Duke of Monmouth
A relic of rebellion
The acquisition of this relic engraved 'Duke of Monmouth' on its shaft was recorded by The Whitehaven News on 16 March 1922: 'Sir Richard and Lady Musgrave who are dismantling their historic residence of Eden Hall, which has been let as a large school, have, through Mr C Sharpe presented to the Penrith Museum an interesting collections of antiques. One of two ancient keys has a filigree handle and attached to it is one of Sir George Musgrave's visiting cards on which is written: 'This key was found in the pocket of the Duke of Monmouth after he was beheaded in July 1685'.
The execution was the penalty for attempting to usurp the throne from James II in an episode known as 'The Duke of Monmouth's Rebellion'. The story began when it became clear that Charles II, James's father, would have no legitimate children. There had been anxiety about the Roman Catholicism of his brother and heir, James, then Duke of York. A number of attempts to exclude him from the succession to the throne failed, and James Scott the Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, [1649-1685] Charles's eldest illegitimate son, was proposed as an alternative, Protestant candidate.
Charles had already indicated that he regarded James Scott as his legitimate heir but on his death in 1685 his brother James succeeded him. Monmouth, however, ambitious and over-confident of support sought it for himself and marched with troops through the West Country.
He was defeated by James's army at Sedgemoor, captured, then executed at the Tower of London. He refused to make a dying speech and met his fate with dignity in spite of the fact that the executioner, John Ketch, had bungled his work. According to a trustworthy eye-witness he struck the Duke five blows and 'severed not his head from his body till he cut it off with his knife'.
Monmouth's remains were buried at the Tower in St Peter's Church (St. Peter ad Vincula). James II would reign for three uneasy years. He appointed Catholics to important public positions justifying the concerns of his critics and losing him the favour of many supporters. It led finally to his exile for shortly after the birth of his son in 1688 a group of prominent statesmen persuaded his Protestant nephew and son-in-law William of Orange to become joint sovereign with his wife Mary, James's elder daughter.
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