The story of how this word of Irish origin, Englished to tory from Irish toruidhe, robber, became a political term was told in 1711 by Daniel Defoe in his journal, The Review.
The events he mentions occurred during his own lifetime. Titus Oates, to whom he refers, had been trained for the Protestant ministry, but spent his time hatching up malicious plots aimed against the Catholics, which cost the lives of thirty-five innocent, but alleged conspirators. Defoe’s account, in part, is as follows:
“The word tory is Irish, and was first used in Ireland at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s war, to signify a robber who preyed upon the country. In the Irish massacre (1641), you had them in great numbers, assisting in everything that was bloody and villainous: they were such as chose to butcher brothers and sisters, fathers, the dearest friends and nearest relations. In England, about 1680, a party of men appeared among us, who, though pretended Protestants, yet applied themselves to the ruin of their country. They began with ridiculing the popish plot, and encouraging the Papists to revive it.”
These men were those who, as falsely charged by Oates, were plotting the murder of the king, Charles II, in order to set upon the English throne his Catholic brother, James. Also included were all royalists who opposed any act of Parliament that would exclude James from accession to the throne.
On account of someone saying, Defoe added, “that he had letters from Ireland, that there were some tories to be brought over hither to murder Oates and Bedloe (a colleague of Oates), the doctor (Oates) could never after this hear any man talk against the plot or witnesses but he thought he was one of these tories, and called almost every one a tory that opposed him in discourse; till at last the word tory became popular.”
The term as applied to a political faction thus came to include, at first, all the considerable number of men, including many Protestant churchmen, who favored the legitimate right of James, the duke of York, to succeed to the crown. The name came to stand for any adherent to constituted authority of Church and State, and thus eventually superseded the former designations, “Royalist” and “Cavalier,” of a political party.
The name was dropped about 1830 in favor of “Conservative.”