Wednesday, February 4, 2015

James II Executes the Duke of Monmouth

Featuring Gilbert Burnet

Previously on Monmouth’s Rebellion. And now Gilbert Burnet.

Time: 1685
Place: Ledgemoor, Somerset

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Satellite view of the battlefield today.

His body was quite sunk with fatigue, and his mind was now so low that he begged his life in a manner that agreed ill with the courage of the former parts of it. He called for pen, ink, and paper, and wrote to the Earl of Feversham, and both to the Queen and the Queen dowager, to intercede with the King for his life. The King's temper, as well as his interest, made it so impossible to hope for that, that it showed a great meanness in him to ask it in such terms as he used in his letters. He was carried up to Whitehall, where the King examined him in person, which was thought very indecent, since he was resolved not to pardon him.[3] He made new and unbecoming submissions, and insinuated a readiness to change his religion; for, he said, the King knew what his first education was in religion. There were no discoveries to be got from him; for the attempt was too rash to be well concerted, or to be so deep laid that many were involved in the guilt of it. He was examined on Monday, and orders were given for his execution on Wednesday.

Turner and Ken, the Bishops of Ely and of Bath and Wells, were ordered to wait on him. But he called for Dr. Tennison. The bishops studied to convince him of the sin of rebellion. He answered, he was sorry for the blood that was shed in it, but he did not seem to repent of the design. Yet he confessed that his father had often told him that there was no truth in the reports of his having married his mother. This he set under his hand, probably for his children's sake, who were then prisoners in the Tower, that so they might not be ill-used on his account. He showed a great neglect of his duchess. And her resentments for his course of life with Lady Wentworth wrought so much on her that she seemed not to have any of that tenderness left that became her sex and his present circumstances, for when he desired to speak privately with her she would have witnesses to hear all that passed, to justify herself, and to preserve her family. They parted very coldly. He only recommended to her the rearing of their children in the Protestant religion.

The bishops continued still to press on him a deep sense of the sin of rebellion; at which he grew so uneasy that he desired them to speak to him of other matters. They next charged him with the sin of living with Lady Wentworth, as he had done. In that he justified himself; he had married his duchess too young to give a true consent; he said that lady was a pious worthy woman, and that he had never lived so well, in all respects, as since his engagements with her. All the pains they took to convince him of the unlawfulness of that course of life had no effect. They did certainly very well in discharging their consciences and speaking so plainly to him. But they did very ill to talk so much of this matter and to make it so public, as they did, for divines ought not to repeat what they say to dying penitents no more than what the penitents say to them. By this means the Duke of Monmouth had little satisfaction in them and they had as little in him.

He was much better pleased with Dr. Tennison, who did very plainly speak to him with relation to his public actings and to his course of life; but he did it in a softer and less peremptory manner. And having said all that he thought proper, he left those points, in which he saw he could not convince him, to his own conscience, and turned to other things fit to be laid before a dying man. The Duke begged one day more of life with such repeated earnestness that as the King was much blamed for denying so small a favor, so it gave occasion to others to believe that he had some hope from astrologers that if he outlived that day he might have a better fate. As long as he fancied there was any hope, he was too much unsettled in his mind to be capable of anything.

But when he saw all was to no purpose and that he must die he complained a little that his death was hurried on so fast. But all on a sudden he came into a composure of mind that surprised those that saw it. There was no affectation in it. His whole behavior was easy and calm, not without a decent cheerfulness. He prayed God to forgive all his sins, unknown as well as known. He seemed confident of the mercies of God, and that he was going to be happy with him. And he went to the place of execution on Tower Hill with an air of undisturbed courage that was grave and composed. He said little there, only that he was sorry for the blood that was shed, but he had ever meant well to the nation. When he saw the axe he touched it and said it was not sharp enough. He gave the hangman but half the reward he intended, and said if he cut off his head cleverly, and not so butcherly as he did the Lord Russel's, his man would give him the rest.

The executioner was in great disorder, trembling all over; so he gave him two or three strokes without being able to finish the matter and then flung the axe out of his hand. But the sheriff forced him to take it up; and at three or four more strokes he severed his head from his body and both were presently buried in the chapel of the Tower. Thus lived and died this unfortunate young man. He had several good qualities in him, and some that were as bad. He was soft and gentle even to excess and too easy to those who had credit with him. He was both sincere and good-natured, and understood war well. But he was too much given to pleasure and to favorites.

Footnote 3: The Duke of Monmouth pressed extremely hard that the King would see him, whence the King concluded he had something to say to him that he would tell to nobody else; but when he found it ended in nothing but pleas for mercy, James told him plainly he had put it out of his power to pardon him by having proclaimed himself king. -- ED.

This ends our series of passages on Monmouth’s Rebellion by Gilbert Burnet from his book History of My Own Time, Voume 1 published in 1724. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.

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