Watson, William (1559?-1603) (DNB00)

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WATSON, WILLIAM (1559?–1603), secular priest and conspirator, born on 23 April, apparently in 1559, was, like his contemporaries, Anthony Watson [q. v.] and Christopher Watson [q. v.], a native of the diocese of Durham. His name does not occur in the ‘Visitations of Durham’ (ed. Foster, 1887), but his father must have been a man of some position if William's statement is to be trusted, that he was ‘sent to Oxforde at 10 yeares of age with my tutor (a perfect linguist, which my father kept to teach).’ He must be distinguished from the ‘William Watson of Durham, pleb.,’ who matriculated, aged 26, from All Souls' on 28 Nov. 1581, and graduated B.A. in the following February, for the future conspirator ‘at 14 came to the inns of court,’ and at sixteen ‘passed the sea to Rheims’ (Watson to the Attorney-general, printed in Law, Archpriest Controversy, i. 211 sqq.). Watson's family was evidently Roman catholic, and his name does not appear on the registers at Oxford or at the inns of court. According to Parsons, who is even less veracious than Watson himself, Watson came to Rheims ‘a poor, little begging boy,’ and obtained employment in menial offices at the English College, where he made sport for the students ‘in tumbling, for which his body was fitly made, and so he passed by the name of Wil. Wat., or Wat. Tumbler’ (Parsons, Manifestation, 1602, ff. 83–4). Watson's own account was that ‘my studies until I was 18 yeares of age were in the 7 liberall sciences intermixte, with the tongues, phisicke, common lawe (and especially histories all my life time for recreacon); from 18 to 21 I studied the lawes canon and civil with positive divinitie, and perfecting of my metaphisicke and philosophie; after that, untill my return home, I plyed schoole divinitie.’ His library, when he was arrested, contained, besides theological works, ‘lawe bookes, Machiavels works, tragedies, cronycles, collecions of Doleman, Philopater, Leycesters Commonwealth.’

Watson was confirmed at Rheims on 25 March 1581, received minor orders on 23 Sept. 1583, was ordained subdeacon on 21 Sept. 1585, deacon at Laon on 22 March 1585–6, priest on 5 April, and on 16 June following was sent as missioner to England (Douai Diaries, pp. 13, 178, 198, 209, 211). He was captured almost immediately and imprisoned in the Marshalsea; he was soon released on condition of leaving England within a specified time, during which he was not to be molested. Richard Topcliffe [q. v.], however, who had been commissioned to hunt out priests, seized Watson, shut him up in Bridewell, and severely tortured him (cf. State Papers, Dom. Eliz. ccii. 61). In 1588 Watson escaped to the continent (on 30 Aug. in that year two persons were executed for contriving his escape), and passed two years at Liège. In the autumn of 1590 he again returned to England, and officiated for some time in the west, eluding capture in spite of there being at one time sixteen warrants out against him. Eventually one of Sir William Waad's agents discovered him; but his imprisonment, apparently in the Gatehouse, was comparatively mild until Topcliffe again intervened with his tortures. Once again Watson, ‘taking occasion of the dores set wyde open unto me,’ effected his escape, in order, he maintained, to avoid legal proceedings on account of 200l. which had been ‘taken up’ by some one using his name; possibly this was on 18 May 1597, when he escaped from Bridewell with ‘an Irish bishop’ (Cal. Hatfield MSS. vii. 204). On 30 June 1599 it was reported ‘Watson, a seminary priest, has again escaped from the Gatehouse and cannot be heard of; he is thought to have with him a servant who, with his consent, has stolen his master's best gelding and 40l. in money for Watson's use’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1598–1601, p. 226). He now seems to have fled to Scotland, hoping to cross thence to France, but returned to the north of England, and thence once more to London. Here apparently he was again arrested, and he was one of the thirty-three secular priests in prison at Wisbech Castle who on 17 Nov. 1600 signed the famous ‘appeal’ against the appointment of George Blackwell [q. v.] as archpriest, on the ground that he was a tool of Parsons and the jesuits. Watson's thirty articles against Blackwell's appointment are printed by Mr. T. G. Law in ‘The Archpriest Controversy’ (Camden Soc.), i. 90–8.

To this struggle between the secular priests and the jesuits Watson had devoted his entire energy. Like other seculars, he was bitterly opposed not only to the domination of the jesuits, but also to their anti-national intrigues, especially the project for securing the succession to the infanta of Spain; he maintained that but for these plots Elizabeth's government would grant a large measure of toleration to Roman catholics. As early as 1587, while in the Marshalsea, he had protested against Babington's plot, and the jesuits denounced him as a government spy and his sufferings in prison as fictitious; Watson himself declared that he endured more from the tongues of the jesuits than from Topcliffe's tortures. Possibly his visit to Scotland was in connection with his project of answering the ‘Conference about the next Succession,’ which Parsons had published under the pseudonym of Doleman in 1594, advocating the claims of the infanta. The account which Watson gives of his book is obscure and possibly untrue; at first apparently he wished to advocate the exclusion of all ‘foreign’ claims, the Scottish included, and he says that the queen and Essex liked what he wrote; then he maintained James's right, and when this proved unpalatable at court he suggested that he had only been entrapped into writing the book at all by jesuit intrigues.

This book does not seem to have been printed, but in 1601 appeared four works, all probably printed at Rheims and ascribed to Watson. The first, ‘A Dialogue betwixt a Secular Priest and a Lay Gentleman concerning some points objected by the Jesuiticall Faction against such Secular Priests as haue shewed their dislike of M. Blackwell and the Jesuit Proceedings,’ was erroneously assigned by Parsons and Anthony Rivers to John Mush [q. v.], another of the appellants (Foley, Records, i. 42; Law, Jesuits and Seculars, p. cxxxvii). The second, ‘A Sparing Dis-coverie of our English Iesuits and of Fa. Parsons' Proceedings under pretence of promoting the Catholike Faith in England … newly imprinted’ (Rheims? 4to), is ascribed by Rivers to Christopher Bagshaw [q. v.] (ib.) But ‘the most notable of these later writings on the side of the appellants was the “Important Considerations.” It forms, however, an exception to the general character of Watson's productions, both in matter and style. Indeed it has so little of Watson's manner that it is not improbable that he was the writer of no more than the prefatory epistle, which is signed with his initials. The book itself professes to be “published by sundry of us, the Secular Priests,” and is a brief, and on the whole fair, historical survey of all the rebellions, plots, and “bloody designments” set on foot against England by the pope or others, mainly at the instigation of the jesuits’ (ib. p. xci). Its title was ‘Important Considerations which ought to move all true and sound Catholickes who are not wholly Jesuited to acknowledge … that the Proceedings of Her Majesty … have been both mild and merciful.’ It was reprinted in ‘A Collection of Several Treatises concerning … the Penal Laws,’ 1675 and 1688, in ‘The Jesuit's Loyalty,’ 1677 series, in ‘A Preservative against Popery,’ 1738, vol. iii., and was edited by the Rev. Joseph Mendham in 1831. It was also extensively used by Stillingfleet in his ‘Answer to Cressy,’ and by Joseph Berington [q. v.] in his ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Catholic Religion,’ 1813 (ib., p. cxxxv; Mendham, pref. pp. xiv–xv). In 1601 also was published Watson's longest work, ‘A Decacordon of Ten Quodlibeticall Questions concerning Religion and State; wherein the author, framing himself a Quilibet to every Quodlibet, decides an Hundred Crosse Interrogatorie Doubts about the generall contentions betwixt the Seminarie Priests and Iesuits …,’ Rheims? 4to. Though dated 1602, it was described by Father Rivers in a letter to Parsons on 22 Dec. 1601. It contains a few interesting allusions to Nash, Tarlton, and Will Somers, which seem to indicate that Watson frequented the theatre (pp. 266, 329). Fuller called it a ‘notable book,’ and declared that no answer to it was published by the jesuits (Church History, 1656, bk. x. pp. 5–6). A puritan reply, however, appeared early in 1602 (Foley, i. 30) as ‘Let Quilibet beware of Quodlibet,’ n.d., n. pl., and ‘An Antiquodlibet or an Advertisement to beware of Secular Priests’ (Middelburg, 1602, 12mo) has been attributed to John Udall [q. v.] who, however, died ten years before.

Whatever hand other appellants had in the production of these works, their bitterness and extravagance impelled the deputation then pleading the appellants' cause at Rome to repudiate repeatedly all share in them (Archpriest Controversy, ii. 68, 77, 87, 89). The jesuits at the same time endeavoured to saddle them with the responsibility, and made good use of the books in their attempt to prejudice the papal court against the appellants. Parsons replied to them with equal scurrility, but more skill, in his ‘Briefe Apologie’ (1602) and ‘Manifestation of the Great Folly …’ (1602), in which he heaps on Watson all manner of personal abuse.

Meanwhile Watson had benefited by the favour shown by Elizabeth's government to the secular priests. He had probably been removed from Wisbech with the other seculars to Framlingham, but in April 1602 he was in the Clink. In a letter to Parsons, Anthony Rivers relates how the Roman catholics in that prison had made secret arrangements for celebrating mass when they were surprised by government agents, and asserts that this was prearranged by Watson, who was removed to the king's bench, but discharged the next day. He was now seen in frequent consultation with Bancroft, bishop of London, the subject of their deliberations being a form of oath of allegiance which might be taken by the more moderate catholics. This oath was taken in November following by Watson and other seculars, who were thereupon released; and to this period must probably be referred the report (dated October 1601 in Cal. State Papers, Dom. Addenda, 1580–1625) of Watson's ‘going gallantly, in his gold chain and white satin doublet … contrary to his priest's habit.’ He had now begun to regard himself as a person of importance, and on the death of Elizabeth he hurried to Scotland to obtain from James a promise of toleration which would completely justify his own policy and cripple the influence of the jesuits. He gained access to James and boasted that his reply was favourable. When therefore no change of policy was forthcoming Watson was bitterly mortified; ‘the resolution of James to exact the fines was regarded by him almost in the light of a personal insult’ (Gardiner, i. 109). He began to meditate more forcible methods of effecting his aims, and communicated his grievances to Sir Griffin Markham [q. v.], Anthony Copley [q. v.], William Clark (d. 1603) [q. v.], and others, seculars like himself or disappointed courtiers. In May 1603 Markham suggested recourse to the Scottish precedent of seizing the king's person and compelling him to accede to their demands. Even wilder schemes were discussed; the king, not yet crowned and anointed, might, Watson thought, be set aside if he proved obdurate; the Tower could easily be seized, and Watson nominated himself future lord keeper or lord chancellor, and Copley secretary of state. Bands of catholic adherents were to be collected for 24 June, when they would press their demands on the king at Greenwich. This conspiracy became known as the ‘Bye’ or ‘Priests' Plot,’ and George Brooke, his brother, Lord Cobham, and Lord Grey de Wilton were implicated in it; but Watson also knew of Cobham's or the ‘Main’ plot (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10, pp. 34–8), and even discussed the advisability of drawing Ralegh into the ‘Bye’ plot (Addit. MS. 6177, f. 265).

Watson's plot gave the jesuits an opportunity, which they were not slow to use, of turning the tables on the seculars and revenging their defeat over the archpriest controversy. Father Gerard obtained from the pope an express prohibition of ‘all unquietness,’ and the whole influence of the society was exerted to frustrate Watson's scheme. Copley, who was to have brought in two hundred adherents, could not obtain one, ‘for I knew never a catholic near me of many a mile that were not jesuited’ (confession ap. Dodd, ed. Tierney, vol. iv. App. pp. i. sqq.). Gerard, Blackwell, and Garnett all hastened to inform the government of what was going on, and Gerard at least made a merit of this when charged with complicity in the ‘gunpowder plot.’ The attempt on 24 June was an utter fiasco, and on 2 July a proclamation was issued for Copley's arrest. It was by his confession on 12 July that the others conspirators were implicated, and this, coupled with the fact that Copley was pardoned, suggests that he also was playing a double part (Edwards, Life of Raleigh, ii. 140, 142 sqq.) It was not till 16 July that a proclamation was issued for Watson's arrest, which apparently was not effected until about 5 Aug. He ‘was taken in a field by the Hay in Herefordshire (or Brecknockshire …) by Mr. … Vaughan. … 'Twas observed that Mr. Vaughan did never prosper afterwards’ (Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. Clark, ii. 293). Watson's confession, dated 10 Aug., is printed in Tierney's ‘Dodd’ (vol. iv. App. pp. xix sqq.). Owing to the efforts made by the government to disentangle the obscure ramifications of the two plots, Watson was not brought to trial till 15 Nov. at Winchester Castle (‘Baga de Secretis’ in Dep. Keeper of Records, 5th Rep. App. ii. 135–9). He was condemned to death for high treason, and was executed at Winchester on 9 Dec. with William Clark. Among the manuscripts at Stonyhurst is a ‘Breve relazione della morte di due sacerdoti Gul. Watsoni et Gul. Clarkei, 9 Dec. 1603.’ In the proclamation for his arrest Watson is described as ‘a man of the lowest sort [ = very short] … his hair betwixt abram [ = auburn] and flaxen; he looketh asquint, and is very purblind, so as if he reade anything he puttethe the paper neere to his eyes; he did weare his beard at length of the same coloured haire as is his head. But information is given that nowe his beard is cut.’ Parsons says he ‘was so wrong shapen and of so bad and blinking aspect as he looketh nine ways at once.’

[The most important sources for Watson's life are the documents printed from the Petyt MSS. by Mr. T. G. Law in his Archpriest Controversy (Camd. Soc. 2 pts. 1897–8), and especially Watson's autobiographical letter to the attorney-general, endorsed April 1599; a doubt whether this is the correct date, Watson's own vagueness, and a difficulty in reconciling his dates with those afforded by occasional references in the state papers, combine to render the chronology of his life somewhat tentative. See also Law's Jesuits and Seculars, 1889; Douai Diaries; Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Parsons's Brief Apologie and Manifestation, both 1602?; Foley's Records S.J. vol. i. passim; Morris's Troubles, i. 196, ii. 260, 277; Lansd. MS. 983, art. 15; Cotton. MS. Vesp. cxiv. f. 579; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. App. pp. 150, 152, 338, 13th Rep. App. iv. 129; Cal. State Papers, Venetian, 1592–1603, Nos. 1052, 1061, 1078, 1089; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 314, 422; and Watson's Works in Brit. Mus. Library. For his conspiracy, see Confessions and Examinations among the Domestic State Papers in the Record Office, the most important of which are printed in Tierney's Dodd, vol. iv. App. pp. i–lii; others are at Hatfield (cf. extract in Addit. MS. 6177, f. 265); further details are given in the despatches of Beaumont, the French ambassador, in the Brit. Mus. King's MS. 123, ff. 309 sqq., 329–43, and MS. 124; see also Weldon's Court of James I, pp. 340 sqq.; Birch's Court and Times of James I; Lodge's Illustrations, iii. 75–6; Edwards's Life of Raleigh, vol. ii. passim; Sharpe's London and the Kingdom, ii. 6–7; Gardiner's Hist. of England, i. 108–40; Hume's Life of Raleigh, 1897, pp. 254, 259, 263, 274; cp. also arts. Brooke, George; Brooke, Henry, eighth Lord Cobham; Clark, William, d. 1603; Copley, Anthony; Grey, Thomas, fifteenth Baron Grey of Wilton; Markham, Sir Griffin; and Ralegh, Sir Walter.]

A. F. P.