24 October 2014

The Battlefield: The Monmouth Rebellion 1685

The rebellion grew out of the Exclusion Crisis of the late 1670s, when Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury instigated a Protestant movement to remove the Roman Catholic James, Duke of York, from succeeding his brother Charles II to the throne. Shaftesbury, along with Lord William Russell, Lord Essex and Sir Algernon Sydney, spent three years trying to push the bill through Parliament, but King Charles, sticking to the 'Divine Right of Kings' principle, refused to allow his brother to be disinherited.

James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of Charles II’s illegitimate sons, was the figurehead for this movement. Born in Rotterdam on 9th April 1649 to Lucy Walter, James arrived among controversy, in that his mother was believed to have been the mistress of Colonel Robert Sidney when she met Charles, so his parenthood was in question from the start. These rumours were believed to have been started by the Prince’s brother, James Duke of York, who feared Charles II might make James his heir as he had no legitimate children.

James Crofts
The young James' mother took him to London where she was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. After questioning, allegedly by Cromwell himself, she was released and went to Flanders. This adventure apparently appalled Charles, who when James was eight, employed an agent to kidnap him. He was taken to Paris by Lord William Crofts, given his surname and lived at the Dowager Queen Henrietta Maria’s court, finally being brought to England when his father was restored to the throne at the age of fourteen. He never saw his mother again.

Charles II created him Duke of Monmouth, Earl of Doncaster, Baron Scott of Tynedale and appointed him a Knight of the Garter. Still only fourteen, James was married to the heiress Anne Scott, 4th Countess of Buccleuch. He took her name, and the couple were made Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, Earl and Countess of Dalkeith, and Lord and Lady Scott of Whitchester and Eskdale.

At sixteen, Monmouth served under his uncle the Duke of York in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and over the next fifteen years he distinguished himself as a brave and compassionate soldier – something which must have stuck in the craw of Uncle James of York.

Lord Shaftesbury urged King Charles II to recognise his son by the legitimisation of his marriage to Lucy Walters. The king refused, declaring before his council that had never been married to anyone except his queen, Catherine of Braganza. Monmouth always claimed his parents were married, a claim made by his mother, but which was never proved. A legend circulated of a ‘black box’ in which the marriage papers of Charles and Lucy Walters were hidden but these were never produced as evidence. Monmouth later confessed that his father had told him in private that he would have no legal right to the throne.

Monmouth was a popular Protestant figure, especially in the south west, and his army days had stood him in good stead for mixing with common people, a quality the aristocracy disapproved of.  He was implicated in the Popish Plot in 1679 and the Rye House Plot in 1683 to kill both the King and his brother. Although Monmouth was not involved, and was pardoned, he was banished from court and took refuge in the Netherlands early in 1684.

Despite their differences, James loved his father and apparently fell into an hysterical rage when he was told of Charles II's death in February 1685, even blaming his Uncle James of having poisoned him.

Shaftesbury was dead, but others, like Lord Ford Grey of Warke, and Archibald Campbell Earl of Argyll encouraged Monmouth to invade England and demand James II protect the English religion.

Argyll went to Scotland to raise a force there, while Monmouth, with eighty-two supporters, and men including Nathaniel Wade and Fletcher of Saltoun, sailed from Holland with three small ships, Anna, Sophia and David, four light field guns and 1500 muskets. They landed near  Lyme Regis on 11th June and quickly gathered another three hundred men.

However, Uncle James was on high alert for his errant nephew and all the ports were being watched. King James sent the Huguenot Louis Duras, earl Feversham and John Churchill, (later 1st Duke of Marlborough) to the west with his army.

Meanwhile in Lyme, recruits arrived in hundreds until Monmouth's army numbered a thousand foot and a hundred and fifty horse, mostly nonconformist, artisans and farm workers including, a young Daniel Foe, who later changed his name to Defoe.

Their Cavalry, composed of animals normally pulling ploughs, and poorly equipped men with outdated guns and farmyard tools; hence this was known as the pitchfork rebellion. Monmouth managed to gather 1500 troops, and although they were given limited training, they were hardly battle ready.

Ford Lord Grey
Monmouth declared himself the rightful king in Taunton Marketplace, as well as at Axminster, Chard and Ilminster, also accusing James II of poisoning his father. However his early triumphs were short-lived when most of the local landed gentry and the Anglican clergy proved unwilling to support Monmouth, though around a thousand cloth workers and peasants joined his growing army.

The warm summer weather had turned to heavy, relentless rain, and in need of men, money and horses, Monmouth created regiments armed with scythe blades mounted onto eight foot poles, while hatchets, pitchforks and clubs were pressed into service. He retreated to Bridgwater while the King's forces under Louis Duras, 2nd Earl of Feversham, and Colonel Kirke, had reached Somerset and were closing in.

Argyll, who had reached Campbeltown, failed to raise an army and was captured at Inchinnan on his way to Glasgow. By the 1st July he had already been executed in Edinburgh. Expected rebellions in Cheshire and East Anglia also failed to materialise, after which the morale of Monmouth's forces started to collapse and at least half his troops deserted and returned to their homes, while a reinforced Royal army cut off his route into both Exeter and Cornwall.

Monmouth climbed the tiny spiral staircase of the tower of St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater, where he surveyed the landscape of Sedgemoor where Feversham’s troops were encamped. The telescope he used is reputedly kept in the Blake Museum, Bridgwater. At midnight, Monmouth and his army set off through dark streets and onto the moor, with each man sworn to silence at the risk of being stabbed by the man beside him.

The two armies met on Sedgemoor in the early hours, but after getting lost between the ditches, Monmouth's makeshift force could not compete with the regular army, and was driven back, where the royal troops hunted them through the streets of Bridgwater.

Monmouth fled the battlefield in the company of Lord Grey and headed for Poole, and a ship to the continent. On reaching an Inn at Woodyates they split up, leaving their horses they proceeded across country singly and in disguise. Monmouth was discovered dressed as a shepherd and shivering in a ditch, under a hedge at Horton, Hampshire. He might have got away with it except that in his pocket he was carrying his ‘George’ the badge of the Order of the Garter.
Monmouth in Taunton from Micah Clarke

He was taken to London where he begged his uncle for mercy, and offered to convert to Catholicism, but James had always been jealous of his handsome nephew’s popularity and wanted his revenge.

Monmouth’s estranged wife, Anna was allowed to visit him, after having assured King James II she had had nothing to do with the rising, was allowed to continue her life. Bishops Turner of Ely and Ken of Bath and Wells withheld the eucharist as Monmouth refused to acknowledge that the rebellion or his relationship with Lady Wentworth had been sinful.

Monmouth mounted the scaffold on Tower Hill on 15th July 1685, where he tipped the headsman with the words, “Here are six guineas for you and do not hack me as you did my Lord Russell. I have heard you struck him four or five times; If you strike me twice, I cannot promise you not to stir.” This plea apparently destroyed Jack Ketch’s composure. The official Tower of London fact sheet says it took five blows to sever Monmouth’s head, though Charles Spencer, in his book Blenheim, claims it was seven. The mob were enraged and threatened to lynch Jack Ketch, who had to be removed under guard.

The Autumn Assizes of 1685 began at Winchester, led by Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys, a man suffering from painful kidney stones, which is often blamed for his viscous temper and the way he publicly harangued those on trial. The octogenarian Dame Alice Lyle was condemned to death for helping two rebels hide in her barn, though this could have been further retribution for the fact her husband, John Lisle signed Charles I’s death warrant.

At Dorchester between 300 and 350 rebels were accused. A few were acquitted, others fined or flogged, but the majority were publicly hanged, disemboweled and then quartered, their body parts dipped in pitch and salt, then sent to villages to be displayed on poles. Some had their sentences commuted to transportation, each man being worth about £12 to the crown, all of whom spent at least ten years in slavery in the West Indies.

Many rebels were whipped through all the towns in Dorset and the relatives of the schoolgirls, the Maids of Taunton who had presented Monmouth with a banner, were ransomed to their parents, the youngest being only ten.
Monmouth Grovels Before King James II
Around 200 people were sentenced to death and about 800 transported on The Happy Return, and the Betty, which sailed out of Poole to the West Indies. Jefferys also extorted money from many of the accused for their freedom. Lord Grey of Warke paid thirty thousand pounds for his pardon, and was seen dancing at a court ball by the autumn.

Most of those who survived their slavery received a free pardon in 1691.

Footnote: In 2012, a DNA test conducted on Monmouth's descendant Richard Montagu Douglas Scott, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, showed that he shared the same Y-chromosome (inherited from father-to-son) as a distant Stewart cousin, providing strong evidence that Charles II was Monmouth's biological father.

More Information about James Scott and Sedgemoor