Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Coleman, Edward (d.1678)

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465385Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11 — Coleman, Edward (d.1678)1887Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth

COLEMAN, EDWARD (d. 1678), conspirator, was probably born before 1650. Brought up as a protestant, with extreme strictness, he revolted against the puritans, embraced Romanism, and is always supposed to have been admitted to the society of the Jesuits, several of whom held a correspondence with him from St. Omer and Paris, and held secret meetings with him in London. His conversion must have taken place before 1673, probably in 1670. His zeal and ability secured the countenance of James, duke of York, and he became secretary to the duchess, Mary of Modena, a post which he seems to have held in 1674 and later. A vain, meddling man, of shallow intellect, prodigal expenditure, inordinate conceit, and strong ambition, his strength was early wasted in enforced fasts. His sad, sunken eyes, and his lean, withered countenance, showing more ghastly pale while surrounded by his black peruke, gave him at least the appearance of one zealously affected towards ecclesiastical discipline. He was always ready to flatter and cajole foreign ecclesiastics by news-letters and by visits, even involving a journey to Paris without any authorising 'pass.' In 1674, and with few intervals to near the close of 1675, he held such dangerous communications, beseeching aid from foreign powers. His first correspondence in France was by letters addressed to Sir William Throckmorton, which led him into a second correspondence with La Ferrier, alias Le Phaire, on whose death in September 1675 he sent a letter to Père la Chaise, the confessor and almoner of Louis XIV. He corresponded also with the pope's nuncio at Brussels, avowedly in furtherance of a supposed proposal from the pope to furnish a sum of money, provided that Charles II would accord greater indulgences to the catholics in England. The Duke of York sent Coleman to Brussels to arrange with the nuncio, who disclaimed the authority to discuss such a proposal, but offered his services in a private capacity to bring the scheme to an issue after Coleman's return. This seems to have somewhat damped the ardour of the intriguing convert, for the correspondence with the higher ecclesiastics then became infrequent, or wholly ceased for several years. Titus Oates [q. v.], who had already given evidence of the 'popish plot,' appeared before the council on 28 Sept. 1678, and accused Coleman and other persons, who were ordered for immediate arrest. At the suggestion of Danby, Coleman's papers were to be searched for strictly. The warrant for his apprehension was sent out on Sunday night, 29 Sept. His papers were found, some of recent date in paper bags; the incriminating letters of earlier years were in a deal box, slightly nailed down. These were carried off, but Coleman's wife declared him to be absent. On Monday morning he came forward voluntarily, and offered himself to the secretary of state, Sir Joseph Williamson. In the afternoon he was heard before Sir Robert Southwell, and others of the council, in presence of Oates, who was unable to recognise him, and Coleman replied to the accusation of 'those vile things as thinking himself innocent.' He was only committed to the messenger. His papers were not searched carefully till a week later. The informer seemed about to lose credit when the murder or suicide of Sir Edmondbury Godfrey revived the flagging interest. Parliament reassembled amidst great excitement on 21 Oct., and on Saturday, 23 Nov. 1678, Coleman was arraigned for high treason, and the trial took place on Wednesday, the 27th, at the king's bench bar, before the lord chief justice, William Scroggs, who showed the strongest prepossession. Coleman declared that he had not continued the correspondence beyond 1674. Oates swore that he had carried a treasonable letter from Coleman to the rector of St. Omer, containing a sealed answer to Father La Chaise, with thanks for the ten thousand pounds given for the propagation of the catholic religion, and chiefly to cut off the king of England. Then followed details of 'consults' with the Jesuits in May 1678 (N. S.) Arrangements had been made to assassinate the king.' This resolve of the Jesuits was communicated to Mr. Coleman in my hearing at Wild House.' Then Oates told of a consultation in August at the Savoy, with Coleman present, arranging to poison the Duke of Ormonde and to rise in rebellion. Four Irish ruffians had been sent to Windsor, and 80l. for their payment was ordered to be carried by a messenger, to whom Coleman gave a guinea. Ten thousand pounds were to be offered to Sir George Wakeman, physician, to poison the king; instructions had been seen and read by Coleman, by him copied out and sent to other conspirators. Coleman had been appointed a principal secretary of state by commission from Father D'Oliva, general of the society of Jesuits. In cross-examination Oates shuffled and excused himself in a way that should have been conclusive. Bedloe [q. v.] was examined concerning packets of letters from Coleman to Father La Chaise in 1675, and money received. Bedloe had carried the warrant to apprehend Coleman and search for his papers. The finding of the letters having been certified, and the handwriting identified as Coleman's, they were put in evidence,' as good as a hundred witnesses to condemn him,' the attorney-general said. No doubt they carried weight, as proving the zealous desire of Coleman for the dissolution of parliament. He plainly advocated foreign bribery of the king to insure such a dissolution, and used some strong phrases as to the catholic hopes of suppressing heresy. There was not the smallest proof of connivance with any plot for assassination or rebellion except the testimony of Oates and Bedloe. The jury found Coleman guilty. Scroggs replied to his solemn declarations of innocence,'Mr. Coleman, your own papers are enough to condemn you.' Next morning sentence of death and confiscation of property was pronounced, and on Tuesday, 3 Dec., he was executed, avowing his faith and declaring his innocence. Several street ballads were immediately circulated. Three of these have been reprinted by the Rev. J. W. Ebsworth for the Ballad Society: 1. In 'Bagford Ballads,' p. 698, 'The Plotter's Ballad: being Jack Ketch's Incomparable Receipt for the cure of Trayterous Recusants, or wholesome physick for a Popish Contagion.' This has a most interesting woodcut, containing the only trustworthy portrait of Coleman; also one of Jack Ketch, agreeing with those in the Algernon Sidney woodcuts. 2. 'The Plotter executed,' Roxb. Coll. iii. 32 (c. 20, f. 9), and 'Roxburghe Ballads,' iv. 125. 3. 'A Looking-Glass for Traytors,' reprinted in 'Roxburghe Ballads,' iv. 130, from Wood's collection of broadsides at the Bodleian (E. 25, fol. 33). Printed copies of the trial, and of the letters to Père la Chaise, were extensively circulated. Henry Nevill, a priest, wrote an elegy on Coleman, found in Nevill's pocket when he was apprehended at Westminster in December 1678. It was addressed 'to the glorious martyr, Edward Coleman, Esq.' It was probably printed, for there is preserved at the British Museum (Press-mark, 1872, a, art. 27) 'An Answer of Coleman's Ghost to H. N.'s Poetick Offering,' beginning, 'Rise, Nevil, rise!' This is reprinted, with the elegy, in 'Roxburghe Ballads,' vol. vi.

[The Whole Tryal of Edward Coleman, gent.; A Plea for Succession, in Opposition to Exclusion, 1682; Tracts; North's Examen; The Compendium, or A Short View of the Late Tryals, 1679; A Vindication of the English Catholiks from the Pretended Conspiracy, 2nd ed. 1681; Oates's Narrative of the Popish Plot vindicated, by J. P., gent. (John Phillips, Milton's nephew), 1680; An Historical Narrative of the Horrid Plot and Conspiracy of Titus Gates, 1816, 8vo; Cobbett's Parliamentary History, June 1808 ed., iv. 1024, 1025, &c.; Coleman's Ghost, Roxburghe Ballads, vol. vi. 1887; Luttrell's Hist. Relation, i. 1, 4; Evelyn's Diary, ed. 1879, ii. 345, 377; Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, ed. 1875, pp. 147, 169; Cobbett's State Trials, vii. 76; where it is mentioned that 'he had been made to believe that he should have a pardon, which he depended on with so much assurance that a little before he was turned off, finding himself deceived, he was heard to say, "There is no faith in man !" ' the Trial of Coleman was printed by order of the House of Commons, 1678, and authorised to Robert Paulet by Lord-chief-justice W. Scroggs; Sam. Smith's Account of the Behaviour of the Fourteen late Popish Malefactors while in Newgate, 1679, gives a few words about Coleman, whom Smith maliciously declared to have had an arrogant opinion of his own abilities, and, 'out of an hope to be canonised for a saint, despised and rejected any assistance from me, either by discourse or prayer;' Foley's Records of the Engl. Prov. of Soc. Jesus, 1879, v. 107, 752 n., where Coleman is mentioned as ' a zealous convert to the catholic faith.']

J. W. E.