What were the Bloody Assizes of 1685?
The Bloody Assizes was a series court session established across the West of England. An Assize was a travelling court of senior Judges, who presided over offences that were beyond the jurisdiction of local magistrates. There were different circuits, Western, Eastern etc. with each court being established in the major cities of the region. Typically, there was a Spring and Autumn Assize. The juries were sworn in for each case to be heard and each circuit had a number of Judges.
However, the Bloody Assizes of 1685 were mass trials of the men captured after the Monmouth Rebellion during the mouth of June and July. These were presided over by Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys who was a close friend of King James II/VII. Due to the Rebellion, the Western circuit had been delayed in Spring 1685. Then with the nature and scale of the cases to be heard after the Rebellion, the Assize court travelled with two executioners.
The Judges should have been neutral and offered advise to the defendant and jury. However, for the Western Assizes of 1685, King James II and Judge Jeffreys had pre-agreed the course of events before Jeffreys left Windsor. Unlike other Assize courts, after Exeter, the King himself selected those to die, those to be sold and those to live. This is the timeline of how 315 men and women are martyred and another 856 are sold into slavery.
Where did the Bloody Assizes Take Place?
Follow the Bloody Trail of Judge Jeffreys’ Western Campaign: