Newly available in Digitised Collections: The Popish Plots Pamphlets

In honor of #AskACurator day on September 16th, we’re highlighting this recent team up between the Archives and Special Collections and the University Digitisation Centre to bring the Popish Plots Pamphlets online. Kerriane Stone (Curator, Prints) highlights the significance and opportunities of this collection in this guest post.

The Popish Plot is a complex conspiracy which occurred during the English Protestant Reformation between the years 1678 and 1681. It was instigated by Anglican priest Titus Oates who alleged Jesuits were planning to seize power and assassinate Charles II. Flamed by the press, a wave of hysteria gripped London and suspected Catholics were driven out of the city. Eventually Oates accusations were found to be false and the Popish Plot fake, but not before 35 innocent people had been hanged and others needlessly persecuted and imprisoned.

The Popish Plot pamphlets in the Rare Books Collection are a unique record of this religious political event and its chief protagonists because 92 ephemeral prints such as speeches, narratives, plays, news and ballads have been gathered into a single binding. Despite it being compiled by a yet unidentified collector, it was recognised in a 2002 significance assessment and was subsequently conserved.

As an object, the bound volume of the Popish Plots was quite a challenge to digitise as it’s a fragile and very thick book of 680 pages. The spine is also very fragile and most of the pages are loose making it quite difficult to keep them straight when digitising. Interleaving of tissue paper and foldouts contributed to a slow and very careful digitisation process by the team at the University Digitisation Centre.

The pamphlets are the pinnacle of Dr Una McIvenna’s lecture ‘Singing the news’ where students get to see these 17th century documents in real life and hear Dr McIvenna sing one of the ballads. The volume is also utilised by students in the history subject – Crime, Punishment and the Media. Digitisation of the volume is in support of Dr McIvenna’s database of execution ballads and recent articles such as “Why Fake News is Anything But New”

As yet this sensational work has not been thoroughly studied, therefore making it available digitally aims to encourage future in-depth research. Are you the scholar to write the thesis on these pamphlets?

For more from the University Collections, visit and subscribe to the Special Collections blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *