Broadside on Popish Plots and Treasons


This broadside celebrates the violent defeat of Catholic plots and treasons in the Protestant reigns of Elizabeth I (1558–03) and James I (1603–1625). In the centre are 16 illustrations of ‘Popish’ conspirators, each with a verse describing their ‘Cursed plots’ and a flag depicting their ‘wretched’ deaths.

These include:

  • 10: The notorious Babington plot of 1586. Conspirators hoped to kill Elizabeth and replace her with her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, but they were arrested and executed.
  • 12: The ‘Invincible’ Spanish Armada planned to invade England in 1588, but the crescent-shaped fleet of ships was dispersed by an English fireship.
  • 16: In the ‘Powder Plot’ of 1605, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the House of Lords. In the background of this picture, the heads of traitors on Tower Bridge serve as a symbolic warning. 

Catholics in Protestant England

The broadside is a reminder of the fierce religious strife in late 16th-century England. Although the country was outwardly Protestant, many citizens remained loyal to the Catholic faith. Some kept it a careful secret but others, known as recusants, openly refused to worship in the Church of England. Elizabeth I persecuted, fined and imprisoned Catholics, fearful of their connections with foreign powers and their frequent plots to depose her.

Recusant families: Shakespeare and Donne

There is some evidence that William Shakespeare’s father John Shakespeare (c. 1530–1601) may have been a recusant, and some of his mother’s relatives were openly Catholic.

Another celebrated poet, John Donne (1572–1631), had a Catholic upbringing and saw his family severely punished for their faith. Donne’s mother was related to Sir Thomas More, who was beheaded in 1535 for resisting Henry VIII’s break with Catholic Rome. Donne’s brother, Henry, was thrown in jail – and died there of disease – for harbouring a Catholic priest in 1593. Perhaps to pursue ambitions that were denied to Catholics, Donne later converted to the Anglican Church. He became a star preacher as Dean of St Paul’s and wrote anti-Catholic treatises, including Pseudo-Martyr (1610).

Who created this broadside, and when?

This broadside, with engravings by the Dutchman Cornelis Danckerts I, was first printed in 1625 to illustrate the second edition of George Carleton’s patriotic book, A Thankfull Remembrance of God's Mercie. This is a reprint of the broadside, which was advertised for sale in 1678.

Broadsides were cheap sheets of paper, printed on one side and designed to be pasted on walls or thrown away after reading.

Full title:
Thankful Remembrance of God's Mercie by G.C.; Popish Plots and Treasons
Broadside / Ephemera / Print / Illustration / Image
Cornelis Danckerts
© The Trustees of the British Museum
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