Godfrey, Sir Edmund Berry (1621–1678), magistrate
by Alan Marshall

Godfrey, Sir Edmund Berry (1621–1678), magistrate, was born in Sellinge, Kent, on 23 December 1621 to Thomas Godfrey (1585–1664), MP and magistrate, and Sarah, daughter of Thomas Isles of Leeds, one of the procurators of the arches, who had relocated to London from Yorkshire. He was the fifth son of his father's second marriage, which produced eighteen children; his mother outlived him. The Godfreys were a fairly typical Kentish gentry family, although following the death of Edmund Godfrey some questions were raised about the mental health of his father. There seems little to suggest any problems in the ‘domestic chronicle’ that Thomas Godfrey kept until the 1650s, but it is known that Thomas's own father's mind had decayed in old age.

Early years

Edmund Berry Godfrey was baptized in the established church on 13 January 1622. His peculiar name, which was to cause such problems for writers after his death, was the result of his father's combining the names of his godfathers—Captain John Berrie, a cousin and soldier in a foot company at Lydd, and a former neighbour and a friend of his father's, Edmund Harrison. Three names were relatively uncommon in the period and it seems that Edmund Godfrey himself always eschewed the full use of them for he commonly signed his name ‘Edmund Godfrey’ and rarely ‘Edmund Berry Godfrey’ and never ‘Edmundsbury Godfrey’, as some of his early biographers would have it. He was educated at Westminster School and in November 1638 went up to Christ Church, Oxford. By the age of seventeen he had proved himself ‘diligent and industrious’ (Tuke, 8–9). He had also begun to develop loyalist sympathies and made a contribution to a volume of verses written to congratulate Charles I on the birth of his daughter Anne in 1637. Little else is known of Godfrey at university. It is not clear if he took his degree, but there is no evidence to prove that he left Oxford either disappointed or in disgrace. On leaving the university he travelled on the continent to complete his education. In the mythology created after Godfrey's death much was made of this tour and it was claimed that, although he kept himself free of immorality and vice while abroad, he did associate with Catholics and had Catholic friends. It was also claimed that he was true to the protestant religion. There seems no reason to doubt this assertion, although Godfrey's opinions on Roman Catholicism were certainly more liberal than those of most of his class.

After returning to England in 1640 Godfrey entered Gray's Inn, where he apparently stayed long enough to arrive at that ‘mature proficiency as gave him a good title’ to the lawyer's garb (Tuke, 8). Unfortunately he was forced to abandon his legal studies at this point because of ill health and increasing deafness. How serious the latter was remains open to doubt. It is possible that it was an excuse for a more critical breakdown in his personal life. Although an early biographer claimed that Godfrey's deafness ‘though not very great was always natural to him’, the ailment may have been sufficiently serious for him to consult the Irish healer Valentine Greatrakes in the 1660s (ibid.). In the 1640s Godfrey evidently thought his ‘deafness’ precluded all thought of a career at the bar and he left Gray's Inn without assuming a ‘graduates robe’. If he was troubled by deafness it could perhaps account for some of his character traits. He became a rather strait-laced and melancholy young man who favoured solitariness over any company. In later life some began to think his disposition odd, if not downright peculiar, and his appearance was memorably described by Roger North as ‘black, hard favoured, tall, stooping … and … commonly wiping his mouth and looking [up]on the ground’ (North, 199). For whatever reason, Godfrey moved from his youth into maturity to become a very grave and somewhat querulous individual.

Godfrey's eccentricities certainly became more pronounced as he grew older and more set in his ways. It was alleged that he found crowds very irksome, as well he might if his hearing was impaired, and his association with men who were socially beneath him shocked many of his acquaintances. It was said that he was often seen playing bowls in the company of footmen and ‘ordinary’ folk. All of this savoured of a man who had become careless of the normal social conventions of the day. He also remained unmarried. Indeed, one of his early biographers, desperately attempting to make him into a martyr, believed Godfrey to have been completely celibate. Godfrey's sexual life, however, remains obscure. With the legal world closed to him, apparently for good, Godfrey, who still had some ‘unhealthiness in his body’ retired to the countryside to rethink his future (Tuke, 9).

Businessman

One of the few traces of Godfrey in the 1640s concerns a legal dispute over some land in Stevenage in 1647. In 1650 he took up the trade of woodmonger and coal merchant in London, entering into a partnership with James Harrison. The latter was a relative of his father's friend and, armed with an estate of some £1000 per annum, both men were able to invest in a yard near Dowgate in the City. With Harrison's retirement from the business Godfrey evidently saw better opportunities in the city of Westminster than the City of London, where indeed there was less competition in his new trade, and in 1659 he moved his business into the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Godfrey made his first home in Westminster at Greenes Lane, part of Hartshorne Lane, where he rented a house, yard, and wharf. His home was still standing in 1848 when it had, ironically enough considering its former owner's eventual fate, been turned into a police station. In the 1660s Godfrey was elected as master of the Woodmongers Company. He had proved to be a shrewd man of business. In January 1667, as master of the company, he came before Commons committee touching coals and fuels and was found guilty, with others, of selling overpriced coal to the poor. Most critics doubly damned him because, as his business lay in Westminster, it was thought that he had suffered little loss in the great fire of 1666. Godfrey certainly proved reluctant to allow debts to grow too high and this led him into frequent forays into chancery in order to recover his moneys. However, his attempts to have the king's physician, Sir Alexander Fraser, arrested for debt in 1669 backfired on him in a spectacular fashion. Fraser complained to the king and Godfrey ended up in custody for seven days as a result. This incident also added to his by now well-known arrogance—on a visit to France in 1668 such an attitude had apparently taken him close to being whipped.

Other vexed family relationships in this period included those with his nephew Godfrey Harrison, who had been brought into the business as his assistant in 1667 when Godfrey was spending some of his time in dealing with local politics. Godfrey had been nominated as alderman in Farrington ward in 1664, but was discharged on claiming an infirmity of body and fined as a result. In 1666 he was nominated again, but was not elected. He also staved off his election as sheriff. In the course of all of this Godfrey left Harrison, who was unused to the responsibility, to control the business and it went into a severe decline. Harrison's part in his uncle's affairs thus ended in bad feeling. By January 1671 an ‘unnatural kindness’ existed between the pair. Godfrey went on to note that he hoped ‘God will turn his heart & forgive him’ (NL Ire., MS 4728, fol. 24) Numerous cases in chancery were launched against the nephew by the uncle, but came to naught. Godfrey lost some £4000 in the process and struggled to regain his business; he subsequently remained very bitter over the affair.

Godfrey had also engaged in a number of land deals since the 1650s to tide him over inevitable bad patches in his trade. In November 1657 he had purchased the leases, and inherited others, from one of the Isles's old properties in Stanwell. They were promptly rented out to tenants. He bought The Swan inn in Fulham as well as lands around it. In 1674–6 he also purchased the lease to some freehold houses in Blue Cross Street and there were deals in property around Brewer's Yard. On a wider scale the Godfrey business was engaged in a number of land transactions with his friend Greatrakes in Ireland. Godfrey's connections also ranged out to businessmen in Bristol and Dublin, while both he and Greatrakes were to invest in a rather dubious salt works on the Medway owned by Sir William Smith. This latter deal came unstuck in 1667 when the Dutch burned the works to the ground during their raid on the nearby naval base.

Entry into local politics

In local politics Godfrey made his first appearance at the vestry of St Martin-in-the-Fields in January 1660 and thereafter was regularly involved in its business. In general his main interest in parish affairs was the problem of poverty. He sought to alleviate this through contributions to charity or poor relief, yet he also had a reputation for great severity against vagabonds and criminals in general and this was often resented. His interest in the problem of the poor led to his support for the building of a new workhouse in the parish in 1664–5. In October 1660 he became a magistrate on the Westminster and Middlesex commission of the peace and gained the reputation of a useful and active justice with a strong sense of duty. His work as a justice was not all straightforward. During the plague year of 1665 his influence in the parish and in London came to its height. Alongside his colleagues he ran the government of the area in the absence of most other authorities. According to Godfrey himself at least the ‘people seem[ed well] satisfied with their government’ (CSP dom., 1665–6, 107). His actions as a magistrate were often severe, but he survived with an increased reputation. His subsequent reaction to the great fire left him as a notable figure at court and in Restoration London; as a result he was well rewarded for his pains with a knighthood and £200 of silver plate, but rather than being pleased he again revealed his stubborn nature by claiming that he sought no reward and went so far as initially to refuse the honour.

In spite of his peculiarities Godfrey was known as a very ‘busy’ man who seemed to have little fear of the criminals that he came into contact with. Nor does he seem to have lacked courage when it came to exercising his office. He was first assaulted during the 1660s: caught in an alley by an old enemy, Godfrey was threatened with a cudgel and was forced to draw his sword. He managed to fight the man off until his cries for rescue brought assistance. The sense of duty he possessed was thought by some to be almost maniacal in its intensity; in 1665 he was reported as having followed an absconding criminal into a plague house in order to seize the felon. Unfortunately Godfrey also proved on occasions to be reluctant to abandon the role of amateur sleuth. Indeed, he regularly took a lead in such matters, being noted as a man who moved about at odd hours of the night, a solitary figure who peered down alleys and lanes in search of misconduct. He was thought by many to be rather too prone to taking responsibility upon himself and at the same time equally reluctant to give it up once he had taken it. Even more oddly for a public official he was seen as being lenient on dissent. It was soon known that Godfrey was very reluctant to invoke the many penal laws against those of tender conscience. He had many Roman Catholic and dissenting friends, with whom he dealt liberally; indeed, one story asserts that he was willing to bend the law so as not to punish Catholics.

Friendship with Greatrakes

There is little doubt that Godfrey's most important friendship of these years was with Valentine Greatrakes. During Greatrakes's visit to London in 1666, after his local success in Ireland at exercising his healing powers on scrofula, or the king's evil, he struck up a firm friendship with Godfrey, so much so that while in London Greatrakes stayed in Godfrey's house. On Greatrakes's return to Ireland in May 1666 the two men maintained their friendship by a personal correspondence that revealed Godfrey's political beliefs, his faith in Greatrakes's powers, and his attitude towards the religious question. Godfrey evidently saw the correspondence as a chance to show off some of his learning, for he was wont to lapse into Latin tags and foreign phrases. He also gently, and sometimes not so gently, mocked Greatrakes's relationship with his wife. Godfrey, a celibate bachelor of forty-five, appears to have been something of a misogynist at heart, believing, as he put it, that ‘the Devil in Woman had prevail'd on them to Deboachery’ (NL Ire., MS 4728, fol. 3). Greatrakes was obviously someone to whom Godfrey felt he could reveal his close personal feelings. He noted at the receipt of one letter that nothing ‘was more welcome unto me than ever the most kind letter from an amoroso to his Mrs. or su e contra from her to him’ (ibid., fol. 13). Or again, that he regarded Greatrakes's letters as items ‘I keep carefully by me amongst my choicest Reserves’ (ibid., fol. 11). At the same time the correspondence also reveals Godfrey's melancholy nature, a dark side to his character which apparently could not be shaken off. Certainly his eagerness for the personal contact and companionship of Greatrakes is revealing of his mental state in the 1660s and 1670s. He was a lonely man despite his busy life. Indeed, questions about Godfrey's state of mind were raised after his disappearance in October 1678. The more intimate figure which emerges from the correspondence naturally bears little or no real resemblance to the protestant martyr which was to be so heavily projected by whig propaganda in the late 1670s and early 1680s. Instead Godfrey emerges as a man of flesh and blood, deeply religious, somewhat misanthropic, and troubled by his relatives, as much as by his odd personality. This combination of factors even led him to think of retiring to live in Ireland in the company of Greatrakes in the early 1670s. This retirement, continually postponed for one reason or another, never happened.

Court politics

As a businessman involved in the Restoration political world, Godfrey often had close relations with courtiers and politicians at Whitehall such as Gilbert Burnet and Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby, although in his own political life he noted somewhat prophetically that he was a man who ‘If he wo[ul]d be throw paced … might be somebody amongst them [at court.] But … [I have] a foolish & narrow conscience … that spoyles … [me] and all that use it’ (NL Ire., MS 4728, fol. 33). While wary of expressing his opinions too blatantly, Godfrey disliked the vanity of court life and was fearful of division, disorder, and factionalism. The ambition of Louis XIV had been attracting critical comments in Godfrey's circle for some time and he wrote that the end of the visit by Charles II's sister Henrietta Maria in 1670, was, ‘besides Mistresses & Pleasures … to try if she can prevaile with our K[ing] to relinquish the Dutch interests & adhere to the French in his designs in Flanders’ (ibid., fol. 23). In the business community in London both Michael and Benjamin Godfrey, Edmund's brothers, apparently shared this view. These men were part of a group who came to believe that the crown's pro-French policies were damaging to both trade and religion. Godfrey's own fears extended to extremists in religion, whether ‘fanaticks’ or papists. Despite this he was not in favour of persecution of either group and disliked what he saw as the purge of the commission of the peace in order to put the penal laws into effect. Indeed, he had previously expressed some sympathy for the Quakers and their sufferings. The key elements that emerge in Godfrey's thought were those of discipline and good order: in the home, in church, in the street (where poverty was the gravest problem of all for the magistrate), and in politics. With discipline and good order would come, in time, freedom to worship. At the same time his greatest fear was that the court's policies would bring disorder and dissolution into the land. Politically Godfrey remained a man of contradictions, desiring strong government, but no persecution to achieve it. He also had some unusual City and opposition connections. His activities as a merchant, as well as his political beliefs, apparently led him to drift towards those hostile to the earl of Danby, and in 1676–7 his name was for the first time seriously linked with Sir Robert Peyton and his ‘gang’. The term ‘gang’ was in fact a misleading one: it was first used scornfully by Sir John Robinson in a letter to Sir Joseph Williamson, the secretary of state, and has deceived some historians into thinking that it referred to a group of secret plotters; in fact these men can rather be seen as a part of the growing opposition during the 1670s to the policies of Danby and Charles II that made much of the fears that a French alliance would bring popery and the invasion of liberty in its wake. Some of this group were to be excluded from the commission of the peace as a result of their activities in 1675–7 and were subsequently to be associated with the Green Ribbon Club. Godfrey was apparently friendly towards these men and some of their ideas, although he was not removed from the commission of the peace. Godfrey's links with Peyton were soon noted by the regime and cannot have done him much good. Upon hearing of the magistrate's death both Charles II and his brother James, duke of York, who had good reason to be hostile to potential republicans at the best of times, were openly to disparage Godfrey as a ‘fanatique’ (TNA: PRO, PRO 31/3/141, Barillon to Louis XIV, 31 Oct 1678), a sure sign of their belief in his poor choice of company in the 1670s. Godfrey was also connected with Peyton's circle by other wrangles. Had he not died when he did there seems little doubt that he would in time have drifted into full opposition—or perhaps not, for his contradictions were among his most notable characteristics. He had, for example, retained a friendship with a number of Roman Catholics, such as John Grove, who lived in Southwark, and the notorious gossip and self-styled agent of France Edward Coleman. This contradiction doubtless accounts for some of Godfrey's ill-fated moves when faced with the implications of Titus Oates's depositions about a popish plot in the autumn of 1678.

Popish Plot and mysterious death

Godfrey's involvement in the scandal of the Popish Plot began in September 1678 when Israel Tonge, advised by his ‘honourable friends’, took his companion Titus Oates to see Godfrey in his capacity as a magistrate and have some depositions appertaining to a popish plot sworn before him (Tonge, 35). Although at first Godfrey was reluctant to become involved he did take the depositions. Yet in spite of being handed evidence of a supposed popish conspiracy his reaction to the plot was both nervous and indecisive. Although he was never called before the privy council to explain his part in the proceedings with Oates and Tonge there seems little doubt that he subsequently advised Edward Coleman of his dealings with the informers and may have even interfered in the affair to the extent that he was warned off by somebody in authority, who may have been either Danby or the duke of York. Godfrey's ensuing actions are shrouded in mystery. He is said to have told one acquaintance that ‘I shall have little thanks for my pains … I did it very unwillingly and would fain have [had] it done by others’ (North, 200–201). It appears that Godfrey believed that his action or inaction had stirred up a considerable amount of trouble for himself. He had obscured the evidence, or at least decided not to pursue it in as vigorous and public a manner as he should have done. In effect he was dabbling with the crime of misprision of treason and his dealings with Edward Coleman were to lead him into still further dangerous ground.

Godfrey's last week was, if some sources are credited, one of considerable personal disorder that exacerbated his natural melancholy and which may have led to a mental breakdown caused by fear of the consequences of his involvement in the plot. At the least it is clear that he was very unhappy before his disappearance on Saturday 12 October 1678. The last sighting of him on that day was at about three in the afternoon—he was not seen alive again.

Who killed Godfrey?

The reaction of his servants, family, and the town to his disappearance was unusual. As Roger North commented ‘What a matter was it, that a justice of the peace did not dine at home, to raise such a hubbub as this?’ (North, 201). In the week of their brother's disappearance Michael and Benjamin Godfrey in particular were said to have been frequently at the privy council claiming that the magistrate had been killed by the papists and ‘it was in everyone's mouth, Where is Godfrey? … they say he is murdered by the papists’ (ibid.). This belief led to hysteria after the discovery of Godfrey's body near Primrose Hill on Thursday 17 October. He was discovered lying in a ditch with his sword run through him just under his left breast; it came out about 7 or 8 inches out of the right side of his back. His coat was thrown up over his head and his hat and periwig were lying in some nearby bushes. No band or laced cravat was ever found upon him, even though it was claimed that he had been wearing a large laced band on leaving home. Once the body had been searched strangulation marks from a cord or cloth were also found upon the magistrate's neck. The subsequent coroner's inquest was confused, partial, and almost certainly subject to the influence of Godfrey's family. From the available records it seems that the jurors and the coroner of Middlesex, John Cooper, although confused throughout the proceedings, were swayed by the two medical witnesses who examined the body, one of whom had been specifically brought along by Michael, Godfrey's younger brother, and so they brought in a verdict of murder. In the course of this inquest witnesses were also apparently intimidated and, according to some, evidence was suppressed, as the case began to take on political overtones. Titus Oates's revelations of the plot to the privy council earlier in October were now apparently confirmed by the death of Godfrey and there were soon moves afoot to discover his killers. Almost inevitably the blame was laid on the Catholic community. Few paused to ask why they should murder such a liberal magistrate and an apparent friend to themselves as Godfrey. Tension was further raised at the magistrate's unofficial lying-in-state, organized by his family. A large crowd of people went to pay their respects, many of whom went away distressed. This led to fears that an enraged London mob would soon rise and precipitate a massacre of all the Catholics in the city. None the less, although a number of arrests were made of Catholic suspects for their part in the plot, the presumed killers of Godfrey still remained at large. On the other hand the making of Godfrey into a protestant icon—a martyr who had died so that others might live—was a more rapid affair. A thick layer of propaganda soon submerged his true character. Godfrey's image went through a variety of stages, from the actual use of his corpse in public display, in a mass funeral on 31 October 1678, to the use of his image in tableaux and parades, to the production of pamphlet literature containing illustrative and poetic material. These were largely the work of opposition factions who, because of the crisis, were coalescing into a political party that many were soon to label as whig. These set pieces, almost public dramas, over the next few years were designed to push home the Catholic threat to the nation and the fact that Godfrey had been a martyr for the protestant cause. The funeral itself was a highly organized piece of propaganda. Seventy-two divines and over 1000 mourners of ‘quality’ attended the cortège and considerable numbers of citizens from London also joined the procession. This prodigious crowd also packed the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields to hear a bombastic pulpit performance by Dr William Lloyd.

Godfrey's corpse had fallen into the hands of those who wished to press home political and religious points. Michael Godfrey had already stepped in to take command of Edmund's affairs by seizing his brother's papers. He also possessed indisputable links with the opponents of Danby's regime that went back at least to the early 1670s and, with parliament now in session, the moves to exploit the crisis began to grow apace. In the great political contest that was to follow the death of Godfrey, the victim became merely a pawn as both Shaftesbury and Charles sought to resolve the succession crisis. Indeed, a subcommittee of the House of Lords on Godfrey's murder was packed with ‘opposition’ or opportunistic peers and managed by Shaftesbury. The committee members had little time for those with tales that did not fit into its already preconceived notions that Godfrey had been murdered by papists. Witnesses were treated to a mixture of threat and financial inducement in a series of robust interrogations and little else emerged from the hearings and interrogations.

The revelations of the informer William Bedloe in November 1678 finally gave the authorities a lead in the case. Bedloe claimed that Somerset House was the place of the killing and he also, eventually, recognized Miles Prance, a Roman Catholic silversmith, as a party to the crime. In turn Prance related a detailed version of the murder to the authorities to save his own life and named three men—Robert Green, Henry Berry, and Lawrence Hill—who were subsequently tried and executed for Godfrey's murder. This, to contemporaries, settled the killing of Godfrey in that it confirmed that the papists had murdered him as part of a wider popish plot. Attempts to alter this verdict only came in the 1680s when the heat of the plot had begun to cool. The first real attempt to present a different version of Godfrey's death took place in 1682 and resulted in Nathaniel Thomson, William Pain, and John Farwell being placed on trial for libel. These men had implied that Godfrey had killed himself and that the coroner's jury had been persuaded to bring in a verdict of murder, rather than suicide. After this few indeed were willing to dispute the current version of Godfrey's death. It took a sea change in English politics in the mid-1680s to allow Sir Roger L'Estrange finally to take up the challenge of the investigation. He eagerly undertook to investigate both the plot and the murder of Godfrey on behalf of the new king. L'Estrange published A Brief History of the Times in three parts beginning in August 1687. Although L'Estrange somewhat muddied the waters, and permanently removed some evidence from circulation, he underwrote his work by collecting valuable evidence from some forty witnesses whose statements he then cut and pasted in his book in such a way as to prove that Godfrey had committed suicide. His main thesis was simple enough. L'Estrange claimed that the magistrate's brothers had covered up the crime of suicide, or ‘felo de se’, in conjunction with the advice of the whig earl of Shaftesbury, in order to save the estate and damage the regime. Much of L'Estrange's evidence was not above suspicion—there seems little doubt that he manipulated some of his witnesses. At the least he rewrote some of the statements to make them into more suitable and fluid accounts, at the worst he may have altered evidence to suit himself. Certainly few of the witnesses, who now came forward with different stories from the ones they had told in 1678, were willing to stand up against L'Estrange's robust methods of research. Nevertheless some of the evidence he found, and he had the advantage of being upon the scene much earlier that any subsequent historian, does ring true. Once the book was published the case for suicide rested and although it was not generally well received it did convince the playwright Aphra Behn to write a poem praising L'Estrange's efforts. After James II's fall from power in December 1688 it was not thought politic to raise the spectre of a suicidal Godfrey now that the protestant monarchs William and Mary were on the throne and Godfrey's nephew was giving financial assistance to King William's war.

More theories

After the revolution of 1688 the historians of the day mostly regurgitated evidence taken from contemporary pamphlets: they had little new evidence. Two exceptions were the former courtier and legal officer Roger North and the philosopher David Hume. North thought the Roman Catholics were probably innocent but he doubted that Godfrey had killed himself. Instead, after a brief review of the evidence, he obscurely hinted that the real culprit was Oates himself, Danby, or Oates's backers, by whom he presumably meant Shaftesbury and the other whig leaders. Hume on the other hand for the first time made the sensible suggestion that the Godfrey killing might just not have been connected with the plot at all. After his review of the evidence he commented that the Catholics had no reason to kill Godfrey, as he was friendly towards them, and it was too clumsy and absurd a crime for the whigs to be capable of. In 1903 John Pollock in The Popish Plot claimed that there really was a plot, which, while the details were obscure, generally proved that Roman Catholics were intent upon gaining power and bringing the nation back under the control of Rome. Alfred Marks's book Who Killed Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey? returned to the suicide theory. Prance and Bedloe were dismissed as liars and the Somerset House theory fell by the wayside. Instead Marks returned once more to the melancholic Godfrey who committed suicide on Primrose Hill. It was J. G. Muddiman who in 1924 introduced a new and more melodramatic figure to the crime that he based on an ingenious link of a mad aristocrat with an apparently similar modus operandi to the man who killed Godfrey. Muddiman claimed that Roger North knew the killer but had been afraid to speak out for fear of the murderer's friends. His theory was that the killing was actually committed by the rather ill-tempered and ‘half-mad’ Philip Herbert, earl of Pembroke, a violent, drunken, ‘Whiggish’ aristocrat, who when not physically attacking his enemies had contacts with the opposition groups. In 1678 Godfrey in his capacity as foreman of a jury had found Pembroke guilty of murder. Unfortunately Pembroke had been able to appeal to the House of Lords for his trial and had subsequently been released. Godfrey had thus left the country for a while, but Pembroke had not forgotten him and in the autumn of 1678 he had sought his revenge on the magistrate. In the 1930s the detective storywriter John Dickson Carr developed Muddiman's theory into a book and chose Pembroke as the most likely candidate—but there is no real contemporary evidence to link Pembroke with the crime. J. P. Kenyon took another route in his version of events in the 1970s. He thought that the easiest solution to the problem was that of the unknown footpad with a grievance. This unknown, and by now undiscoverable man, was as likely a candidate for the killing of Godfrey as anyone else. This solution, however, does not really explain Godfrey's moods of depression prior to his demise. Moreover, given the £500 reward being offered for information on the crime, no common criminal, however ingenious, could have kept the affair quiet in the face of what was in contemporary terms an enormous amount of money. The lack of an obvious answer led to the somewhat wild solution that Stephen Knight was to put forward in the 1980s. Knight simply piled one theory on top of another so as to implicate everyone who could have possibly played any part in the killing. Alan Marshall in his version of the events analysed the various theories and came up with an explanation resting upon suicidal strangulation and the subsequent manipulation of Godfrey's body by his brothers for their own family and political reasons.

The case of Godfrey's demise remains a fascinating historical puzzle, significant because his death left wider political repercussions in its wake: it fed the growing anti-Catholic hysteria of 1678, it led to the further persecution, and some executions, of Roman Catholics in the country; and it led to a political crisis in which the right of succession in the royal family was questioned and, indirectly, to the establishment of the first political parties in the British system, the whigs and the tories. Investigators have often tended to concentrate upon a solution to the mystery by putting forward various candidates as perpetrators of Godfrey's death. In fact, none of these solutions seems very satisfactory and by concentrating upon contemporary evidence, however muddled and muddied that may be, almost all of them can be dismissed. Ultimately Ockham's razor must come into play: ‘no more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary’. Taking this approach and using contemporary evidence logically should give the simplest solution of all to the mystery.

ALAN MARSHALL

Sources  

R. Tuke, Memoires of the life and death of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (1682) · A. Marshall, The strange death of Edmund Godfrey: plots and politics in Restoration London (1999) · letterbook, NL Ire., MS 4728 · CSP dom., 1665–6 · I. Tonge, ‘Journal of the plot, 1678’, Diaries of the Popish Plot, ed. D. G. Greene (1977) · R. North, Examen, or, An enquiry into the credit and veracity of a pretended complete history (1740) · R. L'Estrange, A brief history of the times (1688) · A succinct narrative of the bloody murder of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, Octob: 12 1678 (1683) · An elegie on the right honourable Sir Edmundbury Godfrey, knight (1678) · Reflections upon the murder of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey (1682) · Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey's ghost, or, The answer to Nathaniel Thompson's second letter from Cambridge to Mr. Miles Prance in relation to the murder of Sir Edmund-bury Godfrey, 2nd edn (1682) · T. Dawks, The murder of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey (1678) · M. Prance, A true narrative and discovery of several very remarkable passages relating to the horrid Popish Plot as they fell within the knowledge of Mr Miles Prance (1679) · N. Thompson, A true and perfect narrative of the late terrible and bloody murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey who was found murthered on Thursday the 17th of this instant October in a field near Primrose Hill, with a full accompt of the manner in which he was found also the full proceedings of the coroner who sat upon the inquest &c (1678) · will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/359, sig. 46

Archives  

NL Ire., letter-book, MS 4728


Likenesses  

J. Hoskins, miniature, c.1663, repro. in Sotheby's Illustrated Sale Catalogue (11 Oct 1955) [lot 22] · P. Vandrebanc, engraving, c.1677–1678 · G. Bower, silver medal, 1678, BM [see illus.] · T. Dawks, engraving, 1678 (The murder of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey) · chalk drawing, c.1678, NPG · oils, c.1678, NPG · oils, c.1678, City of Westminster · G. Bower, medals, BM · engraving, repro. in Tuke, Memoires · line engraving, BM; repro. in A poem on the effigies of Sir Edmund-Bury Godfrey (1678)

Wealth at death  

great silver flagon; Swann Inn, Fulham; land and tenements in Fulham; three parcels of land (let out to tenants) in Stanwell, Middlesex; freehold house in Blue Cross Street, London; total bequests £796 9s.: will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/359/46


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Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (1621–1678): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10868