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Edward Vernon uncovered the Dublin Castle conspiracy to dethrone Charles II

Posted in Espionage, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty on Monday, 28 October 2013

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This edited article about espionage after the Restoration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 442 published on 4 July 1970.

Dublin Castle plotters, picture, image, illustration

Some of the plotters escaped including Blood by C L Doughty

It was 1663. The convulsions of the Civil War and the tense years of the Protectorate had passed and under her restored king, Charles II, England looked forward to peace and stability. But abroad fanatical Roundheads would not give up the struggle and plotted continuously to overthrow the monarchy.

One such group planned to seize Dublin Castle and raise rebellion in Ireland and Scotland. They might easily have succeeded, had it not been for a cunning agent, Philip Alden, and a Royalist spy-master, Colonel Edward Vernon.

One Monday early in January, Vernon was making his final preparations before leaving Dublin. While Conyers, his servant, packed the last of his clothes, the Colonel leafed through the reports he planned to present to the Secretary of State in London, and wondered idly how to pass the rest of the evening.

His problem was soon solved. He heard the sound of a horse hard-ridden and then Conyers was ushering in one of Vernon’s best agents in Ireland, Philip Alden.

As Vernon poured Alden some wine he eyed the spy keenly. Rumours had recently spread that Roundhead agents were flocking from Scotland and Holland to Ireland, and Vernon had sent Alden to discover their intentions. Now it was plain from Alden’s burning eyes and his impatience to report, that trouble was indeed on its way.

Alden gulped down his wine and pulled out a list. Did the Colonel recognise these names, he asked; and he proceeded to reel off the names of some of the most prominent politicians in Ireland. They had been meeting secretly for some weeks, he said. Their principal go-between and emissary was an adventurer called Lieutenant Blood. They planned to seize Dublin Castle as the signal for rebellion in Ireland and Scotland, and for the disaffected in England to rally to the Roundhead cause.

Vernon grimaced and ruefully ripped up his previous reports. Now they would have to be rewritten. Far into the night he and Alden sat planning their next moves.

Vernon would postpone his journey. He would take Alden to the Duke of Ormonde, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whose headquarters were in the castle. They would tell His Grace what was happening under his nose. Then Vernon would carry the tidings to London, while Alden infiltrated the ring of plotters. Alden would pass any further information secretly to Conyers, the servant, who would convey it to the Duke.

And so they went to work. Alden presented himself to the conspirators as a zealous Roundhead eager to join their cause. After each meeting of the conspirators he despatched coded messages to the castle. In this way he discovered the names of the former Roundhead officers who were now involved in the plot, and of their sympathisers, mainly fanatical Puritan clergy.

As the plot reached its climax, the Duke of Ormonde summoned Vernon back to Dublin to co-ordinate the Government’s counter-offensive. Vernon arrived just in time. News came from Alden that the attack on the castle was planned for Thursday, 21st May.

Vernon ordered Alden to concentrate now on discovering the mode of attack so that he could strengthen the castle’s defences accordingly. Alden worked feverishly and by the 20th May Vernon knew the size of each group of insurgents, the names of each group-leader, where they would lodge before the uprising, and where they would rally before the assault. Discreetly he moved his men into position.

That night the conspirators met for the last time. Alden sat amongst them. But as they took their seats a glance at the faces of the leaders told him that something was amiss. The usually-ebullient Blood was strained and tense. The attack, he said, would not take place.

Amid the uproar, Alden sat quietly wondering if he had been discovered.

Blood told the plotters that on his final reconnoitring expedition he had noticed that certain points of the castle had been fortified and that there were a lot of new troops about. This had made him suspect a trap. He believed – here Alden held his breath – that they had been betrayed, but he could not guess how. Alden surreptitiously sighed with relief. The conspirators, continued Blood, must disperse as quickly and innocently as possible, so that they could re-assemble when suspicion had died down and try again.

As the meeting broke up in confusion, Alden slipped out. He had to warn Vernon to pick up the ringleaders before they could disappear. He was back before his absence had been noticed, however, looking as bewildered and anxious as the rest of the plotters.

And so it was that as the leaders of the revolt rode, muffled, out of Dublin in the dawn, Vernon and his men stood waiting for them. A few, Blood among them, escaped. Most, including Alden, were captured and imprisoned in the castle they had hoped to storm.

At their trial the charges against them were based largely on the information Alden had supplied. But his name was never mentioned by the prosecution, and the ringleaders were executed without discovering the identity of their betrayer. Colonel Vernon was already thinking far ahead – to the mischief that Blood and the others who had escaped would be hatching from their refuge in Switzerland. So knowing a spy as Alden, he argued, would be needed again.

Soon afterwards, therefore, he arranged for Alden to “escape” from the castle. When the agent arrived dramatically amongst the Roundhead exiles in Switzerland they welcomed him enthusiastically.

It was not for some years that he was connected with the discovery of the Dublin Castle conspiracy, but in that time he was able to forestall several more of their plots before passing safely out of their reach.

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