The killing of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey - in Oktober 1678 - has been called the greatest murder mystery in English history. Its consequences were certainly appalling, a wave of hatred and violence unleashed against English Roman Catholics, resulting in more then twenty judicial murders and over a hundred imprisonments.
Godfrey was known as a decent and scrupulous man, courageous and rigidly honest. This is why his murder caused such widespread outrage among British Protestants, and why they allowed themselves to be persuaded that their Catholic countrymen were about to burn them all at the stake. The man whose sick imagination invented this ‘Popish Plot’ was paranoid clergyman named Titus Oates, who is remembered as one of the most malevolent and vicious individuals in English history.
Edmund Berry Godfrey was born on 23 December 1621, the son of a Kentish gentleman of independent means. Educated at Westminister School and Christ Church, Oxford, he was prevented from entering his chosen profession, the law, by increasing deafness and ill health. His father solved the problem of a career by lending him a thousand pounds – worth about forty thousand pounds in today’s money – with which he and a friend named Harrison bought a wood-wharf at Dowgate, near Thames Street in the City of London, and proceeded to sell wood and coal to their fellow Londoners. It was a good time to be in the fuel business. Winters were often so cold that the Thames froze solid. And the uncertainties of the Civil Wear between the Roundheads and the Royalists enabled them to charge high prices. By 1649, when King Charles lost his head. Godfrey and Harrison were already wealthy men. And the excitement of a business career had cause an enormous improvement in Godfrey’s health. In 1658, when Godfrey took a house in Greens Lane, a road that ran between the Strand and the river (somewhere near present day Villiers Street) he was the only coal merchant outside the city followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a Justice of the Peace for Westminister and Middlesex.
He showed himself severe but fair minded. Harsh towards tramps and vagabonds, he was compassionate towards those whose misery and poverty was no fault of their own – in one case, he supported a family at a rate of ten pounds a year for several years until they were able to support themselves.
In the Great Plague of 1665, Godfrey wass one of the few rich men who remained in London. This may not have been entirely a matter of altruism – in those days, it was firmly believed that smoke could offer protection from the plague, and enormous fires were kept burning permanently in the streets, provided with fuel from Godfrey’s coal and wood yard. Godfrey took charge of the digging of the largest mass grave in England – with plague deaths at two thousand a week, individual burials had become impossible. Every night, carts drove through the streets, their drivers shouting ‘bring out your dead’; blotched bodies, stinking of black vomit, were tossed onto the pile.
Godfrey himself seems to have have no fear of the plague. When he heard that a rgave robber had taken refuge in a house full of plague victims, where the constables were afraid to follow him, he strode in with drawn sword and dragged the man out by the scruff of the neck. Later, the same man met him in the street, and hurled himself of him with a heavy cudgel; Godfrey held him at bay with his sword until constableas arrived to drag him away.
Since it was believed that dogs and cats spread the plague, thousands were exterminated. Nobody realized that the real culpit was the rats carrying the Bubonic Plague germ and who bred in their thousands among the garbage that lay in London’s streets. Fortunately, the winter that year was so cold that the plague slowly began to lose its grip. It was finally brought to an end by the Great Fire of London, which began in September 1666 and burned half the city in four days. Here again, Godfrey displayed his usual courage and industry, and soon after the end of the fire, King Charles II knighted him.
Three year later, Godfre again revealed his courage in a conflict with the king. Alexander Frazier, one of the kig;ss physicians, owef him thirty pounds for firewood – over a thousand pounds in modern money – and obviously had no intention of paying. As a member of the king’s household, Frazier could be taken to a court of law. Godfrey obtained a warrant from the Sheriff and had Frasier arrested by bailiffs. The king was so enraged that he ordered the bailiffs to be whipped, but Godfrey ignored the king’s command to have the warrant cancelled. Imprisoned in the porter’s lodge at Whitehall, he went on hunger strike until, after six days, the king finally gave way. Fortunately, Charles was entirely lacking in vindictiveness, and bore Godfrey no grudge. It is not clear whether Godfrey ever received his thirty pounds.
And so, in his late forties, Godfrey was one of the most respected and well-loved figures n London. What strange twist of fate led him to become the victim of unknown murderes, less than ten years later?
Some weeks before his disappearance, Godfrey was nervous, and it was clear that he expected to be killed. To one female acquaintance he remarked: “Have you not heard that I am to be hanged?”
Yet if Godfrey knew he was going to be murdered, why did he not have leave behind some clue that would bring the killers to justice? On the contrary, on the morning of his disappearance, he burnt all the papers that might have indicated who had killed him, and why.
On the morning of Saturday, 12 Oktober, 1678, Godfrey rose early and dressed in no less than three pairs of stockings – it was an icy cold day. When his housekeeper brought in his breakfast, Godfrey was talking to a man she did not recognize, and who remained there for a long time. At eight o’clock, he had left his house near Charing Cross, and walked up St. Martin’s Lane. Two acquaintance who said good morning noticed that he seemed to be withdrawn and depressed. In those days, there were fields north of Oxford Street, and two hours ;ater, Godfrey was seen near the little village of Paddington. Then about an hour later, he was seen walking back through the muddy fields towards London. This must have at about eleven o’clock in the morning.
Yet at about that same hour, an acquaintance named Richard Adams called at Godfrey’s house, and was told by the servants: “Was have cause to fear Sir Edmund is made away.”
Sir Edmund had arranged to dine that day with s friend called Wynned at a house not far from his home. When he failed to arrive by midday (which was the time they dinned in the seventeenth century), Wynnel went to Godfrey’s home, where the servants were looking upset and shaken. One of them told him: “Ah Mr Wynnel!, you will never see him more.”
Wynnel asked why. “They say the Papist have been watching him for a long time, and that now they are very confident they have got him.”
Wynnel’s efforts to extract further information were unsuccessful.
To be continued >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>