James, Duke of Monmouth

A young James Duke of Monmouth

James Crofts, later known as the Duke of Monmouth was the bastard son of Charles II and his first known Mistress Lucy Walter. He was born on 9th April 1649, and would go down in history as the man who would lose his head for rebelling against his uncle. Now then, I will be the first to admit that I have a little bit of a thing for Monmouth – and yes it may have something to do with his rather handsome portrait, and the fact I have a thing for blokes in periwigs. It may also have something to do with the fact that his sheer character intrigues me – the eldest bastard child of Charles II and a young man who believed wholeheartedly that his mother and his father were married and thus that he was the true heir to the English throne. That, and and he was an exceptional soldier and the people loved him.

However, I won’t be writing about Monmouth’s early life spent overseas. Even though a lot of stuff happened when he was a child, a lot more happened when he had grown up and moved back to England to live with his father at court. I will briefly mention however that in 1658 the young lad was kidnapped by his fathers men (because he believed Lucy wasn’t treating him right!) and taken to Paris where he lived with Lord Crofts – and James ended up taking the name Crofts until he was made Duke of Monmouth by his father in 1663.

James Duke of Monmouth by William Wissing

James was just 14 years old when his father made him Duke of Monmouth and he was also given the titles of Earl of Doncaster and Baron Scott of Tyndale. Later that year he was also made a Knight of the Garter. Not bad for a 14 year old! Not only that but in April 1663 he married to Anne Scott, a rather wealthy heiress. The day after the marriage they were both created Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, Earl and Countess of Dalkeith and Lord and Lady Scott of Whitchester.

As I have already briefly mentioned, Monmouth was an exceptionally popular young man. The reason for this was simple – as the son of Charles II he was a Protestant, and the people did not want their next King to be Catholic. James Duke of York, Charles’ brother and heir to the throne, was leaning towards the Catholic faith. James would later openly convert and it was not a popular decision. James and his Uncle would never have an easy relationship and it would sadly end in disaster for poor James.

James Duke of York at the National Maritime Museum

Despite this, from the age of 16 Monmouth served in the military under the command of his Uncle and it was this that ultimately put the barrier up between the two of them. Monmouth took part in the Second Dutch War serving under his uncle and in 1666 ended up taking command of a troop of horse. In 1668 he was made Commander of Charles II’s own troop of Horse Guards, and then in 1672 went over to France as head of a troop of 6000 men and served as part of the French Army – the men went over as payment to France for their help in the Third Dutch War, and it was his experiences in these campaigns which made him one of the finest soldiers of his period. It’s no wonder he had such confidence when he turned against his uncle later on!

In 1674, James was created Master of the Horse and Charles ordered that all miitary orders be given to Monmouth first for examination which gave him effective command over the entire army. Is it any wonder that the Duke of York began to get a little irate with all the favours being shown to Monmouth?

Throughout all of this, the succession was the utmost thought in people’s minds. Charles II had been unable to produce a legitimate heir with his wife Catherine of Braganza, yet had fathered a number of bastards with his mistresses. James Duke of York was Charles’ heir, but York was unpopular and Parliament thought it would be fun to try and pass a bill blocking his succession to the throne. Alas Parliament failed and Charles insisted that his brother was his heir. Yet Monmouth had this deep seated belief that he was Charles’ legitimate child, that his mother and father had been married (though is this likely? Due to the lack of evidence we will never know but I personally like to think so!) and that he should be the legitimate heir. Even then there was no evidence to support this claim, despite rumours of an exisiting marriage certificate. “The Power & The Passion” starring Rufus Sewell shows Charles as burning the marriage certificate – did this happen? Was it hidden and found later? There are rumours from the living relatives of Monmouth but really we can never be sure.

1683 saw a plot uncovered to assassinate both Charles and James Duke of York, known as the Popish Rye House Plot, arranged by a man by the name of Titus Oates. The plot alas came to nothing (again, shown brilliantly in the Power & The Passion!) but poor Monmouth was implicated in the plot and ended up being sent into exile in Holland!

Following his banishment in 1683, Charles never saw his eldest son again.

Charles II

Charles II died on 6th February 1685, having converted to Catholicism on his death bed. And due to Charles having no legitimate heirs, his brother James ascended to the throne and became James II. Monmouth, still believing that his parents had been legally married and that he was the legitimate heir, decideed it would be fun to come back to England and lead a rebellion against his uncle. After he landed in Lyme Regis in the July of 1685, Monmouth declared himself as King at various points along the way including Axminster and Taunton. And he was popular so many did not try to stop him, even going so far as to shout crys of “A MONMOUTH! A MONMOUTH!” after him. 6th July 1685 saw the Battle of Sedgemoor in which Monmouth found himself up against his Uncle’s armies. Monmouth was defeated and made his way to Ringwood in Hampshire, where he was captured.

Of course there were a few skirmishes a long the way and I will always remember the story of how Monmouth and his compatriots stayed at the George Inn at Norton St Philip in the West Country during the rebellion. I was told the story of the rebellion one evening on the way home from an archaeological dig, and it stuck with me.

The George Inn: Norton St Phillip

I was also told the story of Monmouth’s execution on that same car journey, which has haunted me ever since. But it comes later…

After being captured at Ringwood, Monmouth never stood trial for the crimes he committed against his uncle. He was condemned by act of attainder. He was automatically found guilty of high treason and would be beheaded, his lands and titles would become forfeit.

Monmouth’s execution

On 15th July 1685, James Duke of Monmouth was executed on Tower Hill for leading the rebellion against James II. His executioner was the infamous Jack Ketch. Upon the scaffold, Monmouth felt the edge of the axe and asked if it was sharp enough – his good friend having been executed by Ketch and it being botched – and he gave Ketch a bag of coins to encourage his good work. The coins did not help. Ketch botched the execution.

The first blow did not sever Monmouth’s head, and it is said Monmouth looked at Ketch in shock. 5 blows later and Monmouth was only just dead, and Ketch ended up removing Monmouth’s head with a butchers knife.

Monmouth’s story always brings a tear to my eye. I don’t know why, I just feel a certain affinity with him. His story is so sad – he was loved by his father but suffered because of his own blind belief. He lead a remarkable life, but again let his beliefs bring him down. Part of me wishes that his rebellion in the west country had succeeded, and I don’t know why but I think that he would have made a great King. But alas, we cannot change history and who knows what might have been should he succeeded. But Monmouth’s story is so gripping and so sad, I always feel a pang of pain when I think of the fate he suffered.

A MONMOUTH!


Further reading


Coward, B, 2012, The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 (Fourth Edition), Pearson: Harlow
Fraser, A, 1979. King Charles II, Butler & Tanner: Frome
Harris, T, 2006, Restoration: Charles II and his Kingdoms, Penguin: London
Watson, J.N.P, 1979, Captain General & Rebel Chief: The Life of James Duke of Monmouth,:George Allen & Unwin: London

Stuart Crushes…? Oh Go On Then.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I have a huge obsession with the Stuart era. I can’t help it, I just love it. I mean, it was an era full of rather dashing men, battlefield heroics and amazing beards. Not only that (and we’re getting serious now) but it was a dark period of Civil War, followed by a totally unfun England (cheers for that Cromwell) and ended up as a much more fun England under Charles II – bawdy poetry, theatre, dancing…general fun! My problem is that I love the era so much, the WHOLE era from James I all the way up to the reign of Queen Anne, and I have ended up developing way too many crushes on some rather dashing young men from the period. So I thought I would present you all with some pictures of these rather dashing young men and a little bit about who they are, and why I love them so much.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Born in December of 1619, this rather handsome young man played a huge part in the English Civil War, fighting and commanding parts of the Royalist army. He was also nephew of the lovely Charles I (see below). Prince Rupert became the poster boy for the perfect Cavalier with his dashing good looks, arrogance and enthusiasm. As commander of the Royalist Cavalry, Rupert took part in many of the English Civil Wars biggest battles including Edgehill, Marston Moor and the Siege of Bristol. Despite being rather dashing and a competent military commander he realised that the Royalist cause was lost and in 1645 advised Charles to treat with Parliament. Charles, of course refused and Rupert surrendered Bristol to Parliament ending up in him being court marshaled. His name was cleared, but in 1646 Rupert was exiled from England by his uncle. He did however have a part to play in his cousin Charles II’s exile, and became a part of the exiled court, and when Charles was restored to the throne Rupert was granted a pension and made a part of the Privy Council, and took an active role in the Naval pursuits of the time. Prince Rupert is just so fabulous he deserves a post all of his own, full of pictures of his handsome face. So this will be done. For sure. Because well…LOOK AT HIM!

John Wilmot – Earl of Rochester

Anyone who knows about Charles II and the Restoration should have heard the name of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. And if not, why not? This guy is famous for having his portrait painted with a monkey, wrote some of the best bawdy poetry and plays of his time as well as some of the most gorgeous love poems I have ever read, wrote a ton of hilarious seventeenth century pornography and loved booze and women a little bit too much. Also, if you haven’t seen The Libertine with Johnny Depp starring as the lovely Rochester then you are missing out because it is rather amazing and Mr Depp makes a brilliant Rochester! My favourite little ditty of ole’ Johnny’s is the following:

Here lies a great and mighty King,
Whose promise none relied on;
He never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.

Poor Rochester kept falling out of favour with his friend Charles II, mainly because a lot of his work made fun of the King and made out he was obsessed with sex. So he was exiled, and then came back only to be exiled again after a midnight brawl ended up in the killing of one of his companions in 1676.  But poor Rochester was to die young, and it is said he died of a plethora of venereal diseases including Syphilis and alcoholism.

Charles II

I think you all know why I love this man. I MEAN LOOK AT HIM AND HIS FABULOUSNESS AND HIS SHOES AND JUST EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM. Ahem. Please see my previous posts on Charles and his mistresses Nell Gwynne and Barbara Villiers if you want serious information about this guy. For now I will leave you with more pictures.

James Duke of Monmouth

James Duke of Monmouth has long fascinated me, since driving through Norton St Phillip on the way home from a day of digging up a Roman Villa and being told all about the George Inn where the ill fated Monmouth stayed during the Monmouth Rebellion. Monmouth was the illegitimate son of Charles II and his first mistress Lucy Walter. Monmouth was doted on by his father but there were loads of rumours that he had married Lucy and so the boy was actually the heir to the throne. It didn’t help that Monmouth had proven to be a military hero and the people loved him, and those who didn’t want James Duke of York on the throne got ideas into their heads that Monmouth should be the next King because he was Protestant. In the end, and this is putting it simply because again this could be a post all of its own, Charles got a little bit fed up of Monmouth and his big head so exiled him. After Charles II died, Monmouth came back to England and started the Monmouth rebellion to kick his Uncle James off the throne. And it failed, badly. Monmouth ended up being executed for high treason – he was beheaded on Tower Hill by the famous executioner Jack Ketch. Before he died, Monmouth felt the axe and asked Ketch to dispatch him quickly, fearing the axe wasn’t sharp enough, even going so far as to give Ketch a bag of coins to encourage him. It still took 5 blows to kill him, and Ketch ended up removing Monmouth’s head with a butchers knife. Monmouth’s story is fascinating and incredibly sad – all he wanted to do was please his father, but at the same time wanted desperately to believe that he was legitimate and his parents had been married. I’m currently reading a biography of him by J.N.P Watson which is proving to be a great read and I can tell that by the end of it, I will be sobbing into my cup of tea.

Charles I

Charles I was my first Stuart love. I mean, look at that beard and you will understand why! Poor Charlie, he made some bad choices when it came to running the country and arguing with Parliament but I really do believe he was in the right. Him and his Royalists fought for tradition, and he firmly believed in the Divine Right of Kings, that he was ordained by God and so he was the big dog and so, above Parliament. Parliament didn’t like that idea and so we all know how the story goes…the English Civil War. And sadly we all know how it ends, with Charles I being tried in a kangaroo court and found guilty of treason (treason? How can a king be found guilty of treason when treason is a crime against the King?). He was beheaded upon a scaffold outside of Whitehall Palace, and the only part of that Palace that survives today – The Banqueting House. For more detail on Charles please see my previous post about him and his life.

Thomas Fairfax

This guy sadly fought on the wrong side during the English Civil War, and was a General of the Parliament Army. Despite this, I quite like Fairfax not only because he was a rather handsome devil, but he managed to see through the Civil War, fought for what he believed it and also had a hand in bringing Charles II back to England. He also loved literature (maybe that’s why I love him so much!) and gave loads of manuscripts to the Bodleian library as well as writing his own poetry and translating Psalms. His nick name, quite adorably, was Black Tom due to his dark eyes and dark hair.

Edward Sexby

The picture above is of John Simm’s portrayal of Edward Sexby in the Devil’s Whore because I couldn’t actually find a portrait of Sexby from the time. Which is rather annoying.  If anyone knows of any then please do email me. Anyway, the portrayal of Sexby in the Devil’s Whore wasn’t exactly the most accurate although he was ruggedly handsome! The REAL Sexby fought for Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian army during the English Civil War and was also a follower of the Leveller John Lilburne, and thus believed in government being left to the people rather than having to answer to King or Parliament. When Cromwell took up the Protectorship in 1653 Sexby opposed it hugely, as it went against everything that had been fought for in the Civil Wars – Cromwell would for all intents and purposes be a King. Sexby and other Levellers began plotting against the Protectorship, publishing pamphlets and Sexby himself even turned up at the exiled court of Charles II to tell them all about leading an uprising against Cromwell and bringing Charles II back. Edward Hyde (Clarendon) was of course sceptical, wondering how on earth the levellers and a reinstated monarchy could work together. Sexby was the author of a pamphlet named “Killing No Murder” in which he said that Cromwell was a tyrant and worse than Caligula, and in such circumstances Tyrannicide was justifiable. He then began to plot to assassinate Cromwell. He was arrested in 1657, locked up in the Tower of London and questioned where he admitted to writing the pamphlet and plotting to assassinate Cromwell, but he wouldn’t name any of his accomplices. Good man. Poor Sexby died of a fever whilst locked in the Tower in 1658 before he could be tried.

John Donne

This guy was a poet, a satirist, a lawyer and eventually a priest. He didn’t take part in the English Civil Wars, dying before they could even start. He was born in 1572 and died in 1631, and this the majority of his adult life was lived during the reign of James I. Whilst Donne didn’t really do anything particularly exciting, he was a member of parliament and later became a priest, he did write a love poem involving a flea. And that therefore makes him awesome.

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be;
Thou knowest that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead.
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered, swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.
Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, we are met
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and sayest that thou
Find’st not thyself, nor me, the weaker now.
‘Tis true, then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honor, when thou yieldst to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee