danby's secretary, Edward Christian, deemed it wise to rebut in a pamphlet the absurd charge, which was repeated by Fitzharris in 1680 (cf. Reflections upon a Paper entitled Reflections upon the Earl of Danby in relation to Sir Edmund Barry Godfrey's murder, 1679; Vindication of the Duke of Leeds, 1711). At length on 21 Dec. 1678, Miles Prance, a Roman catholic silversmith, who sometimes worked in the queen's chapel at Somerset House, was arrested on the false testimony of a defaulting debtor as a catholic conspirator. Much torture and repeated cross-examinations elicited from him a confession of complicity in Godfrey's murder, 24 Dec. Certain catholic priests, according to Prance, decided on Godfrey's murder because he was a zealous protestant and a powerful abettor of Oates, and they and their associates dogged his steps for many days. On 12 Oct. he was enticed into the courtyard of Somerset House, where the queen lived, on the pretext that two of her servants were fighting there. The murderers were awaiting him. He was straightway strangled in the presence of three priests, Vernatti, Gerald, and Kelley, by Robert Green, cushionman in the queen's chapel, Lawrence Hill, servant to Dr. Thomas Godden [q. v.], treasurer of the chapel, and Henry Berry, porter of Somerset House. Meanwhile Prance watched one of the gates to prevent interruption. The body was kept at Somerset House till the following Wednesday night, when it was carried by easy stages in a sedan chair to Primrose Hill, and left as it was found. Prance said that he afterwards attended a meeting of jesuits and priests at Bow to celebrate the deed. Green, Hill, and Berry were arrested. Before the trial Prance recanted his story, but a few days later reasserted its truth. On 5 Feb. 1678–9 he swore in court to his original declaration. Bedloe appeared to corroborate it, and deposed to offers of money being made to him by Lefaire, Pritchard, and other priests early in October to join in the crime. But his allegation did not agree in detail with Prance's statement. One of Godfrey's servants swore that Hill and Green had called with messages at her master's house on or before the fatal Saturday. The prisoners strenuously denied their guilt, and called witnesses to prove an alibi. They were, however, convicted. Green and Hill, both Roman catholics, were hanged at Tyburn on 21 Feb., and Berry, in consideration of his being a protestant, a week later. On 8 Feb. Samuel Atkins, a servant of Pepys, was tried as an accessory before the fact on Bedloe's evidence. But Bedloe's story was so flimsy that Atkins was acquitted.
The populace was satisfied. Primrose Hill, which had been known at an earlier period as Greenberry Hill, was rechristened by that name in reference to the three alleged murderers. Somerset House was nicknamed Godfrey Hall. Illustrated broadsides set forth all the details of the alleged murder there. But Prance was at once suspected by sober critics of having concocted the whole story, which Bedloe alone had ventured to corroborate. He was soon engaged in a paper warfare with Sir Roger L'Estrange and other pamphleteers who doubted his evidence. ‘A Letter to Miles Prance,’ signed Trueman (1680), was answered by Prance in ‘Sir E. B. G.'s Ghost,’ which in its turn was answered by ‘A second Letter to Miles Prance’ (13 March 1681–2). The ‘Loyal Protestant Intelligencer’ on 7 and 11 March 1681–2 severely denounced the trial of Green, Berry, and Hill as judicial murder. Immediately afterwards the theory of Godfrey's suicide was revived. On 20 June 1682 Nathaniel Thompson, William Pain, and John Farwell were found guilty at Westminster of having circulated pamphlets discrediting the justice of the trial of Green, Berry, and Hill, and with having asserted that Godfrey killed himself. They were sentenced to fines of 100l. each, while Thompson and Farwell had in addition to stand in the pillory in Old Palace Yard. Some new evidence was adduced at their trial to show that Godfrey was undoubtedly murdered, but no clue to the perpetrators was discovered. Prance's story was finally demolished when on 15 June 1686 he pleaded guilty to perjury in having concocted all his evidence. He was fined 100l., and was ordered to stand in the pillory, and to be whipped from Newgate to Tyburn.
The mystery remains unsolved. The most probable theory is that Oates and his desperate associates caused Godfrey to be murdered to give colour to their false allegations, and to excite popular opinion in favour of their agitation.
A portrait of Godfrey hangs in the vestry-room of the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. An engraving by Van Houe is prefixed to Tuke's ‘Memoires,’ 1682. In 1696 Godfrey's brother Benjamin repaired the tablet above the grave of their younger brother (1628–40) in the east cloister of Westminster, and added a Latin inscription giving the date of Sir Edmund's murder. A silver tankard, now belonging to the borough of Sudbury, Suffolk, bears Godfrey's arms and an inscription recounting his services at the plague and fire of London. It is apparently a copy, made for Godfrey for presentation to a friend, of the tankard presented to him by Charles II in 1666. An engraving is in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1848, pt. ii. p. 483. Seven medallion-portraits of Godfrey are in the British Museum. (For engravings of these see Pinkerton, Medallions relating to History of England, plate xxxv.)[Tuke's Memoires of the Life and Death of Sir Edmondbury Godfrey, Lond. 1682, dedicated to Charles II, with two poems on the murder appended, ‘Bacchanalia’ and ‘The Proclamation Promoted;’ Nichols's Topographer and Genealogist, 1852, ii. 459 et seq.; W. Lloyd's Funeral Sermon, 1678; Howell's State Trials, vi. 1410 et seq., vii. 159 et seq., viii. 1378–80; Aubrey's Lives in Letters from the Bodleian Library, ii. 359; Pepys's Diary; Luttrell's Brief Relation; Reresby's Memoirs, ed. Cartwright; Burnet's Own Time; Gent. Mag. 1848, ii. 483–90; Cat. of Prints in Brit. Mus. (Satirical), i.; Thornbury and Walford's Old and New London; Macaulay's History; Hallam's History; John Pollock's The Popish Plot, 1903. The True and Perfect Narrative, 1678, supplies an impartial account of the finding of the body and the inquest. Prance's True Narrative and Discovery, 1679; his Additional Narrative, 1679; his Lestrange a Papist, 1681; his Solemn Protestation against Lestrange, 1682, and A Succinct Narrative with Prance's story repeated, 1683, give Prance's allegations. The Letters to Prance and the Anti-Protestant, or Miles against Prance, 1682, contain the chief contemporary criticism of his testimony. England's Grand Memorial, 1679 (with Godfrey's character); The Solemn Mock Procession of Pope, Cardinals, &c., 1679 and 1680; London Drollery, 1680; The Popish Damnable Plot, 1680; the Dreadful Apparition—the Pope Haunted, 1680; A True Narrative of the … Plot, 1680, give broadside illustrations of the murder and recapitulate Prance's story. For other ballads see Bagford Ballads, ed. Ebsworth, ii. 662–85, and Roxburghe Ballads, ed. Ebsworth, iv.]