Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dugdale, Stephen

DUGDALE, STEPHEN (1640?–1683), informer, came first into public notice as a 'discoverer' of the so-called Popish plot. He had been converted to Romanism by one Knight, a priest, in 1657 or 1658, being at that date about eighteen years of age. Owing to Knight's infirmities Dugdale was transferred to Francis Evers, a Jesuit, in Staffordshire. He ingratiated himself into the confidence of various priests, and professed to become acquainted with plots debated at private meetings, and to have seen numerous letters. At first these were chiefly concerning money and weapons, 'that they should be in readiness with all necessaries when the king should die, to assist the duke against the protestants' (Information of 30 Oct. 1680, p. 2). In 1677 Dugdale was steward to Lord Aston at Tixall, Staffordshire, where he cheated the workmen of their wages, and was regarded as 'the wickedest man that ever lived on the face of the earth' (Sambridge's testimony at Lord Stafford's trial). In July or August letters arrived connected with the plot. The Jesuits and the catholic lords were said to be deeply implicated. Meetings at Tixall followed in August and September 1678; the death of Sir Edmondbury Godfrey was discussed, and money was subscribed lavishly. By September Dugdale found himself about to be dismissed for embezzlement and general misconduct. He thereupon 'made his discovery to the justices of the peace,' when they issued warrants for the apprehension of George Hobson and George North. Although he professed to have broken open letters from Paris to Evers and others, he had little but hearsay evidence, and pretended to have destroyed the most dangerous documents on the eve of his departure. He charged John Tasborough and Mrs. Ann Price with soliciting him to sign a paper of recantation, and offering him 1,000l. reward for it. In the following February these persons were tried at the king's bench, convicted, and sentenced to pay fines respectively of 200l. and 100l. Price had been Dugdale's fellow-servant and sweetheart at Tixall. Afterwards Dugdale led a shifty, vagabond life, giving evidence and writing pamphlets, at first associating chiefly with Bedloe, Oates, and Edward Turberville, but afterwards turning against Stephen College [q. v.] and confronting Oates. He gave evidence against the 'five popish lords' in October 1678. On 24 Dec. 1678 he swore an information before Thomas Lane and J. Vernon in Staffordshire. At the trial of the five Jesuits (13 June 1679, &c.) Dugdale charged two of them with consulting to bring about the assassination of Charles II. He charged Whitebread with writing a letter providing for the entertainment of 'good stout fellows,' viz. the four Irish 'ruffians' who were reported to be hired for the regicide. Next day, 14 June, at the trial of Richard Langhorn the barrister, Dugdale was a chief witness for the prosecution. Again, at the trial of Sir George Wakeman, 18 July, &c., Dugdale swore 'general evidence;' but he was already falling into discredit, and an acquittal followed. He swore, on the second day of Lord Stafford's trial, 1 Dec. 1680, that the accused had been present at the 'consults' at Tixall in September 1628, and also at Abnett's house in Stafford, where talk had been about slaying the king, and that on the 20th or 21st Stafford offered him 500l. to commit the crime. The prolonged dispute at the trial was chiefly concerning dates. But it came to light that Dugdale had tried to bribe sundry persons to give false evidence against Stafford and other persons. On the last day of the trial, while the votes were being taken, Dugdale walked about very melancholy. William Smith, late schoolmaster of Islington (who had educated Oates), asked him the reason. He replied, 'I believe he'll be 'quitted, and I am undone; but let what will come out I am ruined.' He was understood to be willing to appear against Shaftesbury, and gave evidence against Stephen College at the Old Bailey, when a verdict of Ignoramus was returned, 8 July 1681. Again on the 17th, at the Oxford trial of the same man, Dugdale swore against him, and thus came into direct conflict with his old associates. Luttrell writes that Dugdale and his fellows 'have quite lost their credit,' both with the court party and the fanatics. In October Dugdale vainly complained to the council of Dr. Lower, who stated that he had treated him for an infamous disease, Dugdale having sworn at College's trial that his previous illness had been caused solely by the Romanists having tried to poison him. Lower and the apothecary proved the case, and the council dismissed the false witness 'not to trouble them any more.' Dugdale then caused Captain Clinton to be apprehended, 28 Dec. 1681, for defaming him, but the council set Clinton at liberty on bail. Dugdale had fallen into a state of abject terror, fancying that a stranger whom he met at the Three Tuns, a Charing Cross tavern, was Viscount Stafford or his ghost come back, and continued so terrified with the apprehension that he was very uneasy and went away. That both Edward Turberville and Dugdale gave way to drink, and in their delirium tremens imagined spectres and died miserably, was reported to Secretary Jenkins (Intrigues of the Popish Plot laid open, pp. 25, 26, 1685). Dugdale died a day or two before 26 March 1682-3 (Luttrell, i. 253).

[Proceedings against the Five Popish Lords for High Treason, 25 Oct. 1678; Trial of Thomas Whitebread, Harcourt, Gawen, Fenwick, and Turner, 1679; Trial of Richard Langhorn, esq., at the Old Bailey, for High Treason, 1679; Trial of Sir George Wakeman, 18 July 1679, &c.; Trial of William, Viscount Stafford, 1680-1; The Information of Stephen Dugdale, gent., delivered at the Bar of the House of Commons, 1 Nov. 1680; The Further Information of S. Dugdale, delivered at the Bar of the House of Commons, 24 Nov. 1680; A Narrative of Unheard-of Popish Cruelties towards Protestants beyond Seas; or a New Account of the Bloody Spanish Inquisition, published as a Caveat to Protestants. By Mr. Dugdale, 1680, and dedicated to James, duke of Monmouth, by Richard Dugdale [q. v.], trading on the name of Stephen to circulate this catchpenny compilation, referring to the Tasborough Trial, p. 20, and Stephen Dugdale's fear of the Inquisition; No Faith or Credit to be given to Papists, with Reflections on the Perjury of Will. Visc. Stafford, in relation to Mr. Stephen Dugdale, by John Smith, gentleman, discoverer of the Popish Plot, 1681 (depositions of ten obscure witnesses who swore afterwards that they had seen Stafford in conversation with Dugdale); The Trial and Conviction of John Tasborough and Ann Price for Subornation of Perjury, in endeavouring to persuade Mr. Dugdale to retract, &c., February 1680; TheTrial of Stephen College at Oxford, 17 Aug. 1681 (here Dugdale swore that College spoke treasonable words against the king at Oxford); Cobbett's State Trials, vii. Nos. 251, 252, 253, 260, 271, viii. No. 281 (Stephen College); North's Examen, 1740; Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation, vol. i. 1857; Ballad Society's Bagford Ballads, 1876-1878, p. 676, &c.; Roxburghe Ballads, 1883, iv. 121 et seq.; Sir John Reresby's Memoirs, 1875, pp. 147, 194.]

J. W. E.