Local historian Chris Copson talks about The Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, also known as the Pitchfork Rebellion.
It took place in the West Country. Mainly farm labourers were recruited into an army led by the Duke of Monmouth in an attempt to overthrow King James II.
James II was a Roman Catholic and some Protestants under his rule opposed his kingship. James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II, claimed to be rightful heir to the throne. In the Monmouth Rebellion he attempted to displace his uncle.
Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis, west of Dorchester, on 11 June 1685. In the following few weeks, his growing army of nonconformists, artisans and farm workers fought a series of skirmishes with local militias and regular soldiers. Monmouth’s forces were unable to compete with the regular army and failed to capture the city of Bristol.
The Duke of Monmouth fled the battlefield after defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 in Somerset. He escaped towards Dorset. One story says he was discovered hiding in a ditch in the village of Horton near Wimborne. He was tried and executed at Tower Hill in London.
The “Bloody Assizes”
In the meantime, the infamous Judge Jeffreys was appointed, with other justices, to deal with the defeated “Pitchfork army”. The “bloody assizes” in Dorchester were held at the Antelope Hotel. Those found guilty were sentenced to death by public execution, or transportation to Australia. Other Bloody Assizes were held in the West Country including one in Winchester. Here a Ringwood resident, Alice Lisle, was convicted and sentenced to death.
In total, 320 West Country men were condemned to death and around 800 to transportation to Australia.
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