Thomas Whitbread

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The Blessed
Thomas Whitbread
Thomas Whitbread (1618-1679).JPG
Born 1618
Died 30 June 1679
Nationality British
Alma mater College of St. Omer
Occupation priest

Blessed Thomas Whitbread (alias Harcourt) (born in Essex, 1618; executed at Tyburn, 30 June 1679) was an English Jesuit missionary, wrongly convicted of conspiracy to murder Charles II of England. He was beatified in 1929.


He was educated at St. Omer's, and entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus on 7 September 1635. Coming upon the English mission in 1647, he worked in England for more than thirty years, mostly in the eastern counties. On 8 December 1652, he was professed of the four vows. Twice he was superior of the Suffolk District, once of the Lincolnshire District, and finally in 1678 he was declared Provincial. In this capacity he refused to admit Titus Oates as a member of the Society, on the grounds of his ignorance, blasphemy and sexual attraction to young boys, and expelled him forthwith from the seminary of St Omer; shortly afterwards Titus, motivated largely by personal spite against Whitbread, attempted to carry out the Popish Plot.[1]

It was said later that Whitbread had a miraculous presentiment of the Plot, and undoubtedly he preached a celebrated sermon at Liege in July 1678, on the text "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?", in which he warned his listeners that the present time of tranquility would not last, and that they must be willing to suffer false accusations, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom.[2] Having completed a tour of his Flanders province, he went to England but at once fell ill with plague.[3]

Arrest, trial and execution[edit]

Whitbread was arrested in London on Michaelmas Day, 1678, but was so ill that he could not be moved to Newgate till three months later. He was first indicted at the Old Bailey, 17 December 1678, but the evidence against him and his companions broke down.[4] Given the state of public opinion, it was unthinkable that Whitbread, whom Oates and the other informers had identified as the originator of the Plot, should be allowed to escape punishment.[5] Accordingly he was remanded and kept in prison till 13 June 1679, when he was again indicted for treason, and with four others was found guilty on the perjured evidence of Oates, William Bedloe and Stephen Dugdale.[6] The importance of the trial is shown by the fact that it was heard by a bench of seven judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir William Scroggs, who was a firm believer in the Plot and deeply hostile to Catholic priests.[7] In the circumstances Whitbread could not have hoped to escape, and, although he strongly maintained his innocence, Kenyon suggests that he had resigned himself to death.[8] Certainly the sermon he had preached at Liege the previous year suggests that he expected to die as a martyr, whether sooner or later.[9]

He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. The King, who knew that he and his fellow victims were innocent, ordered that they be allowed to die before being mutilated. The crowd showed that on this occasion its sympathies were with the victims, and it listened in respectful silence as Whitbread and the others made lengthy speeches protesting their innocence.[10] The others executed with him were John Gavan, John Fenwick, William Harcourt and Anthony Turner. After the execution his remains, and those of his companions, were buried in St. Giles's in the Fields.[11]


Whitbread wrote "Devout Elevation of the Soul to God" and two short poems, "To Death" and "To his Soul", which are printed in "The Remonstrance of Piety and Innocence".


  1. ^ Kenyon, J.P. The Popish Plot Phoenix Press reissue 2000 p.50
  2. ^ Kenyon p.50
  3. ^ Kenyon p.50
  4. ^ Kenyon p.144
  5. ^ Kenyon p.50
  6. ^ Kenyon pp.180-185
  7. ^ Kenyon p.180
  8. ^ Kenyon p.181
  9. ^ Kenyon p.50
  10. ^ Kenyon p.206
  11. ^ Cooper 1890.