The Prance Family


It is not difficult to be confused by the following accounts concerning the Popish Plot which was 'discovered' by Titus Oates in the year 1678. A great deal obviously relied on the evidence given by Miles Prance to the enquiring committees but what is certain is that he, for reasons we can only speculate about, gave different accounts of his actions on oath, committed perjury and suffered heavily for it. The plot and the murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey caused a sensation in London at the time and the fact that the king was involved and indeed threatened indicates the seriousness and high profile of the events which took place. Simon Prance, his father, grew up as a protestant but during the civil war became a catholic and brought up his children, which included Miles, in that faith. Included here is the entry for Miles Prance in the Dictionary of National Biography (To be found in most good libraries) and below that the introduction to the 'Narrative' which Miles wrote and which was later published.

Entry in the Dictionary of National Biography

PRANCE, MILES (fl. 1689), perjurer, was a Roman catholic goldsmith of Princess Street, Covent Garden, and maker of religious emblems to the queen consort of Charles 11. When, towards the close of 1678, the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey [q.v.], following upon the revelations of Titus Oates[q.v.], greatly alarmed the people of London, Prance, whose trade and creed alike rendered him particularly liable to suspicion, was on 21st Dec, arrested upon the information of a lodger in his house, named John Wren. Wren alleged that Prance was absent from his house for some nights at the time Godfrey was missing. It afterwards appeared that Wren was in arrears with his rent, while Prance's absence from his house occurred some time before the murder. Upon his arrest Prance was taken before the committee of secrecy, which had been appointed by the House of Lords, under the presidency of Shaftsbury, to investigate the alleged 'popish plot.' Prance denied all knowledge of Sir Edmund's murder, though he admitted that he had worked for some of the papists accused by Oates and Bedloe. He was re-committed to Newgate, where he was thrown into the 'condemned hole' and loaded with heavy irons. Bedloe the informer was, up to this time, the sole witness as to the manner in which Godfrey was alleged to have come by his death. He had, however, made enquiries respecting Prance, and judged that he might be usefully employed in fabricating some corroborative testomy. Notes of Bedloe's evidence were surreptitiously placed in Prance's cell, and Prance, readily percieving what was expected of him, begged the governor, Captain Richardson, to convey him to Shaftsbury House. There, on the evening of 22nd Dec., he made a long disclosure about Godfrey's death before the Earl of Shaftsbury and three other members of the secrecy committee. Next day, before the king and the privy council, he accused three men employed at Somerset House and two priests of murdering Godfrey at Somerset House, and declared that he had kept watch while the crime was being perpetrated. On 29th Dec. he was privately interrogated by the king at the house of Mr.Chiffinch; on the same afternoon he informed the council that the whole of his storywas false, and he persisted in his recantation next day. He was thereupon sent back to his dungeon at Newgate and treated with great cruelty. On 12th Jan. 1679 he renewed his allegiance to his original statement.

Following the example of Oates, he now dictated to his keeper, Boyce, 'A True Narrative and Discovery' of Godfrey's murder, which appeared early in 1679. The discrepances between this narrative and Bedloe's deposition are glaring; nevertheless, the combined evidence of the two informers sufficed to obtain the conviction of the three men employed at Somerset House - Green, Hill, and Berry (5 Feb. 1679). On 13 June 1679 Prance gave minor evidence in support of Bedloe and Dugdale against the two Jesuits Harcourt and Fenwick, and on 10 Jan.1680 he obtained 50.l from the exchequer ' in respect of his services about the plott' (Ackerman, Secret-service Money under Charles 11, p.28). During the rest of that year he proved himself a most assiduous supporter of Oates; and, by publishing his sworn depositions to prove that Sir Roger L'Estrange [q.v.] was a papist, helped Oates to temporarily discredit a most formidable opponent. On 15 June 1686 he pleaded guilty to perjury at the king's bench, and declared his repentance, upon which he was sentenced to pay a fine of 100.l., to be pilloried and whipped. The last part of his sentence was remitted. He afterwards made a confession in writing, attributing his perjuries to 'fear and cowardice',' and in December 1688 he thought it best to seek refuge abroad. He was, however, captured off Gravesend, along with some other papists, on the hoy Asia, bound for Dunkirk, and was sent up by the mayor of Gravesend for examination by the House of Lords. No proceedings were taken, and it is probable that he ultimately found employment among his co-religionists on the continent.

The Narrative for which the following is a heading is a lengthy and extra-ordinary story of intrigue in which Miles Prance defends his part in the Popish Plot and the murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey. There are a very few copies of the original 1679 document in existence but I have access to one of them. The engraving of Miles at the head of this page (reverse image) is a copy of the fine engraving by R.White in the 1679 document.

The whole narrative is also contained within the text of 'The Prance Chronicles' compiled some years ago as a history of Prance families part of which is to be published in due course.


At the court of Whitehall, 24th May 1679. In pursuance of his Majesty's order I licence this narrative to be printed. Sutherland.

By virtue of this Order I appoint Dorman Newman citizen and stationer of London to print this narrative. Miles Prance 26th May 1679


A True Narrative and Discovery of several very Remarkable Passages relating to the Horrid Popish Plot as they fell within the knowledge of Miles Prance of Covent Garden, Goldsmith, viz:-

1. His depositions concerning the Plot in General and a Particular Design against the Life of his Sacred Majesty.

The whole Proceedings touching the Murder of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey and the particular circumstances thereof.

A conspiracy to Murther The Right Honourable the Earl of Shaftsbury.

The Traiterous Intrigues and Immoralities of divers Popish Priests.

The book opens with 'The Epistle Dedicatory to all Protestants' wherein he states "The far greatest part of this whole Narrative has been attested upon Oath". For the rest that is therein attested, as to my knowledge, I shall be at any time be ready to justify and prove the same....."having been several years Her Majesty's Goldsmith, and chief of my trade depending on priests and others of the Roman Catholic Persuation". Covent Garden, 26th May 1679 Signed - Miles Prance

The incidents surrounding the Popish Plot caused a furore at the time and the above two pictures are taken from a contemporary pack of  playing cards.  Copies of these can be obtained for a fee from the National Portrait Gallery.