Dangerfield, Thomas (DNB00)

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DANGERFIELD, THOMAS (1650?–1685), false witness, born at Waltham in Essex about 1650, was son of a farmer of Cromwellian tenets. Dangerfield began life by robbing his father of horses and money, fled to Scotland, returned as a repentant prodigal and was forgiven, but soon ran away to the continent, and rambled through Portugal and Spain, Flanders and Holland, where he got some credit as a soldier from William of Orange; was apprehended for larcenies, in danger as a spy, and was at least once ordered for execution. He returned to England, took to coining and circulating false money, and was imprisoned at Dorchester, in Newgate, and at Salisbury. He escaped after having been burnt in the hand, and had again in 1675 ‘broken prison’ at Chelmsford and been outlawed. He had pretended to be converted to Romanism while abroad, but laid this claim aside in Holland, and resumed it in 1679, when a second time confined in Newgate, taking help from Mrs. Elizabeth Cellier [q. v.], known later as ‘the Popish midwife.’ She was almoner for the Countess of Powis, befriending the imprisoned catholics. He had boasted of having been instrumental in securing the release of a Mrs. White, who reported to Mrs. Cellier that he threatened revenge against Captain Richardson for excessive severity in the prison. He received money and (he said) instructions whereby an accusation could be framed against Richardson, but the charges were not carried into court. Dangerfield, through interest exerted by the recorder and Alderman Jeffreys, received better treatment while in prison, and also his discharge, but was speedily rearrested and carried to the Counter. He there sued out his habeas corpus, and was removed to the King's Bench, where Mrs. Cellier came to him in disguise, telling him that he was to ingratiate himself into the confidence of a fellow-prisoner, one Stroud, who had threatened to reveal a secret that would blast the credit of the witness William Bedloe [q. v.] Stroud was plied with drink and drugged with laudanum. But Dangerfield failed to acquire his secret. He learnt enough, however, to start as a rival discoverer of plots. He was furnished by Mrs. Cellier with money to compound with his creditors, to whom he owed 700l., and thus regained liberty; was admitted to the presence of the Countess of Powis, employed in the enlargement on bail of priests from the Gatehouse, carrying letters to Roger Palmer, the Earl of Castlemaine [q. v.], sent into Buckinghamshire to assist Henry Nevil, alias Paine, in correspondence and pamphlets, to take notes of the jesuit trials, and claimed, although this was denied, to have held intercourse and credit with the catholic lords in the Tower, whom he afterwards betrayed. He appeared against John Lane, alias Johnson, and Thomas Knox, who were convicted of having brought infamous charges against Titus Oates [q. v.], 25 Nov. 1679; he had obtained a royal pardon on the previous day, to qualify him as a witness. He dispersed through the country libellous broadsides and books, such as ‘Danby's Reflections,’ written by Henry Nevil. He had been servant to travellers, and found it easy to win the confidence of his dupes. That he was sometimes trusted is beyond dispute. In his own ‘Narrative’ he declares unblushingly that Lord Arundel of Wardour and Lord Powis tempted him to murder the Earl of Shaftesbury, offering a reward of 500l., and gave him ten guineas as earnest money; but that he rejected their suggestion of killing the king, and was reproached for this by John Gadbury, the astrologer [q. v.] Nothing came of the assassination scheme beyond three apocryphal attempts. He now drew up a paper concerning pretended clubs or meetings of the presbyterians, with full lists of the members of each, which paper, according to his ‘Narrative,’ was shown to the Duke of York, and intended to incriminate the Duke of Monmouth and others as plotting a commonwealth. He was introduced to the king's presence by Lord Peterborough, who described him as ‘a young man who appeared under a decent figure, a serious behaviour, and with words that did not seem to proceed from a common understanding’ (Halstead, Succinct Genealogies). Charles II reported the alleged plot to his council as ‘an impossible thing,’ but allowed 40l. to be paid to Dangerfield. His next fraud was an assumed discovery of correspondence between the presbyterians and the Dutch. Having thrice gone to Lord Shaftesbury, he was entrusted by Lady Powis on 14 Oct. 1679 with fifteen letters, intended to direct suspicion against Colonel Roderick Mansell. He took lodgings in the same house with Mansell, and hid the treasonable papers behind the head of the colonel's bed, then gave information to William Chiffinch [q. v.], got a search-warrant, and on 22 Oct. assisted to find the concealed papers. Detection followed quickly. After having been apprehended, and bailed by Cellier, Dangerfield was recognised by an officer of the Mint as formerly convicted of uttering false coin, was examined by the council on 27 Oct. and committed to Newgate for having forged treasonable papers and fixed them in Mansell's chamber. Two days later Sir William Waller searched Mrs. Cellier's house, and found therein, concealed at the bottom of a meal-tub, the ‘little paper book, tied with red ribbons,’ containing ‘the model of the designed plot against the protestants.’ The book had been given to her by Dangerfield, with directions to hide it. He had been false to everybody throughout. In March 1680, the day after he had obtained the king's pardon in order to gain acceptance as a witness, Dangerfield appeared against Webb of Peterley, Buckinghamshire, for harbouring a Romish priest known as Jean or Jane, but acquittal followed from lack of sufficient evidence (Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 39). On 11 June 1680 Mrs. Elizabeth Cellier stood her trial for high treason at the King's Bench. Dangerfield appeared as a witness. Sir William Scroggs denounced him as a man of infamous character, unworthy of the least credit. Mrs. Cellier was acquitted, and Dangerfield committed to the King's Bench prison (ib. i. 47). At the trial of Roger Palmer, earl of Castlemaine, on 23 June 1680, Dangerfield again appeared, having on the 16th shown a pardon from a Newgate gaol delivery, and supported Oates as second witness, Bedloe being already tainted. Scroggs again attacked the credibility of so often convicted a criminal, with sixteen evil records. Sir T. Raymond coincided, and Castlemaine was acquitted (Howell, State Trials, vii. 1112). Dangerfield was examined at the bar of the House of Commons, 26 Oct. 1680, and made distinct charges against the Duke of York, the Countess of Powis, and the Earl of Peterborough, as having been privy to the Sham Plot (see Information of Thomas Dangerfield, gent., 1680). Mrs. Cellier having exposed his character in ‘Malice defeated’ (1680), he published a counter attack, viz. ‘An Answer to a Certain Scandalous late Pamphlet entitled “Malice defeated,” 1680.’ The following pamphlets had appeared in the same year, which were skilful enough to avoid the incredible extravagances of Oates and Bedloe, viz. ‘A True Narrative of the Popish Plot against King Charles I and the Protestant Religion;’ also ‘A Compleat History of the Papists’ late Presbyterian Plot discovered by Mr. Dangerfield;’ ‘The Case of Thomas Dangerfield.’ In 1681 he published ‘ More Shams still, or a further Discovery of the Designs of the Papists, by Thomas Dangerfeild’ (sic), in which he attacks E. C., a pamphleteer of the day. John Gadbury attacked him in the ‘Ephemeris for 1682,’ printed by the company of Stationers, and this was answered by ‘Animadversions upon Mr. John Gadbury's Almanack or Diary for 1682, by Thomas Dangerfeild’ (sic). London was growing unsafe for him. The Earl of Castlemaine followed up the attack made by John Gadbury with a folio pamphlet, ‘Manifesto,’ to which Dangerfield made an abusive rejoinder, viz. ‘The Grand Impostor defeated.’ On 8 Feb. 1681 he joined Oates in gaining a verdict against John Attwood, a priest, whom the king respited. He also failed against Edward Sing, whose arrest he caused on 15 Feb. 1681. These repulses made him desire country air. He kept diaries and neatly balanced accounts of his ‘motions, receipts, and expences;’ and there appears upon his papers of disbursement in the space of two years and nine months (1682–4) ‘1400l. 15s. and a halfpenny, well told’ (Dangerfield's Memoirs, 4to, 1685, where the genuine Diary of December 1684 to 19 March 1685 is printed). In a ‘Hue and Cry’ his description is given: ‘He is a proper handsome fellow. He was in second mourning and a short periwig, mounted upon a light bay, afterwards on a grey gelding.’ A pamphlet was printed by John Smith in 1685 entitled ‘Duke Dangerfield, declaring how he represented the D. of Mon[mouth] in the country, with his miraculous gift of Touching,’ &c. He hung around the neck of his dupes counterfeit half-guineas, tied with tape, and got from each person so honoured two real guineas in exchange. A pamphlet called ‘Mr. Dangerfield's Answer and Defence against a Scurrilous Pamphlet called “Duke Dangerfield's Declaration,”’ is an amusing satire, exposing his fraudulent assumption of the Duke of Monmouth's title in Cornwall, cheating an innkeeper and others. Learning that the Duke of York was about to proceed against him for ‘scandalum magnatum,’ in August 1684 Dangerfield avoided London and ‘went aside’ (Brief Relation, i. 315), but in the following March was apprehended and committed to Newgate. For having printed ‘Dangerfield's Narrative’ Samuel Heyrick was, at the instance of Peterborough, cast in 5,000l. damages. On 30 May 1685 Dangerfield was tried at the King's Bench for having written and published the same ‘scandalous libel called his “Narrative.”’ His former sworn evidence was proved against him, with his several convictions, and the witnesses heard were Lord Peterborough, Lord and Lady Powis, and Mrs. Cellier. The jury found him guilty, and an indictment for perjury was preferred against him. On 29 June he received sentence, to twice stand in the pillory (before Westminster Hall and the Exchange) on two following days; to be whipped from Aldgate to Newgate; two days later to be whipped from Newgate to Tyburn; to pay a fine of 500l. and find sureties for good behaviour for life. Oates had been whipped severely on 20 and 22 May, but had unexpectedly recovered. Dangerfield was twice pilloried and twice whipped by Jack Ketch in person. On being brought back from Tyburn in a coach, at the corner of Hatton Garden one Robert Frances, a barrister, accosted him insultingly. Dangerfield replied with foul language. Frances struck at him with a small bamboo cane, which chanced to enter Dangerfield's left eye, and caused his death, some accounts say two hours, others two days, later. Frances was put on his trial for murder at the Old Bailey, 16 July 1685, before the lord mayor, &c., convicted, and sentenced to death. James II refused to interfere with the sentence, and he was executed 24 July (Howell, State Trials, xi. 503–10).

[In addition to the pamphlets mentioned in the text, see Mr. Thomas Dangerfield's Particular Narrative of the late Popish Designs, &c., written by Himself, London, 1679, 76 pp. fol.; An Exact and True Narrative of the late Popish Intrigue to form a Plot, faithfully collected by Colonel Roderick Mansell, 1680 (the Address is dated 3 Nov. 1679); Don Tomazo, or the Juvenile Rambles of Thomas Dangerfield, 1680, a fictitious narrative with some scraps of truth; The Case of Thomas Dangerfield, with some remarkable passages that happened at the Tryals of Elizabeth Cellier, &c., 1680; A True Narrative of the Arraignment, Trial, and Conviction of Thomas Dangerfield, printed for E. Mallet, 1685, s. sh. fol.; A True Relation of the Sentence and Condemnation of T. D., at the King's Bench Bar, for his horrid crimes and perjuries, 1685; The Plot Rent and Torn, 1684; a satirical poem called Dangerfield's Dance, giving an account of several Notorious Crimes by him committed, viz. he pretended to be a Duke, and feigned himself to be Monmouth, with several other pranks, for which he was sentenced to stand in the Pillory, to be Whipt, &c., in Bagford Collection, British Museum, c. 39 k, vol. iii. fol. 51, with two important woodcuts, portraitures of the pillorying and the whipping, &c. 2 July 1685, reprinted in Bagford Ballads, annotated, 1878, pp. 703–9; Dangerfield's Ghost to Jeffreys, reprinted in State Poems, iii. 312, written in 1688; Eachard, iii.; North's Examen; Campbell's Chief Justices of England, ii. 16, where several inaccuracies occur; still worse in Burnet's Own Time, books iii., iv.; 180 Loyal Songs, 1684 and 1685; broadsides; Autobiography of Sir John Bramston, pp. 194, 195, a singularly just account.]

J. W. E.