History of the Stewarts | Battles and Historic Events
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For many it seemed that only the use of force could now resolve the situation. But the plotters who persuaded Monmouth to gamble all on an invasion were a small and unrepresentative group. Most significantly there were just a handful of the nobility, among whom the most significant were Lord Grey of Warke and the duke of Argyll. The plan was that this rebellion was to be a concerted effort between Scots and English, for the duke of Argyll had set sail from the Netherlands in May to begin a rebellion in Scotland. However the rebels´ planning was inadequate, their invasion preparations had been discovered by the crown and Monmouth´s forces were few in number and poorly equipped. Argyll´s Scottish rebellion was crushed almost before it could begin and within 36 hours the news of Monmouth’s landing had reached the king and his commanders in London
Therefore, on the 11th June 1685 the exiled duke of Monmouth, landed at Lyme Regis in Dorset with a small force in an attempt to oust the new Catholic king James VII & II.They arrived in three small ships with just four light field guns, 1500 muskets and equal quantities of armour. In all there were no more than about 300 men while practically all the money had already been spent. The invasion had been inadequately funded, lacked sufficient arms and equipment and had at its core only a tiny body of experienced soldiers, including a few mercenaries such as the Dutch gunner who would command the artillery.
James VII and II had inherited from his brother a small but well trained and well equipped professional army. Its second in command was John Churchill who later, as duke of Marlborough, would be responsible for some of the most famous of British victories. Once this army was fully mobilised and supported by the local militias, the rebels would have little chance of success in a pitched battle. The royal forces received news of the landing very quickly as two customs officers from Lynne arrived in London on the 13th June having ridden some 200 miles in two days. So Monmouth´s only chance was to raise forces and money rapidly and take control of Bristol, the second city in England where he had strong support. Then he could have marched on London, where it is possible that some of the royal army would have defected to him.
Thousands flocked to his colours as Monmouth marched through the South West, to Taunton ( on the 18th June) where a proclamation was issued declaring him king, then on to Bridgewater from where he marched towards Bristol. A significant proportion of those were nonconformists who had suffered increasing persecution under Charles II. At its height Monmouth´s army numbered more than 5000, perhaps as many as 7000, but the level of support did not match that which Monmouth and his supporters had expected. In particular the gentry did rally to his cause in the way which he had hoped.
The rebels dealt with various local militia forces in minor skirmishes. But already Monmouth’s ships had been taken by the navy, removing his opportunity for escape, and a naval presence along the south coast guarded against any hope of reinforcement, though none was planned.
Churchill had been dispatched to the South West as Major General with 6 troops of horse and 5 infantry companies with the Tangier garrison, recently returned to England, soon to follow. Monmouth’s advance was too slow and Lord Feversham, the commander of the royal army, reached Bristol with his Horse Guards before the rebels. At Keynsham on the 26th, intending to skirt around and attack Bristol from the more vulnerable north side, they found that the royal forces had attempted to block their advance on Bristol by breaking the bridge over the Avon. The rebels contrived a temporary repair but then were beaten in a skirmish with a detachment of royal cavalry. Monmouth decided not to attempt an attack on Bristol and his summons to Bath to surrender was refused. They then turned eastward towards London. As time passed the royal forces were increasing in strength as the professional units and the militias joined together. Yet despite their lack of equipment and experience, in a major skirmish at Norton St Philip on the 27th June the rebels got the upper hand. The royal forces, advancing into the town which had been the rebel headquarters that night, had been surprised in an ambush. If Monmouth had at this point attempted an attack then it might have led to a dramatic defeat for the royal army which, with about 2500 troops, was just half the size of the rebel force. Now, while the army rested at Frome on the 28th, the news arrived of the failure of Argyll’s Scottish rebellion. Argyll, who had set sail 3 weeks earlier than Monmouth had been captured and executed before he could even raise his standard. The expected Cheshire rising had also failed to materialise. The rebels realised they stood alone and that the royal army could concentrate all its forces against them.
The morale of the rebel army collapsed. As Monmouth began to retreat his forces began to desert in large numbers, men taking up the amnesty offered by James VII and II for those who abandoned the rebellion immediately. Churchill had been dispatched to Dorset to cut the rebels off from the channel ports and so Monmouth´s army fell back into the south west. They reached the town of Bridgewater on the 3rd July, believing wrongly that a large body of peasants had been raised in support. But Bridgewater was a significant port which had been a royalist garrison in the Civil War and was relatively isolated on the western edge of the extensive wetlands of the Somerset Levels and approached by causeways across the moor. It was here that the rebel force was cornered when the royal army arrived on the 5th July, quartering 3 miles south east of Bridgewater at Westonzoyland and the adjacent villages of Middlezoy and Othery.
On the night of 5/6 July, Monmouth´s rebels advanced. However, they hesitated at the Bussex Rhyne watercourse and instead of rushing the royal army, took it in at a distance in a firefight. All night the forces exchanged musket and cannon fire, but at daybreak the King´s army advanced, crossed the Rhyne and forced the rebels to flee. Many were caught and killed in what is now Moor Drove Rhyne
The Battle of Sedgemoor was the last pitched battle to be fought on English soil. Three days after his defeat, Monmouth was captured and later executed. Hundreds of his supporters suffered at the hands of Judge Jeffreys´ Bloody Assizes