James, Duke of Monmouth was born in Rotterdam on April 9, 1649 as the child of the exiled King Charles II and his mistress Lucy Walter (aka Mrs. Barlow). What is known about Lucy tends to be muddied by figures of the time who wanted to refute her claim that she was married to her royal lover.
|James Duke of Monmouth 1649-1685|
James, or ‘Jemmy’ inherited Lucy’s good looks, but when Charles grew tired of her, she looked for the protection of other men to help keep her, the young James and a daughter, Mary, fathered by another lover, thus Jemmy was given a casual upbringing in his early, and ‘mean’ years. Bryan Bevan relays in James Duke of Monmouth that “[h]e was often so poor that his shoes needed repairing.”
At one stage, knowing Charles wanted to take her son from her, Lucy ran to England, but as she was being watched by Cromwell’s spies, was promptly taken to the Tower of London and questioned. Although Cromwell was very aware of her relationship with Charles II and the parentage of James, Lucy, and presumably her son, were released and given the unusual courtesy of being set on the shore of Flanders. Charles and his advisors continued to plot to remove James from her care, and finally Edward Progers, Charles’confidential page of the back stairs, succeeded. The child was placed in the care of Lord Crofts, and became James Croft.
James went to live with the dowager Queen Henrietta Maria at her court near Paris, where he began to see what life as a royal could mean. He also grew close to his aunt, the last child of Charles I, Henrietta Anne, known as ‘Minette’.
Queen Henrietta, being a devout Catholic put James under the instruction of Father Geoffe of the Oratorian College of Notre Dame des Verlus, but later a Thomas Ross, a protestant, became his tutor. Ross was a Scotsman, who, according to James II, flattered the boy ‘and put the thoughts of legitimacy into his head; and would have Bishop Cousin to certify that he had married the King and Lucy Walter,’ Thus James was removed from Ross' care and sent to Petit Ecoles, in Le Chesney near Paris. James' education was patchy and he often regretted his poor education and spent many years trying to make up for it.
When Charles II landed in Dover on May 26th to take up the throne again, James remained in Paris, but was now treated with the deference due a natural king’s son. Entranced by the court of Louis XIV, he attended the wedding of his aunt Henrietta when she married Louis’ brother, Philippe d’Orleans.
In July 1662, James at fourteen was sent for, and arrived in England with his grandmother, and in August, and with the king and his new queen, Catherine of Braganza, made their entry into London. Samuel Pepys described James as, “Mr. Crofts, the King’s bastard, a most pretty spark of about fifteen years old, who I perceive, do hang about my Lady Castlemaine, and is always with her, and I do hear, the Queens are both mighty kind to him. They staid till it was dark, and then went away; the King and his Queen and my Lady Castlemaine and the young Crofts in one coach, and the rest in the other coaches.” And “These were days of enchantment. [James] played cards with the Queen and her maids of hounour in her presence chambers, ‘all dressed in velvet gowns.’”
Charles doted on the boy in public and heaped honours on him, despite criticism, especially when he arranged a marriage between the boy and Anna Scott, Countess of Buccleugh to establish him as a legitimate member of society. Anna was the wealthiest heiress in Scotland and only ten when the King wrote to her mother on June 14th 1661:
|Anna Scott, Duchess of Buccleigh|
Madame, your very affectionate Friende, Charles R.
About 6 weeks later Lady Wemyss wrote the King back excited about the agreement:
“Most Sacrad Soveraing, I reserved your Maiesties’s most grasious letir, and by the expressions thereof accounts myself more hapie then any thing els in the world could have maid me. I sell wait for your Maiestie’s further commands conserning that particular, as becometh, Dried Soveran,
Your Majestie’s most devoted and humble servant Margarit Wemyss.”
The Countess of Wemyss brought Anna to London, ‘a proper handsome and a lively tall young lady of her age’ [she was only eleven at the time] and James Croft married Anna Scott on Tuesday April 20, 1663; he was fourteen and she was twelve.
In a letter to the Duchess of Orleans, Charles refers to his young son’s marriage, “You must not by this post expect a long letter from me, this being James’s marriage day and I am going to sup with them, where we intend to dance and see them a bed together, the ceremony shall stop there, for they are both too young to lye all night together.”
On his marriage, James took the name Scott, to become James Scott Duke of Buccleuch, as well as Duke of Monmouth, Earl of Doncaster, and Baron Scott of Tynedale. In later years he also received honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge, and Knight of the Garter.
Samuel Pepys once described Monmouth when aged sixteen as “the most skittish leaping gallant, that ever I saw...always in action, vaulting, leaping, ever clambering.” And that he “spends his time the most viciously and idly of any man, nor will he be fit for anything.”
However Monmouth had a serious side and his first military action was in the navy, during the Second Dutch War of 1665; James, Duke of York commanded the Royal Squadron, and sailed with Monmouth on the Royal Charles. The sixteen-year-old won effusive praise for his courage during the fighting and even his uncle commended him. This was particularly remarkable due to the rivalry already surfacing between these two.
Monmouth continued to be treated as if of royal blood and moved into lodgings built for him in the ‘Old Tennis Court,’ to the south of the cockpit and facing King Street. In July 1665, he accompanied his father and uncle Duke of York on the King’s barge from Hampton Court to Greenwich to inspect the new buildings the king was adding to the Palace.
In September, the Duke and Duchess of Monmouth accompanied the king and the rest of the Royal Court to Salisbury and then on to Oxford to escape the plague. During this time, Monmouth stayed with Lord Ashley, later the Earl of Shaftesbury, at his country home in Wimbone St. Giles. It is possible that Shaftesbury took advantage of this meeting to “size Monmouth up as a possible Protestant alternative to the Duke of York, but apparently Shaftesbury reported he *‘was not impressed by any qualities of mind or character that he could detect.”
|Lady Henrietta Wentworth|
In 1678, Monmouth was commander of the Anglo-Dutch brigade fighting for the United provinces against the French. He distinguished himself yet again at the battle of St Denis, adding to his already bourgeoning reputation. The following year, after his return to Britain, he commanded the small army raised to put down the rebellion of the Scottish Despite being heavily outnumbered, he gallantly defeated the poorly equipped Covenanter rebels at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on June 22, 1679.
The early relationship between the tow James', uncle and nephew was forged on the hunting field, however the cracks appeared and grew wider when Monmouth was championed against York and his Roman Catholic bride, Mary of Modena. The Duke of York also constantly questioned whether or not Monmouth was actually Charles' son and vehemently denied any possible marriage to Lucy Walter (Mrs. Barlow).
Further rivalry arose between uncle and nephew over Moll (or Mary) Kirke, who was a maid of honour to Mary of Modena. The lady would entertain both York and Monmouth, which went undetected until she took a third lover, John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave. One night, after Monmouth discovered Mulgrave’s visit to Moll, he had him arrested and kept in jail overnight, and the command of his regiments taken away. In retaliation, Mulgrave relayed Monmouth’s relations with Moll to the Duke of York, which further deteriorated the relationship between uncle and nephew.
In 1678, Monmouth was promoted to Captain-General of the king’s forces. According to Bevan in James Duke of Monmouth, the Duke of York warned his nephew that if he was appointed General that he could “no longer expect his friendship.” but Charles II would not be swayed.
York was so concerned as to what this appointment would mean to his ascendancy that he [allegedly] instructed the Attorney General to insert the word “natural” into the document after the word ‘son’ that had already been signed by the king. Although angry, Charles destroyed the copy and had a new one drawn up with the word ‘natural’ included.
Shaftesbury’s impression that Monmouth was weak-minded was one shared by many, tribute was also paid to Monmouth’s courage, his generosity and his ability to inspire followers with esteem, enthusiasm, and devotion. John Evelyn in his diaries tells of Monmouth’s behavour in the fire of September 2nd 1666:
“I saw ye whole south part of ye city burning from Cheapside to ye Thames, and all along Cornehill (for it like-wise kindl’d back against ye wind as well as forward), Tower Streete, Fen-Church Streete, Gracios Streete and so along to Bernards Castle, and was now aking hold of St. Pauls’s Church to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly.” However, through the burning heat, together with the King and the Duke of York, the Duke of Monmouth “stood for hours ankle deep in water, handing buckets and playing the fire engines.”
Monmouth was also unstable and easily influenced by ambitious intriguers for their own ends, Shaftesbury being the worst. He was leader of the Country party, [later the Whigs] the violent opposition of the Court party, and who suggested to the King that he declare Monmouth his heir, and that they would prove his marriage to his mother. The king completely rejected this idea and Shaftesbury was forced to come up with another scheme to rid the Court of what he and his contemporaries considered the Papist threat of James Duke of York inheriting the kingdom.
|Charles Scott, Earl of Doncaster|
In 1676, Monouth’s adherents formed ‘The Green Ribbon Club’, whose members coined a style of hat wearing called the “Monmouth cock.” His popularity with the Court and the love of his father outweighed his vices, especially in the case of the disfiguring of Sir John Coventry’s nose over an argument that occurred in the House of Commons; and the part he played in the murdering of the “beadle.
In the mid 1670’s, the theory of the “black box” containing the certificate of marriage between the king and Lucy Walter was at its height, where anti catholic conspiracies resulted in James Duke of York sent to Brussels for his own safety and to keep things fair, Monmouth was banished to Holland and stripped of his military titles.
In November 1680, Monmouth, returned to England without permission, and within an hour two, the church bells were rung to announce the arrival of the people’s idol, and bonfires blazed in the streets. However the king was not so delighted and had his errant son arrested, refusing to receive him at court.
Instead of keeping his head down, Monmouth toured the West Country, raising support for the Whig party while continually trying to win back the favour of his father. The Whigs lost the Exclusion Bill and the Duke of York successfully petitioned his return to England in 1682. Monmouth was in disfavor of his father and his best friends, Thomas Thynne was murdered in a brutal shooting. The Court pardoned the murderer, which infuriated Monmouth, whose resentment increased.
More a heated conspiracy than an actual plan, the Rye House Plot was an intention to murder the king and York while on their way back from racing at Newmarket. Monmouth denied ever plotting to kill his father and uncle, and while arrest were being made and accusations flying about, Shaftesbury, the most likely instigator, fled to Holland – never to return.
Monmouth and Anna had six children, four of whom survived infancy, but the couple were estranged. Monmouth declred the “only woman to ever hold his heart,” was Lady Henrietta Wentworth. It was to her house in Toddington, in Hertfordshire that Monmouth went into hiding after the discovery of the plot before he set sail for Holland.
|Lady Charlotte Scott|
He wrote an affectionate letter to his father begging for a reconciliation, which was granted but lasted twelve days. Banished again, Monmouth left for Brussels in April 1684. Moving onto Holland, he stayed with the Prince and Princess of Orange in the Hague for the next two years. Monmouth and King Charles began communications Halifax about reconciliation, but the king died before any of those plans came into fruition.
James II ascended the throne and ordered his son in law, Prince of Orange to throw Monmouth out of Holland, but William refused. Monmouth went straight to Lady Henrietta Wentworth in Brussels, and kept in contact with other Whigs such as Sir Patrick Hume and Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyle who tried to convince him to assert his claim as rightful heir to the throne.
In June 1685, Monmouth landed at Lyme, with under a hundred followers; and although their numbers soon increased to 6,000, it was not enough to overcome the royal army. An Act of Attainder was passed convicting Monmouth of high treason and a reward of £5000 was offered for his capture, dead or alive. James declared himself King on June 20, 1685 at Taunton, and on July 6, 1685, the rebels were defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Monmouth was captured days later lying in a ditch asleep. Despite his attempts to plead his uncle for his life, Monmouth was executed by the ax of Jack Ketch on July 15, 1685 on Tower Hill, but botched the job and took three blows to end Monmouth’s life. Monmouth is buried in St Peter ad Vincula Church in the Tower of London.
John Evelyn 17th Century Diarist on the Execution of the Duke of Monmouth
'Thus ended this quondam Duke, darling of his Father, and the Ladys, being extraordirily handsome, and adroit: an excellent souldier, & dauncer, a favorite of the people, of an Easy nature, debauched by lust, seduc’d by crafty knaves who would have set him up onely to make a property; tooke this opportunity of his Majestie being of another Religion, to gather a party of discontented; failed of it, and perished:
He was a lovely person, had a vertuous & excellent Lady that brought him greate riches & a second Dukedome in Scotland; Was Master of the Horse, Gen. of the K. his fathers Army, Gent: of the Bed chamber: Knight of the Garter, Chancellor of Camb: in a Word had accumulations without end: See what Ambition and want of principles brought him to. He was beheaded on Tuesday the 14th July: His mother (whose name was Barlow, daughter of some very meane Creatures) was a beautifull strumpet, whom I had often seene at Paris, & died miserably, without anything to bury her: Yet had this Perkin ben made believe, the King had married her: which was a monstrous forgerie, & ridiculous: & to satisfie the world the iniquitie of the report, the King his father (if his Father he realy were, for he most resembled one Sidny familiar with his mother) publiquely & most solemnly renounced it, and caused it to be so entred in the Council booke some yeares since, with all the Privy Counselrs attestation’
|Monmouth Painted After Death [Attributed]|