Rebellion in the name of Monmouth

"THE whole county is disloyal," said the rector of Whitchurch, as James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, rode like a conqueror through Cheshire towns and villages in the autumn of 1682. Over 300 years ago it must indeed have seemed to many Cheshire folk that the spirit of Protestant rebellion was rising and that Monmouth, first-born of Charles II's several illegitimate sons, might well be the next king. Traditional hostility to Popery had focussed Itself on the fact that the King's heir, James, Duke of York, was a Catholic.

Monmouth, a staunch Protestant, a gentleman and an idealist but not a very clever conspirator, had allowed himself to be manipulated by the scheming Lord Shaftsbury who dreamed of Protestant rebellion and the establishment of a new monarch with himself as the eminence grise.

It was Shaftsbury who persuaded the Duke to embark on a tour of Cheshire to test popular feeling in the country - a tour which was to lead, ultimately, to Monmouth's exile, rebellion and execution.
He rode into Nantwich to the ringing of church bells and accompanied by the Earl of Macclesfield with many aristocratic followers, all well mounted on horses with the finely embroidered saddles which showed them to be men of quality and substance. In the narrow streets and the market square of Nantwich people flung hats into the air and shouted "Monmouthl Monmouth!"

The Duke was acknowledged by all who knew him to have been a personality of great charm. Samuel Pepys described him as "A most pretty spark". His darkly handsome features made him look remarkably like his father and added to his crowd appeal. In the square by the church several children said to be suffering from the 'King's Evil' (scrofula) were brought forward and he gently laid his hand on them. History does not record the results.

From Nantwich he progressed to Wallasey where he entertained himself in the local races and won the 12-stone plate. In the streets his victory caused dome local disturbances when his supporters lit celebratory bonfires and his enemies promptly poured water on them.

Monmouth excelled at several sports and knew well the popularity that this gained him with the crowd, so the next day he ran in foot races and played bowls. From Wallasey he went to Dunham Hall, near Altrincham, there to stay the night with Lord Delamere. The party dined with the doors of the hall wide open so that the populace might see him. From the crowd beyond the doors there were frequent shouts of "A Monmouthl A Monmouth!"

The following day being Sunday, the party journeyed to Gawsworth Hall, home of the Earl of Macclesfield, where the Duke attended service at Gawsworth Church. On leaving church, Macclesfield's son seized his stirrup and exclaimed "By God, you shall be king".

News of remarks such as this, and the general junketings that attended the Duke's progress, was quick to reach London. In fact, Monmouth's party was trailed constantly by government spies. The King was incensed and knew that he could afford no longer to ignore such stirrings of rebellion lest the opposition grew too strong.

On to Chester, which town he is said to have entered at the head of a "great column of 700 men," although these numbers may well have been exaggerated by those who had the king's ear.

There were no church bells to greet the arrival in Chester. The Dean, a loyalist, had concealed the keys to all the churches. But Chester was alive with Monmouth supporters and Monmouth enemies, probably in about equal numbers. While the Duke dined at the Feathers, a mob broke into the Cathedral and did much damage.

Religious questions aroused great fury, then as now. Religion and politics were inextricably mixed. The great international conflicts were all part of the continual struggle between Protestant and Catholic nations, a mirror of our modem cold war between Communist and Capitalist powers.
Passions were further inflamed, not only in Chester but in other towns of the County, when the Duke's friends provided free barrels of ale for the mobs to "shout in the Duke."

From riot-torn Chester the party continued to Trentham where Church bells did ring, bonfires flamed in the streets and there were fights between rival groups with consequent damage to property.

At Stafford the King showed his hand. The mayor of the town later wrote:
"Sergeant Ramsey went to speak with me at a private gentleman's house where he took me aside and told me that his business was to arrest the Duke of Monmouth; he added that he would appear in the public rooms of the Duke. I went with my staff and mace to the door where the Duke was to come.

I did my obeyance to him and he put me to go before him where I spoke the words in the enclosed paper. When I spoke of abhorring the traitorous association, he said all good men should abhor it too. Then I drank to the King as the Duke desired me which he pledged and prayed to God to Bless His Majesty. Immediately after this, Sergeant Ramsey came in and produced his warrant, at sight of which the noise abhated."

It was the end of the tour and the attempt to spread rebellion.