July 6, 1685

Westonzoyland, Somerset

Rebel troops under James, Duke of Monmouth vs. a royal army led by Lord Feversham

WHY James, Duke of Monmouth was an illegitimate son of Charles II. Charles heaped honours upon James, and made him a Duke. The Protestant Monmouth became a figurehead for those opposed to the Catholic James, Duke of York.

When Charles died in February 1685, Monmouth was in Holland. Though he personally seems to have had very little ambition to seize the crown, he was persuaded by his Protestant advisors, notably the Earl of Argyll, to launch an invasion in the west country while Argyll landed in Scotland.

Against his better judgment, Monmouth took ship for England and landed in Lyme Regis on June 11. His small band of 83 men soon swelled to 3000 as volunteers flocked to his cause.

Such a large percentage of Monmouth's followers were poor farmers and peasants that the rising later became known as The Pitchfork Rebellion, though in truth many volunteers were turned away because they lacked adequate arms.

At Taunton, Monmouth was declared King of England for the first time, and with nearly 8000 ill-equipped men he marched on Bristol.

Monmouth abandoned his plan to take Bristol after only token opposition led by Lord Churchill's cavalry. The Duke marched his men rather aimlessly south to Bridgwater, pursued by Lord Feversham.

Many of Monmouth's supporters must have deserted at this point, especially after news came that Argyll had been caught and executed in Scotland. In despair, Monmouth ordered a surprise attack on the royal army under cover of darkness.

The rebel forces moved out of Bridgwater at 11pm under strict orders for silence. Any man who made a noise was to be stabbed immediately by his neighbour.

Monmouth's surprise advance might have worked, but he was undone when a sentinel (or perhaps a traitor in Monmouth's ranks) fired a pistol when the rebels were still a mile from the royal camp, and the element of surprise was gone.

Desperate now, Monmouth sent his cavalry ahead to engage the enemy as quickly as possible, and his foot soldiers followed as quickly as they could. The main body of the cavalry crumpled quickly in the face of heavy fire by the alerted defenders.

Feversham sent his own horsemen to flank Monmouth's men, and at first light, the royal troops attacked the rebels on three sides. Though Monmouth's untrained volunteers fought bravely, they were doomed from the start.

Perhaps 1300 rebels were killed in the battle and the pursuit that followed, and another 500 were captured and held in the Westonzoyland church. The royal losses may have been as low as 200 men.

Monmouth was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. After a trial which was little more than a formality, he was executed. His followers were brutally suppressed, in part by the infamous Judge Jeffries, who presided over peremptory trials of rebels and their sympathizers. So ferocious were the reprisals that Jeffries' court became known as the Bloody Assizes.

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