Stephen Dugdale

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Stephen Dugdale (1640?-1683) was an informer, and self-proclaimed discoverer of parts of the Popish Plot (in reality a fabrication). He perjured himself on numerous occasions, giving false testimony.


Tixall House and Gatehouse (c. 1686) by R. Plot. Tixall was the family seat of the Lords Aston of Forfar.

Dugdale became a Catholic convert, in 1657 or 1658 (being at that date about eighteen years of age). About the same time he met Francis Evers, a Jesuit, in Staffordshire:Evers later figured in his fabricated story as one of the masterminds of the Popish Plot..[1]

In 1677 Dugdale was steward to Walter Aston, 2nd Lord Aston of Forfar at Tixall, Staffordshire, where he cheated the workmen of their wages. In July or August letters arrived connected with the plot. Jesuits and the Catholic lords were judged to be deeply implicated. Meetings at Tixall followed in August and September 1678, and the death of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey was discussed. By September Dugdale found himself about to be dismissed for embezzlement and general misconduct. He spoke to the justices of the peace, when they issued warrants for the apprehension of George Hobson and George North. Although he professed to have broken open letters from Paris to Evers and others, he had little but hearsay evidence, and pretended to have destroyed the most dangerous documents on the eve of his departure. He gave evidence against the "five popish lords" (Lord Stafford, Earl of Powis, Lord Arundell of Wardour, Lord Belasyse and Lord Petre) in October 1678. On 24 December 1678 he swore an information before Thomas Lane and J. Vernon in Staffordshire.[1] His initial reception by the Government was favourable : he was intelligent, educated and well-spoken, in marked contrast to earlier informers like Titus Oates. His testimony, in the early stages, was so plausible that even Charles II, a sceptic, "began to think there was somewhat in the Plot";[2] while Chief Justice William Scroggs found him entirely convincing. By the time his unsavoury past came to light he had done a great deal of harm.[1]

Playing card of 1679 showing Stephen Dugdale, engraving after Francis Dugdale.

He charged John Tasborough and Mrs. Ann Price with soliciting him to sign a paper of recantation of his evidence, and offering him £1,000 reward for it. In February 1679 these persons were tried and convicted at the king's bench; Price had been Dugdale's fellow-servant and sweetheart at Tixall. Afterwards Dugdale led a shifty, vagabond life, giving evidence and writing pamphlets, at first associating chiefly with William Bedloe, Oates, and Edward Turberville, but eventually turning against Stephen College and confronting Oates.[1] At the trial of the five Jesuits (Thomas Whitebread, William Barrow alias Harcourt, John Fenwick, John Gavan, and Anthony Turner, from 13 June 1679) Dugdale charged two of them with consulting to bring about the assassination of Charles II. He charged Whitebread with writing a letter providing for the entertainment of 'good stout fellows,' namely the four Irish 'ruffians' who were reported to be hired for the regicide. Next day, 14 June, at the trial of Richard Langhorn the barrister, Dugdale was a chief witness for the prosecution. At the trial of Sir George Wakeman, from 18 July, Dugdale swore evidence; but he was already falling into discredit, and an acquittal followed. He swore, on the second day of Lord Stafford's trial, 1 December 1680, that the accused had been present at the "consults" at Tixall in September 1678, and also at Abnett's house in Stafford, where talk had been about slaying the king, and that on the 20th or 21st Stafford offered him £500 to commit the crime. The prolonged dispute at the trial was chiefly concerning dates. But it came to light that Dugdale had tried to bribe other persons to give false evidence against Stafford and other persons.[1]

He was understood to be willing to appear against Shaftesbury, and gave evidence against Stephen College at the Old Bailey, when a verdict of Ignoramus was returned, 8 July 1681. At the later Oxford trial of College, Dugdale swore against him, but came into direct conflict with his old associates. In October Dugdale vainly complained to the council of Dr. Richard Lower, who stated that he had treated him for an infamous disease, Dugdale having sworn at College's trial that his previous illness had been caused solely by the Catholic having tried to poison him. Lower and the apothecary proved the case, and the council dismissed the false witness "not to trouble them any more".[3] Dugdale then caused a Captain Clinton to be apprehended, 28 December 1681, for defaming him, but the council set Clinton at liberty on bail.[1]

Dugdale died a day or two before 26 March 1683.[4] Secretary of State Leoline Jenkins had a report that both Edward Turberville and Dugdale gave way to drink, and in their delirium tremens imagined spectres and died miserably.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ebsworth 1888, p. 135.
  2. ^ Kenyon, J.P. The Popish Plot Phoenix Press reissue 2000 p.158
  3. ^ Ebsworth 1888, p. 136.
  4. ^ Ebsworth 1888, p. 136 cites Luttrell, i. 253.
  5. ^ Ebsworth 1888, p. 136 cites Intrigues of the Popish Plot laid open, pp. 25, 26, 1685