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The death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 eventually lead to the abandonment of the Commonwealth in favour of the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. The religious problems which had bedevilled the country for generations were far from resolved.

Charles II detested the pro-Parliamentarian presbyterians and amongst his first acts as king was to ban all religious meetings other than those held in parish churches, and the clergy were required to take an oath of conformance. With no heir to succeed him, his brother became James II.

James was a strict Catholic and, although he resolved to be as strong as his father, his claim to the throne was challenged by the Protestant James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, one of Charles II's illegitimate sons.

James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, was the eldest of twelve illigitimate children fathered by Charles II. His mother was Lucy Walker, Charles' Welsh mistress for a short time.

Charles II was proclaimed King of England in 1660 and Monmouth, aged thirteen, came to England two years later with Henrietta Maria, his paternal grandmother. By this time the King was married to a Portuguese princess, catherine of Braganza. The royal couple had no children of their own and lavished their attention on the young James who was created Duke of Monmouth and made a Knight of the Garter.

The young Monmouth had countless mistresses, frequented brothels and led a rowdy life with his friends being involved in several assaults. Falling from the King's favour, Monmouth left England for Holland.

At the time of his father's death in February 1685, Monmouth was in Holland as the guest of William Prince of Orange. Monmouth's uncle and William's father-in-law succeeded to the throne as James II. As James hated Monmouth, William was obliged to order him to leave Holland.

It was Monmouth's expulsion from Holland which seems to have spurred him to attempt to raise a rebellion in the predominantly Protestant West Country against the Catholic King - a plan which the Protestant Dutch supported, albeit secretly.

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The Revolt

Monmouth rode down the decorated High Street of Shepton Mallet flanked by Lord Fareham and Lord Grey to the cheers of the townsfolk.

Edward Strode (son of Colonel William Strode, who led Shepton's Parliamentarian troops in 1642) presented Monmouth with one hundred guineas.

Monmouth landed just to the west of the Cobb at Lyme regis with 82 supporters on June 11th, 1685, to the rallying cry of "Monmouth, Monmouth, God save the Protestant religion!". The West Country was strongly Protestant and the rebels were certain that they would easily raise support for their cause against a strongly Catholic king.

The band rode northwards attracting religious fanatics, the poor and discontents and fighting a number of skirmishes along the way. Twelve days after his landing at Lyme regis, Monmouth arrived at the strongly Protestant town of Shepton Mallet with three thousand infantry and large well-armed band of cavalry.

The Duke and his supporters landing on Monmouth Beach,
just to the west of the Cobb at Lyme Regis

Reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Standard Public House,
Lyme Regis, Dorset

Amongst the 82 supporters who landed at Lyme Regis were Daniel Defoe and Fletcher of Saltoun.

The Duke the night of June 23 in Longbridge House and marched his army towards Bristol the following day, determined to take the largest and most important city in the country after London. Harried en-route by a strong force of Life Guards led by Lord Feversham, Monmouth abandoned his quest for Bristol and attempted to take Bath instead. Bath was too strongly defended and Monmouth marched his bedraggled army, much reduced by casualties and desertion, back to Shepton Mallet.

This time the town was scared of reprisals and Monmouth and his brocken band recieved a cold welcome. The rebels took what they wanted and Monmouth again stayed overnight at Longbridge House before moving on to Wells.

On July 5th, the King's army under John Churchill (later created Duke of Marlborough) massacred the remnants of Monmouth's rebels at the battle of Sedgemoor, near Bridgewater. Monmouth himself escaped, making his way back to Shepton Mallet and brief refuge with his friend Edward Strode, whome he presented with his brace of pistols. The following day he attempted to escape to France but was caught in Dorset the following day, and beheaded on Tower Hill a week later.

Monmouth was found hiding in a hedge at Horton dressed as a farm labourer. It is said that he might have succeeded in esaping had he not carried the insignia of the Order of the Garter in his pocket.

The Duke of Monmouth suffered greatly during his execution on July 15th before a large crowd due to the notorious incompetence of the public executioner John Ketch. The Duke had asked for a clean end to his life - in the event Ketch took five blows to hack off the rebel's head.

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The King s Vengeance

It has been estimated that as many as 2,000 of the rebels were killed at Sedgemoor and Monmouth could do nothing other flee over the heathland to the north of Holt. After the battle, some 500 prisoners were herded into Westonzoyland church and surrounding barns, many so badly injured that they died. Colonel Kirke in whose charge the rebels had been left commenced to pull out groups of the prisoners at random and execute them. These summary executions were soon halted by James II, not because he had any objection to them, but because he wanted an example made of the rebels.

The King despatched a band of cavalry commanded by Colonel Kirke into Somerset to aprehend any who were suspected of having aided Monmouth and his rebels. Those who did not have the means to ransom themselves hanged from inn signs then quartered, without any trial. None knows the numbers of those who died in this wave of vengeance.

Edward Strode escaped the bloody retribution of the king by recieving a royal pardon - but only after making a substantial contribution to the royal coffers.

Initially content with the work of Kirke and his troops, King James became concerned that the rich who might have aided Monmouth were escaping. The monarch despatched a commission headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Judge Jeffreys, to the West Country and, in what became known as the 'Bloody Assizes', and hundreds of suspected rebels were ordered to be hanged. The severity of the punishments meted out by the commission assured the notoriety of "Hanging Judge Jefferys".

By March 10th, 1686, the royal desire for revenge had abated and King James II granted an amnesty to all those who might have been involved in Monmouth's rebellion excepting for his officers and a few high-profile rebels still at large.

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1685Monmouths rebellion n the West Country crushed by James II at the Battle of Sedgemoor
The crushing of the rebellion was followed by the notorious Bloody Assizes presided over by Judge Jeffereys
1685.Sep.14Rebels of the Monmouth rebellion tried at Exeter
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BRIDPORT, Dorset where there was a skirmish.

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Stories from Dorset History
  by Alan J. Miller

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