6 February to 2 May 1685
The true background to the Monmouth Rebellion begins with the Restoration of King Charles II. What followed was a political struggle between the ex-Republicans or Country Party and ex-Royalist or Court Parties. As the period progressed the Country Party became the Whigs, while after the Monmouth Rebellion the Court Party evolved into the Tory Party.
Why did the Monmouth Rebellion take place?
For our story the background to the Monmouth Rebellion becomes the final attempt by disaffected and exiled members of the Whig party to stop James, Duke of York becoming King. In 1680 and 1681, the Whigs in Parliament had tried to exclude York from taking the crown after his brother, King Charles II’s death. However, this failed after Charles II dissolved the Oxford Parliament almost plunging the country into Civil War. After this the Whigs and York’s faction tussled for power resulting in the Rye House Plot of 1683. This saw the Whig leadership either executed or feeling into exile in Holland. Amongst the refugees was King Charles II eldest son, the Duke of Monmouth and the leading Scottish Whig the Earl of Argyll.
Over the next couple of years, while York secured his power bases in London and Edinburgh, the Whigs plotted revenge and dreamt of returning home to remove York from the succession. At first they hoped to rise up using weapons and the network of supporters put together during 1682 & 1684. This was planned for September 1684, but Government agents uncovered the operation, seizing weapons and many of the militant Whigs. The leaders now changed their focus from an armed uprising to an Invasion, and started buying the weapons needed to invade the country in the Spring of 1685.
What Happened after the death of King Charles II?
Meanwhile, Charles II had grown concerned about his brother’s power grab and that winter started secret talks with Monmouth. It appears that an agreement was reached for the Duke to return in April 1685. Then fate stepped in, as King Charles II fell ill in January 1685, and York immediately closed down the ports to stop messages reaching Holland. A few days later on February 6, 1685, the King died and York quickly took the throne, becoming James II of England and VII of Scotland. Three days later Monmouth learnt of his father’s death while staying with his cousin, William Prince of Orange (later King William III of England). In Holland roamers quickly spread amongst the Whigs that Charles II had been murdered, fuelling the anger against the new King James II.
With Monmouth’s father dead, and James now in control of the state, the Whigs accelerated their plans for invasion, purchasing more arms and equipment. This included drums, flags and uniforms. The final act was to hire ships for two invasion fleets, one for England, and one for Scotland. They also planned an armed uprising in Chester and were sent arms in that direction. In London, an uprising was also planned once Monmouth on the road to the City. Meanwhile, James had received a large sum of money from the King of France, and had started his own preparation for the inevitable war that was coming. The Government moved troops to the most likely invasion ports and around the capital.
The scene was set, and Argyll’s fleets of three ships sailed from Holland on May 2, 1685. Onboard were 300 soldiers, and weapons for an Army of 10,000. Behind them Monmouth agreed to sail for England in 10 days. What followed, history has called Argyll’s Rising in Scotland and the Monmouth Rebellion in England but they are the same campaign.
This account is based on a more detail description of the Earl of Argyll’s & the Duke of Monmouth’s campaign of 1685 available from Helion & Company in my Book Fighting For Liberty.