Edward Colman

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Edward Colman or Coleman (17 May 1636–1678) was an English Catholic courtier under Charles II of England. He was hanged, drawn and quartered on a treason charge, having been implicated by Titus Oates in his false accusations concerning a Popish Plot.[1] He is a Catholic martyr, beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.[2]


He was born at Brent Eleigh, Suffolk, son of the local vicar, and was cousin to Salisbury MP Richard Colman. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge, receiving an MA in 1659.[3] Colman converted to Roman Catholicism in the early 1660s. He has been described as a man of charm and ability but utterly lacking in common sense or political realism: Sir Robert Southwell called him "a man who must run himself into the briars".


In June 1661 he became a gentleman pensioner to Charles II. He was a charismatic advocate of the Catholic cause and is credited with several high profile conversions, including possibly, the future James II. In 1673 James appointed him secretary to his wife, Mary of Modena, despite warnings form several sources, including Charles II, that he was not a man to be trusted.[1] Subsequently he was in contact with highly placed Catholics in France. Through Sir William Throckmorton he passed on political information to the Jesuit Jean Ferrier who was confessor to Louis XIV.[4]:40 In 1675 he offered his services in favour of Catholicism to François de la Chaise, successor to Ferrier; in 1676 he was in communication with Father Saint-Germain, offering his assistance to prevent a rupture between England and France. These attempts failed to procure money, due mainly to the scepticism of Simon Arnauld, Marquis de Pomponne, Louis' Foreign Minister, who put no faith in Colman, Throckmorton or indeed King Charles II, whom he did not even think worth the trouble of bribing. Colman succeeded later in obtaining £3500 from three successive French ambassadors, whom he supplied with information on the proceedings of Parliament.[5]

Colman acted independently of Charles in trying to obtain French financial assistance to reduce the King's dependence on the anti-Catholic Parliament. When money was eventually secured, it was not through any of Colman's efforts.[1]

Lord High Treasurer Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby viewed Colman as a dangerous influence on James, a view shared by the King. Danby had him dismissed in 1676 after Colman was caught leaking naval intelligence in a newsletter; according both to the Dictionary of National Biography and recent research, the dismissal was at the prompting of Henry Compton, although Antonia Fraser notes that the King himself had on several occasions urged his brother to dismiss him. [6] Edward continued with unofficial duties for James and he may have disbursed bribes to MPs on behalf of the French ambassador.[1]

The Popish Plot[edit]

Colman was targeted by Oates when the latter presented his fantasy plot before the king and the Privy Council on 28 September 1678. According to Oates, Colman would become secretary of state on the death of Charles.[1] It later emerged that the magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey had contacted Colman shortly after the meeting and the following day Colman's house was searched; letters covering his dealings with France were uncovered.[1]


The warrant for his apprehension was sent out on Sunday night, 29 September. At the suggestion of Danby, Coleman's papers were to be searched for strictly. William Bedloe carried the warrant to apprehend Coleman and search for his papers. His papers were found, some of recent date in paper bags; incriminating letters of earlier years were in a deal box, slightly nailed down. Inexplicably, Coleman continued to deny having written them for several weeks after they were discovered: it is just possible, as Kenyon suggests, that after a lapse of four or five years he had simply forgotten writing them, or did not recall how incriminating their contents were. [7] The letters were carried off, but Coleman's wife declared him to be absent, and to the Government's later embarrassment persuaded the searchers to let her keep several bundles of letters which she claimed were personal. 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 Privy Council, in the presence of Oates, who was unable to recognise him. He made so "voluble and fair a defence", urging his voluntary appearance as proof of his innocence, that the Council, exhausted by the long day's proceedings, decided not to order his arrest. He was only committed to the care of a messenger, and his papers were not searched carefully till a week later. [8]

The informer seemed about to lose credit when the death of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey revived the flagging investigation. On 16 October Coleman was removed from the messenger's care and committed to Newgate Prison.[9] Even a careful scrutiny of his letters revealed nothing directly pertaining to Oates' allegations, but the Government was horrified at the manner in which a minor civil servant had undertaken on behalf of a foreign power to alter the Government of England, while they were naturally irritated by the unflattering portraits Coleman had given Louis XIV of themselves.[10] The legal advice to the Crown was that some of the letters were clearly treasonable. Kenyon argues that the King quickly decided to make an example of Coleman, in order to reassure the public that the Crown would allow the law to take its course even against Court officials, and that he was happy to sacrifice a man whom he had always distrusted.[11] By 10 November Coleman, having been shown the French correspondence, at last admitted to having written it. The strange optimism (Kenyon calls it a natural levity of mind) which he had shown up to then deserted him: he predicted correctly to the House of Lords that "I have confessed to that which will destroy me",[12] (although many believed that he continued to hope in vain for a pardon right up to the very end).


Parliament had reassembled on 21 October, in an atmosphere of unprecedented hysteria about the supposed Plot: it was vital that at least one suspected plotter be sacrificed as quickly as possible, and on Saturday, 23 November 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 and three junior judges. Scroggs was a firm believer in the Popish Plot, and although he assured Coleman that he would receive a fair trial- "we seek no man's blood but only our own safety"[13]- there is no doubt that he was determined to secure a conviction by any means necessary. 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 the narrative according to Oates of 'consults' with the Jesuits in May 1678. Arrangements had been made to assassinate the king. 'This resolve of the Jesuits was communicated to Mr. Coleman in my hearing at Wild House,' said Oates. 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 £80 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 (Giovanni Paolo Oliva), general of the Society of Jesus. In cross-examination Oates shuffled and excused himself. Bedloe was examined concerning packets of letters from Coleman to Father La Chaise in 1675, and money received. The finding of the letters having been certified, and the handwriting identified as Coleman's, they were put in evidence, and the Attorney-General William Jones laid great stress on them; they did prove the strong desire of Coleman for the dissolution of parliament. He plainly had advocated foreign bribery of the king to insure such a dissolution, and used some strong phrases as to the Catholic hopes of suppressing heresy.[9]Kenyon argues that a case may be made for his guilt, noting similarities between Coleman's case and that of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford.[14]

Verdict and execution[edit]

There was no proof of connivance with a 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 December, he was executed, avowing his faith and declaring his innocence.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Andrew Barclay, 'Colman , Edward (1636–1678)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  2. ^ http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=3052
  3. ^ "Colman, Edward (CLMN651E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ Kenyon, J. P. (2000) [1972]. The Popish Plot. Reissue of the 1984 Pelican paperback. Phoenix Press. 
  5. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Edward Coleman". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. 2012 [1913]. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Fraser, Antonia King Charles II Mandarin paperback edition 1993 p.356
  7. ^ Kenyon The Popish Plot p.84
  8. ^ Kenyon The Popish Plot p.84
  9. ^ a b c Wikisource link to Coleman, Edward (d.1678) (DNB00). Wikisource.
  10. ^ Kenyon p.86
  11. ^ Kenyon p.131
  12. ^ Kenyon p.101
  13. ^ Kenyon p.135
  14. ^ Kenyon p.142

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Edward Coleman". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Coleman, Edward (d.1678)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Andrew Barclay, The Rise of Edward Colman, The Historical Journal (1999), 42:109–131