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A Plague of Informers

A Plague of Informers: Conspiracy and Political Trust in William III's England

Rachel Weil
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    A Plague of Informers
    Book Description:

    Stories of plots, sham plots, and the citizen-informers who discovered them are at the center of Rachel Weil's compelling study of the turbulent decade following the Revolution of 1688. Most studies of the Glorious Revolution focus on its causes or long-term effects, but Weil instead zeroes in on the early years when the survival of the new regime was in doubt. By encouraging informers, imposing loyalty oaths, suspendinghabeas corpus, and delaying the long-promised reform of treason trial procedure, the Williamite regime protected itself from enemies and cemented its bonds with supporters, but also put its own credibility at risk.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19928-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Notes on Conventions and on Currency
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. Persons and Plots
    (pp. xii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    In 1688, the English people deposed the Catholic king James II and installed the Protestant William and Mary as joint monarchs. Within five years, stories about plots and sham plots had become the terrain on which the credibility, lawfulness, and longevity of the new Williamite regime were tested and contested. As Paul Hopkins has noted, the “sheer number and the serious attention given to [allegations about plots] under William is unusual.” Some of these alleged plots, like the Assassination Plot of 1696, are thought by even the most skeptical historians to have been real. Others, like the Lancashire Plot, may...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Debates on National Security
    (pp. 27-67)

    To be trusted was itself a complicated project: the new regime had to prove both that it could survive threats to its security and that it could make good on the story it told to justify its existence, that is, that it had restored law and liberty. There were obvious tensions between those two goals and, as this chapter will show, significant disagreement among contemporaries as to how to achieve them, which emerged during parliamentary debates on a range of subjects. The two chapters that follow this one consider other dimensions of the Williamite regime’s quest for trust. Chapter 2...

  8. CHAPTER 2 A Trusted Government?
    (pp. 68-103)

    The two major goals of the new regime, securing itself against enemies and winning the trust of subjects, were mutually interdependent but sometimes contradictory (as in the dilemma over suspending habeas corpus). In the previous chapter I showed how this tension was expressed in parliamentary debates. In this chapter I will look at how it affected the institutions of government at national and local levels. Responsibility for guarding the new regime against its enemies was distributed among a variety of officeholders: postmasters, mayors, justices of the peace, customs and excise officers, and military and militia commanders. Such persons were called...

  9. CHAPTER 3 “A Tool with so Devilish an Edge”: Government Officials and Political Informers in the 1690s
    (pp. 104-139)

    The challenges facing Williamite authorities when they sought information about threats to the security of the new regime were not unique. Espionage carries some perennial structural problems (at least in societies run in accordance with an Anglo-American system of law). There is, for example, the agonized choice to be made between prosecuting offenders (and in the process “outing” witnesses who had provided information while under cover) or preserving the cover of agents (but allowing offenders to keep offending). The fact that spies are by definition liars always complicates the ability of their employers to trust them.

    Still, the particular political...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Identity, Honor, and Gender in the Narratives of Informers
    (pp. 140-187)

    Some of the dangers faced by state officials in dealing with informers were discussed in the previous chapter. Here and in the next chapter I examine the state-informer relationship from the other side. This chapter examines the narratives of a wide range of informers, asking how the act defined the informer’s sense of self and relations with others. I consider first those informers who seem to have informed only once and about whom information is fragmentary. I then consider two kinds of long-term “career” informers: those who maintained a consistent identity as zealous Williamites, and those (including Catholics, ex-Catholics, and...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Credit and Credibility in the Worlds of Richard Kingston
    (pp. 188-216)

    Richard Kingston was a paid intelligence agent, a pamphleteer, and a figure of enough notoriety to symbolize the ambiguities of the government’s credit in his own person. His life and writings provide a rare opportunity to look at how knowledge of conspiracy was made and presented to the public as well as a glimpse of the struggle with personal credibility that a person who made and presented that knowledge faced.

    As a pamphleteer, Kingston devoted himself to proving the truth of plot revelations and the trustworthiness of government officials. HisTrue History of the Several Designs and Conspiracies against His...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Loyalty and Credibility in the Lancashire “Sham Plot”
    (pp. 217-247)

    Two plot “discoveries” of the 1690s, the Lancashire Plot of 1694 and the Assassination Plot of 1696, had very different consequences for the credit of the government. Looking at how they were handled by authorities and how they were represented to the public brings together threads followed throughout the book. Plots can be seen as occasions that destabilize and redraw boundaries of loyalty, provide opportunities for informers and witnesses to construct their own credibility in the eyes of community and the state, and spotlight tensions between liberty and security. The Lancashire Plot is the subject of this chapter; the Assassination...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Representation, Politics, and Law in the Assassination Plot
    (pp. 248-280)

    The credit of the Whig-dominated government was at risk in February 1696. The Bank of England had been established, but its success depended upon the recoinage of the currency, a complicated and potentially disruptive project that had only just gotten under way. Queen Mary’s death in 1695 had diminished the government’s claim to legitimacy by hereditary right. The Lancashire Plot fiasco, combined with general war weariness, had enabled some Tories in Parliament to transform themselves into a more ideologically appealing “country” opposition purporting to defend society from an overweening central government. The parliamentary session of 1695 saw resistance to new...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 281-330)
  15. Manuscript Collections Consulted
    (pp. 331-334)
  16. Index
    (pp. 335-344)