Battle of Sedgemoor
When Charles II died in February 1685 his illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth , in exile since the previous year, was pushed by his followers into an attempt to seize the throne. Argyll landed in Scotland to raise support there (he was soon captured and executed); Monmouth landed in Lyme Regis and swelled his force from a few score to several thousand. But they were ill equipped, and largely untried in combat. While there was much suspicion of Catholic James , Monmouth failed to excite a popular rebellion.
Monmouth also showed little resolution: his march through the West Country took him to Bristol , where a show of resistance saw him retreat to Bridgewater in Somerset. Daring might have won him more support, hesitation saw him waiting to be attacked, his forces dwindling as it became obvious the end was inevitable.
When Lord Feversham approached Bridgewater Monmouth finally showed some gumption, leading his force out of the town to make a surprise night-time attack on the encamped Royalist army in Westonzoyland. Fearing treachery Monmouth had orders put out that anyone making a noise should be put to death by his neighbours, but crossing the first of two ‘rhynes’, shallow watercourses, they were detected by Feversham’s scouts. Without surprise Monmouth was lost.
The two armies were reasonably matched in terms of numbers, Monmouth perhaps having a slight advantage over Feversham. The Royalists had about 2,000 foot to Monmouth’s 2,500, and 700 horse whereas Monmouth had around 100 more. But the Royalists were crack troops, guards regiments and elite cavalry. Feversham had a high percentage of musketeers; Monmouth had some, but many more with just pitchforks and scythes. And into the bargain Monmouth had but three cannon, Feversham twice that number.
Early manoeuvres took place in the dark, a great equalizer. When the sun began to rise Feversham’s musketeers could pick off their opponents. The well-trained Royalist cavalry outflanked the rebel army, and the battle turned into a rout. The rebels lost more than 1,000 in the battle, many shot while seeking shelter in ditches. Another 500 were captured. Royalist losses were far lower, perhaps as few as 100.
Sedgemoor was the last full-scale battle to take place in England, but in truth it was a one-sided conflict with the result never in doubt once Monmouth’s army had lost the element of surprise. Monmouth showed his true colours by fleeing with his general, Grey, abandoning his supporters to their fate, but was captured just two days later. He was quickly despatched to the Tower of London , tried and executed , though the last element of this sequence was less than efficient, the executioner failing to sever his head with five blows of the axe, having to end the job with a knife.
The aftermath for many of his supporters was equally violent. After the battle some were summarily executed and placed in gibbets. Judge Jeffreys was rushed to the South West, where he presided over the so-called ‘bloody assizes’. Hundreds were sentenced to transportation, and a reputed 333 sentenced to die.
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