In 1665, at the age of 16, Monmouth served in the English fleet under his
uncle the Duke of York in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Later in the war, he
returned to England to assume his first military command as commander of a troop
of cavalry. In 1669 he was made colonel of the King's Life Guards, one of the
most senior appointments in the army. When the Captain-General of the army,
George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, died in 1670, Monmouth became the senior
officer in the army at the age of 21.
At the outbreak of the Third Anglo-Dutch
War in 1672, a brigade of 6,000 British troops was sent to serve as part of the
French army (in return for money paid to King Charles), with Monmouth as its
commander. In the campaign of 1673 and in particular at the Siege of Maastricht,
Monmouth gained a considerable reputation as one of Britain's finest soldiers.
In 1674 Monmouth was made 'Commander in Chief' of the army;
gaining great respect as a soldier among the English people.
In 1678 Monmouth was commander of the Anglo-Dutch brigade, now
fighting for the United Provinces against the French (we knew how to change sides, didn't we..). He distinguished himself at the battle
of St Denis, further increasing his reputation.
The following year, after his
return to Britain, he commanded the small army raised to put down the rebellion
of the Covenanters.
Despite being heavily outnumbered, he decisively defeated the poorly
equipped Covenanter rebels at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on June 22,
1679. By this time
it was becoming apparent that Charles II would have no legitimate heir, and
Monmouth was regarded by many as preferable to the Duke of York (later to become
King James II).
A staunch Protestant, Monmouth was banished from Court in
1683, having been implicated in a series of plots
against his father, who was promoting pro-Catholic policies, and his uncle,
King James II, who was openly Catholic. Following the discovery of the so-called
Rye House Plot Monmouth was obliged to go into exile in the Dutch United Provinces.
When the succession to the throne was raised, Charles II affirmed that he never married
Lucy Walter and deprived the Duke of Monmouth of many of his posts.
Charles II died in February 1685 and his brother James II
succeeded him. Scott finally led the
"Monmouth Rebellion" an attempt to take the throne from his uncle James and proclaimed himself King, with the view that
he had a legitimate right to succeed his father. Scott landed with somewhere
between 81 and 4000 troops
(depends on which account you read) near Lyme Regis in Dorset on 11th June 1685.
He declared himself King on June 20 at Taunton in Somerset.
On July 6 1685 the two armies met at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the second last to be fought on
English soil. Monmouth made an foolish attack against the Kings forces but his makeshift force could not compete with the regular army, and was
soundly defeated. Ironically the royalist cavalry were said to be commanded* by
the man who saved his life at Maastricht, Lord John Churchill, who in 1702 was created as the 1st
Duke of Marlborough.
the battlefield and was found three days later hiding in a ditch near Ringwood
in the New Forest.
Following this, Parliament passed an Act of Attainder (stripping away his
English titles). He was
executed on July 15, 1685 (aged 36), on
Tower Hill. It is reported that it took between 4 and 8 blows of the axe to sever his head.
His body was interred in St. Peter's Chapel.
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.
His English dukedom of Monmouth and all subsidiary titles were forfeited, but these
titles were restored to the
2nd Duke of Buccleuch in 1743 (everything but "The Duke of Monmouth" as there was now an
"Earl of Monmouth").
Stranger than fiction..
According to legend, a portrait was painted of Monmouth after his execution.
The tradition states that someone realised after the execution that there was no
official portrait of the Duke - for a son of a King, and someone who had
claimed the throne, albeit in vain, this was unheard of.
So his body was exhumed, the head stitched back on the body, and it was sat for its portrait to
be painted. However, there is at least one formal portrait of Monmouth
tentatively dated to before his death currently in the
National Portrait Gallery in London, and another painting once identified
that shows a sleeping or dead man that could have given rise to the story.
Believe this - if you want..
The dubious theory that the Duke of Monmouth was in fact
The Man in the Iron Mask seems to be based on the reasoning that James II
would not execute his own nephew; someone else was executed instead and James
II arranged for Monmouth to be taken to France and put in the custody of his
cousin Louis XIV of France.
* The actual army
commander was the 2nd Earl of Feversham but there is some dispute as to exactly where he
was at the time of the battle.