Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fuller, William (1670-1717?)

FULLER, WILLIAM (1670–1717?), impostor, was born on 20 Sept. 1670 at Milton, Kent. By his own account he was son of Robert Fuller, son of Dr. Thomas Fuller, by the eldest daughter of the Hon. Charles Herbert of Montgomeryshire. His enemies declared that his mother was the dissolute daughter of a farmer named Sandys, and thought him very like his so-called guardian, Cornelius Harflet. In any case Fuller was apparently able to rely on the support of Charles Herbert, his alleged uncle, whose family had a seat at his birthplace. He was sent to school at Maidstone and Canterbury, and his putative father, Robert Fuller, having died when he was six months old, he was apprenticed in 1686 by Harflet to a rabbit furrier in London. From this position he was removed by William Herbert, first marquis of Powis, in May 1688, and shortly afterwards became page to the Countess of Melfort. James II's queen, Mary of Modena, noticed him, took him with her to France in December, and used him as emissary on several journeys to Ireland and England. He was at last recognised in London by a nephew of Harflet, and was placed in the charge of Tillotson, then dean of St. Paul's. In eight weeks Tillotson convinced him, as he alleged, of his political and religious errors. He thereupon disclosed all he knew to the Earl of Shrewsbury, and was formally thanked by William III, in whose presence Fuller cut open the buttons of his coat, and disclosed the letters he was carrying to various Jacobites. He continued to carry Jacobite letters, which he betrayed to the government, till exposed by his betrayal of another messenger, Matthew Crone. Crone's trial and conviction were delayed three weeks in consequence of an alleged attempt to poison Fuller, the principal witness, which kept him too ill to appear in court. Fuller followed William III to Ireland and to the Hague, living sumptuously on borrowed money and by the wages of his treachery. On returning to London he was arrested by angry creditors, and thrown into sponging-houses. Titus Oates assigned him lodgings in his house in Ax Yard, Westminster. Fuller neglected to pay the stipulated rent, or to repay loans from Oates, who at length put the law in motion. He was prevented from following the king to Holland in May 1691 by the marshal of the King's Bench, but shortly afterwards he escaped and crossed to Rotterdam. He stayed some weeks abroad, assumed various titles, and spent money lent by his dupes, or raised by forged bills, in luxurious living. When he returned to London he was at once arrested for debt, and wrote from prison to Tillotson and Lord Portland professing that he was able to disclose a plot against the throne. No notice being taken, Fuller addressed the House of Commons to the same effect, alleging that he could prove a Jacobite conspiracy against Halifax and other prominent noblemen. He stated at the bar of the house that he relied on the evidence of two witnesses named Delaval and Hayes. He received passports from the house and a blank safe-conduct from the king to bring these men from abroad; but on the day when he was to produce them he sent a message that he was too ill to attend. A committee was appointed to visit his bedside, when Fuller gave the London addresses of his witnesses. They could not be found, and on 24 Feb. 1692 the house resolved that Fuller was an impostor, cheat, and false accuser, and recommended that he should be put on his trial. His story had been so far believed that in December 1691 he had been granted an allowance of 30s. a day from the crown, and in January 20l. by the House of Commons. His trial took place on 21 Nov. 1692; he was convicted and sentenced to stand in the pillory at Westminster and the Exchange, and to be imprisoned till he should pay two hundred marks to the king. Fuller remained in prison till June 1695, when he was released by the influence of Charles Herbert, who made him an allowance. Fuller formed a new intimacy with Oates, and published ‘A Brief Discovery of the True Mother of the Prince of Wales,’ 1696. Fuller repeated the old story, and declared that as a page in St. James's Palace he had witnessed on 10 June 1688 the transference of a warming pan from the chamber of a pregnant lady, Mary Grey, to that of the queen, and that this warming-pan contained the child of Mary Grey. The revived story met some belief, and Fuller quickly followed up his success with ‘A Further Confirmation that Mary Grey was the true Mother,’ &c., 1696, and ‘Mr. William Fuller's Third Narrative containing new matters of Fact, proving the pretended Prince of Wales to be a grand Cheat upon the Nation, with an Answer to some Reflections cast upon him,’ 1696. Fuller sent copies of his book to the king and leading statesmen. His petition to the House of Commons to be allowed to prove that the Prince of Wales was an impostor was received with contempt. After a fresh imprisonment for debt, he made an expedition into Hampshire, pretending to be on the track of fugitive Jacobites. In Southampton he again tried to raise loans by fraud, and remained there a year in prison. He made an unsuccessful journey to Flanders, and published ‘A Trip to Hampshire and Flanders, discovering the vile Intrigues of the Priests and Jesuits, and the Practice of Englad's [sic] Bosom Enemies’ (1701). Fuller had been disappointed at being cut off in Charles Herbert's will ‘with mourning and a shilling’ in favour of his own half-sister, who received the bulk of his fortune. This sister, who had been Fuller's partner in at least one of his earlier frauds, allowed him 3l. a week, which Luttrell says (Diary, iv. 261) he supplemented by marrying a widow with 1,500l. In 1701 he published ‘The Life of William Fuller, gent., being a full and true Account of his Birth, Education, Employs and Intrigues, both of Publick and Private Concerns; his Reconciliation to the Church of England, and the occasion of his coming into service with the present Government.’ In the same year he once more revived his story of Prince James's illegitimacy in ‘Twenty-six Depositions of Persons of Quality and Worth, with letters of the late Queen … and others by Mrs. Mary Grey, proving the whole management of the supposititious Birth of the Prince of Wales, and that Mrs. Grey was barbarously murdered.’ The book contained a series of letters signed by Mary of Modena, and by persons about her court. Fuller presented a copy of his book to the king in person, and was for some time a hanger-on of the court. He then further published ‘Original Letters of the late King James,’ implicating many leading men in Jacobite plots. The new parliament on meeting (30 Dec. 1701) ordered him to prove his statements. On his failure to produce an imaginary ‘Jones,’ the House of Lords voted, on 19 Jan. 1702, that Fuller's last two books were false and malicious, and ordered that he should be imprisoned in the Fleet till formally prosecuted by the attorney-general. He was tried in May at the Guildhall, convicted of misdemeanor, and sentenced to go to all the courts in Westminster with a paper pinned on his hat, describing his crime, to stand three times in the pillory, to be sent to Bridewell, and there be whipped, and afterwards to be kept at hard labour till the second day of the following term, and be fined one thousand marks. The sentence was duly carried out, the treatment he received in the pillory at the hands of the mob being especially severe (ib. v. 189), and affording him material for ‘Mr. William Fuller's Trip to Bridewell, with a full Account of his barbarous usage in the Pillory’ (1703). Not being able to pay his fines, Fuller remained in prison. He published from the Queen's Bench prison in 1703 a further autobiography, containing the story of his life, and representing himself as the tool of Oates, Tutchin (whom he attacked in a separate pamphlet), and others who had really written his books. In the following year appeared ‘The Sincere and Hearty Confession of Mr. W. Fuller, … written by himself during his Confinement in the Queen's Bench,’ admitting his fraud and avowing repentance. Twelve years later Fuller, still in prison, issued ‘An Humble Appeal to the Impartial Judgment of all Parties in Great Britain,’ in which he maintained that he knew nothing of his alleged confession till he saw it in print, and that he had refused his liberty and large sums rather than retract his statements. He had, he said, at once answered the ‘Confession’ in ‘The Truth at Last,’ but it is significant that alone among Fuller's works this last has no date affixed. The ‘Confession’ is at least a good imitation of Fuller, and he probably wrote it in hope of a pardon; he admitted as much in a letter addressed to the Earl of Nottingham 11 July 1704 (Addit. MS. 29589, f. 429). In his ‘Humble Appeal,’ which he republished in 1717 as ‘The Truth brought to Light,’ he states that he had been introduced to Queen Anne, who believed his story, obtained him some liberty, and supplied him with money. The Earl of Oxford, however, at whose suggestion he had been brought before parliament in 1701, on becoming lord treasurer directed that he should be kept a close prisoner, and his supplies be stopped. He probably died in prison. A large number of Fuller's letters are preserved in the Ellis correspondence in the British Museum.

[The chief authority for Fuller's life consists in his very detailed autobiographical remains. These must be necessarily received with caution, but they are, at any rate, fairly consistent with one another, and better supported by external evidence than the extravagant Lives in which he was attacked. Of these the most important are Life of William Fuller, the late Pretended Evidence, 1692, by Abel Roper; Life of William Fuller alias Fullee, alias Ellison, &c., 1701, and Fuller once more Fullerised, 1701. Of the many occasional publications in which Fuller was held up to ridicule, interest attaches only to The Scribbler's Doom, or the Pillory in Fashion, being a new Dialogue between two Loophole Sufferers, William Fuller and De Fooe (sic), 1703. A woodcut portrait of Fuller at page 32 is prefixed to several of his publications. See also Luttrell's Diary (ed. 1857), ii. 312, 333, 344, 370, 381, 541, 613, 621, 626, iv. 125, 261, 291, v. 108, 109, 126–7, 129, 132–3, 140–1, 176, 189; Macaulay's Hist. of England; Addit. MSS. 28880, ff. 278, 325, 334, 336, 28886 passim, 28892, f. 77, 28893, ff. 80, 107.]

A. V.