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The Monmouth Rebellion

Keynshams part in the Monmouth Rebellion
Article submitted by Pete Clark.

County Bridge
The County Bridge 1685

Upon the death of King Charles II in February 1685 his brother, the Catholic James Duke of York acceded to the English throne without opposition from parliament. However, James had a rival for the crown - the Protestant James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, and the illegitimate son of King Charles II.

King James II
King James II
Duke of Monmouth
The Duke of Monmouth

Monmouth, proclaiming himself the true heir and successor to the throne landed at Lyme Regis on June 11th of that same year. With an army of only 81 followers, he had sailed from exile in Holland whence he had fled after his part in the Rhye House Plot had been exposed in 1683. He quickly raised a motley army of about 7,000 from amongst the poorly armed, badly disciplined, Protestant peasantry of the counties of Dorset and Somerset. Monmouth's cause soon became known as 'The Pitchfork Rebellion' though in truth many volunteers were turned away because they lacked adequate arms. Upon reaching the Somerset County town of Taunton, on June 20th Monmouth proclaimed himself King James III of England.

On a warm summer evening a great stir and commotion filled the usually quiet and sleepy little town of Keynsham. The news had spread that, in an attempt to win the crown from his Uncle King James II, Monmouth was marching, with his army, up from Glastonbury, Wells, and Shepton Mallet, into the parish of Keynsham. They were now just south of the little town.

Everyone said that on the morrow he would march in and take the nearby city of Bristol and the whole of the West Country would be his. In reality the Rebels had decided to march around the north of Bristol and attack over the bridge at Keynsham which unknown to them had been partially destroyed by the Duke of Beauforts forces, on Lord Feversham's orders, as part of the defences of Bristol. When he had heard about the damage to the bridge Monmouth sent a Cavalry troop to take the village and to see what could be done to repair the bridge, following a brief skirmish the King's troops stationed in Keynsham both sides retreated and the Rebels repaired the Bridge.

The Lock Keeper
The Lock Keeper c1986
The main Rebel force reached Keynsham on the morning of the 25th took up positions on Sydenham Mead.

This display of force, now some 9,000 strong, was cut short by heavy rain and the men retired to Keynsham to find shelter.
Monmouth's Rebels slept in the fields beside the River Avon, utilising the White Hart Inn, now known as the Lock Keeper Inn, beside the River Avon, as a guard post, as it had been during the English Civil War.

The main force of Monmouth's army camped at the near by village of Pensford. During the early evening as the men were settling into their lodgings the alarm was sounded that Keynsham was being attacked. From the south came 100 horse, led by Colonel Oglethorpe, and from Bristol came another 250, led by Captain Parker. Although the twin attack was pure coincidence it spread panic amongst the Rebel troops. The bad weather contributed towards the Rebels decision to retire from the field of battle The attack was repelled but the damage to morale had been done.

At a council of war that evening Monmouth declared his distaste at attacking Bristol. Despite being reassured that its population supported him the attack was called off.

During the day information had come in that there were 500 horse waiting to rise in Wiltshire, hoping that these were the long awaited gentry support it was decided to slip out of Keynsham during the night and head towards the city of Bath. It was a depleted and disheartened Rebel army that trailed south past Bath, in the hope of picking up more recruits from Wiltshire, and on the evening of June 26th they came to rest in the village of Norton St. Phillip, 6 miles south of Bath. Here Monmouth established his headquarters in the George Inn whilst others were billeted in nearby buildings. The following day Monmouth's army fought a six-hour skirmish in and around the village before the Kings troops finally withdrew to the small town of Bradford-upon-Avon.

On July 6th Monmouth's dreams of capturing the crown ended the following month with the resounding defeat of his 4000+ strong army at the Battle of Sedgemoor, just north of the hamlet of Weston Zoyland in the county of Somerset. Monmouth elected to attempt a night attack on the Royalist Army, who were led by Lord Feversham and John Churchill, later to become the Duke of Marlborough, in order to give his ill-equipped Rebel Army some advantage. Complete silence was ordered. Monmouth's men had been under orders to stab the next man if he made a sound but, even so, a rifle shot was fired, accidentally or on purpose will never be known. Once the element of surprise had been lost, the Kings forces where alert and waiting. As his army of followers was butchered Monmouth fled the field of battle. He was captured, hiding in a ditch dressed as a shepherd, in Dorset two days later, whilst trying to escape to France, and taken to London. This was the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil.

Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys, an alcoholic whose personal opinion was that if you were in front of him you were guilty, and four other judges were appointed by King James II to try Monmouth's Rebels. Jeffreys rulings were so brutal that he became known as the 'Hanging Judge.' The trials, known as 'The Bloody Assizes' due to the severity of the sentences imposed, were held at several locations in the West of England, the most infamous of which was Taunton Castle. Taunton was chosen because this was where the rebel army had assembled and Monmouth had proclaimed himself King.

Although many of the leaders of Monmouth's rebellion were able to escape punishment through bribery and favourtism, more than 300 of his ill-fated army were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, several hundred were flogged or imprisoned and a further 814 were transportation to Barbados in the West Indies. Monmouth himself was beheaded, aged just 36, on Tower Hill in London on July 15th 1685.

Among those executed for their part in the rebellion were 11 residents of the small town of Keynsham. They were: George Badol, Richard Bowden, Charles Chapman, Richard Evens, Lewis Harris, Edward Haswell, Thomas Howell, John Phillelrey, Andrew Rownsden, Thomas Trock & John Winter.

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