Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Plunket, John

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

PLUNKET, JOHN (1664–1738), Jacobite agent, born in Dublin in 1664, was educated at the Jesuits' College at Vienna. He was a Roman catholic layman, and he was sometimes known under the alias of Rogers. He was for over twenty years in the service of the leading Jacobites, either as a spy or diplomatic agent, and his wide personal acquaintance with the statesmen of many countries illustrated the facility with which Jacobite agents approached men of the highest position. By generals and divines, by English, French, and Dutch ministers, he was received with politeness, plied with anxious inquiries about the health of James, and dismissed with promises of support, not perhaps sincere, but always fervent. The hopes of the Jacobites were naturally raised by the rout of the whigs in England in 1710. A number of the party were convinced that Harley was at heart a Jacobite, and that the negotiations which commenced with France in the autumn of 1711 were a preliminary to secret negotiations with the Pretender. Plunket therefore thought to improve the position of his employers by revealing to the tory ministry fictitious whig machinations against the success of the peace. Prince Eugène came to England in January 1712, and excited much uneasiness by his frequent conferences held at Leicester House with Marlborough, the imperial envoy (Gallas), the leading Hanoverians, and the whig opponents of the peace. Accordingly, in March 1712, Plunket sent to Harley, now Earl of Oxford, two forged letters purporting to have been written by Eugène, and sent to Count Zinzendorf, the imperial ambassador at The Hague, for transmission to Vienna. According to these letters, outrages in London and the assassination of the tory chiefs were to be the means employed to upset the government and frustrate the peace. The forged letters did not for a moment deceive Oxford. They created, however, strong prejudice against Prince Eugène in influential quarters in England, and were skilfully used by St. John to convince Torcy and the French negotiators, newly assembled at Utrecht, of the danger the ministry ran in trying to conclude peace against the wishes of a powerful faction.

Meanwhile Plunket, disgusted by the incredulity of Oxford, brought his pretended revelations before Lord-keeper Harcourt and the Duke of Buckinghamshire, by whom they were submitted to the privy council. On 3 April Plunket was summoned, and, in answer to much questioning, stated that he had derived his information through a clerk in Zinzendorf's suite at The Hague. He was dismissed with a half-contemptuous direction to go over to Holland and bring back his friend. Though he must have known the facts, Swift treats the libels as substantially true in his flagrantly partisan ‘Four closing Years of Queen Anne,’ while Macpherson prints them, and makes similar deductions, in his ‘Original Papers.’ After a further period of foreign travel and intrigue, during which he made more than one visit to Rome and had several interviews with the Pretender, Plunket returned to England in 1718, and five years later was charged with complicity in Layer's plot for seizing the Tower of London [see Layer, Christopher]. He was arrested by special warrant in January 1723, as he was about to leave his lodgings in Lambeth. He was proved to have written letters to Middleton, Dillon, and other prominent Jacobites, urging them to secure the co-operation of the regent of France at any price, and promising a wide support in England; there was also evidence that he had endeavoured to corrupt some sergeants in the British army. The bill for inflicting certain pains and penalties upon John Plunket was read in the House of Commons a second time on 28 March 1723. Plunket made no defence. Subsequently, before the House of Lords, he tried to establish that he was a person of no consideration in Jacobite counsels, a contention which derived support from his repellently ugly appearance, but was conclusively disproved by his correspondence. Eventually Plunket was confined as a state prisoner in the Tower until July 1738, when ‘at the public expense he was removed into private lodgings and cut for the stone by Mr. Cheselden’ [see Cheselden, William]. The operation failed owing to Plunket's advanced age, and he died in James Street, near Red Lion Street, in the following August. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Pancras. John is to be carefully distinguished from his cousin, Matthew Plunket, ‘serjeant of invalids,’ a man of the lowest character, who gave damning evidence against his old crony, Christopher Layer.

[Hist. Reg. 1723 passim, 1738 p. 32; Wyon's Hist. of the Reign of Queen Anne, ii. 368; Stanhope's Hist. of Engl. 1839, i. 75; Coxe's Life of Marlborough, 1848, iii. 289; Macpherson's Original Papers, ii. 284; Boyer's Annals, passim; Le-grelle's Succession d'Espagne, v. 600–40; Dumont's Lettres Historiques, 1710; Mémoires de Torcy, 1757, ii. 271–4; Swift's Four closing Years of Queen Anne; Bolingbroke's Works, 1798, vol. v.; Doran's Jacobite London; Howell's State Trials, vol. xvi.; Cobbett's Parl. Hist. viii. 54.]

T. S.