Featuring Gilbert Burnet
Introduction to our series Monmouth’s Rebellion:
This series is from History of My Own Time. Gilbert Burnet was a Whig who opposed King James. He was in exile when these events occurred. After the Glorious Revolution he ended up as Bishop of Salisbury. And now, Gilbert Burnet.
Place: Ledgemoor, Somerset
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Satellite view of the battlefield today.
James II was scarcely seated on the English throne in 1685 when serious disturbances began in his realm. The King had inherited the peculiar traits of the Stuarts. His first purpose was to overcome the Parliamentary power and make himself absolute ruler. He was likewise a Roman Catholic, and one of his objects was the suppression of English Protestantism.
During the first days of his reign the Protestant peasants in the west of England rose in revolt. They supported the claims of James Fitzroy, Duke of Monmouth, to the throne. Monmouth was the (reputed) illegitimate son of Charles II and Lucy Walters. With other exiled malcontents, English and Scotch, he had taken refuge in Holland. One of those exiled was the Earl of Argyle, whose father had figured prominently on the side of the Scottish Presbyterians against Charles I.
Owing to national jealousy, the English and Scotch in Holland could not act in unison, but all were determined to strike against James. Two expeditions were planned--one under Argyle, who expected to find forces awaiting him in Scotland; the other under Monmouth, whose adherents were to join him in the west of England.
Argyle's attempt miscarried through disagreement among the leaders, and the Earl was taken and beheaded, June 30, 1685. What befell the enterprise of Monmouth is told by Bishop Burnet, a contemporary historian. Monmouth was executed July 15, 1685, and in the trials known as the "Bloody Assizes,"presided over by the brutal George Jeffreys, some three hundred of the Duke's followers were condemned to death, and more than a thousand otherwise punished.
As soon as Lord Argyle sailed for Scotland, Monmouth set about his design with as much haste as possible. Arms were brought and a ship was freighted for Bilbao in Spain. He pawned all his jewels, but these could not raise much, and no money was sent to him out of England. So he was hurried into an ill-designed invasion. The whole company consisted but of eighty-two persons. They were all faithful to one another. But some spies whom Shelton, the new envoy, set on work, sent him the notice of a suspected ship sailing out of Amsterdam with arms.
Shelton neither understood the laws of Holland nor advised with those who did; otherwise he would have carried with him an order from the admiralty of Holland, that sat at The Hague, to be made use of as the occasion should require. When he came to Amsterdam, and applied himself to the magistrates there, desiring them to stop and search the ship that he named, they found the ship was already sailed out of their port and their jurisdiction went no further. So he was forced to send to the admiralty at The Hague. But those on board, hearing what he was come for, made all possible haste. And, the wind favoring them, they got out of the Texel before the order desired could be brought from The Hague. After a prosperous course, the Duke landed at Lyme in Dorsetshire (June 11, 1685); and he with his small company came ashore with some order, but with too much daylight, which discovered how few they were.
The alarm was brought hot to London, where, upon the general report and belief of the thing, an act of attainder passed both Houses in one day; some small opposition being made by the Earl of Anglesey, because the evidence did not seem clear enough for so severe a sentence, which was grounded on the notoriety of the thing. The sum of five thousand pounds was set on his head. And with that the session of Parliament ended; which was no small happiness to the nation, such a body of men being dismissed with doing so little hurt. The Duke of Monmouth's manifesto was long and ill-penned--full of much black and dull malice.
It charged the King with the burning of London, the popish plot, Godfrey's murder, and the Earl of Essex's death; and to crown all, it was pretended that the late King was poisoned by his orders: it was set forth that the King's religion made him incapable of the crown; that three subsequent houses of commons had voted his exclusion: the taking away of the old charters, and all the hard things done in the last reign, were laid to his charge: the elections of the present parliament were also set forth very odiously, with great indecency of style; the nation was also appealed to, when met in a free parliament, to judge of the Duke's own pretensions; and all sort of liberty, both in temporals and spirituals, was promised to persons of all persuasions.
Upon the Duke of Monmouth's landing, many of the country people came in to join him, but very few of the gentry. He had quickly men enough about him to use all his arms. The Duke of Albemarle, as lord lieutenant of Devonshire, was sent down to raise the militia, and with them to make head against him. But their ill-affection appeared very evident; many deserted, and all were cold in the service. The Duke of Monmouth had the whole country open to him for almost a fortnight, during which time he was very diligent in training and animating his men. His own behavior was so gentle and obliging that he was master of all their hearts as much as was possible. But he quickly found what it was to be at the head of undisciplined men, that knew nothing of war, and that were not to be used with rigor. Soon after their landing, Lord Grey was sent out with a small party. He saw a few of the militia, and he ran for it; but his men stood, and the militia ran from them. Lord Grey brought a false alarm, that was soon found to be so, for the men whom their leader had abandoned came back in good order. The Duke of Monmouth was struck with this when he found that the person on whom he depended most, and for whom he designed the command of the horse, had already made himself infamous by his cowardice. He intended to join Fletcher with him in that command. But an unhappy accident made it not convenient to keep him longer about him. He sent him out on another party, and he, not being yet furnished with a horse, took the horse of one who had brought in a great body of men from Taunton. He was not in the way, so Fletcher not seeing him to ask his leave, thought that all things were to be in common among them that could advance the service.
Footnote 1: He asserted that his mother had been the lawful wife of his father. -- ED.
Continued on Monday, February 2nd.
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