The Gerards (or Gerrards or Garret) are an old landed family. They had Staffordshire scions. Members of the Gerard family held Tittensor Hall in the 15th and 16th centuries. One of their famous sons was Gilbert Gerard. Born in Tittensor, Gilbert died in 1593 and is buried in Ashley. He and his immediate family may be seen today depicted on his outstanding tomb.
Sir Gilbert Gerard, knighted in 1579, had a national profile and held high offices. He became Attorney General in 1559, and Master of the Rolls in 1581. He was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Great Seal in 1591. In approximately 1575 Sir Gilbert Gerard built Gerards Bromley Hall. Dr. Robert Plott, in his Natural History of Staffordshire published in Oxford in 1686, described Gerrards Bromley Hall as "the most magnificent structure of all this county". Although the present building is not that described by Dr. Plott, the porch added to it in 1584 was removed and is to be found today in the grounds of Batchacre Hall.
Sir Gilbert Gerard also acquired land in Hilderstone.
Sir Gilbert Gerard had a son Thomas. The second son of Thomas Gerard of Gerrards Bromley Hall was John Gerard. John Gerard lived in Hilderstone and is recorded as doing so in 1643. John Gerard's son, Richard Gerard, was born in Hilderstone. He was to become of national note because of the activities of Titus Oates.
The Gerards were known for their Roman Catholic sympathies and were considered recusants. Philip Gerard was born in Hilderstone on 1 December 1665. He became a Jesuit priest and on 17 April 1707 inherited his family's barony and became the Lord Gerard of Bromley. As a result of a dispute with the Duke of Hamilton, who then owned the Sandon estates, he left England. Philip Gerard died abroad on 4 May 1733. The barony of the Gerards of Gerrards Bromley came to an end on his death.
The Popish Plot
Titus Oates was born in Rutland in 1649. He had an interesting history of religious allegiances. His father was a Baptist preacher. Expelled from Merchant Taylors School in 1665, and leaving Cambridge without a degree he was ordained into the Church of England. Whilst a curate in Hastings, in 1674, was imprisoned for perjury involving tales about a local schoolmaster. Despite this he became the chaplain to the Protestants in the household of the 6th Earl of Norfolk, who was a Roman Catholic. Titus Oates became friendly with Israel Tonge, who was a fanatical anti-Jesuit. Tonge persuaded Titus Oates to betray Catholics to the Government.
Titus Oates embarked on finding out more about Catholics and their activities by joining the Catholic Church, which he did in 1677. His Roman Catholic religious education too was not a success and he was thrown out of seminaries in Valladolid (in Spain) and Saint Omar (in France). He returned to England in 1678. Together with Israel Tonge he manufactured what is now known as "the Popish Plot".
The Popish Plot was what Oates and Tonge claimed was an agreement reached by Jesuits at the White Horse Tavern in Fleet Street to assassinate King Charles II. The intention was said to be to replace King Charles on the English throne with his brother, James Duke of York, who was a Roman Catholic and would be sympathetic to the Jesuits. As part of Oates' and Tonge's scheme Oates made a deposition setting out his allegations to Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, who was well known as a Justice of the Peace, on 28 September 1678. In October 1678 Godfrey was murdered. This appeared to add credibility to the Popish Plot and caused great alarm. It is now thought that Oates may himself have organised the killing of Sir Edmund.
A wave of terror swept through London. Titus Oates was hailed as a hero for bringing the Plot to light. In the frenzy, which arose following Oates' allegations, 35 people were executed. At the suggestion of the Earl of Stafford and Richard Gerard became involved in a trial relating to the alleged Plot. As a result, on 19 May 1679, Richard Gerard was himself committed to Newdegate prison for conspiracy. He died there on 11 March 1680 of gaol fever.
In due course inconsistencies in Oates' story came to light. Oates was called to the Privy Council and was questioned by King Charles as to his story. King Charles was not convinced by Oates' claims and in due course the Duke of York persuaded a court to order Oates to pay him £100,000 in damages for defamation. King Charles described the plot to his brother as "better than a play".
After the Duke of York came to the throne as King James II in 1685, Titus Oates was tried for treason. Oates was found guilty of perjury, was flogged, sentenced to be pilloried annually, and imprisoned for life. His unmasking was too late to benefit Richard Gerard.
King James was deposed in 1688. In 1689 Titus Oates was pardoned and set free. He was granted an allowance of £500 to pay his debts and an annuity of £300. Later he married a rich widow. He joined the Wapping Baptists in 1693 and was a frequent preacher. The Baptists expelled Oates in 1701 describing his as "a disorderly person and a hypocrite". He died in obscurity in July 1705.
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