This gentleman was one of those who took part in the rebellion, under a commission from the King Of France, and was taken, with many others, on his passage to Scotland, by the Seahorse frigate. He was the youngest brother of the Earl of Derwentwater, who was attainted and executed in the first rebellion, and his titles and estates consequently forfeited to the crown. He was, with his brother, taken at Preston; tried, convicted, and, condemned, but several times respited, and would probably have been pardoned, had he not, with thirteen others, made his escape out of a room called the Castle in Newgate, through a small door which had been accidentally left open, leading to the debtors Side, where the turnkey; not knowing them, let them out of the prison, supposing they, were persons who had come to see their friends.
He immediately procured a passage to France; and from thence followed the Pretender to Rome, subsisting on such petty pension as his master could allow him. Returning some short time afterwards, he married the widow of Lord Newborough, by whom he had a son. In 1733 he came to England; and resided in Pall Mall, without any molestation, though known to the ministry. [Note: Some years after the quelling of the last rebellion, the Pretender came in disguise to view London. This was a natural; but dangerous curiosity, to behold the place where his grandfather, King James II. had been on the throne. On the ministers being apprised of this circumstance, in haste went to King George II. with the information; and recommended his immediate apprehension. The monarch, with one of his shrewd answers, for which he was remarkable, replied, "No -- let the poor man satisfy his curiosity; when done, he will quietly go back to France." The King's observation was verified.]
He returned to France, and in 1735 again came to England to solicit his pardon, but without success, though he appeared publicly, and visited several families particularly in Essex. Returning again to France, he unfortunately accepted of the French king's commission, to act as an officer in the rebellion, and was taken as we have already described.
On the 22d of October, 1746, he was brought to the bar of the Court of King's Bench and was arraigned, but refused to hold up his hand, or acknowledge any other jurisdiction than that of the King of France, insisting on a commission he had in his pocket from him, and appealing to the Sicilian ambassador, who was then in court, for the authenticity thereof. On hearing his former indictment and conviction read; he said, that he was not the Charles Ratcliffe therein named, but that he was the Earl of Derwentwater, and his counsel informed the court, that such was the plea they meant to abide by, and thereupon, issue was gained.
Then the counsel for the prisoner moved to put off his trial, upon his own affidavit (to which he has subscribed himself the Count de Derwentwater,) that two of his material witnesses, naming them, were abroad, without whose testimony he could not safely go to trial. To which affidavit the counsel for the crown objected, as not being entitled as in the cause before the court; nor the two witnesses sworn to be material, in the issue then joined between the king and the prisoner; and also, because the prisoner had not so much as undertaken to swear for himself, that he was not the person, which, as it was a fact entirely in his own knowledge, ought to be required of him, if he would entitle himself to this favour from the court; this being a proceeding very different from the trial upon a not guilty, in an original prosecution on a charge of high treason or other crime, the identity of the person being the single fact to be inquired of, and a case in which the crown had a right by law to proceed instanter. Upon this the prisoner amended his affidavit as to the witnesses, but refused to supply it so far as to swear he was not the same person. And the court said, this was a new precedent, there being no instance of any application to put off the trial of a question of this sort before; and that this was like an inquest of office, in order to inform the conscience of the court, and what the public had a right to proceed in instanter. And therefore that the prisoner ought to give all reasonable satisfaction to induce them to grant such a favour as the prisoner desired, for they could not in conscience and justice to the public indulge him, without a reasonable satisfaction that his plea was true. But the prisoner still refusing to swear to the truth of his plea, the jury were called, and after two or three of the panel had been sworn, Mr. Ratcliffe challenged the next that was called, as of right, without assigning any reason; but upon debate of the question, how far he had right to challenge, the court said, it had been determined, before, in all the latter cases, and particularly in the case of one Jordan, that the prisoner, in such a case as this had no peremptory challenge; upon which the rest of the jury were sworn, and after a clear evidence of the identity of the person on the part of the crown, the prisoner producing none on his part, the jury withdrew about ten minutes, and then found their verdict, that he was the same Charles Ratcliffe who was convicted of high treason, in the year 1715. Then the attorney-general moved to have execution awarded against the prisoner on his former judgment; to which the prisoner's counsel objected, tendering a plea of pardon by act of parliament, in bar of execution. But the court said, as he had already pleaded such a plea as he chose to rely on, and as that was found against him, nothing more remained for them to do at present but to award execution; and if his counsel had any thing to offer in his behalf, they would have time to do it before the day of execution; and ordered a rule to be made for the proper writs for his execution on the 8th of next month, and remanded the prisoner to the Tower. He was about five feet ten inches high, upwards of fifty, was dressed in scarlet, faced with black velvet, and gold buttons, a gold-laced waistcoat, bag wig, and had hat with a white feather.
His design in styling himself Earl of Derwentwater, was, that he might pass for Francis, his younger brother, who went to France before 1715; but was thought to be dead. He would not call the Lord Chief Justice lord, because the title of earl was not given him: he refused to hold up his hand at the bar, and being told that as a gentleman he ought to comply, and that his own counsel would satisfy him that it was only a form of the court, he said; I know many things, that I will not advise with my counsel upon. On hearing the rule for his execution, he desired time, because he and Lord Moreton (in the Bastile at Paris) should take the same journey at the same time.
About eight o' clock on the 8th of December, two troops of life-guards, and one troop of horse-guards, marched through the city for Little Tower-hill, where they were joined by a battalion of foot-guards, to attend the execution of Charles Ratcliffe, Esq. About ten o' clock the block, with a cushion, both covered with black, were brought up, and fixed upon the stage; and soon after Mr. Ratcliffe's coffin, covered with black velvet, with eight handles, on which with the nails were gilt with gold, but there was no plate, or any inscription upon it. At near eleven the sheriffs, Mr. Alderman Winterbottom, and Mr. Alderman Alsop, with their officers, came to see if the scaffold was finished, (the carpenters, &c. who had very short notice; having worked all day on Sunday and the ensuing night,) and if every thing was prepared for Mr. Ratcliffe's reception; which, being to their satisfaction, they went to the Tower, and demanded the body of Mr; Ratcliffe, of General Williamson, deputy governor; upon being surrendered, he was first put into a landau, and carried over the Wharf, at the end of which he was put into a mourning coach, and conveyed into a small booth joining to the stairs of the scaffold, lined with black, where he spent about half an hour in devotion, and then, preceded by the sheriffs, the divine, and some gentlemen his friends. When he came upon the scaffold, he took leave of his friends with great serenity and calmness of mind, and having spoken a few words to the executioner, gave him a purse of ten guineas, put on a damask cap, knelt down to prayers, which lasted about seven. minutes, all the spectators on the scaffold kneeling: with him. Prayers being over, he pulled off his clothes, and put his head to the block, from whence he soon got up, and having spoke a few words, he knelt down to it, and fixing his head, in about two minutes gave the signal to the executioner, who at three blows struck it off, which was received in a scarlet cloth, held for that purpose. He was dressed in scarlet, faced with black velvet, trimmed with gold, a gold-laced waistcoat, and a white feather in his hat. He behaved with the greatest fortitude and coolness of temper, and was no way shocked at the approach of death.
His body was immediately put into the coffin, and carried back in a hearse to the Tower; and the scaffold booth, and all the boards belonging to them, were cleared away in the afternoon. He behaved himself very alert until the 4th, when he received a letter from his niece, the Lady Petre, which engaged him to appear in a more serious manner, agreeably to his unhappy fate. His corpse was on the 1lth, carried in a hearse, attended by two mourning coaches, to St. Giles in the fields, and there interred with the remains of the late Earl of Derwentwater, according to his desire, with this inscription on his coffin:
Carolus Ratcliffe, Comes de Derwentwater, decollatus die 8 Decembris, 1746; Ætatis 53 Requiescat in pace.
It seems the Derwentwater estate was only confiscated to the crown for the life of Charles Ratcliffe, Esq.; but by a clause in an act of parliament passed some years since, which says, that the issue of any person attainted of high treason, born and bred in any foreign dominion, and a Roman Catholic, shall forfeit his reversion. Such estate, and the. remainder shall for ever be fixed in the crown, his son was absolutely deprived of any title or interest in the affluent fortune of that ancient family, to the amount of more than 200,000l.
This unhappy gentleman was the youngest brother of James Earl of Derwentwater, who was executed in 1716; they were sons of Sir Francis Radcliffe, by the lady Mary Tudor, natural daughter to King Charles II by Mrs. Mary Davis.
He died in the principles in which he had lived, and was so zealous a Papist, that on the absurdities of some things which are held sacred by the church of Rome being objected to him, he replied, "That for every tenet of that church, repugnant to reason, in which she requires an implicit belief, he wished there were twenty, that he might thereby have a nobler opportunity of exercising and displaying his faith."