Titus Oates was born in Oakham into a family of Baptist clergyman. He was educated in Caius College, Cambridge and became an Anglican minister but was dismissed due to "drunken blasphemy" and allegations of sodomy.
In 1677 he got himself appointed as a chaplain of the ship Adventurer in the English navy. He was soon caught and accused of buggery and spared only because of his clergyman's status. Sodomy was a capital offence in those days. He fled and temporarily joined the Jesuits.
Oates was involved with the Jesuit houses of Valladodi and St. Omer. Later he claimed that he had pretended to become a Catholic to learn about the secrets of the Jesuits. Before he left, he heard about a planned Jesuit meeting in London. He later claimed that he had become a Catholic doctor of Divinity. When he returned to London he befriended the rabid anti-Catholic clergyman Israel Tonge.
In August 1678 an acquaintance of the king Charles II, Christopher Kirkby, warned the king about a plot to assassinate him. It did not surface. Later, Israel Tonge approached the king and claimed he was aware of a complex plot including the Jesuits, the English Catholics and King Louis XIV of France. The King was not impressed but made the mistake of handing the matter over to the anti-Catholic Earl of Danby, who was more willing to listen. Tonge introduced him to Oates.
On September 6, 1678 Oates and Tonge approached Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, an Anglican magistrate. Oates claimed that he had a proof of a Catholic plot to assassinate the King and replace him with his Catholic brother James, the Duke of York (future James II). Then all the leading Protestants would be killed.
The King's council interrogated Oates. On September 28 he made 43 allegations against various members of Catholic monastic orders - including 541 Jesuits - and numerous Catholic nobles. He accused Sir George Wakeman, the queen's physician, and Edward Coleman, the secretary to the Duchess of York, of planning to assassinate the king. Although he probably selected the names randomly or with the help of the Earl of Danby, Coleman was found to have corresponded with a French Jesuit, which condemned him. Wakeman was later acquitted.
Oates was given a squad of soldiers and he begun to round up Jesuits, including those who had helped him in the past. He arrested maybe 80 people in total.
The lord chief justice, Sir William Scroggs, began a trial against the "Popish Plot". Edward Coleman was sentenced to death on December 3, 1678 for treason and was hanged to unconsciousness, castrated, disembowelled, quartered, and beheaded in succession.
On October 12, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey disappeared for five days and then was found dead in Primrose Hill. He had been strangled and his sword had been driven through his body. Oates exploited this incident to launch a public campaign against the Papists and spread a rumor that the murder had been the work of the Jesuits. King Charles heard about the unrest, returned to London and summoned Parliament.
King Charles still did not believe in Titus's accusations. However, Parliament and public opinion forced him to order an investigation. Charles's opponents, who disliked his "Catholic" court and his Catholic wife Catherine of Braganza, exploited the situation. One of the most prominent was Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury.
Hysteria continued. Noblewomen carried firearms if they had to venture outdoors at night. Houses were searched for hidden guns - mostly without any significant result. Some Catholic widows tried to ensure their safety by marrying Anglican widowers. The House of Commons was searched - without result - in case of another Gunpowder Plot.
Oates became more daring and accused five Catholic lords (including those of Arundel and Bellasys) for involvement of the plot. The King reputedly laughed at the accusations but the Earl of Shaftesbury had the lords arrested and sent to the Tower. Then Shaftesbury publicly demanded that the King's brother James should be excluded from the royal succession. On November 5, 1678, people burned effigies of the Pope instead of those of Guy Fawkes. At the end of the year the parliament issued a bill, a second Test Act, that excluded Catholics from both Houses.
On November 24, Oates claimed that the Queen was working with the King's physician to poison him and enlisted the aid of "Captain" William Bedloe who was ready to claim anything he was paid for. The King interrogated Oates and caught him out in a number of inaccuracies and lies. He ordered Oates to be arrested but Parliament forced him to release Oates a couple of days later with the threat of constitutional crisis.
Any people even suspected of being Catholic were driven out of London and forbidden to return within ten miles of the city. Silk armour was produced for fashionable ladies and gentlemen. There was also a playing card set with key figures of the scandal as face cards.
Oates, in turn, received a state apartment in Whitehall and an annual allowance of £1,200. He was not ready to stop, however, and soon presented new allegations. He claimed that assassins intended to shoot the king with silver bullets so the wound would not heal. The public invented its own stories, including a tale of sounds of digging near the House of Commons and rumours of a French invasion in the Isle of Purbeck. The "purge" spread to the countryside.
Oates was heaped with praise. He asked the College of Arms to check his lineage and produce a coat of arms for him. They gave him the arms of a family that had died out. There were even rumours that Oates was to be married to one of the Earl of Shaftesbury's daughters.
However, public opinion begun to turn against Oates. Judge Scroggs began to declare people innocent - after he had had at least 15 probably innocent men executed. The last one was Oliver Plunkett, the archbishop of Armargh, who was executed on July 1, 1681. The King began to plot countermeasures.
On August 31, 1681 Oates was told to leave his apartments in Whitehall. Oates was undeterred and denounced the King, the Duke of York and just about anyone he regarded as an opponent. He was arrested for sedition, sentenced to a fine of £100,000 and thrown into prison.
When James II acceded to the throne, he had a score to settle. He had Oates retried and sentenced for perjury to annual pillory, loss of his priestly habit and imprisoned for life. Oates was taken out of his cell wearing a hat with the text "Titus Oates, convicted upon full evidence of two horrid perjuries". Oates was put into the pillory at the gate of Westminster Hall and passers-by pelted him with eggs. He was pilloried in London the next day and a third day stripped, tied to a cart and whipped from Aldgate to Newgate. The next day, the whipping resumed.
Oates spent the next three years in prison. At the accession of William of Orange and Mary in 1688 he was pardoned and granted a pension of £5 a week but his reputation did not significantly recover. The pension was suspended after accession of Queen Mary but in 1698 was restored and increased to £300 a year. Titus Oates died on July 12-13, 1705.