Thomas Whitbread

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The Blessed

Thomas Whitbread
Thomas Whitbread (1618-1679).JPG
Died30 June 1679
Alma mater College of St. Omer

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.

Essex County of England

Essex is a county in the south-east of England, north-east of London. One of the home counties, it borders Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent across the estuary of the River Thames to the south, and London to the south-west. The county town is Chelmsford, the only city in the county. For government statistical purposes Essex is placed in the East of England region.

Tyburn village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch in present-day London

Tyburn was a village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch and the southern end of Edgware Road in present-day London. It took its name from the Tyburn Brook, a tributary of the River Westbourne. The name Tyburn, from Teo Bourne meaning 'boundary stream', is quite widely occurring, and the Tyburn Brook should not be confused with the better known River Tyburn, which is the next tributary of the River Thames to the east of the Westbourne.

Charles II of England 17th-century King of England, Ireland and Scotland

Charles II was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy until his death.



He was a native of Essex, but little is known of his family or early life. 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, fabricated the Popish Plot. [1]


The novitiate, also called the noviciate, is the period of training and preparation that a Christian novice monastic, apostolic, or member of a religious order undergoes prior to taking vows in order to discern whether he or she is called to vowed religious life. It often includes times of intense study, prayer, living in community, studying the vowed life, deepening one's relationship with God, and deepening one's self-awareness. It is a time of creating a new way of being in the world. The novitiate stage in most communities is a two-year period of formation. These years are "Sabbath time" to deepen one's relationship with God, to intensify the living out of the community's mission and charism, and to foster human growth. The novitiate experience for many communities includes a concentrated program of prayer, study, reflection and limited ministerial engagement.

Society of Jesus male religious congregation of the Catholic Church

The Society of Jesus is a religious order of the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome. It was founded by Ignatius of Loyola with the approval of Pope Paul III in 1540. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.

Suffolk County of England

Suffolk is an East Anglian county of historic origin in England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east. The county town is Ipswich; other important towns include Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, and Felixstowe, one of the largest container ports in Europe.

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]

Torture intentional infliction of physical or mental suffering upon a person or an animal

Torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological suffering on someone by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture.

Flanders Community and region of Belgium

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium and one of the communities, regions and language areas of Belgium. However, there are several overlapping definitions, including ones related to culture, language, politics and history, and sometimes involving neighbouring countries. The demonym associated with Flanders is Fleming, while the corresponding adjective is Flemish. The official capital of Flanders is Brussels, although the Brussels Capital Region has an independent regional government, and the government of Flanders only oversees the community aspects of Flanders life in Brussels such as (Flemish) culture and education.

Plague (disease) specific contagious and frequently fatal human disease caused by Yersinia pestis

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Symptoms include fever, weakness and headache. Usually this begins one to seven days after exposure. In the bubonic form there is also swelling of lymph nodes, while in the septicemic form tissues may turn black and die, and in the pneumonic form shortness of breath, cough and chest pain may occur.

Arrest, trial and execution

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 to the Government that Whitbread, whom Oates and the other informers had identified as one of the originators 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 suffer the death of a martyr, whether sooner or later. [9]

Newgate ancient gate in the wall of the City of London

Newgate was one of the historic seven gates of the London Wall around the City of London and one of the six which date back to Roman times. From it, a Roman road led west to Silchester, Hampshire. Excavations in 1875, 1903 and 1909 revealed the Roman structure and showed that it consisted of a double roadway between two square flanking guardroom towers.

Old Bailey Court in London and one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court

The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales is a court in London and one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court. Part of the present building stands on the site of the medieval Newgate gaol, on a road named Old Bailey that follows the line of the City of London's fortified wall, which runs from Ludgate Hill to the junction of Newgate Street and Holborn Viaduct. The Old Bailey has been housed in several structures near this location since the sixteenth century, and its present building dates from 1902, designed by Edward William Mountford.

William Bedloe English spy

William Bedloe was an English fraudster and Popish Plot informer.

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]

Hanged, drawn and quartered Legal punishment in England for persons convicted of high treason

To be hanged, drawn and quartered was from 1352 a statutory penalty in England for men convicted of high treason, although the ritual was first recorded during the reign of King Henry III (1216–1272). A convicted traitor was fastened to a hurdle, or wooden panel, and drawn by horse to the place of execution, where he was then hanged, emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded, and quartered. The traitor's remains were often displayed in prominent places across the country, such as London Bridge. For reasons of public decency, women convicted of high treason were instead burned at the stake.

Blessed John Gavan was an English Jesuit. He was a victim of the fabricated Popish Plot, and was wrongfully executed for conspiracy to murder King Charles II. He was beatified in 1929.

John Fenwick (Jesuit) English Jesuit and Catholic martyr

Blessed John Fenwick, real surname Caldwell (1628–1679) was an English Jesuit, executed at the time of the fabricated Popish Plot. He is a Catholic martyr, beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI.


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".

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  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.

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Leslie Stephen British author, literary critic, and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography

Sir Leslie Stephen was an English author, critic, historian, biographer, and mountaineer, and father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.

Sidney Lee 19th/20th-century English biographer and critic

Sir Sidney Lee was an English biographer, writer and critic.

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Richard Strange
Provincial superior of the English
Province of the Society of Jesus

14 January 1678 – 30 June 1679
Succeeded by
John Warner