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SIR EDMUND BERRY GODFREY (1621-1678)

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Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 172 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SIR EDMUND BERRY GODFREY (1621-1678), English magistrate and politician, younger son of Thomas Godfrey (1386-1664), a member of an old Kentish family, was born on the 23rd of December 1621. He was educated at Westminster school and at Christ Church, Oxford, and after entering Gray's Inn became a dealer in wood. His business prospered. He was made a 'justice of the peace for the city of Westminster, and in September 1666 was knighted as a reward for his services as magistrate and citizen during the great plague in London; but in 1669 he was imprisoned for a few days for instituting the arrest of the king's physician, Sir Alexander Fraizer (d. 1681), who owed him money. The tragic events in Godfrey's life began in September 1678 when Titus Oates and two other men appeared before him with written information about the Popish Plot, and swore to the truth of their statements. During the intense excitement which followed the magistrate expressed a fear that his life was in danger, but took no extra precautions for safety. On the 12th of October he did not return home as usual, and on the 17th his body was found on Primrose Hill, Hampstead. Medical and other evidence made it certain that he had been murdered, and the excited populace regarded the deed as the work of the Roman Catholics. Two committees investigated the occurrence without definite result, but in December 1678 a certain Miles Prance, who had been arrested for conspiracy, confessed that he had shared in the murder. According to Prance the deed was instigated by some Roman Catholic priests, three of whom witnessed the murder, and was committed in the courtyard of Somerset House, where Godfrey was strangled by Robert Green, Lawrence Hill and Henry Berry, the body being afterwards taken to Hampstead. The three men were promptly arrested; the evidence of the informer William Bedloe, although contradictory, was similar on a few points to that of Prance, and in February 1679 they were hanged. Soon afterwards, however, some doubt was cast upon this story; a war of words ensued between Prance and others, and it was freely asserted that Godfrey had committed suicide. Later the falsehood of Prance's confession was proved and Prance pleaded guilty to perjury; but the fact remains that Godfrey was murdered. Godfrey was an excellent magistrate, and was very charitable both in public and in private life. Mr John Pollock, in the Popish Plot (London, 1903), confirms the view that the three men, Green, Hill and Berry, were wrongfully executed, and thinks the murder was committed by some Jesuits aided by Prance. Godfrey was feared by the Jesuits because he knew, through Oates, that on the 24th of April 1678 a Jesuit congregation had met at the residence of the duke of York to concert plans for the king's murder. He concludes thus: " The success of Godfrey's murder as a political move is indubitable. The duke of York was the pivot of the Roman Catholic scheme in England, and , Godfrey's death saved both from utter ruin." On the other hand Mr Alfred Marks in his Who killed Sir E. B. Godfrey? (1905) maintains that suicide was the cause of Godfrey's death. See the article OATES, TITUS, also R. Tuke, Memoirs of the Life and Death of Sir Edmondbury Godfrey (London, 1682); and G. Burnet, History of my Own Time; The Reign of Charles II., edited by 0. Airy (Oxford, 1900).
End of Article: SIR EDMUND BERRY GODFREY (1621-1678)
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