1902 Encyclopedia > James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmonth

James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmonth
English nobleman

JAMES, DUKE OF MONMOUTH (1649-1685), was the son of Lucy Walters, "a brown, beautiful, bold, but insipid creature," who became the mistress of Charles II. during his exile at the Hague. He was born at Rotterdam on 9th April 1649. That Charles was his father is more than doubtful, for Lucy Walters had previously lived with Robert Sidney, brother of Algernon, and the boy resem-bled him very closely. Charles, however, always recog-nized him as his son, and lavished on him an almost doting affection. Until the Restoration he was placed under the care, first of Lord Crofts, and then of the queen-dowager, receiving his education to the age of nine from Roman Catholics, but thenceforward from Protestant tutors. In July 1662 he was sent for by Charles, and at thirteen was placed under the protection of Lady Castlemaine and in the full tide of the worst influences of the court. No formal acknowledgment of his relation to the king was made until his betrothal to Anne Scott, daughter of the earl of Buccleuch, and the wealthiest heiress of Scotland, whom he married in 1665. During 1663 he was made duke of Orkney, duke of Monmouth, and knight of the Garter, and received honorary degrees at both universities. At court he was treated as a prince of the blood. In 1665 he served with credit under the duke of York in the san-guinary naval battle off Lowestoft. A captaincy in the Life Guards was given him, and in 1670, on the death of Monk, he was made captain-general of the king's forces. Offices of wealth also were showered upon him, and he was admitted to the privy council. In 1670 Monmouth was with the court at Dover, and it is affirmed by Reresby that the mysterious death of Charles's sister, the duchess of Orleans, was due to her husband's revenge on the dis-covery of her intrigue with the duke. It is certain, from an entry by Pepys, that as early as 1666 he had estab-lished a character for vice and profligacy. He was the direct author of the attack in December 1670 on Sir John Coventry, and only a few months later received the royal pardon for his share in the wanton murder of a street watchman. De Gramont, in his vivid sketch of Mon-mouth, after describing the beauty and bodily prowess for which he was celebrated, notices the fatal emptiness and poverty of his mind: "Tous les avantages du corps par-loient pour lui; mais son esprit ne disait pas un petit mot en sa faveur. II n'avait de sentimens que ce qu'on lui en inspirait."

Hitherto Monmouth had been but the spoiled child of a wicked court. Now, however, by no act or will of his own, he began to be a person politically important. As early as 1662 the king's excessive fondness for him had caused anxiety. Even then the fear of a " difference" between Monmouth and James, duke of York, exercised, men's minds ; and every caress or promotion kept the fear alive. Who could tell but that, in default of legitimate issue from his queen, Charles might declare Monmouth himself his lawful son 1 A civil war would be the certain consequence. Soon after 1670 the matter took a more serious aspect.. The anti-popery spirit was rapidly becoming a frenzy, and the succession of James a probability and a terror. Charles was urged to legitimize Monmouth by a declara-tion of his marriage with Lucy Walters. He returned answer that, much as he loved the duke, he would rather see him hanged at Tyburn than own him for his legiti-mate son. Every attempt, however, was henceforth made, especially by Shaftesbury, to accustom people to this idea.. He was taught to regard himself as the representative of the Protestant interest, and his position was emphasized by James's second marriage with the Roman Catholic princess Mary of Modena. From this time his popular title was " the Protestant duke." Charles was induced to confer many prominent employments upon him. The influence of James,, however, was strong enough to prevent his obtaining the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland; but he received the command, of the 6000 troops who assisted the French in the second. Dutch war, and, though without any claims to generalship, behaved with courage in the field. In 1674 he was made "commander-in-chief;" and, in connexion with this, another unsuccessful attempt, graphically described in Clarke's Life of James, was made to gain from Charles a tacit admission of his legitimacy. At Shaftesbury's instance-he was placed in command of the army employed in 1675 against the Scottish Covenanters, and was present at Both-well Bridge (22d June 1679). He was also, at the king's., request, elected chancellor of the university of Cambridge. In 1678, when Charles was driven into war with Louis,, Monmouth took the command of the English contingent,, and again gained credit for personal courage at the battle of St Denis. On his return to London England was in the throes of the popish terror. The idea of securing th& Protestant succession by legitimizing Monmouth again took shape and was eagerly pressed on by Shaftesbury; at the-time it seemed possible that success would wait on the audacity.

The Pensionary parliament was dissolved in January 1678-79, and was succeeded by one still more determined in its anti-popery spirit. To avoid the storm, and to save, if possible, his brother's interests, Charles instructed him to leave the country. James retired to Brussels, the king having previously signed a declaration that he "never was married, nor gave contract to any woman whatsoever but to my wife Queen Catherine." In spite of this, Mon-mouth might naturally now nourish ambitious views. His rival was off the stage; Shaftesbury, his chief supporter, was president of the remodelled privy council; and he himself was the favourite of the city. In the summer of 1679 the king suddenly fell ill, and the dangers of a dis-puted succession became terribly apparent. The party opposed to Monmouth, or rather to Shaftesbury, easily prevailed upon Charles to consent to his brother's tem-porary return. When, after the king's recovery, James went back to Brussels, he received a promise that Mon-mouth too should be removed from favour and ordered to leave the country. Accordingly, in September 1679, the latter repaired to Utrecht, while shortly afterwards James's friends so far gained ground as to obtain for him permission to reside at Edinburgh instead of at Brussels. Within two months of his arrival at Utrecht, Monmouth secretly returned to England, arriving in London on 27th November. Shaftesbury had assiduously kept alive the .anti-popery agitation, and Monmouth, as the champion of Protestantism, was received with every sign of popular •delight. The king appeared to be greatly incensed, deprived him of all his offices, and ordered him to leave the kingdom at once. This he refused to do, and the only notice taken of the disobedience was that Charles forbade him to appear at court.

It was at this time that the Appeal from the Country to the City, written by Ferguson, was published, in which the legitimacy was tacitly given up, and in which it was urged that " he that hath the worst title will make the best king." Now it was too that the exclusionists, who, in the absence of parliament, were deprived of their best basis for agitation, developed the system of petitioning. So promptly and successfully was this answered by the " abhorrers " that Charles, feeling the ground safer under him, recalled James to London,—a step immediately fol-lowed by the resignation of the chief "Whigs in the council.

Once more, however, a desperate attempt was made, by "the fable of the "black box," to establish Monmouth's claims; and once more these claims were met by Charles's public declarations in the Gazette that he had never been married but to the queen. Still acting under Shaftesbury's .advice, Monmouth now went upon the first of his progresses in the west of England, visiting the chief members of the •country party, and gaining by his open and engaging manner much popularity among the people. In August 1680 James returned to Edinburgh, his right to the suc-cession being again formally acknowledged by Charles. Monmouth at once threw himself more vehemently than •ever into the plans of the exclusionists. He spoke and voted for exclusion in the House of Lords, and used lan-guage not likely to be forgotten by James when an oppor-tunity should come for resenting it. He was ostenta-tiously feasted by the city, the stronghold of Shaftesbury's influence; and it was observed as he drove to dinner that the mark of illegitimacy had been removed from the arms •on his coach.

The year 1681 seemed likely to witness another civil war. The parliament finished a session of hysterical pas-.sion by passing a series of resolutions of extreme violence, of which one was that Monmouth should be restored to all his offices and commands; and when Charles summoned .a fresh parliament to meet at Oxford the leaders of the exclusionists went thither with troops of armed men. Not until the dissolution of this last parliament on 27th March 1681 did the weakness of Monmouth's cause appear. In a moment the ground was cut from under the feet of his supporters; their basis for agitation was .gone; pamphlets and broadsheets could ill supply the place of a determined and unscrupulous majority of the House of Commons. The deep-seated respect for legitimate •descent asserted, itself, and a great reaction took place. In November Dryden published Absalom and Achitophel. Shaftesbury was attacked, but was saved for the time by a favouring jury. Monmouth himself did not escape insult in the street and from the pulpit. He thought it wise to try to make his peace with the king, but he did so in terms which incensed Charles the more. He was forbidden to hold communication with the court; and, when he went in September 1682 on a second progress through the 'western and north-western counties, his proceedings were narrowly watched, and he was at length arrested at Staf-ford. Severity and extreme lenity were strangely mingled in the treatment he received. He was released on bail, _and in February 1683, after the flight and death of Shaftes-bury, he openly broke the implied conditions of his bail by paying a third visit to Chichester with Lord Grey and -others on pretence of a hunting expedition.

It is probable that Monmouth never went so far as to think of armed rebellion; but there is little doubt that he had talked over schemes likely to lead to this, and that Shaftesbury had gone further still. The Rye House plot gave an excuse for arresting the Whig leaders; Russell and Sidney were judicially murdered; Monmouth retired to Toddington in Bedfordshire, and was left untouched. Court intrigue favouring him, he succeeded, by the betrayal of his comrades and by two submissive letters, in reconciling himself with the help of Halifax both to the king and to James, though he had the humiliation of seeing his con-fessions and declarations of penitence published at length in the Gazette. His character for pettishness and folly was now amply illustrated. He denied that he had given evidence ; he then wrote a recantation of the denial. He managed by importunity to get from the king the paper of recantation; and lastly, by the advice of his wife, he offered again to sign the paper which he had withdrawn. Charles heartily despised him, and yet appears to have retained affection for him. His partial return to favour raised the hopes of his partisans ; to check these, Algernon Sidney was executed. Monmouth was now subpoenaed to give evidence at the trial of young Hampden. To escape from the difficulties thus opened before him he fled to Holland, probably with Charles's connivance, and though he once more, in November 1684, visited England, it is doubtful whether he ever again saw the king. From that time till the king's death he lived with Henrietta "Went-worth, his mistress, in Holland and at Brussels.

The quiet accession of James II. soon brought Monmouth to the crisis of his fate. Though at first desirous of retire-ment, his character was too weak to withstand the urgency of more determined men. Within two months of Charles's death he had yielded to the impetuosity of Argyll and others of the exiles, and to vague invitations from England. It is curious, as showing the light in which his claims were viewed by his fellow-conspirators, that one of the terms of the compact between them was that, though Monmouth should lead the expedition, he should not assume the title of king without their consent, and should, if the rebellion were successful, resign it and accept whatever ranki, the nation might offer. Now, as always, he was but a puppet in other men's hands.

On the 2d of May Argyll sailed with three ships to raise the west of Scotland; and three weeks later, with a following of only eighty-two persons, of whom Lord Grey, Fletcher of Saltoun, Wade, and Ferguson, the author of the Appeal from the Country to the City, were the chief, Monmouth him-self set out for the west of England, where, as the strong-hold of Protestant dissent and as the scene of his former pro-gresses, he could alone hope for immediate support. Even here, however, there was no movement; and when on 11th June Monmouth's three ships, having eluded the royal fleet, arrived off Lyme Regis, he landed amid the curiosity rather than the sympathy of the inhabitants. In the market-place his " declaration," drawn up by Ferguson, was read aloud. In this document James was painted in the blackest colours. Not only was he declared to be the murderer of Essex, but he was directly charged with having poisoned Charles to obtain his crown. Monmouth soon collected an undisci-plined body of some 1500 men, with whom he seized Axminster, and entered Taunton. Meanwhile the parlia-ment had declared it treason to assert Monmouth's legiti-macy, or his title to the crown; a reward of £5000 was offered for him dead or alive, and an act of attainder was passed in unusual haste. Troops had been hurriedly sent to meet him, and when he reached Bridgwater Albemarle was already in his rear. From Bridgwater the army marched through Glastonbury to attack Bristol, into which Lord Feversham had hastily thrown a regiment of foot-guards. The attempt, however, miscarried; and, after summoning Bath in vain, Monmouth, with a disordered force, began his retrograde march through Philips-Norton and Frome, continually harassed by Feversham's soldiers. At the latter place he heard of Argyll's total rout in the western Highlands. He was now anxious to give up the enterprise, but was overruled by Grey, Wade, and others. On the 3d of July he reached Bridgwater again, with an army little better than a rabble, living at free quarters and behaving with reckless violence. On Sunday the 5th Feversham entered Sedgemoor in pursuit; Monmouth the same night attempted a surprise, but his troops were hope-lessly routed. He himself, with Grey and a few others, fled over the Mendip Hills to the New Forest, hoping to reach the coast and escape by sea. The whole country, however, was on the alert, and at midnight on the 8th, within a month of their landing, James heard that the revolt, desperate from the first, was over, and that his rival had been captured close to Ringwood, in Hampshire.

The poor strain in Monmouth's character was now shown. On the day of his capture he wrote to James in terms of the most unmanly contrition, ascribing his wrong-doings to the action of others, and imploring an interview. On the 13th the prisoners reached the Tower, and on the next day Monmouth was allowed to see James. The accounts of this interview are difficult to reconcile in some points, but all agree that Monmouth's behaviour was un-manly in the extreme. No mercy was shown him, nor did he in the least deserve mercy; he had wantonly attacked the jseace of the country, and had cruelly libelled James. The king had not, even in his own mind, any family tie to restrain him from exercising just severity, for he had never believed Monmouth to be the son of any one but Robert Sidney. Two painful interviews followed with the wife for whom he bore no love, and who for him could feel no respect; another imploring letter was sent to the king, and abject protestations and beseechings were made to all whom he saw. He offered, as the last hope, to become a Roman Catholic, and this might possibly have proved successful, but the priests sent by James to ascertain the sincerity of his " conversion " declared that he cared only for his life and not for his soul.

He met his death on the scaffold with calmness and dignity. In the paper which he left signed, and to which he referred in answer to the questions wherewith the busy bishops plied him, he expressed his sorrow for having assumed the royal style, and at the last moment confessed that Charles had denied to him privately, as he had publicly, that he was ever married to Lucy Walters. He died at the age of thirty-six, on the 15th of July 1685. " Thus ended," says Evelyn, "this quondam duke, darling of his father and the ladies, being extremely handsome and adroit; an excellent souldier and dancer, a favourite of the people, of an easy nature, debauched by lusts, seduced by crafty knaves, who would have set him up only to make a pro-perty, and took the opportunity of the king being of another religion to gather a party of discontented men. He failed and perished."

Authorities for Monmouth's career are, besides the known modern histories, Roberts's Life (1844), Evelyn's and Pepys's Diaries, Old-mixon's History (1724), James II.'s Memoirs, Clarke's Life of James, Reresby's Memoirs, Sidney's Diary (1843), Scott's notes to Absalom and Achitophel, and The Heroic Life, &c. (1683). For the rebellion, Lord Grey's Secret History should be consulted. (O. A.)

The above article was written by: Osmund Airy.

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