Monday, 6 July 2015

The Last Battle on English Soil

Some 330 years ago, ancestors of mine were on a battlefield in Somerset, engaged in a hopeless fight. It became known as The Monmouth Rebellion.

At least five members of the Herring family (to whom I'm related on my father's side) from Pitminster, Somerset, were fighting for the Duke of Monmouth.

William Crabb, a 'gentleman from Ashill', from whom I'm directly descended on my mother's side, was also at Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685. It was the last battle on English soil.

It was an heroic but hopeless attempt to overthrow an unpopular king, the Duke's uncle, James II.

Monmouth, the oldest of King Charles II's illegitimate children, landed at Lyme Regis on 11 June 1685 with a party of eighty men. He gathered a significant proportion of the population of West Dorset, East Devon and Somerset along the way.

He was handsome, a proven hero on the battlefield and popular with Westcountry folk who had met him on a charm offensive of the region a few years before. He was also a Protestant and seen by many who valued religious freedoms as a better prospect than the Catholic James II.

There were a few skirmishes along the way - one at Bridport where Edward Coker of Mapperton and Wadham Strangways were killed by Colonel Venner, who now has a bar named after him at The Bull Hotel. There was another near Ashill at Fights Ground, a field name  still in existence when my family farmed there in the early part of the 20th century.

Monmouth was 'crowned' at Taunton and defeated at Sedgemoor, near Bridgwater.

According to the Monmouth Rebellion historian, the late W Macdonald Wigfield, 'exactly how many took part will never be known: estimates of those who fought for Monmouth at Sedgemoor by those present vary between 3,200 and 7,000 and by that time, it must be assumed, some men who had joined the rebel army had already gone home.'

Whole villages were swept along by the prospect of change at the top. Some 56 men from Pitminster, 11 from Ashill, 18 from Donyatt, the Somerset village where I was born, and seven from Broadwindsor. The surnames to someone as local as me are very familiar: Stoodley, Billen, Symes, Quick, Gape and Bowditch.

Saddest of all, a black servant listed only as Aaron, 'Mr Palmer's man' of Bishop's Hull, near Taunton. (Film director Steve McQueen please take note).

Revenge on the rebels was swift and cruel. Imprisonment, transportation, execution. Others disappeared into the countryside, hidden by people sympathetic to the cause.

We can't be sure, but research by a branch of his family indicates my great-great-(lots of great)-grandfather, William Crabb, was hanged.

Of the Herring family, James was transported on the Constant Richard on November 12 to Jamaica and another, Thomas, was transported in the Indeavour from Bristol on October 20 to Nevis or St Kitts. I don't know what happened to the others.

Monmouth was declared a traitor, had no trial and was executed on 15 July at Tower Hill, London.

The Monmouth Rebellion is just a footnote in history but it's a big part of the Westcountry's story. It's part of my own heritage and in my blood. So one day I'm going to do more research and write about it. At the very least I shall be doing this walk.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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