james scott, duke monmouth

James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth

James Crofts, later James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and 1st Duke of Buccleuch (April 9 1649July 15 1685), was an English nobleman. He was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress, Lucy Walter, who had followed him into continental exile after the execution of Charles II's father, King Charles I. Monmouth was executed in 1685 after making an unsuccessful attempt to depose James II, commonly called the Monmouth Rebellion. Declaring himself the legitimate King, Monmouth attempted to capitalise on his position as the son (albeit illegitimate) of Charles II, and his Protestantism, in opposition to James, who was Catholic.


Lucy Walter had almost as bad a reputation as the prince himself, and it is not at all certain that Charles was the natural father of James. There were rumours that Charles and Lucy did marry, secretly, which would have made James the true and legitimate heir to the throne. Whatever the truth, Charles recognised James as his son, but did not make him his heir. After succeeding to the throne, Charles married the Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza; by this time Lucy Walter was dead. James acquired his original surname from William Crofts, 1st Baron Crofts, who was entrusted with the care and passed off as Croft's nephew.

Officer and commander

In 1663, at the age of 14, shortly after having been brought to England, James was created Duke of Monmouth with the subsidiary titles of Earl of Doncaster and Baron Scott of Tynedale, all three in the Peerage of England, and married off to the wealthy Anne Scott, 4th Countess of Buccleuch. The day after his marriage, they were made Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. Although he showed no aptitude for government, James was popular, particularly since he was a Protestant, whereas the official heir to the throne, the brother of Charles II, James, Duke of York, was a Roman Catholic.

In 1665, at the age of 16, Monmouth served in the English fleet under his uncle the Duke of York in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Later in the war, he returned to England to assume his first military command as commander of a troop of cavalry. In 1669 he was made colonel of the King's Life Guards, one of the most senior appointments in the army. When the Captain General of the army, George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, died in 1670, Monmouth became the senior officer in the army at the age of 21. At the outbreak of the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1672, a brigade of 6,000 British troops was sent to serve as part of the French army (in return for money paid to King Charles), with Monmouth as its commander. In the campaign of 1673 and in particular at the Siege of Maastricht, Monmouth gained a considerable reputation as one of Britain's finest soldiers.

In 1678 Monmouth was commander of the Anglo-Dutch brigade, now fighting for the United Provinces against the French. He distinguished himself at the battle of St Denis, further increasing his reputation. The following year, after his return to Britain, he commanded the small army raised to put down the rebellion of the Scottish Covenanters. Despite being heavily outnumbered, he decisively defeated the (admittedly poorly equipped) Covenanter rebels at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on June 22 1679. By this time it was becoming apparent that Charles II would have no legitimate heir, and Monmouth was regarded by many as preferable to the Duke of York.

Rebellion and execution

Following the discovery of the so-called Rye House Plot in 1683, Monmouth was obliged to go into exile in the Dutch United Provinces (Although Violet Wyndham gives the date of his exile as 1679). On his father's death Monmouth led the "Monmouth Rebellion", landing with three ships at Lyme Regis in Dorset in an attempt to take the throne from his uncle. He declared himself King and was crowned in Chard and was the subject of more coronations in Taunton June 20 1685 and Bridgwater. On July 6 1685 the two armies met at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the second last to be fought on English soil. Monmouth's makeshift force could not compete with the regular army, and was soundly defeated. Monmouth himself was captured and arrested in Dorset. Following this, Parliament passed an Act of Attainder, 1 Ja. II c. 2. Despite begging for mercy, he was executed by Jack Ketch on July 15 1685, on Tower Hill. It is said that it took multiple blows of the axe to sever his head (though some sources say it took eight blows, the official Tower of London website says it took five blows, while Charles Spencer, in his book Blenheim, claims it was seven). One of his co-conspirators was Thomas Chamberlain of Oddington, from the family of Tankerville, Gloucestershire, and Barons of Wychkham: in lieu of beheading he was transported to Virginia and there served in the Army.

His dukedoms of Monmouth and Buccleuch were forfeited, but the subsidiary titles of the dukedom of Monmouth were restored to the Duke of Buccleuch.

Popular legends

According to legend, a portrait was painted of Monmouth after his execution. The tradition states that it was realised after the execution that there was no official portrait of the Duke—for a son of a King, and someone who had claimed the throne, albeit in vain, this was unheard of. So his body was exhumed, the head stitched back on the body, and it was sat for its portrait to be painted. However, there is at least one formal portrait of Monmouth tentatively dated to before his death currently in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and another painting once identified with Monmouth that shows a sleeping or dead man that could have given rise to the story.

One of the many theories about the identity of The Man in the Iron Mask is that he was Monmouth. It seems to be based on the reasoning that James II would not execute his own nephew, so someone else was executed, and James II arranged for Monmouth to be taken to France and put in the custody of his cousin Louis XIV of France. However, the earliest French records referring to The Man In The Iron Mask date back to 1669, years before Monmouth's arrest.


His marriage to Anne Scott resulted in the birth of seven children:

His affair with mistress Eleanor Needham, daughter of Sir Robert Needham of Lambeth resulted in the birth of three children:

Toward the end of his life he conducted an affair with Henrietta, Baroness Wentworth.

Duke of Monmouth in fiction

Monmouth rebellion sets the stage for the premise of a classic adventure novels Captain Blood and Mistress Wilding by Rafael Sabatini.

John Masefield's 1910 novel Martin Hyde: The Duke’s Messenger tells the story of a boy who plays a central part in the Monmouth Rebellion. Martin always calls the Duke "my King".

The Duke of Monmouth in a minor character in The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

Duke of Monmouth is one of the secondary characters in Neal Stephenson's work Quicksilver.

Joe Frank performed a 1985 radio broadcast "Pretender" based on the life of Monmouth.


Further reading

  • Violet Wyndham, Protestant Duke: Life of the Duke of Monmouth (ISBN 0-297-77099-3).

External links

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