THE BATTLE OF SEDGEMOOR - 1685
The ghosts of several hundred men haunt an almost anonymous field tucked away in a corner of the village of Westonzoyland, near Bridgwater. This is the site of the last battle ever fought on English soil - the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. The Duke of Monmouth's attempted rebellion had begun with his landing at Lyme Regis. From there he raised men, arms and rebellion throughout the West Country. Monmouth's "pitchfork" army (so called because of its heavy peasant following) finally met forces loyal to the King at Sedgemoor and were completely crushed. Many of the participants were hanged following Judge Jeffery's "Bloody Assizes".
To this day, Bridgwater - from where many loyal to Monmouth were
recruited and marched to their deaths - has a reputation for being anti-royalist. One
story says that when Queen Victoria passed through the town by train once, she pulled down
the blinds on the train window as a sign of royal displeasure.
James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, was born on April 9th 1649, the illegitimate son of Charles II. He married Anne Scott, countess of Buccleuch, whose name he adopted, and was created a duke in 1663. Monmouth became captain-general of the armed forces in 1678.
The first Dorset connection in our story is Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, whose home was at Wimborne St. Giles. Shaftesbury was determined to prevent the succession of the King's Roman Catholic brother, the Duke of York, and pressed Charles to divorce his barren wife and remarry, or to legitimize the Duke of Monmouth.
It was claimed that King Charles had married Monmouth's mother, Lucy Walter, and that Monmouth was therefore legitimate. Charles himself denied this, however, and sent both Monmouth and James abroad in 1679. In 1681 his legislative attempts to exclude the Duke of York from the succession were defeated, and he then turned to conspiracy. Shaftesbury was tried for treason in 1682, but was acquitted. He fled to Holland, where he was to die.
Monmouth soon returned, but was again forced to take refuge, (1684), in Europe after exposure of the Rye House Plot to murder both Charles and James.
In February 1685 Charles II died and his brother, The Duke of York, was proclaimed James II, King of England. And thus were sown the seeds for the rebellion.
On June 11, 1685, four months after King Charles's death, Monmouth landed his forces on the Beach near the Cobb at Lyme Regis. Marching inland his army was swelled by many local recruits including Robert Fawn of Corscombe and Azariah Pinney of Broadwindsor, both of whom we shall hear more of later.
The Kings forces were led by John Churchill, (later 1st duke of Marlborough), the son of Winston Churchill, squire of Minterne Magna. Included in the force were many Dorset men including George Penne of Corscombe, later to become a Brigadier General. Thomas Chafin of Chettle who commanded a troop of Dorset Horse. And Peter Mews, the Cavalier Bishop, from Purse Caudle, who although 67 years old, and Bishop of Winchester went back to war. He was later to plead for clemency for the 'misguided' Monmouth.
On July 6, the two forces met at Sedgemoor in Somerset. In what was to be known as the last English battle to be fought with pitchforks, the rebels were soundly defeated.<.p>
Monmouth fled from the battlefield in the company of Lord Grey hoping to get to the coast at Poole, and a ship to the continent. On reaching the Inn at Woodyates they decided to split up, leaving their horses they proceeded across country singly and in disguise. Monmouth dressed in the clothes of a shepherd was soon discovered shivering in a ditch, under a hedge at Horton. He might have got away with it except for one small fact. In his pocket he was carrying the badge of the Order of the Garter. He was promptly taken to London and seven days later executed for treason on Tower Hill, and so ended the Rebellion.
Following the execution of Monmouth, James II dispatched the Lord Chief Justice, George Jeffreys, Baron Jeffreys of Wem to Dorset to punish the Rebels. Based in Dorchester he orchestrated one of the darkest hours in Dorset's history.
In the trials, known as The Bloody Assizes, nearly 200 people were condemned to death and about 800 transported to the New World. Especially infamous was Jeffreys's insistence on a verdict of guilty for Alice Lisle, who was accused of harboring rebels. Jeffery's is also known to have extorted money from many of the defendants.
Take the case of Azariah Pinney of Broadwindsor, son of John Pinney the local minister. He was sentenced to be deported for his part in the fighting, but because of his family's prominent 'position' as landowners and lace makers he was given preferential treatment and transported to the West Indies as a free emigrant. Once there he extended the business acting as his fathers agent in the lace making business and other ventures. He made a fortune for himself, whilst his fellows on the boat The Happy Return, which sailed out of Poole spent their lives in poverty and degradation.
In many Dorset villages, neighbour had fought neighbour, causing much resentment for years after. Consider the small West Dorset village of Corscombe, where Robert Fawn was hanged with twelve others, their bodies dismembered, then boiled in pitch and publicly exhibited. Whilst George Penne who owned Weston Manor and Oak Farm was given 100 prisoners as part payment for helping to put down the rebellion. He sold most of them to planters in America and the West Indies.
Although the Monmouth Rebellion had failed it was only three years later in December 1688 that the Catholic King James was forced to flee the country to be replaced by William and Mary. George Jeffreys was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London where he later died.