Titus Oates (1649-1705) fabricated a Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II. Having large anti-Catholic sentiments, he became a Jesuit for the purposes of learning their secrets, and after hearing about a Jesuit meeting in London, he conspired with anti-Catholic clergyman Israel Tonge to forge a manuscript accusing The Roman Catholic Church of plotting to kill the King. King Charles II interrogated Oates, who made forty-three allegations against a multitude of Catholic religious sects. By blaming murders on the Jesuits, making bribes, and using his political influence, he had fifteen men executed.("Titus Oates," Wikipedia)
For a while Oates was praised and received an apartment in Whitehall, but eventually public opinion turned on him. The accused began to be declared innocent, so the King ordered the arrest of Oates for sedition and sentenced him to jail with a fine of £100,000. When William of Orange and Mary came to power in 1688, Oates was released from prison, though his reputation never really recovered.("Titus Oates, Wikipedia)
Carlyle's reference to "the days of Titus Oates have mostly passed" corresponds to one of the "frenzies and panics" England experienced. The "Popish Plot" co-conspired by Oates marked a time of political turmoil in England following the Restoration of the line of Charles I and the Church of England, in which innocent men were put to death and distrust plagued the government. Carlyle reminds us that such times of turmoil and the more milder periods recur regularly and "may be reckoned on at intervals, like other natural visitations."
Interestingly, an argument exists that the plot conceived by Oates and Tonge could be based on earlier pamphlets that describe the death of a king and change in government, such as the Gunpowder Plot of 1606 and the Habernfeld Plot of 1643. In light of this, the "Popish Plot" can be seen as an "adaptation of old stories to new circumstances" (Abott, 128-29). This scenario also has its place in more recent times, with the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s and McCarthyism in the mid 1900s, so Carlyle seems quite accurate.
Abbott, W. C. "The Origin of Titus Oates' Story." The English Historical Review 25 (1910): 126-29.
"Titus Oates," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 25 March 2009.
Last modified 1 April 2009