Beer, brave men and a royal bastard’s rebellion
In the summer of 2016, I went to Somerset to watch a re-enactment of the Battle of Sedgemoor (1685). It was research for the opening of Blood’s Revolution (Holcroft Blood 2, which comes out on Thursday) but I had a really good time and several pints of excellent local beer, and met some interesting people. I’d almost forgotten about the pictures till I started doing an electronic clear-out of my phone this morning. And having rediscovered them I thought I’d write briefly about about Sedgemoor and the Monmouth Rebellion today and illustrate my thoughts with these pics . . .
Bastard son of the King
James Scott, Duke of Monmouth – pictured above, on the right, outside the beer tent with “Colonel” Barry Upton, left, of the First Regiment of Foot Guards and a “Hatman” or ordinary solider, centre – was the eldest son of King Charles II with his mistress Lucy Walter. Because he was illegitimate, Monmouth couldn’t become king when his father died in February 1685. The thrones of the Three Kingdoms (England, Scotland and Ireland) went to Charles’s younger brother who became James II.
The West Country rises in rebellion
James II was a Catholic, which was a huge problem in the latter part of the 17th century (see my blog on the Glorious Revolution), and Monmouth was a staunch Protestant and furthermore he claimed that his mother had been secretly married to Charles II – so he was, in fact, the rightful king. He rebelled, raised an army in the West Country – recruiting working men, mostly weavers and farm hands mostly from Somerset, Dorset and Devon – and challenged James in the summer of 1685.
The future Duke of Marlborough
James Stuart mustered his armies and after a few weeks’ chase around the West Country, his generals (one of whom was Jack Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough) had Monmouth cornered in Bridgwater, Somerset. It was a fairly pathetic rebellion and ended on the field of Sedgemoor on July 6th, 1685. The rebels were brave but poorly trained and armed, some only carrying scythes or pitchforks, and facing professional red-coated killers armed with matchlock muskets (see above). The rebels tried a night attack, looping around to come at the foe from the flank. But thanks to some quick thinking by Churchill (and, in Blood’s Revolution, Holcroft Blood) they were resoundingly defeated.
The Bloody Assizes and “Hanging” Judge Jeffries
There was a bloody slaughter on the field at Sedgemoor. The West Countrymen were cut down with cannon fire (see authentic cannon below) and disciplined musket volleys, then ripped apart by cavalry, and afterwards the rebels were hunted down mercilessly across the West of England and executed in their hundreds by drawing and quartering. “Hanging” Judge Jeffries presided at the Bloody Assizes which, as well as killing hundreds of misguided men who had believed Monmouth’s lies, and the women who sheltered them, sentenced many hundreds of others to indentured servitude (near slavery) in the West Indies.
A botched execution
The rebellion was brutally put down. The Duke of Monmouth himself, though he begged for mercy from his uncle James, was executed at Tower Hill on July 15, 1685. The executioner Jack Ketch took between five and eight axe blows to cut his head off and, by the end of this long, gruesome ordeal the crowd, many of whom were sympathetic to Monmouth, were openly calling for Ketch’s blood. There was a near riot, quelled by soldiers. (This scene is told in much more detail in Blood’s Revolution.)
A bloody good day out
Despite all this historical bloodshed and mayhem, I had a brilliant and boozy day out at Sedgemoor, three hundred and thirty odd years after these grim events. And my thanks go to Barry Upton and his 17th-century re-enactors, the First Regiment of Foot Guards (part of the Sealed Knot), who put on such a terrific show. Here is a little snippet of the action on the day. And if you want to read more about Sedgemoor, Monmouth and the Glorious Revolution that followed, I’d suggest getting a copy of Blood’s Revolution from your nearest bookshop or from Amazon. Here’s the link again.