On the 15th July 1685 a 36 year old man was lead to the scaffold on Tower Hill. He would lose his head that day by the hand of the incompetent and notorious executioner Jack Ketch; it took 9 strokes of the axe and a knife to remove his head and codemn his spirit to the heavens. That man was James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of the late King, Charles II.
In the months since his father’s death, the Duke and a group of extremists plotted to over throw his Uncle the new catholic King James II from his exile in the Dutch Republic.
The 17th Century was a time when politics and religion intertwined and were a hang over from the English Reformation under Henry VIII. This was reinforced in more recent history and those fears were heightened by the Civil Wars that plagued Britain in the early part of the 17th Century under Monmouth’s grandfather Charles I and later under Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth republic.
Monmouth and his supporters were not the only people who feared life under the rule of Catholic James; in fact his reign lasted just under 4 years and he would ending his days in exile in France after the Glorious Revolution. This bloodless revolt when brought William of Orange to take the British throne with James own, daughter, Mary Stuart. During the last years of Charles reign attempts had been made legally through parliament to avoid James (then the Duke of York) from inheriting the throne from his brother. However Charles quashed all legal attempts by dissolving Parliament for the last time in 1683.
Monmouth’s rebellion was a knee jerk reaction to his uncle taking the throne, it was not as well planned or funded as the main protagionist thought and relied on more support than they actually had in Britain. I feel had they waited and planned and funded the operation better they may have succeeded in removing James, however would Monmouth have become king? I am not so sure. Monmouth may have inherited his father’s Stuart looks, but he was still illegitimate, its my opinion that he may have still had to concede the throne to his protestant cousins William of Orange and princess Mary as they were legitamate.
Monmouth was charming, spoilt, dashing, manipulated by others for their political gain, an able Military leader and hero, a lover, a bad husband, an absentee father and a complex and man who gambled and ultimately lost the biggest hand of fate he played and lost his life.
I am currently writing a biography on James Scott, Duke of Monmouth due to be published by Pen and Sword in Autumn 2017.