Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Botched Butchery of the Condemned Conspirator

             Monmouth himself fled the field in the breaking light, throwing off his armour and removing his blue riband, with Lord Grey, his servant, his doctor and other friends, stopping at Chedzoy to change horse, and taking the Bath road, hidden and housed by sympathisers. Between Gillingham and Shaftsbury they entered the New Forest, and then on to Cranbourne Chase where, at the Woodyates Inn, they let loose their horses, hid the bridles, and Monmouth disguised himself as a shepherd. 

The Duke of Monmouth

On the early morning of July 7th, Lord Lumley and his scouts surprised two men at a crossroads at Holt Lodge, they were Lord Grey and a New Forest guide. More men and horses flooded the surrounding countryside, and an old cottager, Amy Farrant, directed Lumley to a hedge where she had seen two men eating peas. Lumley’s men surrounded the area, known as the Island, and threatened to burn the men out, but they evaded capture until the next morning, when Anthony Busse, one of Monmouth’s close companions was discovered. He had left the Duke, he said, at about one in the morning but pointed out where he was to be found, in return, some say, for a pardon. 

Monmouth captured

At seven in the morning of July 8th 1685, a militiaman, Henry Parkin, found Monmouth hiding in ditch, covered with ferns and brambles. Parkin, it was said, burst into tears and reproached himself for the discovery. Monmouth could not stand and said he had not eaten a meal in peace or had a night’s rest since landing at Lyme Regis. He was taken to Holt Lodge, where the magistrate, Anthony Etterick, ordered him to be taken to London. 

Text of Monmouth's Letter to the Queen - with signature added

Over the next week, under heavy guard, Monmouth was conveyed across southern England and to the Tower of London, and during this week he wrote piteous, abasing letters to the King, the Queen and others, begging for mercy. His proud spirit, so flamboyant when surrounded by fawning supporters and sycophants, was now broken and he descended into humiliating degradation. When brought before his uncle, the King, he fell to his knees and wept, hugging the King’s own knees and begging for his life. 

Monmouth begs before James II

He appealed to blood, invoking his father’s name, spread the blame to others, denied knowledge of events, and utterly debased himself, but to no avail. The crimes were too great to be pardoned, his offences too grave; he had defamed the King, his ministers and his parliament, he had declared war on the kingdom, waged war in the west, killed the King’s men and had claimed the crown for himself. Such treasons could not go unpunished, or be seen to be committed and go unpunished. There could only be one outcome. 
Is there then no hope?” 
he asked the King, who simply turned away in silence. 

A Thanksgiving for the Defeat of the Rebels - 1685

Lord Grey, who had run at Bridport and fled from Sedgemoor, was brought next before his Majesty. He stood straight, heard the charges and quietly admitted to them, neither begging for life nor asking for mercy, and impressed even the stern King with his fortitude and propriety. Both prisoners were taken back to the Tower by water, and in through Traitor’s Gate, and on July 13th, Monmouth’s wife, Anne, was allowed to visit him, bringing the news that his execution was to on the 15th. He received her coldly and spent most of the visit entreating the accompanying Earl of Clarendon to intercede on his behalf. The next day, he wrote more piteous letters, begging to be spared or reprieved at least but all to no avail. On the morning of Wednesday July 15th 1685, his wife and children came to the Tower and said their goodbyes but Monmouth, although kindly, was unmoved and emotionless. 

Monmouth brought to the scaffold

A coach took him to Tower Hill at ten o’clock, where an innumerable multitude was waiting, and in the company of two bishops and two clergymen, with a steady step, he mounted the scaffold. 

Jack Ketch

His first words were to Jack Ketch, the executioner, 
Is this the man to do the business? Do your work well,” 
before turning to the silent crowd, 
I shall say but very little: I come to die: I die a Protestant of the Church of England,” 
at which point the bishops intervened, pointing out that he was not considered to be a member of that church. Monmouth then turned to the subject of his mistress, Lady Henrietta Wentworth, with whom he had had an affair, but the bishops again intervened, and declared their relationship to have been sinful. There followed an altercation, as condemned man and the divines on the scaffold argued the niceties of his repentance and confession, before Monmouth turned again to the public hangman, Jack Ketch. 

Monmouth on the Block

He handed him six guineas and said, 
Here are six guineas for you: pray do your business well: do not serve me as you did my Lord Russell. I have heard you struck him three or four times. Here [to his servant], take these remaining guineas, and give them to him, if he does his work well.” 
He was referring the execution of Lord William Russell, whom Ketch had hacked to death in 1683, using several blows of the axe to carry out the deed. It is not known if Ketch’s next actions resulted from his being disconcerted, annoyed or distracted by these words. Monmouth took off his coat, said a prayer and laid his head on the block, then raised himself on one elbow and felt the edge of the axe. 
I fear it is not sharp enough,” 
he said to Ketch, who replied, 
It is sharp enough and heavy enough.” 
Jack Ketch raised the axe and struck, but the blow was misplaced and only nicked Monmouth’s neck, who raised himself up and cast a reproachful glare at the executioner, before sinking down again. Ketch struck again and failed to cut deep enough, and then again and missed all together, with the body before him still twitching and moving, the neck unsevered, he threw down the axe crying, 
God damn me, I cannot do it, my heart fails me.” 

Ketch hacks at Monmouth's neck

The crowd bayed at him, threatening to tear him apart if he did not continue, and the sheriff demanded that he take up the axe, which at length he did. Two more blows finally killed the prisoner but still the head remained attached, so Ketch drew a long knife from the scabbard at his belt and hacked through the remaining skin and sinew. He could not hold up the head, but showed it quickly to the crowd, who surged forward and threatened to murder him, so he was bundled away under heavy guard. The head and body of the dead Duke were placed in a coffin and laid under the altar of St Peter’s Chapel in the Tower. 

Portrait of the dead Monmouth - allegedly

One preposterous rumour that quickly spread was that James II could not bear to have his nephew killed, that a substitute had been beheaded and Monmouth was smuggled to France, where he lived imprisoned as the Man in the Iron Mask. 

Tomorrow - Monmouth may have gone but terrible retribution continued in the West Country …

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