Edward Howcott and the Popish Plot
As early as the 17th century, a host of books and pamphlets included references to relatively humble people who witnessed - or said that they had witnessed - newsworthy events. One of these is a publication in 1681 which includes testimony from Edward and Mary Howcott of Lichfield.
Between 1678 and 1681, there was widespread fear in England about a fictitious conspiracy called the Popish Plot. Initiated by Titus Oates, it alleged extensive scheming by Roman Catholics to assassinate Charles II and led to a series of trials and executions. Amongst the victims was William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford who was condemned to death for treason on 7 December 1680 and beheaded at Tower Hill 22 days later. Two of the witnesses who gave evidence against Stafford were Stephen Dugdale and Edward Turberville.
On 1 January 1680/1, Francis Bayly, who was one of the local Justices of the Peace, examined Edward Howcott of Lichfield. Edward testified under oath that he had been told about a plan to discredit Stephen Dugdale. This account of the examination was published later in the same year :
“The Examination of Edward Howcott of the City of Lichfield taken at the said City, the first day of Jan. 1680/1 before me Francis Bayly, one of His Majesties Justices of the Peace for the County of the said City.
The said Examinant upon his Oath saith, that Joseph Salt of Utoxeter [i.e. Uttoxeter] Feltmaker, about the month of June last, told this Deponent that one John Murrall, a barber in Rugby [presumably Rugeley], in the County of Stafford, would have had the said Joseph Salt to have gone with him to London, and be a witness against Mr Stephen Dugdale, one of the King’s Evidence in the late Horrid Plot, the said Murrall pretending as the said Salt told this Deponent, that he knew as much of the Plot as Mr Dugdale did; and if he would but testifie three or four words which Murrall would direct him to swear against Mr Dugdale he should live better than ever he did in his life, telling the said Salt, that he now lived meanly, but if he would do what he desired him, he should never want whilst he lived; for in this Juncture of time the Oath of a Protestant would be better accepted than twenty oaths of a Papist. And further this Deponent said, That the said Murrall hath sworn him never to confess what he said to him, and therefore Salt saith, he would be hanged, and drawn, and quartered, before he would discover the saying of Murrall. And this not only sworn by Edward Howcott, but by his Wife Mary Howcott, and by one Edward Blakesley, who were all present when Salt declared and acknowledged as is above deposed.”
 “No faith or credit to be given to Papists being a discourse occasioned by the late conspirators dying in the denyal of their guilt: with particular reflections on the perjury of Will. Viscount Stafford, both at his tryal, and in his speech on the scaffold in relation to Mr. Stephen Dugdale and Mr. Edward Turbervill” by John Smith of Walworth. (London, 1681), page 11.