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17th Century England Index
Introduction : Constitutional Government
England during the Reign of Charles II Index
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
17th Century England
James II and the Monmouth Rebellion (1685)
The end of Charles' reign
By the end of his reign in the 1680's Charles was wealthy from the grant provided by Parliament and from a generous pension provided by Louis XIV. The French king considered it cheaper to pay Charles rather than to risk fighting England, as most MPs wanted. There was only one problem - the succession. What would his brother James do when he became king? He was an obstinate man and a fervent Catholic. Perhaps he would try, yet again, to establish absolute monarchy.
Although Charles II had several children, none of them could claim the throne since none of them were legitimate. However, one of his children, the Duke of Monmouth, was convinced that Charles II had been married to his mother. Monmouth claimed that he, and not Charles' brother James, should be the next king.
Parliament did not agree with Monmouth's claim and allowed James, Charles II's Catholic brother, to be crowned as King James II.
The Last Battle in England
Because Monmouth was a Protestant, as well as being handsome and popular, he thought the English people would support him in a rebellion against his uncle. In June 1685, he crossed the Channel from Holland and landed at Lyme Regis, in the south-west of England. Hundreds of country folk joined him to march on London in order to claim the throne.
James II and Parliament were alarmed by Monmouth's progress and declared him a traitor and an outlaw. A reward of £5000 was offered for Monmouth, dead or alive. An army was raised by the king and it met the rebels at Sedgemoor in Somerset. The king's army shot down Monmouth's peasant followers by the hundreds. Those left alive were captured. Monmouth managed to escape but was taken prisoner soon afterwards and executed.
The other rebels were tried by the terrible Judge Jeffreys. Two hundred of them were also executed. Another eight hundred were forced into slavery and taken to Barbados in the West Indies. Their descendants, whose family names which can be traced to Monmouth's rebellion, still live in the West Indies today.
The rebellion lasted for five weeks and Sedgemoor is considered the last battle to have been fought in England, which means that no armies have fought on English soil for over 300 years.
James, Duke of York
Portrait of James II by Godfrey Kneller (1684)
As the Duke of York, during the reign of Charles II, James married his pregnant mistress, Anne Hyde. Anne bore him two children, Mary and Anne. James was very unlike his brother, Charles. He was slow, not very bright, too serious and lacking in a sense of humour. However, he did make his mark as Lord High Admiral of the English fleet. James was active during the second (1665-1667) and third (1672-1674) Dutch Wars and proved himself to be a good leader and fine strategist.
James had been officially received into the Catholic Church in 1669, and Parliament tried all it could to stop his coming to the throne. The Test Act (1673) eventually prevented him from holding office under the crown. The Popish Plot and The Exclusion crisis (1678-1681) forced him into exile in Brussels. The Whig party was created by Lord Shaftesbury in 1681 to try to ensure that James would never be crowned king. Charles II had the last say, however. He dissolved Parliament before any exclusion law could be passed.
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