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  James Scott (1649–1685), by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1678 James Scott (1649–1685), by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1678
Scott [formerly Crofts], James, duke of Monmouth and first duke of Buccleuch (1649–1685), politician, was born on 9 April 1649 at Rotterdam, the illegitimate son of and , daughter of William Walter (or Walters) of Roch Castle, near Haverfordwest, in Pembrokeshire, and his wife, Elizabeth Prothero. Charles met Lucy during a brief visit to The Hague in July 1648, when she was still under the protection of Colonel Robert Sidney (1628–1668), and it was during this time that Monmouth was evidently conceived. Lucy ‘prov'd so soon with child and came so near in time’ that some later questioned whether Charles was Monmouth's true father. Charles's brother, the duke of York (later James II), thought that when Monmouth reached manhood he bore a striking resemblance to Sidney, ‘both in stature and in countenance, even to a wort in his face’ (Clarke, 1.492), though York, of course, had his own reasons for casting aspersions about Monmouth's paternity. Charles always acknowledged Monmouth to be his son, and portraits of the two as adolescents show a clear family likeness.

Most biographers have assumed that Charles resumed his relationship with Lucy when he returned to the Netherlands in September 1648, although the historical record is obscure. When James was born, he was found a nurse at the house of a merchant named Claus Ghysen, in Schiedam, just outside Rotterdam, while Lucy took lodgings in Antwerp at the home of Mrs Harvey (mother of the celebrated Dr William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood), and Charles left for France. John Evelyn later recalled meeting Lucy at St Germain-en-Laye in August 1649, where she had come to be introduced to Charles's mother, Henrietta Maria. However, that September Charles left for Jersey, so as to be in a better position to watch developments in Scotland and Ireland, and a year later he embarked for Scotland, in a last-ditch attempt to rescue the royalist cause. When he returned to France following the royalist defeat at Worcester in September 1651, he made no attempt to revive his affair with Lucy.

Rumours were later to emerge that Charles and Lucy had married during their brief time together, though there is no firm evidence that they did, and it seems intrinsically unlikely. It is true that Charles's sister Mary, princess of Orange, made references to Charles's ‘wife’ in a couple of letters addressed to her brother in 1654, but she appears to have been using the term euphemistically and it is unclear whether she had Lucy in mind in any case. On her deathbed Lucy made a secret confession of her life to John Cosin, later bishop of Durham, which gave rise to the story that she had admitted having married Charles and had given her confessor a ‘black box’ containing the proof; when Cosin died in 1672, there was no one left to refute such talk. Some accounts hold that Charles and Lucy were secretly married in Liège; Buccleuch family legend has it that the third duke of Buccleuch (1746–1812) found the marriage certificate (or a copy of it) when he was going through some papers at Dalkeith, and decided to burn it. However, the fact that in 1654 Lucy sought Charles's leave to marry another suitor seems to imply that she did not think herself legally married to the king.

Early years

James had what must have been a traumatic early childhood. He survived an attempt to kidnap him in 1650 (his mother suspected by Commonwealth agents), though he was missing for ten days before he was eventually found. For safety reasons Lucy decided to remove him from Schiedam, taking him first to Boxtel, near Breda, and then to Paris, where she became mistress to Viscount Taaffe, whose daughter she was to bear. In 1655, after the break-up of that relationship, Lucy moved with her two children to The Hague, where she became the mistress of Thomas Howard, the earl of Suffolk's brother. At Charles's insistence they left the Netherlands in January 1656, setting up home in London above a barber's shop opposite Somerset House, but a nervous republican regime had them arrested and sent to the Tower at the end of June. The following month, by special order of the protector, they were shipped back to Flanders, and by August 1657 Lucy was in Brussels with her children, penniless, having now been abandoned by Howard. When she threatened Charles, who was now living at Bruges with his new mistress, Catherine Pegge, that she would make public his old letters to her if he did not pay her the annuity he had been promising for some time, Charles decided to have his son kidnapped. The first attempt, in December 1657, was bungled, but in March 1658 Thomas Ross, one of the king's spymasters, successfully seized the boy. Mother and son were separated for good; Lucy was to die before the end of the year, whereas young James was sent to Paris and placed in the care of William, Lord Crofts, a gentleman of Charles's bedchamber, whose surname he now took.

James's education to date had been woefully neglected; at the age of nine he could neither read nor count. He now spent two years at a petite école and then briefly attended the academy of Familly. He also received some instruction in Catholicism at the hands of Father Goffe of the Oratorian College of Notre Dame des Vertus, although he never converted. After the Restoration his abductor, Ross, was appointed his tutor, but James underwent no further formal education. Neither reading nor writing came easy to him; as a fifteen-year-old, penning a letter would make him ‘sigh and sweat’ (CSP dom., 1664–5, 76), while even as an adult his handwriting was childlike and his spelling highly idiosyncratic. Intellectually, it has been said, he was ‘very ill-equipped … to enter the world of Restoration politics’ (Clifton, 82).

Life at court

Charles saw little of James between the abduction of 1658 and the Restoration in 1660, and did not summon his son back to England until the summer of 1662. Once young James joined the royal court at Whitehall, however, he quickly won over his father's affections. Titles and honours followed. A marriage was arranged to the wealthy Scottish heiress , in anticipation of which James changed his last name to Scott (Anne's father had stipulated that any female heir had to marry someone who took the family name) and as such was knighted. On 10 November 1662 a warrant was issued granting Sir James Scott the titles of duke of Monmouth, earl of Doncaster, and baron of Fotheringay, though the last, because of its tragic associations with Charles's great-grandmother Mary, queen of Scots, was subsequently replaced by the title of Baron Scott of Tynedale. James was officially created on 14 February 1663, being given precedence over all dukes not of the blood royal, and on 28 March he was nominated to be a knight of the Garter (installed 23 April). His marriage took place on 20 April 1663, shortly after his fourteenth birthday (his bride was a mere twelve), on which day he was also created duke of Buccleuch, earl of Dalkeith, and Lord Scott of Whitchester and Eskdale.

Although the countess of Buccleuch was estimated to be worth some £10,000 p.a., Anne's mother, Lady Wemyss, had the money entailed out of Monmouth's grasp. However, Charles made sure his son was well provided for. In 1662 he granted Monmouth a patent for regulating the export of all new drapery for thirty-one years, which provided the duke with an annual income of £8000. Towards the end of the following year Charles gave him part of the new building constructed at the Cockpit for a town residence, and in March 1664 he bought him Sir John Ashburnham's house in Chiswick, ‘with all that is in it’, for £7000 (CSP dom., 1663–4, 539). In February 1665 Monmouth was granted a pension of £6000 p.a. (increased to £8000 p.a. in 1673), and in 1667 an additional allowance of £4000 p.a. to defray the cost of entertaining the king to suppers at his lodgings. In April 1670 the king bought Moor Park for Monmouth from the duke of Ormond at a cost of £13,200.

Monmouth enjoyed the typical recreational pursuits of a Restoration courtier: hunting, racing, gambling, dancing, and, as he entered adolescence, drinking and womanizing. Samuel Pepys thought the young duke spent ‘his time the most viciously and idly of any man’, and predicted that he would not ‘be fit for any thing’ (Pepys, 7.411, 16 Dec 1666). Such was Monmouth's extravagance that in April 1667 he had to be advanced £18,000 on his pension to cover his debts. Although his wife was to bear him four children, his relations with her were always formal and distant, and he had a succession of mistresses. In 1669 he had a daughter with Elizabeth Waller, the daughter of the old parliamentarian soldier Sir William Waller; in 1673 he was sharing the popular Moll Kirke with both his uncle and Lord Musgrave; and he later had four children with Eleanor Needham, whom he met in 1674. His last affair was to be with , whom he met in early 1680, and with whom he came to form a deep emotional attachment. There was also a violent side to Monmouth's personality. When the MP Sir John Coventry made a weak joke in the House of Commons about the king's fondness for actresses, Monmouth (possibly acting under orders from his father) sent some Life Guards to ambush Sir John as he made his way home late one night and slit his nose. Parliament responded by passing the Coventry Act (1671), banishing those responsible and making the cutting, maiming, or disfiguring of any man a felony without benefit of clergy and incapable of being pardoned by the king. In February 1671 Monmouth was involved in a drunken brawl in a brothel in Whetstones Park with Christopher Monck, the young duke of Albemarle, which resulted in a beadle being run through; it is not clear whether Albemarle or Monmouth drew the sword which killed the man, and both were given royal pardons to prevent the possibility of prosecution.

Military career and offices under the crown

The University of Cambridge awarded Monmouth an honorary MA degree on 16 March 1663 (incorporated at Oxford on 28 September), and on 21 February 1665 he was admitted a member of the Middle Temple. However, he was destined for a career in the armed forces. On 24 March 1665 he joined the fleet which under his uncle the duke of York was to win the victory of Solebay on 3 June. At the end of June 1666 he received a commission as captain of a troop of horse, and on 16 September 1668 Charles made him captain of the Life Guards, in place of Lord Gerard of Brandon, who in compensation was given £8000 and allowed to purchase Monmouth's Chiswick residence, together with various other properties, at a knock-down price. On 29 April 1670 Monmouth was appointed to the privy council, and in October of that year a writ was issued calling him to the House of Peers. In 1672 he was placed in command of the British auxiliaries sent to France to assist Louis XIV against the Dutch, and in July 1673 he took part in the successful siege of Maastricht, which was to earn him an inflated reputation as a military leader. On 24 November 1672 a warrant was issued granting him the office of chief justice in eyre south of Trent, in place of the earl of Oxford, who was paid £5000 to surrender the position, and at the beginning of February 1673 Monmouth was appointed lord high chamberlain of Scotland for life. The passage of the Test Act in late March 1673, designed to remove Catholics from positions of authority under the crown, brought him further offices: in April he was appointed lord lieutenant of the East Riding of Yorkshire and governor and captain of Kingston upon Hull in place of the Catholic Lord Belasyse (Monmouth subsequently also became high steward of the town), and on 22 June he was made an Admiralty commissioner when his Catholic uncle, the duke of York, surrendered the office of lord high admiral. The next year he was appointed master of the horse (14 April), a privy councillor in Scotland (18 May), chancellor of Cambridge University, and commissioner to conclude a treaty with Sweden (both August). In January 1675 he was made governor of Sutton's Hospital (the Charterhouse), and on 15 March 1677 lord lieutenant of Staffordshire and high steward of the town of Stafford.

Charles was by now schooling Monmouth to take over command of the armed forces. Upon the death in 1670 of the then commander-in-chief, George Monck, first duke of Albemarle, the army had been entrusted to a committee answerable directly to the king. In 1674, however, Charles established that all orders relating to the armed forces should be brought first to Monmouth for examination before being sent for royal approval and counter-signature by the secretary of state. The job had no name and Monmouth no commission, but it was a way of ‘initiating him into business’, as Monmouth's secretary, James Vernon, put it (CSP dom., 1673–5, 119). Although the duke of York made appointments above the rank of captain, colonels of regiments were instructed to obey Monmouth's commands, and Monmouth took responsibility for the quartering and general duties of troops in billets, the relief of garrisons, the movement of troops across the country, and the suppression of riots (including the London weavers' riots of August 1675). During this time he also introduced a number of reforms into the army. In February 1678 he was sent at the head of a small force to protect Ostend against the French, and finally, in April 1678, he was appointed captain-general of all the land forces in England, Wales, and Berwick. Later that year Monmouth returned to Flanders in command of the English force to fight in the triple alliance against France.

Rumoured legitimacy and rivalry with the duke of York

Charles tended to treat Monmouth as if he were a prince of Wales. Reference to being the king's natural son was deleted from Monmouth's marriage contract, and on being invested with the Order of the Garter Monmouth was empowered to assume a coat of arms resembling the royal, without the baton sinister denoting illegitimacy. When Charles saw Monmouth dancing with the queen ‘with his hat in his hand’ at the St George's feast at Windsor Castle in April 1663, he came and kissed him and made him put his hat on, signifying that he regarded the two as equals. In April 1667 a warrant was issued granting Monmouth the royal arms themselves, though now the baton sinister was added. Nevertheless, in the commission granting the captaincy of the Life Guards Charles referred to Monmouth simply as ‘his beloved son’ (CSP dom., 1667–8, 556); in subsequent official orders he used the style ‘our dearest and most entirely beloved son’ (CSP dom., 1673–5, 327–8; 1675–6, 200).

Charles's self-evident fondness for his son fuelled speculation that he would declare Monmouth legitimate. As early as October 1662 Lord Sandwich told Pepys that it was being ‘whispered’ at court ‘that young Crofts is lawful son to the king, the king being married to his mother’ (Pepys, 3.238, 27 Oct 1662), and Charles's supposed plans ‘to legitimate the Duke of Monmouth’ continued to be ‘much talked of’ over the course of 1663 and early 1664 (Pepys, 4.376, 9 Nov 1663). Talk of legitimizing Monmouth resurfaced following the fall of the earl of Clarendon in 1667, the idea being particularly attractive to the former first minister's enemies, who felt they could not be safe unless they also brought down the duke of York, who was married to Clarendon's daughter. The duke of Buckingham tried to persuade the king ‘to own a marriage with the duke of Monmouth's mother’, while the earl of Carlisle offered to bring the matter before the House of Lords, and although Charles ‘would not consent to this; yet he put it by in such a manner’, Gilbert Burnet tells us, as made everyone conclude ‘he wished it might be done, but did not know how to bring it about’ (Burnet's History, 176; CSP dom., 1667–8, 165, 259). Monmouth himself firmly believed that his father and mother had been married. He had been told as much by his tutor, Ross, shortly after the Restoration; Ross had even tried to get Bishop Cosin of Durham to confirm the story and acknowledge that he had conducted the ceremony, though Cosin refused and informed the king, who temporarily removed Ross from Monmouth's presence. In February 1664 Pepys heard that Monmouth threatened ‘he would be the death of any man that says the King was not married to his mother’ (Pepys, 5.56, 22 Feb 1664).

The speculation about Monmouth's legitimacy and Charles's continued doting upon his son clearly troubled the duke of York. In May 1663 Pepys expressed his suspicion that all was ‘not kind between the King and the Duke, and that the King's fondness to the little Duke doth occasion it’ (Pepys, 5.123, 4 May 1663). In November 1673 Monmouth turned down his father's offer to replace the duke of Lauderdale as commissioner in Scotland for fear ‘that employment would draw upon him the envy of’ his uncle (Christie, 2.72), while in 1677 York frustrated a design to get Monmouth appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland. However, York and Monmouth were as yet far from being bitter rivals. They dined and hunted together regularly throughout the 1670s, and those ‘nere his Royal Highnesse’, one correspondent wrote in July 1673, observed that he had ‘a particular kindnesse and affection for his Grace’ (ibid., 1.119). Indeed, in 1676 Monmouth became godfather to the daughter born to York's second wife, the duchess of Modena.

Despite his later alliance with the whigs, Monmouth was not linked to the opposition to the court that began to emerge from the mid-1670s. He first met the future country and whig spokesman Anthony Ashley Cooper (later earl of Shaftesbury) in 1665, when he and the king made a brief visit to Cooper's Dorset home after the court had been forced out of London because of the plague, but it was a long time before he and Shaftesbury came to be politically associated. It is perhaps significant that, following the passage of the 1673 Test Act, Shaftesbury and Monmouth took the Anglican sacrament together at St Clement Danes Church in the Strand, with Shaftesbury's secretary, John Locke, serving as witness to both, though it should be remembered that Shaftesbury, at this time, was still attached to the court (London Metropolitan Archive, MR/RS/2/217–218). When Shaftesbury moved into opposition, he and Monmouth became political adversaries. Monmouth joined York and the earl of Danby in urging the king not to accede to Shaftesbury's petition to be released from the Tower in 1677, where the earl had been imprisoned for questioning the legality of the recent fifteen-month prorogation of the Cavalier Parliament. When Shaftesbury drew up a list of the political sympathies of the lay peers later that year, identifying potential supporters with a ‘w’ for ‘worthy’ and opponents with a ‘v’ for ‘vile’, he gave Monmouth a triple ‘v’.

Monmouth's falling-out with York occurred in April 1678, over the former's appointment as captain-general. York insisted that the style ‘natural son’ be used in Monmouth's commission; Monmouth, on discovering this, had his secretary cut the word ‘natural’ out of the document before it was presented to the king for signature. Charles signed the document without paying much attention, but when York drew the matter to the king's notice he cancelled the warrant by clipping a piece out of his own signature and had a new one drawn up which indicated Monmouth's illegitimacy. Monmouth resented the fact that his new honour had been smeared with the taint of bastardy; York, on the other hand, resented seeing his nephew promoted to such a height while he himself was fobbed off with the meaningless title of ‘generalissimo’. In a vote on the army in the House of Lords the next month Monmouth sided with the country opposition for the first time and supported a motion to disband the new levies as speedily as possible.

The Popish Plot and exclusion crisis, 1678–1681

Monmouth returned to England from campaigning in Flanders in August 1678, just as the agitation over the Popish Plot was beginning to stir. Although initially sceptical of Titus Oates's story of an alleged Catholic conspiracy to kill the king, burn London, and massacre English protestants, as a privy councillor and captain of the guards Monmouth was inevitably drawn into investigating the plot, which he began to take more seriously. By October it had emerged that he himself was supposedly on the conspirators' hit list. Later that month he delivered a report to the Lords from the committee set up to explore ways of providing for the king's safety and removing Catholics from the army, and by the end of the year he could report to the king in council that several Catholic officers had been dismissed and replaced by protestants. Although the idea of excluding the Catholic duke of York from the succession was not to be formally promoted in the Commons until the spring of 1679, Londoners were already beginning to think of Monmouth as a possible protestant successor in the autumn of 1678. When the king announced to both houses of parliament on 9 November 1678 that he would consent to any bills that would make them ‘safe in the reign of my successor, so as they tend not to impeach the Right of Succession, nor the descent of the crown in the true line’, his speech was reported in the streets as a resolution ‘that the Duke of Monmouth was to succeed the King’, prompting numerous bonfires to be lit throughout the capital in celebration (Cobbett, Parl. hist., 8, 1678, 1035; JHC, 1667–87, 9.536; Ormonde MSS, new ser., 4.470). People presumably thought the king was hinting he would declare his son legitimate; indeed, the persistence of such rumours led Charles to make a statement before the privy council early in the new year affirming that the only wife he had ever married was Queen Catherine.

For the time being, however, Monmouth's allegiances remained with the court. In November 1678 he voted against the passage of the second Test Act, aimed at excluding Catholics from parliament (though he absented himself from the vote on the proviso exempting the duke of York, testifying to how deep the rift between him and his uncle had become), and in December he voted against the impeachment of Danby. When elections were held for a new parliament in the new year, Shaftesbury identified the two men returned on Monmouth's interest as supporters of the court. Shaftesbury and the earl of Essex did manage to persuade Monmouth to drop his support for Danby in March, and in April Monmouth played a key role in persuading the king to restructure his privy council so as to bring in members of the opposition in an attempt to rebuild national unity, though he did so as a royal adviser seeking ways to defuse the opposition challenge. There is no evidence that Monmouth harboured any pretensions to the throne at this stage or that any leading politicians thought he would be a suitable alternative to York. The court, and most members of the reformed privy council, backed the idea of limitations on a Catholic successor; Shaftesbury and his allies preferred exclusion, but the Exclusion Bill introduced into the Commons in May 1679 provided that the succession should pass to the ‘next Lawful Heir’, as if the ‘Duke of York were actually dead’ (A Copy of the Bill Concerning the Duke of York), implying York's daughter Mary, the wife of William of Orange.

When the Scottish covenanters rose in rebellion in the spring of 1679, in reaction to Lauderdale's policy of religious persecution, Charles appointed Monmouth general of all the forces in Scotland and dispatched him to put down the revolt. After defeating the rebel army at Bothwell Bridge on 22 June, Monmouth urged his father to adopt a policy of leniency as a way of soothing religious tensions north of the border. Charles issued an indulgence allowing Scottish presbyterians to meet in house conventicles, while most of those taken prisoner were eventually released under the terms of an indemnity granted in July. On 3 July Monmouth was presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh, and on 29 July, following Monmouth's return to England, Charles made him captain-general of all the forces in Scotland (Monmouth's original commission had only been for the duration of his stay in that kingdom).

With the Exclusion Bill having been frustrated by the peremptory dissolution of parliament in May, the opposition now began to look towards Monmouth, whose stature was growing all the time, and who was not only popular with the masses but also had an armed force under his command. By the summer it was being reported that Monmouth and Shaftesbury were meeting ‘very often’ (Hastings MSS, 2.388), while those close to Monmouth were beginning to agitate more actively on his behalf. Monmouth's client and army friend Sir Thomas Armstrong busied himself searching for the black box which supposedly contained the certificate of marriage between Charles and Lucy Walter, and in May he allegedly spoke to the earl of Oxford about endeavouring ‘to get the succession to be on Monmouth’, which the earl reported back to the king (Seventh Report, HMC, 472). With nothing having been resolved about the succession, the volatility of the situation was brought to a head when Charles suddenly fell ill on 21 August, and for a few days seemed on the verge of death: the duke of York was in Brussels, where the king had sent him into temporary exile earlier that year, Monmouth was urging his father on his visits to his sickbed to make sure he stayed there, and Monmouth's crony Armstrong was busy holding meetings with the London radical Francis Jenks ‘and the rest of the gang in the City’ (CSP dom., 1679–80, 240). ‘If the king had died’, the earl of Sunderland was convinced, the duke of Monmouth ‘would have made great troubles, either setting up for himself, or for a Commonwealth’ (Diary of … Sidney, 176). Sunderland, together with Essex and the marquess of Halifax, urged York to return immediately to England; Charles recovered, and the crisis subsided; and Essex and Halifax convinced Charles that the best solution was to send both dukes into exile. Charles revoked Monmouth's commission as captain-general of the English army on 12 September, stripping him of his Scottish command the next day, and ordered him to leave the country. False reports of a last-minute change of heart prompted Londoners to light bonfires on the night of 17 September to drink the king and the duke's healths, but Monmouth, now being cried up by ‘all the phanaticks and malecontents … as the great confessor for the protestant religion’ (Correspondence of Hatton, 1.194), had to go. He left for Utrecht on the 24th.

By now, many in England were beginning to look to Monmouth as the obvious protestant alternative to York. In mid-October the Appeal from the Country to the City appeared, advocating Monmouth as the best person to succeed in the event of the king's untimely death, and claiming that ‘He who hath the worst Title, ever makes the best King’, because he has to make up for his lack of right by pleasing the people (Blount, 7–8). By the end of the following month Monmouth was back in England. Upset by the king's decision to recall York from Brussels and send him instead to head up the government in Scotland, he returned to London, uninvited, late on the night of 27 November. The news of Monmouth's arrival spread quickly; before dawn bonfires had been lit in several places, and on the night of the 28th there were allegedly more bonfires than had ever been seen ‘since those for the restoration of his Majesty’ (Correspondence of Hatton, 1.203). Charles was outraged, and on 1 December stripped Monmouth of most of his remaining offices (except those of master of the horse and chancellor of Cambridge University), and ordered him to return to exile. Monmouth refused to go.

Totally estranged from his uncle, and angry at the way he had been treated by his father, Monmouth allowed himself to get increasingly drawn into opposition intrigues. Speculation over the black box revived. By the spring of 1680 it was being said that the box had fallen into the possession of Lord Gerard of Brandon, and although Brandon publicly denied this and Charles reissued statements affirming that he had never married Lucy Walter, the topic generated a lively pamphlet debate. For some, however, whether a fully solemnized church marriage had taken place was not the issue. In 1680 William Lawrence published his Marriage by the Morall Law of God, in which he attacked the church's attempts to secure a monopoly over marriage, insisted on the legality of what we would call common law marriages, and claimed that it should be high treason to slander the king's eldest son with illegitimacy. Monmouth also began actively promoting himself. In February 1680 he made a brief progress to Chichester, where the local gentry, civic authorities, and townsfolk afforded him a warm reception. In the early summer he made a series of public appearances in London, dining with anything up to sixty whig nobles and gentry at a time, before setting out on a tour of the west country towards the end of July, making his way first to Bath and then to Shaftesbury's house in Dorset, before doing the rounds of the local whig gentry in Wiltshire, Somerset, and Devon. Everywhere he went huge numbers of people ‘of all sorts, all sexes, all ages and degrees’ came from miles around to greet him, shouting ‘God bless our King Charles, and God bless the Protestant Duke’ (True Narrative of the Duke of Monmouth's Late Journey, 2, 4); he even touched for the king's evil, thereby signifying his belief in his own royal dignity. On his return to London he made a brief visit to Oxford (16–18 September), where he was welcomed by the mayor and several aldermen amid cries of ‘God bless the Protestant Duke’ and ‘No York, no bishops, no university’, and on the following day was made a freeman of the city (CSP dom., 1680–81, 31). Once back in London Monmouth moved to a house in Bishopsgate Street (behind the Excise Office), in the heart of the City, and resumed his public dinners with whig magnates.

To accommodate the possibility of the succession being settled on Monmouth, the second Exclusion Bill, introduced into parliament in November 1680, simply provided for the exclusion of the Catholic heir without mentioning who should succeed instead; it was later modified in committee, however, to include the proviso that the crown should descend as if the duke of York were dead. The bill was defeated in the Lords on 15 November, and parliament dissolved early in the new year, but the whigs continued to promote Monmouth's candidacy. In February 1681 Monmouth made another trip to Chichester, where he was greeted by over 400 gentry and the city's two MPs, and treated to dinner by the whig peer Lord Grey of Warke, who lived nearby; the local inhabitants celebrated with the inevitable bonfires. A third Exclusion Bill, which once again left the question of the successor open, was introduced into the parliament which met at Oxford on 21 March, while Shaftesbury sought to circumvent the whole issue by inviting Charles to agree to the ‘expedient’ of settling the throne on Monmouth. Charles was outraged, and dissolved parliament after just eight days.

The Rye House intrigues

As the court began its counter-offensive against the whigs following the dissolution of the Oxford parliament, Charles left the way open for a reconciliation with his son. He rewarded Monmouth's discretion in staying away from a whig dinner held in London in early April by giving him a gift of £4000 to pay his debts. Yet despite being urged by his own secretary, James Vernon, to approach the king, Monmouth decided to stand by his whig associates. He visited Shaftesbury in the Tower following the earl's arrest on treason charges that summer; was present at his court hearing in November, when a London grand jury threw out the bill against the earl; and stood bail for him upon his release from prison. As opinion in the country became increasingly polarized over the issue of exclusion, Monmouth's supporters out of doors started sporting blue ribbons, to distinguish themselves from the friends of the duke of York, who wore red ones. Monmouth witnessed the climax of the London pope-burning procession at Smithfield on 17 November 1681, when the huge crowd drank healths to him and his father ‘conjunctively’ (Westmorland MSS, 174). Crowds were again out in force in the capital on the evening of the 24th, following Shaftesbury's ignoramus verdict, celebrating at bonfires, looking to pick fights with local tories and supporters of the court, and roaming the streets chanting ‘No Popish successor, no York, a Monmouth!’ (CSP dom., 1680–81, 583). In reaction, Charles stripped Monmouth of his remaining English offices and banned him from court (1 December 1681). At the end of the year Monmouth was also removed from the Scottish privy council and stripped of his remaining Scottish offices for refusing to take the oath required by the Scottish Test Act of 1681: holding Monmouth accountable to the test was in itself intended to make a political statement, since the act had stipulated that ‘the King's lawful Brothers and Sons’ were the only ones to be exempt (APS, 8.244).

Following the king's decision to recall the duke of York and his return to England in the spring of 1682, Monmouth at last decided to see if he could effect a reconciliation with his father. He sent Major Abraham Holmes to meet with Charles in May, but Holmes made it clear that although Monmouth would kneel before the king, he would not do so before his uncle. Charles was indignant, and forbade anyone in his service henceforth to have any communication with Monmouth. When the king fell ill that month, Monmouth attended an emergency meeting convened at Shaftesbury's London residence, Thanet House, with Armstrong, Grey, William Lord Russell, and Major John Manley, where the group allegedly decided that if Charles should die they would launch a rebellion with the aim of summoning a parliament to determine the succession. Charles recovered, but plans for an uprising were revived following the tory success at the London shrieval elections that summer. Given that the sheriffs were responsible for empanelling juries for London and Middlesex, once the tory sheriffs were in place the whigs could no longer expect to escape the clutches of the law through ignoramus verdicts; for those who had reason to fear for their lives, the time for desperate measures had come. Shaftesbury, Grey, Armstrong, Russell, and Monmouth reconvened at Thanet House, probably some time in July, where Shaftesbury, Russell, and Monmouth allegedly argued for an insurrection. Several more meetings followed. Shaftesbury, it was decided, would be responsible for London; Russell was to sound out the west country; Grey to canvass Essex; while Monmouth was to make a progress to Cheshire, under the guise of attending the horse races at Wallasey, to gauge the level of support in the north-west and discuss options with the whig peers, lords Macclesfield and Delamere, and their sons, Lord Gerard of Brandon and Henry Booth.

Monmouth set off for the north-west in early September, passing through Coventry and Nantwich before reaching Chester on the 9th. He received a rapturous welcome wherever he went, was sumptuously dined by the local whig gentry, achieved victory in the horse races to boot, and was fêted by riotous crowds at bonfires shouting ‘A Monmouth, a Monmouth’ and even ‘Let Monmouth reign’ (CSP dom., 1682, 391, 406). At Liverpool he touched again for the king's evil. On his return home the government had Monmouth seized at Stafford and brought back to London under arrest, where he was released after posting a bond for his good behaviour. Shaftesbury wanted Monmouth to return to Cheshire immediately to launch a rebellion, but Russell advised that things were not ready, and Monmouth declined to act. Shaftesbury was now beginning to lose patience with the duke, and started to discuss with other conspirators the possibility of assassinating Charles and James on their return from the races at Newmarket in October. Monmouth learned of the design through Robert Ferguson, whom he commissioned to act as an agent provocateur to infiltrate the conspiracy with the design of making sure it came to nothing. When the project collapsed, Shaftesbury decided to give Monmouth and the insurrection scheme one more chance. A date was set for the evening of 19 November, shortly after gunpowder treason day and the anniversary of Elizabeth's accession (the two days of anti-Catholic commemoration in the whig calendar), and a Sunday, when the shops would be shut and enough people on the streets to provide a cover for the comings and goings of the rebels. The mood of the capital seemed propitious; there were pro-Monmouth demonstrations in London on gunpowder treason day (commemorated that year on the 6th because the 5th fell on a Sunday), as whig crowds paraded through the streets chanting ‘No York, a Monmouth, a Monmouth’. The scuffles that broke out with local tories, however, prompted the government to take extra security measures to prevent there being any bonfire celebrations on the 17th, and with the west still not ready, the conspirators decided to postpone their plans. Shaftesbury fled England on the 28th, and was to die in Amsterdam on 21 January 1683.

The idea of an uprising now came to be pursued by a newly formed ‘council of six’, comprising Monmouth, Russell, Essex, Lord Howard of Escrick, Algernon Sidney, and John Hampden. A separate group of conspirators, led by Robert West, decided to proceed with the assassination plot, planning to ambush the king and his brother on their return from the spring races at Newmarket at a house called the Rye, in Hertfordshire [see also ]. The council of six decided to draw in the earl of Argyll and his Scottish supporters, with the idea of launching co-ordinated rebellions in London, the west country, Cheshire, and Scotland. They were fatally split, however, between those who favoured the establishment of a commonwealth (Essex, Sidney, and Hampden) and those who simply wanted to force the king to come to terms. As it turned out, the assassination plot was frustrated by a fire that broke at Newmarket on 22 March, which forced the royal brothers to depart several days earlier than anticipated. The council of six, however, pushed ahead with its planned uprising, and by mid-June had reportedly reached agreement on a draft manifesto, which provided for parliament's control of the militia, the right of counties to elect sheriffs, annual parliamentary elections, liberty of conscience, and the degrading of those nobles who had acted contrary to the interest of the people. Yet by now it was too late, as the conspiracy had already been betrayed to the government on 12 June. Monmouth went into hiding; on the 28th the government issued a proclamation offering a £500 reward for his apprehension, and on 12 July an indictment was brought against him for high treason.

After spending time first in Cheshire, Monmouth took refuge in Lady Wentworth's house, Toddington, Bedfordshire, while the government pursued its prosecution of the plot. Charles was distraught to learn of his beloved son's involvement. He also needed the information Monmouth could provide to help convict the other conspirators. Seeing an opportunity to bolster his own position at court, the marquess of Halifax endeavoured to broker a reconciliation between father and son. On 13 October he visited Monmouth at Toddington with a message from Charles that he would never believe he ‘knew any thing of that part of the Plot that concern'd Rye-House’, and persuaded him to crave the king's pardon (Welwood, 373). Monmouth wrote Charles a letter denying knowledge of the assassination plot though apologizing for having done many things that angered the court. Two clandestine meetings between father and son and a further conciliatory though vaguely worded letter from Monmouth followed, before he finally surrendered himself on 24 November, acknowledged his guilt before both Charles and York, and revealed all he knew of the conspiracy on the understanding that his confession would be kept secret. The next day Charles convened an extraordinary meeting of the council to announce that Monmouth had submitted, reporting that his son had ‘shewed himself very sensible of his Crime in the late Conspiracy, making a full Declaration of it’, and that at the duke of York's request he had decided to stop all further proceedings against him (LondG, no. 1880 22–6 Nov 1683). By the evening Monmouth was back at court, and on the 26th, the day that Algernon Sidney was sentenced to death for his role in the conspiracy, he received his pardon and a gift from his father of £4000. Monmouth was furious, however, when Charles's announcement to the council was published in the Gazette, and insisted to his friends he had ‘confessed no plott, because he never knew any’ (DWL, Roger Morrice Ent'ring Book, P.392). With the government's credibility at stake, Charles felt he had no choice but to secure a written confession. On 6 December Monmouth signed a vaguely worded document affirming that he had ‘owned the late Conspiracy’ and lamented his role in it (though ‘not conscious of any designe’ against the king's life), and promising never to act against the king again (ibid., p. 406; State trials, 9.1099). However, fearing this might be used to secure the conviction of his friend Hampden, Monmouth asked for it back the next day; Charles reluctantly complied, and ordered his son not to return to court. On 25 January 1684 the government issued subpoenas for Monmouth to give evidence at Hampden's trial, set for 6 February. Monmouth fled to the continent, and by April he was in Brussels.

The Monmouth rebellion, June–July 1685

For the time being Monmouth chose to keep his distance from the English and Scottish dissidents in exile in the Low Countries. He was able to live in comfort with his mistress, Lady Wentworth, having been granted an annuity of £6000 p.a. by the marqués de Grana, the governor of the Spanish Netherlands, and was appointed colonel of a Spanish regiment. He was also entertained by William of Orange at The Hague, who bestowed further military honours upon him. Monmouth returned to England briefly in November 1684, to arrange the sale of a manor, and made one last attempt to be restored to his father's favour. At the end of December, now back at The Hague, he learned from Halifax that he would be allowed to return to Westminster in February, when the duke of York was due to be in Edinburgh for the meeting of the Scottish parliament. These schemes were brought to naught by Charles's sudden death on 6 February. James II immediately sent notice to William of Orange to have Monmouth arrested, but Orange tipped Monmouth off, who fled first to Rotterdam and then to Brussels. There he was told that Charles II of Spain had ordered his arrest, so he returned to the United Provinces, where he found refuge at Gouda.

Meanwhile, the Scots in exile, led by Argyll, had been continuing to plot insurrection during the latter months of 1684, and had already made plans to invade Scotland in the spring of 1685. In January 1685 the English exiles held a meeting in Utrecht to discuss ways of enlisting support in England for Argyll. Although Monmouth might have been ignorant of such developments—he was to write that he was ‘so much in love with a retir'd Life’ that he was ‘never like to be fond of making a Bustle in the World again’ (Welwood, 325)—he quickly resumed contact with exiled Scottish and English dissidents following his father's death. Around 23 February he went to Amsterdam to confer with the Scots, where he pledged his support for their enterprise and even offered assurances that he would not claim the crown for himself without taking their advice. At a meeting with Argyll on the 25th, it was decided that Monmouth should be responsible for raising England and most of Ireland, while Argyll would answer for Scotland and the north of Ireland. Soon Monmouth was sending emissaries to the radicals in England urging the need for speedy action, believing that the best time for an insurrection would be a day or two before parliament met on 19 May, when most of the lords lieutenant, militia officers, and tory peers would be in London. His friends in England were unconvinced that the timing was right; Monmouth learned from one of his emissaries, Robert Cragg, that ‘he would not find such a disposition in the people of England at this time to give him that assistance which he might expect … People were cold’ and there was ‘a great backwardness in the gentlemen’. The duke replied that ‘he could not nor would alter his resolution, for he had promised the Scots’ and would not be ‘false to them’ (House of Lords MSS, 2.393–4), and so plans for co-ordinated rebellions pushed ahead. Argyll was to head for the Scottish highlands; Monmouth for the English west country, the site of his triumphant progress five years earlier; while London and Cheshire were expected to rise in support.

Argyll set sail from Amsterdam on 2 May. Monmouth's invasion force, comprising three ships and eighty-three men, was not ready to leave until 24 May, and then contrary winds held them up in the channel so that they were not to land at Lyme Regis, Dorset, until 11 June. At Lyme Monmouth issued a declaration (probably penned by Robert Ferguson), in which he alleged that the English government had been changed from a limited monarchy into an absolute tyranny; accused James II of poisoning the late king, usurping the throne, and ruling against the law; and demanded the repeal of all penal laws against protestant dissenters, annual parliaments, the appointment of judges on good behaviour rather than at royal pleasure, the restoration of corporate charters that had come under attack during the years of the tory reaction, and the repeal of the Corporation and Militia Acts. Although Monmouth believed himself to have a legitimate right to the crown, he did not ‘insist upon his Title’ at present, the declaration said, but would leave ‘the determination thereof to the Wisdom, Justice, and Authority of Parliament, legally chosen and acting with Freedom’ (Declaration of James, Duke of Monmouth). The declaration reached London on 13 June, and three days later a bill of attainder was issued against Monmouth and a price of £5000 placed upon his head.

The rebels spent their first few days at Lyme enlisting recruits and gathering supplies, though Monmouth was forced to dismiss his best officer, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, for killing his paymaster-general, Thomas Dare, in a squabble over a horse. On 15 June they left for Taunton, passing through Axminster, Chard, and Ilminster, and taking on new recruits along the way. Taunton, which they reached on the 18th, proved the most fertile recruiting ground. Even at its peak, however, the rebel army probably never exceeded 3000 men. The greater part of the rebels came from urban backgrounds, with a heavy concentration from the depressed west country cloth trades, though there were some farmers and village craftsmen and labourers. Many who enlisted were either dissenters or people who sympathized with their plight, though recent work has warned against exaggerating the nonconformist presence in Monmouth's army. Particularly worrying to the leadership was the failure to attract gentry backing. Ferguson urged that the only way to gain the support of the landed classes was for Monmouth to assume the title of king, and so on 20 June at the Taunton market cross a proclamation was read affirming that on the death of Charles the crown ‘did legally descend and devolve upon … Monmouth’ and declaring him ‘our lawful and rightful sovereign and king, by the name of James the Second’ (‘Monmouth's Proclamation at Taunton’, Watson, 278). The tactic failed: the gentry were not won over, and if anything Monmouth only managed to alienate some of his own supporters, who feared that, having sold out over the issue of the crown, he would next back down on his demands for political and religious reform.

On 21 June Monmouth and his army left Taunton for Bridgwater, whence they moved on to Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet, with the intention of marching on Bristol. Deflected by royalist troops at Keynsham, they turned towards Bath, which they were unable to capture, so they withdrew to Norton St Philip, where they survived a frontal attack by the royal army, before moving south to Frome. It was here that they learned the news of Argyll's defeat. With the collapse of the rebellion in Scotland, and with the anticipated risings in Cheshire and London having failed to materialize, Monmouth knew that the cause was lost. He convened a council of war and proposed abandoning the enterprise: the officers should flee to some seaport, while the rank-and-file could return home and take the benefit of James II's proclamation of pardon. Although there was much support for the suggestion, an impassioned speech by Lord Grey, in which he argued that for Monmouth to leave the army now would be an act ‘so base that it could never be forgiven by the people’ (Clifton, 191), persuaded Monmouth to go on. With the royalist army poised to cut the rebels off if they attempted to march east through Wiltshire on the road towards London, Monmouth decided to turn west back into Somerset, where he had been told that ‘a great Club army’ of some 10,000 men ‘were up in the marshes’ and ready to join the rebel forces (Dunning, 31). Monmouth re-entered Bridgwater on 3 July, but only about 160 new recruits came forward. Late on the night of the 5th Monmouth moved his army towards the king's forces encamped on nearby Sedgemoor in a bold attempt to take them by surprise, but Monmouth's men were routed in battle the next day and Monmouth himself took flight. He was found two days later hiding in a ditch in the woods just outside Ringwood.

Monmouth was taken back to London and imprisoned in the Tower on 12 July. The act of attainder already passed against him meant that no trial was necessary, and he was ordered to be executed on Tower Hill on 15 July. The day before, Monmouth wrote begging letters to James II and the queen, pleading for his life, but to no avail, though the king did allow his nephew to see his children one more time and agree that he should be beheaded instead of hanged. The bishops of Ely and Bath and Wells were sent to tend to Monmouth in his last hours, but they refused to administer him holy communion because he would not acknowledge that his cohabitation with Lady Wentworth had been a sin. Monmouth gave no speech from the scaffold, but instead produced a signed paper in which he disclaimed all title to the crown, acknowledged that Charles II had told him he had never married his mother, and implored the king to be kind to his wife and children. Despite being paid well by his victim, the executioner mangled the job. It took him five strokes of the axe to sever the head from Monmouth's body; after the first stroke Monmouth was purportedly seen to lift his head in anguish, and, according to Evelyn, the crowd of onlookers were so incensed that ‘they would have torne’ the executioner ‘in pieces’ if he had not been protected by a heavy guard (Evelyn, 4.455). Monmouth's remains were buried under the communion table of St Peter's Church in the Tower.

At the end of August a special commission of oyer and terminer, known to history as the ‘bloody assizes’, was set up under Judge Jeffreys to try some 1300 suspected rebels. The vast majority were found guilty and sentenced to death, though in the end only about 250 were executed, while 850 had their sentences commuted to transportation. A few score of the Monmouth rebels escaped to the continent, mainly the Low Countries. Rumours soon started circulating, throughout the kingdom, that Monmouth was not really dead and would soon rise again, someone else having supposedly been executed in his place—‘an old man with a Beard’, a husbandman from Lyme Regis thought (Dorset RO, DL/LR/A3/1, 20). One report from May 1686 claimed that Monmouth was alive and well and going ‘about in womans Cloaths in Bristoll and Summersettsheer’ (BL, Add. MS 41804, fol. 168). During that same spring the government received intelligence that a young gentleman posing as Monmouth's son was intriguing with exiled political dissidents in the Low Countries; in October a man claiming to be Monmouth himself was found concealed in a house some 10 miles outside London. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that at the time of the rebellion Monmouth's cause was not particularly popular in the nation at large. The years of tory reaction had seen public opinion turn against the whigs and rally behind the crown in defence of the existing legal establishment in church and state; hence why the rebels had such difficulty in gathering recruits, and why no other part of the country rose in sympathy as anticipated. Indeed, news of the defeat of rebellion was celebrated with bonfires in several places throughout the kingdom.

Monmouth's English titles were forfeited by his attainder, but the Scottish peerage, which his widow enjoyed by her own right, was left unaffected. The duchess of Buccleuch was to remarry in 1688 and live to the age of eighty-one, dying in 1732. Of his legitimate children, Monmouth was survived by two sons: James Scott, earl of Dalkeith, and in 1706 (his first-born son, Charles, earl of Doncaster, had died as an infant in 1674). His daughter Lady Anne Scott, who had been taken hostage by the government at the time of the rebellion, died in the Tower in August 1685 at age ten, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Lady Henrietta Wentworth returned to England in the autumn of 1685 and died on 23 April 1686, it was said of a broken heart; she was twenty-six. A child that she was said to have had with Monmouth was brought up in Paris by a close friend of the Wentworths, Colonel Smyth, and named James Wentworth Smyth Stuart. He took part in the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, and took as his second wife Maria Julia Crofts, the daughter of James, a son of Monmouth and Eleanor Needham. Of Eleanor's other children with Monmouth, Henry died unmarried, Isabella died young, and Henrietta married the duke of Bolton. Monmouth's daughter with Elizabeth Waller married James de Cardonnel, secretary to the duke of Schomberg.

Monmouth's historical reputation has been the subject of considerable debate over the generations. He has been seen alternatively as a dupe and as a schemer: as a political puppet who was unscrupulously manipulated by others to promote their own agendas, or as an embittered royal bastard ruthlessly pursuing his own personal ambitions. In fact neither view really fits. The key to understanding Monmouth lies in his troubled childhood, spoiled youth, the complex nature of his relationships with both his mother and his father, and the personality traits and character flaws which his peculiar upbringing helped engender. He was undoubtedly emotionally unstable; as one biographer has put it, he was controlled, not by any one individual, but ‘by violent emotions towards his father, mother, and uncle; and by pride, honour, and resentment’ (Clifton, 288). Those who did try to use Monmouth often found to their frustration that he could not easily be pushed around. Yet in the end it was his own sense of honour which led him to launch a rebellion in 1685 when he had at last found peace in a retired life: as the son of a king whom (he believed) had been murdered, he felt he could not sit by and watch his hated uncle seize his inheritance; nor could he do nothing as Argyll went it alone in Scotland. It was also his sense of honour that led him to continue with his enterprise even when he knew the cause was lost. Although the rebellion was a disaster, most agree that Monmouth himself showed considerable skill as a military leader (much more so than Argyll, for example, or the man who led the Devon militia against Monmouth's army, Christopher Monck, duke of Albemarle). Some have argued that the ideals of the Monmouth rebels lived on, and were largely fulfilled at the time of the revolution of 1688. Yet the reforms demanded by the manifestos of both 1683 and 1685 were in fact much more far-reaching than those eventually enacted in 1689. Monmouth spearheaded a movement which, in the context of its time, was genuinely radical, and arguably too extreme to appeal to a broad enough cross-section of the population to stand a realistic chance of success.

Tim Harris


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