[STALEY, WILLIAM. d.1678.] An Account of the digging up of The Quarters of William Stayley, Lately Executed for High Treason, For that his Relations abused the Kings Mercy. Nov. 30, 1678. Imprimatur, William Scroggs. London: printed for Robert Pawlet, 1678.
Letterpress broadside, 386 x 305 mm. Lower left corner repaired, closed repaired tear, few spots.
THE LAST DECAPITATED HEAD TO BE DISPLAYED ON LONDON BRIDGE. William Staley (or Stayley), a Catholic goldsmith and banker, was the first victim of the Popish Plot trials. The insecure political climate towards Catholics caused a run among Staley's clients and "on the morning of 14 Nov. 1678 he was talking over the situation in the Black Lion Tavern in King Street, with an old friend named Barthlemy Fromante, a native of Marseilles, and may well have given vent to some indiscreet expressions. Though the conversation was in French, it was overheard by William Carstares, 'a Scottish adventurer,' and his friend, Alexander Sutherland. The next morning 'Captain' Carstares waited on Staley, and accused him of high treason, but offered to suppress the charge in consideration of the sum of 200 pounds. The banker laughed at the insolence of the man, but in a few minutes he was arrested for treason, and five days later was brought to trial before the king's bench. As soon as Burnet heard who the witness was, he 'felt bound,' he says, to do what he could to stop the prosecution. He sent to the lord chancellor (Finch) and to the attorney-general (Sir William Jones) 'to let them know what profligate wretches these witnesses were.' But Jones asked him with asperity what authority he had to defame the king's witnesses, while Shaftesbury, when he heard of the affair, exclaimed that all who undermined the credit of the witnesses were to be looked upon as public enemies. For some days Burnet declares that his own life was in danger in consequence of this intervention. The trial took place before Scroggs on 21 Nov. 1678. Scant attention was paid either to Staley's witnesses or to his plea as to the improbability of his allowing himself to be overheard while uttering rank treason in a public room. Carstares having sworn that he heard Staley reply in French to his friend 'he [the king] is a great heretic and the greatest rogue in the world; here is the heart and here is the hand that would kill him;' and this evidence having been confirmed by Sutherland, Scroggs summed up to the effect that if Staley had spoken these words he was manifestly guilty of high treason under the statute (13 Car. II, cap. 1), which he caused to be read. Staley was found guilty ... By the king's special grace the quarters of his body were delivered to his friends instead of being set upon the city gates, according to usage" (ODNB).
However, as delineated in the present broadside, Staley's friends said masses over his remains, and on November 29 arranged a "pompous funeral" from his father's house in Covent Garden. This so incensed the King that the coroner was ordered to dig up the body parts and dispose of them in the "usual manner": the quarters to Newgate and the head to London Bridge. However, following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 the gruesome practice of displaying traitor's heads had been largely abandoned. Staley's head is the last one we find recorded.