First of all, may I start by sweeping Lady Kell an appropriately deep curtsey. Thank you for hosting me!
Today I thought we’d talk a bit about manipulation – and how susceptible we all are to being manipulated. Not exactly breaking news, I know. Back in the very good old days, Alexander the Great’s equally great (if somewhat less handsome and definitely much more unpolished) father, Philip of Macedonia, had already established his manipulative tactics; divide and conquer. This works very well for an emperor / king/ dictator surrounded by ambitious individuals who slaver at the mouth the closer they get to the intoxicating scent of ultimate power. It works less well with sycophants, as chances are all that dividing and conquering will result in an extremely ineptly run empire/kingdom – which of course mostly reflects on the emperor/king himself.
Several centuries later, Niccolo Machiavelli was to write the ultimate handbook of manipulation, The Prince. This is actually a little gem of a book, showing great insight into what makes most of us tick and tock. What comes across quite clearly is that most of us want to be manipulated, told what to believe. The masses prefer not to think – at least not too hard – which was why those ancient Roman Emperors were spot on with their “Bread and Games” policy. Keep people fed and entertained, and most of them will do as you want them to do.
The examples proving the above line themselves up in an interminable line. Hitler tapped into the same oratory, as did the leaders of The French revolution (Games here being replaced with Executions). However, as Serpents in the Garden is not set in 18th century France or 20th century Germany, I would instead like to turn your attention to London in the late 17th century – and a rather unappealing man called Titus Oates.
Let’s make some things clear here; I do not like Titus. The world would have been a better place without him, so it is a pity he didn’t die at birth or was carried off by the whopping cough before he was two. Not to be, sadly. Also, whatever manipulative lies Titus told, they were only believed because people wanted to believe them. People craved his lies, his simplistic view on life. Had someone in authority challenged Titus, torn the can of gigantic fibs he presented as truths wide open, Titus would have been out on his ear so fast no one today would remember his name. Unfortunately, the people with authority rubbed their hands with glee at Titus’ fabrications – just what they needed to further destabilise the political situation.
England at the time was seething with religious unrest – not an uncommon state of affairs during the 17th century. However, in the late 1670’s, things were rapidly coming to a head between the fanatic anti-Catholics and the somewhat more tolerant. The king, Charles II, had no son to take over – at least no legitimate sons – and so the heir to the throne was the Catholic Duke of York. Brrr. A shiver coursed through the limbs of the very Protestant Parliament.
How convenient then, that Titus should pop up and fan the flames of anti-popery even higher by declaring he had proof of a plot to kill Charles II, a terrible, terrible plot which, among others, implicated the king’s Catholic queen. Charles, to his credit, laughed and declared Titus a fraud. Parliament did not. They skipped with joy, clapping their hands at this most fortunate turn of events.
While the king did not believe Titus’ lies, he was somewhat constrained in what he could do to defend the poor Catholics who were now rounded up and accused of one terrible crime after the other. To appear too sympathetic to Catholics could be dangerous for the king, and he had no intention of ending up like his father did – beheaded, to a large extent due to religious issues.
Over a period of xx months, Titus’ unsubstantiated accusations lead to over 15 people being executed – all of them Catholic. The political powers had achieved what they wanted; a headless Catholic party. When Titus was no longer of any use, he was accused of sedition and thrown in jail – a very different existence to that he led some months back, when he had rooms at Whitehall palace and was wined and dined by the peers of the realm.
When Charles II died, the former Duke of York became king as James II. He had scores to settle with dear old Titus, and so Oates was pilloried, he was brutally whipped – but survived. Three years later, James II was history, replaced by the very Protestant William & Mary. Titus Oates was released from prison and given a generous pension for the rest of his life. I guess the powers that were felt they owed their pet liar for having rid the realm of all those dangerous – and innocent – papists.
Anna Belfrage is the author of The Graham Saga – so far five of the total eight books have been published. Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, The Graham Saga tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.