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Reign on James II page 4


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Monmouth was extremely popular with the people, and on discovering that it was their favourite hero come to put down the popish tyrant, he was received with loud acclamations. "Monmouth and the protestant religion" was the cry. There was a rush to enlist beneath his banners, and within four-and-twenty hours he was at the head of fifteen hundred men. Dare, one of the adventurers, had been put ashore as they came along the coast, to ride across the country and rouse the people of Taunton, and he now came in at the head of about forty horsemen, and with the news that the people of Somersetshire were in favour of his cause. But with this arrival came the tidings that the Dorsetshire and Somersetshire people were mustering at Bridport to attack them, and Monmouth ordered lord Grey, who was the commander of the cavalry, to march there at once, and disperse them before they had collected in strength. But here an incident occurred which showed the unruly materials that he had to work with. Dare had mounted himself on a fine horse in his expedition to Taunton, and Fletcher of Saltoun, who was second in command of *the cavalry under Grey, without asking leave of Dare, as superior officer, and being himself badly mounted, took possession of his horse. Dare refused to let him have it, they came to high words, Dare shook his whip at Fletcher, and the proud Scot drew his pistol and shot Dare dead on the spot. This summary proceeding, which might have passed in the ruder country of Scotland, created a violent outburst amongst the soldiers of Monmouth. They demanded of the duke instant execution of the murderer, and it was only by getting on board the Helderenbergh that Fletcher escaped with his life. He returned to Holland, and thus was lost to the expedition almost its only man of any talent and experience.

The next morning Grey, accompanied by Wade, led forth his untrained cavalry to attack the militia at Bridport. There was a smart brush with the militia, in which Monmouth's raw soldiers fought bravely, and would have driven the enemy from the place, but Grey, who was an arrant coward in the field, turned his horse and fled, never drawing bit till he reached Lyme. The men were indignant, and Monmouth was confounded with this conduct of his chief officer; but nevertheless he had not moral firmness to put some more trusty officer in his place. Four days after his landing, the 15th of June, Monmouth marched forward to Axminster, where he encountered Christopher Monk, duke of Albemarle, the son of the first general Monk, at the head of four thousand men of the trained bands. Though daunted at first, Monmouth accepted the situation, and disposed his men admirably for a fight. He drew up the main body in battle array on advantageous ground, sent out his skirmishers to the front, and, as a last precaution, lined the hedges of a narrow lane, through which Albemarle must pass to come at him, with musketeers. Monk, however, was too cautious to risk a pitched battle on these terms - the more especially as his own forces were untrustworthy. There appeared so much enthusiasm for Monmouth amongst his troops that, fearing their desertion, he drew back. The result was that the whole body was speedily thrown into disorder, that panic seized them, and that they fled pell-mell towards Exeter, flinging away their arms and uniforms to expedite their escape. Monmouth however, probably not aware of the extent of the rout, steadily pursued his march to Chard, and thence to Taunton, where he arrived on the 18th of June, just a week after his landing, and was received by the whole place with the warmest demonstrations of joy. Taunton, through all the great struggle betwixt Charles I. and his parliament, had adhered firmly to the parliament. It had stood out two terrible sieges, but had been admirably defended by the great Blake, afterwards admiral of England. It had suffered severely, but had gloried in suffering, and had never yielded. After the restoration Taunton still continued a place of indomitable popular and religious spirit. It was a hive of nonconformists, and its preachers, especially Alleine, the author of the celebrated "Alarm to the Unconverted," had thundered from their pulpits against popery and prelacy, and the vices of the court, till they were silenced in dungeons. To such a people Monmouth, as the hero of protestant liberty, came as an angel from heaven. They received him with the liveliest bursts of rejoicing. They adorned their doors and windows with flowers, they strewed his path with them, and appeared abroad wearing every man a sprig of green in his hat, as a badge of the popular cause. He and his officers were quartered in the houses of the chief citizens, and the people hurried to supply his little army with food and lodging. The young ladies of the place embroidered banners for the army, and a deputation of twenty-six of the handsomest and most distinguished maidens presented to Monmouth one emblazoned with the royal arms. The lady heading the procession, also kneeling, offered for his acceptance a Bible handsomely bound, which he received with an air of reverence, saying that he came to defend the truths of that book, and, if necessary, to seal them with his blood.

All this appeared auspicious and encouraging, but it did not satisfy Monmouth. He knew, without the adhesion of the army and the leading gentry, he should never make his way to the crown. Their adhesion had been promised him, but where were they? Not a regiment had given a sign of being ready to join him. The lords Macclesfield, Brandon, Delamere, and other whig noblemen, whom he had been assured would instantly fly to his standard, lay all still. Trenchard of Taunton, who had promised to join him, unlike his townsmen, fled at his approach, and made his way into Holland, to the prince of Orange. Wildman, who had promised such wonders of county support and of money, did not appear. On the contrary, the nobility and gentry from all parts of the country, with the clergy, were pouring in addresses of attachment and support to James. Parliament, both lords and commons, displayed the same spirit.

The common people might believe that the son of Lucy Walters was legitimate, but the educated classes knew better, and that Monmouth could never be king. Parliament, therefore, at once voted James four hundred thousand pounds for present necessities, and laid new taxes for five years on foreign silks, linen, and spirits. They ordered Monmouth's declaration to be burnt by the hangman, and rapidly passed against him a bill of attainder, setting a reward of five thousand pounds on his head. They were ready to go farther, and the commons actually passed a bill for the preservation of the king's person and government, making it high treason to say that Monmouth was legitimate, or to make any motion in parliament to alter the succession. But James, knowing the uselessness of any such act, adjourned parliament without waiting for the act passing the lords, and dismissed the nobles and gentry to defend his interests in their different localities. He took care, however, to revive the censorship of the press, which had expired in 1679.

When Monmouth, with consternation, noted these adverse circumstances, Ferguson was ready with a reason. It was, that Monmouth had committed a capital error in not taking the title of king. The style and title of king, he asserted, carried a wonderful weight with the English. But of this right he had deprived himself by abjuring this title and leaving it entirely to James. That the majority would fight for the man who was in possession of the royal name, but for whom were they to fight who fought for Monmouth?

Nobody could tell, and the result must be discouragement. Grey seconded Ferguson - Wade and the republicans opposed the scheme. But probably Monmouth was only too willing to be persuaded, and, accordingly, on the 20th of June, he was proclaimed in the market-place of Taunton. As the names of both rivals were James, and James II. would continue to mean James who now had that title, Monmouth was styled king Monmouth. Immediately on taking this step, Monmouth issued four proclamations. Following the example of James, he set a price on the head of James, late duke of York; declared the parliament sitting at Westminster an unlawful assembly, and ordered it to disperse; forbade the people to pay taxes to the usurper; and proclaimed Albemarle a traitor, unless he forthwith repaired to the standard of king Monmouth, where he would be cordially received.

Almost every part of this proceeding was a gross political blunder. By assuming the royal title he lost nearly everything, and gained nothing. He offended the republican party, and divided the allegiance of his little army, some of the most energetic of whose officers, as Wade and others, were of that political faith. He offended that great protestant party which was looking forward to the protestant succession of William of Orange and the princess Mary, and in case of their want of issue to the princess Anne. He cut off all retreat to Holland in case of failure, and all hope of mercy from James if he fell into his hands. By pledging himself on landing not to aspire to the crown, and thus immediately breaking his pledge, he inspired the thinking portion of the public with deep distrust, as inducing the same disregard of his word as had been so long conspicuous in the Stuarts. With all the influential protestants who might have joined him, so soon as events gave hope of success, considering him the champion of Protestant succession, he had placed himself in a hopeless position, because that succession could only come through a legitimate issue. By denouncing the parliament that body became his mortal foes. The only party from which he could now expect any support was the people, and without means, without leaders, without military training, the result could only be failure utter and fearful.

And spite of the persuasions of Ferguson, the melancholy truth seemed already to stare the unhappy Monmouth in the face. He received a secret answer from Albemarle, addressed to James Scott, late duke of Monmouth, telling him that he knew who was his lawful king, and that he had better have let rebellion alone. As he rode out of Taunton on the 22nd of June towards Bridgewater, it was remarked that he looked gloomy and dejected; the very people who crowded in the road to greet him with huzzahs, could not help remarking how different was the expression of his countenance to what it had been in his gay procession there five years before. The only man who seemed elated with anticipation of triumph, was Ferguson, and if, as he is suspected to have been, playing the traitor to the unfortunate Monmouth, he might now well grow confident of his diabolical success. He is described as riding about brandishing his sword, and addressing the people in a wild, maniacal style.

On reaching Bridgewater, where there existed a strong whig body, Monmouth was again well received. The mayor and aldermen in their robes welcomed him, preceded him in procession to the high cross, where they proclaimed him king. He took up his abode in the castle, encamped his army on the castle field, and crowds rushed to enlist in his service. His army already amounted to six thousand men, and might soon have been doubled or trebled; but his scanty supply of arms and equipments was already exhausted, he had no money, and men without weapons were useless. Numbers of them endeavoured to arm themselves mob fashion, with scythes, pitchforks, and other implements of husbandry and of mining. There was an active search for such weapons all round the neighbourhood; but what was an army of raw, undisciplined men, thus furnished, to do against regular forces with artillery and muskets? What was the motley cavalry, about a thousand in number, mounted on horses brought from the plough, or unbroken colts caught on the moors, to do against a disciplined force of horse mounted on steeds accustomed to start and keep order amid the rush of military manoeuvres? In fact, the expedition was equally hopeless from the lack of funds, of the support of those who could furnish them, and the unequal conditions on which these zealous but untrained and nearly unarmed people must engage with the royal troops.

Meantime, these troops were drawing from all quarters, and preparing to overwhelm the invaders. Lord Feversham and Churchill, afterwards Marlborough, were ordered to march with strong bodies of troops to the west. Churchill was already arrived, and Feversham rapidly approaching. The militias of Sussex and Oxfordshire were drawing that way, followed by bodies of volunteer gownsmen from Oxford. To prevent any of the whig party affording Monmouth any aid, they and the nonconformists were closely watched, and many seized and imprisoned.

From Bridgewater Monmouth advanced to Glastonbury, and thence to Wells and Shepton Mallet. He appeared to have no precise object, but to seek reinforcements; from Shepton Mallet he directed his march on Bristol, which was only defended by the duke of Beaufort and the muster of his tenantry. Bristol once gained, would give them a strong position, and offered large supplies of money, stores, and arms. But Churchill harassed his rear on the march, and to reach the Gloucestershire side of the town, which was easiest of assault, it was necessary to march round by Keynsham Bridge, which was partly destroyed. Men were dispatched to repair it, and Monmouth following, on the 24th of June was at Ponsford, within five miles of the city. On reaching Keynsham Bridge, it was found to be repaired, but they were there encountered by a body of life guards under colonel Oglethorpe, and Bristol having received reinforcements, the attack on it was abandoned. It was then proposed to get across the Severn and march for Shropshire and Cheshire, where he had in his progress been enthusiastically received; but the plan was not deemed practicable, and he advanced to Bath, which was too strongly garrisoned to make any impression upon. On the 26th they halted at Philip's Norton.

Feversham was now at their heels, and attacked them, the charge being led by the duke of Grafton - the son of Charles and the duchess of Cleveland - who fought bravely, but was repulsed. Monmouth, however, took advantage of the night to steal away to Frome, which was well affected to his cause, but had been just visited and disarmed by the earl of Pembroke with the Wiltshire militia. The night march thither had been through torrents of rain and muddy roads Frome could afford neither assistance nor protection; and, to add to his disappointment, here news reached him of the total failure of Argyll's expedition into Scotland, and that Feversham was now joined by his artillery and was in pursuit of him. Under these disastrous circumstances, and not a man of note, not a regiment of regulars or militia as had been so liberally promised him by Wildman and Danvers, having come over to him, Monmouth bitterly cursed his folly in having listened to them, and resolved to ride off with his chief adherents, and get back to the continent and his beloved lady Wentworth. But from this ignominous idea he was dissuaded by lord Grey, and they retreated again towards Bridgewater, where a report represented fresh assembling of armed peasantry. They reached that town on the 2nd of July, and, whilst throwing up trenches for defence, on the 5th Feversham arrived with about five thousand men, and pitched his tents on Sedgemoor, about three miles from the town. Feversham himself, with the cavalry at Weston Zoyland, and the earl of Pembroke with the Wiltshire militia, about fifteen hundred in number, camped at the village of Middlezoy. Monmouth and his officers ascended the tower of the church and beheld the disposition of the enemy. Sedgemoor had formerly been a vast marsh, where Alfred, in his time, had sought a retreat from the triumphant Danes, and it was now intersected by several deep ditches, as most fen lands are, behind which the royal army lay. Near Chedzoy lay some regiments of infantry which Monmouth had formerly commanded at Bothwell Bridge.

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Pictures for Reign on James II page 4

Great Seal of James II
Great Seal of James II >>>>
James Receiving the French bribe
James Receiving the French bribe >>>>
Monmouth Advancing on Taunton
Monmouth Advancing on Taunton >>>>
Flight of Monmouth
Flight of Monmouth >>>>
Reception of Monmouth by the ladies of Taunton
Reception of Monmouth by the ladies of Taunton >>>>
Burning of Elizabeth Gaunt
Burning of Elizabeth Gaunt >>>>
William of Orange
William of Orange >>>>
Monmouth exchanging clothes with a shepherd
Monmouth exchanging clothes with a shepherd >>>>

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