Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tonge, Israel

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TONGE or TONGUE, ISRAEL or EZEREL [EZREEL] (1621–1680), divine and ally of Titus Oates in the fabrication of the ‘popish plot,’ son of Henry Tongue, minister of Holtby, Yorkshire, was born at Tickhill, near Doncaster, on 11 Nov. 1621. After attending school at Doncaster, he matriculated from University College, Oxford, on 3 May 1639, and graduated B.A. early in 1643. Being ‘puritanically inclined’ he preferred to leave Oxford rather than bear arms for the king. He retired, therefore, to the small parish of Churchill, near Chipping Norton, where he taught a school. He returned to Oxford early in 1648, took his M.A. degree, settled once more in University College, and, submitting to the authority of the parliamentary visitors, was constituted a fellow in place of Henry Watkins. Next year, having married Jane Simpson, he succeeded his father-in-law, Dr. Edward Simpson or Simson [q. v.], as rector of Pluckley in Kent. He graduated D.D. in July 1656, and in the following spring, being much vexed with factious parishioners and quakers, he decided to leave Pluckley upon his appointment to a fellowship in the newly erected college at Durham. There, having been selected to teach grammar, he ‘followed precisely the Jesuits' method.’ When Durham College was dissolved at the close of 1659, he moved to Islington, near London, where for a short while he taught a grammar class with conspicuous success in a large gallery of Sir Thomas Fisher's house. He had also there, says Wood, a little academy for girls to be taught Latin and Greek, one of whom at fourteen could construe a Greek gospel. The experiment was short-lived, for Tonge, having ‘a restless and freakish head,’ accompanied Colonel Sir Edward Harley [q. v.] to Dunkirk as chaplain to the English garrison in 1660. His stay there was cut short by the sale of Dunkirk to the French in 1661, whereupon Tonge obtained from Harley the small vicarage of Leintwardine in Herefordshire. On 26 June 1666, upon the presentation of Bishop Henchman, he was admitted to the rectory of St. Mary Stayning, and had to flee three months later before the great fire, which burned both his church and parish to the ground. In his homeless condition he gladly accepted a chaplaincy at Tangier. He stayed there about two years, when he became rector of St. Michael's, Wood Street (demolished 1898), to which the parish of St. Mary Stayning was henceforth united. Subsequently, from 1672 to 1677, he held with this the rectory of Aston, in Herefordshire.

Having studied the lucubrations of Anthony Munday, Habernfeld, Prynne, and other plot-mongers and writers against the jesuits, from the time of his return from Tangier, Tonge seems to have definitely formed the design of ekeing out his meagre income by compilations of a like tendency. He commenced upon some translations of polemics against the Society of Jesus by Port Royalists and others, but the market was already overstocked with wares of this kind. What seems to have given Tonge the necessary stimulus to proceed with his investigations was a rumour of a popish plot to murder the king and set up the Duke of York in his place, which he heard from one Richard Greene while he was in Herefordshire in 1675. Tonge was convinced of the genuineness of Greene's allegations ‘because’ the alleged plot was hatched in 1675 during the ‘illegal prorogation’ of parliament (The Popish Massacre .... being part of Dr. Tonge's Collections on that Subject … published for his Vindication, 1679). During the winter of 1676, while residing in the Barbican at the house of Sir Richard Barker, one of the patrons whom he managed to infect with his own abnormal credulity upon the subject of catholic intrigues, Tonge came into contact with Titus Oates, who professed enthusiasm for his great aims. Having already convinced himself by his literary, astrological, and other occult researches that a vast jesuit plot was impending over England, Tonge became the willing dupe of Oates's perjuries [see Oates, Titus]. During July and the early part of August 1678 Tonge incorporated Oates's inventions with his own exaggerated suspicions into the fictitious narrative of the ‘popish plot.’ The narrative was drawn up in documentary form, with forty-three clauses or heads of indictment, and, copies having been made, Tonge handed the scroll to Danby in the middle of August. A few days later he called on Burnet and gave him orally the details of the alleged designs of the papists. Burnet wrote of his strange visitor: ‘He was a gardener and a chymist, and was full of projects and notions. He had got some credit in Cromwell's time, and that kept him poor. He was a very mean divine, and seemed credulous and simple, but I looked on him as a sincere man.’

The affair was at first regarded as a device of Danby's to obtain an augmentation of the king's guards. At this period Tonge and Oates were living at a bell-founder's at Vauxhall, afterwards known as the ‘plot-house,’ and Tonge was busily occupied there during the remainder of August in communicating additional details of the conspiracy to Danby at Wimbledon. He had several interviews with the king himself both at Whitehall, upon the first announcement of the plot (13 Aug.), and afterwards at Windsor; but Charles was thoroughly sceptical as to the genuineness of his revelations. On 6 Sept., as an alternative means of giving publicity to the matter, Tonge applied to Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey [q. v.], a well-known justice of the peace, and prevailed upon him to take down Oates's depositions upon oath. This created some stir, and, on 27 Sept. Tonge was summoned to appear with Oates before the privy council. The alarmist view which they took of the narrative combined with the discovery of Coleman's correspondence [see Coleman, Edward] and the murder of Godfrey in the middle of October to provoke an acute panic among the loyal and bigoted protestants, who formed the bulk of the population of London. Tonge appears to have been bewildered by the reign of terror which his weak credulity had done so much to precipitate. From the close of September 1678 he was assigned rooms in Whitehall along with Oates, but after a few months he preferred to withdraw from all association with his quondam ally. He had, however, upon the motion of Sir Thomas Clarges, to appear with Oates at the bar of the House of Commons on 21 March 1678–9. He then gave a long account of his observations of the papists before the discovery of the plot, and of his writings upon the subject (see below). These works, so Oates informed him, ‘so gaul'd the jesuits at St. Omer’ that they despatched Titus to murder the author, but the intended murderer took the opportunity to escape from their clutches and to save his king and his country. This probably represented Tonge's genuine belief in the matter.

In September 1680 Simpson Tonge, the divine's eldest son, was committed to Newgate for aspersions against his father and Oates to the effect that they had concocted the plot between them. A few days later the young man withdrew this charge, and accused Sir Roger L'Estrange [q. v.] of suborning him to the perjury. No weight whatever can be attached to his evidence, as he seems to have acted as the tool of Titus Oates with a view to ‘trepanning’ L'Estrange, the mortal enemy of the plot. Oates's idea was evidently to involve L'Estrange in a colourable charge of tampering with young Tonge to invalidate the ‘protestant’ evidence. The device was exposed by L'Estrange in ‘The Shammer Shamm'd’ (1681, 4to; cf. Fitzgerald, Narration, 1680, fol.); but it had the effect of driving L'Estrange temporarily from London.

The affair led Israel Tonge to commence an elaborate vindication of his conduct in connection with the plot. Having narrowly escaped censure by the House of Commons for imputing to a member (Sir Edward Dering) a feeling of kindness towards the pope's nuncio (Grey, Debates, viii. 1 sq.), Tonge seems to have proceeded to Oxford in November 1680. He had a design on foot for turning Obadiah Walker [q. v.] out of his fellowship and succeeding to the place. At Oxford, too, he took part in the burning of a huge effigy of the pope, in the body of which, to represent devils, a number of cats and rats were imprisoned. He returned to London before the close of the month, and he died in the house of Stephen College [q. v.] on 18 Dec. 1680. His funeral procession from Blackfriars to St. Michael's, Wood Street, was followed on 23 Dec. by ‘many of the godly party.’ The sermon preached by Thomas Jones of Oswestry was printed with a dedication to the Duke of Monmouth. A committee of the privy council was appointed to examine his papers, but nothing seems to have resulted from their investigations.

An inventory of Tonge's books is in the Record Office (State Papers, Dom. Car. II, p. 409). The same volume contains a very copious and elaborate diary of the events of 1678–9, subscribed ‘Simson Tonge's Journall of the Plot written all with his own hands as he had excerped it out of his father Dr. Tonge's papers a little before he fell into the suborners' hands.’

According to Wood, Tonge excelled in Latin, Greek, poetry, and chronology, but above all in alchymy, on which he spent much time and money. ‘He was a person cynical and hirsute, shiftless in the world, yet absolutely free from covetousness and I dare say from pride.’ He showed great ingenuity in his grammar teaching and also in his botanical studies, and contributed three papers on the ‘Action of Sap’ to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (Nos. 57, 58, 68). A vivid description of the learned ‘gown-man’ with his head stuffed full of plots and Marian persecutions, patching up the depositions, with Oates and Bedloe on one side and Shaftesbury on the other, is given in the ‘Ballad upon the Popish Plot’ (see Bagford Ballads, ed. Ebsworth, p. 690). His diatribes against the jesuits, for many years unsaleable, derived a tremendous impetus from the ‘discovery of the plot.’ The chief of them were: 1. ‘Jesuitical Aphorismes; or, a Summary Account of the Doctrines of the Jesuites, and some other Popish Doctors. By Ezerel Tonge, D.D., who first discovered the horrid Popish Plot to his Majesty,’ London, 1679, 4to. 2. ‘The New Design of the Papists detected; or, an Answer to the last Speeches of the Five Jesuites lately executed: viz. Tho. White alias Whitebread, William Harcourt alias Harison, John Gavan alias Gawen, Anthony Turner, and John Fenwick. By Ezrael Tongue, D.D.,’ London, 1679, fol.; an apparently sincere protest against the ‘damnable impiety’ of the victims of the popish plot, on account of their dying declarations of innocence. 3. ‘An Account of the Romish Doctrine in case of Conspiracy and Rebellion,’ London, 1679, 4to. 4. ‘Popish Mercy and Justice: being an account, not of those massacred in France by the Papists formerly, but of some later persecutions of the French Protestants,’ London, 1679, 4to. 5. ‘The Northern Star: The British Monarchy: or the Northern the Fourth Universal Monarchy .... Being a Collection of many choice Ancient and Modern Prophecies,’ London, 1680, fol.; dedicated to Charles II ‘by his majesty's sometime commissionated chaplain, E. T.’ 6. ‘Jesuits Assassins; or, the Popish Plot further declared and demonstrated in their murderous Practices and Principles,’ containing a catalogue of the ‘English Popish Assassins swarming in all places, especially in the city of London,’ proposals for the ‘extirpation of this Bloody Order,’ and similar reflections and observations, all ‘extracted out of Dr. Tong's Papers, written at his first discovery of this plot to his Majesty and since augmented for public satisfaction,’ London, 1680, 4to. As an appendix to this appeared ‘An Answer to certain Scandalous Papers scattered abroad under colour of a Catholick Admonition.’ In this he draws up a drastic code of twenty measures to be aimed against the catholics. A list is given of the names of the intended protestant victims, that of Tonge himself being prominent.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 1262; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark, ii. passim; Evelyn's Diary, ii. 125; Thomas Jones's Funeral Sermon, 1681, 4to; Burnet's Own Time, i. 424, 510; Grey's Debates, 1769, vols. vii–x.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. App. iv. passim; Smith's Intrigues of the Popish Plot, 1685; Eachard's Hist. of England; Care's Hist. of the Papists' Plots; Luttrell's Relation, i. 56, 128; North's Examen; Tonge's Works; see authorities under L'Estrange, Roger, and Oates, Titus.]

T. S.