17th Century Sites Of Local Interest
 An Introduction To Local-Interest Sites You Can Visit

 


In this region, as elsewhere across England, 17th Century history was dominated by Catholic-v-Protestant religious politics leading to several “Cavalier-v-Roundhead” (i.e. Crown-v-Parliament) civil wars ending in regicide and a republic, and followed by the restoration of monarchy and several subsequent attempted “coups.” There were two episodes involving royal flights where after a disastrous battle, the would-be king fled to the south coast to take ship, while posses of government troops searched for him. We've covered the story of these two episodes on another page onsite here as they are of local interest, and the still-visitable sites along the route of both these two unofficial heritage trails mentioned there are included in our listing below. (That is, the other page covers the background story, while this page below is organised around the sites you can visit.) The 17th century has also inspired literary and dramatic works, and these are covered in a webpage on our sister site, here. For the less historically minded, the list includes a number of inns and restaurants.
 
17th Century Sites - Introduction to site identification
HISTORICALLY, the 17th C was the Stuart Era (1603-1714, with an “Interregnum” 1649-60). In guidebooks you may encounter, various labels are applied to 17C buildings. The term Stuart is rarely used to classify sites the way “Tudor”, “Elizabethan” etc are used as it is rather vague, the Stuart dynasty lasting, with two major interruptions due to their unpopularity with Parliament, through the 17th Century and beyond, from 1603 to 1714. The more specific label Jacobean (from the closest Latin for James, Jacobus) is applied to the reign of the century's first king, James I, 1603-25 (not to James II, who ruled only briefly, 1685-8). The equivalent Latinate term for those from the 1625-49 reign of his son, Carolingian, is not much used in case it is confused with those built in the reign of Charles II, though the latter category can be called Restoration-era where built 1660-85. The names of the king and queen who followed on soon after Charles II's death (ignoring James II's brief reign) are used for houses built 1688-1702, as in "a William & Mary house.” This takes us up to the end of the century. "Queen Anne" house etc is the subsequent regnal label, covering 1702-14.
The “Civil War period” covers 1642-51, there being militarily 3 separate “wars”:1642-46; 1648-49; 1649-1651. As to what survives and can be seen today, few buildings survive from the era or even the subsequent Puritan Commonwealth, a decade of austerity. Few churches were built, the Civil War having left the nation nearly bankrupt, with one in every ten able-bodied men killed in the civil wars, and existing churches were often vandalised or looted in the 1640s-50s. Medieval castles garrisoned by the Royalists in the Civil War were "slighted" (ruined) by Parliament in 1645-6 as a political threat. The landed gentry began to build or refurbish more comfortable manor houses instead, perhaps retaining the “castle” name but without fortification features, though they were often on estates enclosed as walled deer parks. For the building of new manors, the "Palladian" style, after the Italian architect Palladio, was introduced by court architect Inigo Jones in the reign of Charles I, and flourished again after the Restoration of 1660. Thus the label Restoration house is sometimes seen for new-style manors built in the 1660s-70s.
For ordinary folk, thatched houses are still standard, though cob cottages (with walls made from chalk, clay, and straw) begin to replace those made with timber framing. Timber frames sag or become warped (often quite visible in photos), and the traditional “half-timbered” or “Tudor” house with whitewashed walls criss-crossed by timber frames also began giving way to sturdier brick for public buildings. One more common new type of public building was the wayside inn. Supposedly Charles I brought the first proper carriage into the region, popularising coach travel and encouraged the spread of wayside inns to cater to this new form of travel. While the lack of roads suited to carriage travel (cf Pepy's 1660s Diary on this) limited the growth of commercial “stage” coach services, there were nevertheless established inns for the packhorse trade etc, and these are sometimes 17C buildings (usually with thatched roofs and whitewashed facades).

   

Pre Civil War Sites [1600-1642]

Lulworth Castle
Locally, the most significant Jacobean-foundation building is probably Lulworth Castle. It was built 1608-10 on the site of a mediaeval castle as a mock-castle style hunting lodge with a crenellated roof that served as a deer-observation hunting tower. This overlooks the 12,000 acre surrounding estate, Lulworth Castle Park, which was (and is) entirely walled in. The owner, Thomas Howard, a court favourite of James I, wanted a hunting lodge suitable for royalty, and used a design inspired by the “knightly” literature then in aristocratic vogue. Lulworth Castle was damaged by fire in the Civil War, while Howard's main country seat at Bindon Abbey nearby was completely burnt down in the same war. Thus the castle was built up as a manor house with stonework from the ruined Bindon manor. The castle suffered its own disastrous fire in 1929, and was only restored and reopened in the 1990s. The thatched whitewashed inn on the main road past the castle gates, the Weld Arms, was founded in the 17C, and is owned by the same Weld family who have owned the estate since 1641.

Cranborne Manor
A former mediaeval hunting lodge in the heart of Cranborne Chase, this was built 1610-1640, though the west wing was damaged during the Civil War, and rebuilt. It was built by Robert Cecil, who was made Earl of Salisbury for services as Secretary of State to Elizabeth and then James I, for whom he acted as 'spymaster.'

Sherborne Castle
There are actually two castles. The original castle (actually an 11C bishop's palace) was fortified in the Civil War, its defence from 1642-5 led by Lady Anne Digby in the absence of her husband. It was besieged twice, and when finally captured by Parliamentary forces, systematically destroyed in 1645. In the 1590s, the estate was acquired by Dorset MP Sir Walter Raleigh, who had built what he called Sherborne Lodge adjacent as a matrimonial home, in 1600 adding hexagonal corner turrets topped with heraldic beasts. The estate was bought by Sir John Digby after Raleigh's downfall, who expanded it substantially in 1625 into its present H-shape with the addition of four wings. The Elizabethan-Jacobean manor was renamed Sherborne Castle when the old one was ruined. Later, it featured in 17C politics when William of Orange stopped off at the new Castle soon after his arrival in November 1688 to issue a declaration, as the new monarch replacing James II. The Wingfield Digby family opened the Castle to the public in 1969, while English Heritage maintains the ruined Old Castle (what you see today is mainly remains of the 4-storey gatehouse). This means there are separate admissions for each castle, now separated by an 18C 50-acre artificial lake created on the 1200-acre estate by famed landscape designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown.

Wilton House
Wilton House, country seat of the Earls of Pembroke, described as England's most beautiful country house, was built atop Wilton Abbey, perhaps to a design by Holbein, in Tudor times and then rebuilt in the 1630s. It became an adjunct of the notion of a “civilised” court. Shakespeare's As You Like It may have premiered here in 1603 and many court figures of the day were visitors. The Earl however fell out of royal favour and the house was not finished until after a 1647 fire, with ornate staterooms in Palladian style by court architect Inigo Jones. The largest stateroom, the Double Cube Room, often appears in period films.


 

 

 

 Lulworth Castle

Lulworth Castle,completed in 1608.

Cranborne Manor


Carisbrooke Castle, on the Isle Of Wight

English Civil War Era Sites [1642-51]

Dorset's importance in the Civil War was related to its having several Channel ports facing the coast of France (a Royalist ally) - Poole, Weymouth/Melcombe/ Portland, West Bay/Bridport, and Lyme. Generally, the ports and other towns were held for Parliament i.e. by Roundhead forces, and these (e.g. Lyme) were usually attacked by Cavalier i.e. Royalist forces. To avoid the damage done to towns like Lyme and Poole who resisted, other ports like Weymouth and Portland surrendered without a fight, and were garrisoned by Parliamentary forces to prevent them changing sides again. The big country estates were owned by gentlemen knights, who were usually loyal to the king. Where these estates still contained fortifiable mediaeval castles, the local Cavalier forces manned them and so there were sieges by Cromwell's men at sites such as Sherborne Old Castle (see above) and at Corfe, which proved almost impregnable. At war's end, Cromwell's engineers undermined and blew up castles like Corfe and Sherborne with gunpowder as threats to Commonwealth security.

Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke, on the Isle Of Wight, was where Charles I spent most of his time in captivity before his 1649 execution. He actually fled there in 1647 after escaping custody in order either to run the war from there as his new HQ, or failing that, to find a ship for France. Although Wight was mainly pro-Royalist, and the new castle governor was the brother of Charles's chaplain, he was nonetheless detained. At first he was treated as a guest with freedom to roam, while Parliament tried to work out a political solution, and supposedly Cromwell visited him here - their only meeting. But after several abortive escape attempts, security was increased, and as the 2nd Civil War erupted, Parliament's political line hardened, ending with the king being taken across the Solent to the Tudor fort [rebuilt in 19C] on Hurst Spit, in late 1648, and from there to London and the executioner's block. Though his eldest son and heir (the future Charles II) had escaped, his other two children were then imprisoned at Carisbrooke, and his daughter died soon after she was moved there in 1650. The Castle today is managed by English Heritage.

Christchurch Twynham Castle
Christchurch's early-mediaeval Twynham Castle, built on a mound downtown, was held for four years by Royalist forces, but it and its garrison of 400 were taken without difficulty at war's end, in 1646. It was ordered destroyed; the town authorities being (unusually) Royalists, they delayed until Cromwell insisted, and in 1652 it was reduced to the shell visible today - mainly the crumbled remains of the keep and the Constable's House. (The Constable was the official in charge of a castle.)

Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle was held for the king by the area's main local landowner, the Bankes family, specifically Lady Mary, who organised its defence, her husband (the King's Lord Chief Justice) being absent, dying elsewhere in 1644. It was the final local Royalist holdout, resisting two sieges including several infantry assaults. (The Roundhead commander even tried getting his men drunk to make them reckless.) After a two-year on-off siege ending with its capture by a turncoat officer's ruse, it was largely demolished on Parliamentary orders at war's end, in 1646. However it proved so well-built that the Grenadiers' undermining and gunpowder left much of it still standing, becoming England's most famous scenic castle ruin,now run by the National Trust.

Dorchester
As the county town, Dorchester was a focus of activity. The Calvinist rector of Holy Trinity, the Revd. John White, advocated the Parliamentary cause and the town declared itself for that side. It was besieged by Royalist forces and pillaged when it surrendered, in early 1643. Cromwell re-took the town in 1645 but was nearly caught when Royalist cavalry attacked. 'Tradition says Cromwell himself only escaped by climbing a tree in Came Park,' adds historian Tim Goodwin in his 1996 Dorset In The Civil War.

Hambledon Hill
The largest-scale pitched battle fought in the area took place at this North Dorset hillfort. Cromwell himself was then in Dorset, and was nearly captured outside Dorchester. In August, he had to return to deal with an obstacle to his planned capture of Sherborne and Shaftesbury. His men were being defied by the peasant militia several thousand strong styling themselves the Clubmen, who opposed both sides for plundering their farms and villages, and who had mounted attacks on towns like Lyme. Around four thousand of them assembled on the hill (probably because it was the biggest natural stronghold around, a Roman-era hillfort) and refused to disband. Led by clergymen, they were up against a thousand of Cromwell's New Model Army, who failed in a frontal attack but took the stronghold with an attack from behind. Cromwell used dragoons to round up several hundred who had not fled and had them put in a church overnight, and the next morning convinced them to disband, saying they were 'silly creatures.'

Lyme Regis
Lyme was besieged in 1644 by 6,000 Royalist soldiers, but proved hard to capture due to its steep and narrow access preventing the use of cavalry, and its being re-supplied by sea, the ships using the now famous Cobb as a safe harbour. Admiral Blake, the Commonwealth naval commander, also praised the valiant defence of the town by the women as well as the men of Lyme.

New Forest, Lymington area
For those interested in a site with literary associations to the conflict, the best-known juvenile novel about the Civil War, Children Of The New Forest, is set around the old Forest village of Sway north of Lymington. (Note the village was relocated when the railway arrived soon after.) Its author, Captain Marryat, himself lived at Lymington 1843-8, also writing some of it while staying nearby at the manor owned by his brother-in-law, Chewton Glen - now a 5-star hotel visitable for a very posh high tea - “Captain's Marryat's English Afternoon Tea”.

Poole
Poole like many towns was on the Puritan Parliamentarian side, and was a troop base for besieging nearby Royalist strongholds like Corfe Castle. At times the King's men held most of Dorset so Poole in the east and Lyme in the west were then the only bases usable by Cromwell's troops. The town was then walled, and in their one attempt to take it via its mediaeval dry-moated "half-moon" gate in 1643, Royalist forces fell into a trap.

Shaftesbury
Dorset's “Clubmen” [see also Hambledon Hill] fought both sides to keep occupation forces from despoiling the county. The Cerne Giant with his club may have been their emblem. The ancient market and Abbey town of Shaftesbury became a stronghold of the Dorsetshire Clubmen, leading to an August 1644 conflict when Parliamentarian forces arrived. Cromwell and Fairfax had to send 1,000 mounted soldiers to surround the town, and they captured around fifty leading Clubmen, who had been inciting others to resist any military occupation. Cromwell's scouts also discovered a Clubmen encampment atop Duncliff Hill just west of Shaftesbury; their large wooded hilltop site being almost impregnable, Cromwell opted to parlay with them alone, and personally convinced them to disperse.

Sherborne
Sherborne Old Castle, Raleigh's former home, by then owned by Royalists Lord and Lady Digby, was garrisoned at the outset of war and besieged by 7,000 infantry, but was only taken after its garrison withdrew. Ordered 'slighted' as others were, it was not then ruined as Lady Digby told the commander this would only happen over her dead body. (Lady Anne Digby had a similar role to Lady Mary Bankes at Corfe, leading the defence of Sherborne Castle.) However after Royalist advances led to its reoccupation by Charles's army, it was besieged again by cannon and mining engineers, and this time demolished on its surrender.

Wareham
Encouraged by the example of Corfe Castle [qv], the Royalist garrison declined to surrender, and was stormed by a force of 1200 roundheads led by Weymouth governor Colonel Sydenham and Dorset High Sheriff Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, who had most of the garrison shipped to Ireland.

Weymouth & Portland
Weymouth, later built up as a fashionable Georgian resort, did not exist as we know it, the older town being Melcombe adjacent. Portland controlled a key harbour, which had been intended for the queen's escape overseas until it was taken over and fortified by roundhead forces. The Royalists seized Weymouth, while the roundheads held Melcombe, using it as a base to retake Weymouth when they were reinforced by several thousand horse, foot and artillery, the Royalist garrison pulling back to Dorchester and Lyme.


-- The 'Royal Escape' Route Of 1651
The final act of the Civil War was the escape of Charles II to safety in exile abroad. The much-celebrated 'Royal Escape' of 1651 allowed the future king to escape through this area, enabling him to return from exile in 1660 to rule for 25 years. There are a number of local places one can visit which relate to the 1651 escape, some from the subsequent Restoration Era when the tale was commemorated as a form of national celebration, with the name Royal Oak becoming the basis for inn names as well as, for 300 years, an annual national holiday. Below is a guide to the sites in geographic sequence, in “heritage trail” guide format.
There is no official tourism local-heritage route, but our trail is part of a long-distance path known as The Monarch's Way. This is a 615-mile (990 km) waymarked public footpath, covering Charles's entire 1651 route, between Worcester and Shoreham, and detailed in three books by Trevor Antill, published by Meridian Books. How closely the official Way follows Charles & co.'s actual path is hard to say, but it is useful where you might want to see the vicinity on foot, using public rights of way.
The local-interest part is extensive enough that it occupies part of two of the three volumes. The second half of volume 2 covers the route from Castle Cary south across east Somerset to South Cadbury hillfort, another hillfort at Ham Hill and adjacent Montacute (with tower viewpoint on crag), past Crewkerne, Hawkchurch, and down to the coast at Charmouth. From there it joins the South-West Coast Path, eastward past St Gabriel's Mouth, up over Golden Cap (the south coast's highest point), down through Seatown, over Thorncombe Beacon (the coast's 2nd highest point), down past Eype's Mouth to West Bay. Then it returns inland up the valley of the River Brit to Bridport. The first part of volume 3 covers the route from Bridport NW to Pilsdon Pen (Dorset's highest inland hill), along part of the Wessex Ridgeway route towards Broadwindsor, N past Winyard's Gap, East Coker, Trent, Sandford Orcas, Wincanton, Mere, West Knoyle, Cleeve Hill, across the A350 and the River Wylye, across the A360, and into the upper Avon Valley at Middle and Lower Woodford. Skirting N of Salisbury, the path passes another hill-fort, Figsbury Ring, then crosses the busy A30, onto the old Roman road from Old Sarum towards Winchester, being joined by the Clarendon Way footpath into Hampshire. From there it wanders eastward to Sussex, over the western end of the South Downs.

Charmouth
A section of path north out of Lyme Regis off the High Street near the Post connects to the southwestern end of the Monarch's Way, but the first site of interest is at neighbouring Charmouth, where The Queen's Arms survives. However this is a hotel and not a pub (an opportunity for visitors to make an overnight stop rather than for a drink). This is also where Charles's Portuguese bride Catherine de Braganza reportedly stayed when, en route to Portsmouth, she arrived in England in 1662. There is a Royal Oak Inn nearby, on the main street.

Charmouth to West Bay Coast Path
If you head on foot along the coast path from Charmouth to West Bay and Bridport, there are wonderful views of the stretch of then-remote coast where Charles hoped to find a boat.

Bridport
The site of the former George Inn where Charles stopped, on the north side of the high street, is now a charity shop, its only relic a painted inscription above two bay windows. There is also a Royal Oak Inn [17 West St].

Lee Lane
The site of the so-called Miraculous Divergence, where Charles's party had their “miraculous escape” by turning off the road and narrowly avoiding pursuing Roundheads. The "King Charles Oak" here should not be confused with the oak tree he hid in earlier at Boscobel. The lane is marked by a stone plaque [Wiki photo here], off the eastern approach road into Bridport, just before the large roundabout.

Pilsdon Pen
Heading inland to Pilsdon Pen north of Lyme, a walk up this, the highest hill in west Dorset, offers a viewpoint over the area, including Pilsdon Manor [house not open to public - an Anglican retreat since 1958] just below, where the Roundheads searched the women of the house, insisting one might be Charles in disguise.

Broadwindsor
At Broadwindsor, the inn where the group stopped is one of several which do not survive, the Castle (alias the George) having since burnt down, the site commemorated only by a plaque. There are 17C houses surviving, and on the village square is King Charles Cottage, which claims to be where Charles spent the night.

Windwhistle Inn
This is one of those locations where fact and fiction can get confused. In The Moonraker, a 1958 film, starring George Baker and Sylvia Syms, from a play about Charles's 1651 escape, the “Windwhistle Inn” is the main setting, a clifftop inn on the road to Bridport. In the plot, this is where Charles's (fictional) Cavalier helper comes to arrange a ship bound for France, which he does, successfully. This was what was indeed planned in 1651 - but didn't happen, for reasons given elsewhere. The real Windwhistle Inn was [and is] on the hills north of Lyme Regis, near Chard in Somerset, off the A30. There is no record Charles stopped here, which was probably fortunate.
For this historic inn was once a notorious haunt of smugglers, highwaymen, and cut-throats, with legends of phantom coaches etc. Local folklore has it that if you looked like you had money on you, you would be lured or dragged down into the cellar, your throat slit, your corpse tossed down a nearby pit. The road it stands on was an old pilgrim route, an extension of the Fosse Way to Lincoln. "Windwhistle" does evoke a clifftop location, but is apparently the (apt) name of the local hills. Being on the brow of a range of hills, it does have a panoramic view on a clear day.

Lacock Village
This was not one of Charles II's 1651 stopovers, being well off his route in northern Wiltshire. However as a National Trust preserved village, it has many in-period buildings, and is often used by filmmakers. The first such use, at least in colour, was the 1958 film The Moonraker [covered here], which loosely dramatises the escape. The film used it to represent an unspecified town where Charles and company stop. As well as the Abbey, which had been converted into a country house post-Reformation, the village has a 16C stableyard and other half-timbered houses of the sort common in the 17C.

Trent
Heading north to Trent on the Somerset boundary beyond Sherborne, the Rose & Crown survives as a gastro-pub near Trent Manor [house not open to public], where Charles hid on two occasions, and heard the bell of the local church tolling for him to celebrate news of his death.

Mere
Crossing into Wiltshire, the small market town of Mere, once on the main London-Exeter stagecoach road, has a plaque saying that on his way to the next safe-house, Charles dined at the local inn on the village square. (Then the George Inn, it is now the Talbot Hotel.) He then crossed the main watershed, the Avon Valley, north of Salisbury neat Woodford, to hide at Heale House.


Stonehenge

While helpers went to Southampton to look for a ship, the widow who owned Heale House accommodated him in a secret compartment in the house. In case of a house search (she was a known Royalist sympathiser), he spent the day hiding out at nearby Stonehenge, a scene dramatised in the 1958 film The Moonraker [see screenshot opposite above].

Hursley
The Monarch's Way then proceeds east across Hampshire via the village of Hursley, 4 miles SW of Winchester, off the A3090. This was where the future head of the English state, Oliver Cromwell's son and successor Richard, had his home and is buried. Cromwell's son Richard had his home here when he was (briefly) Oliver's successor as Lord Protector of England. In 1660, it was the turn of Oliver's son, nicknamed Tumbledown Dick, to flee into exile in France. The house became home to Cromwell's grandson Oliver II till his death in 1705. It's been claimed Charles II visited the family home of his onetime nemesis.
Despite a theory that during his exile he was the mysterious “Man in the Iron Mask”, Tumbledown Dick outlived most of his enemies, and did return on his son's death in 1705 to spend his last 7 years here. The manor was then demolished, and even his tomb in the local church is lost. This is because, apart from the 14th-C tower, All Saints' Church was rebuilt with money put up by the leading Victorian churchman John Keble - who disliked Puritans and thus kept no record where the tomb stood. There is however an inn on the main road called The Kings Head, a widespread pub name coined as a reference to Charles I's beheading.

 

 


redcoats
Civil War re-enactors at Wimborne. The Royal army infantry wore a red tunic jacket. This was chosen for practical reasons (it's the colour of blood), and was the start of British infantry being known in subsequent centuries as "redcoats".

A contemporary political cartoon published during Charles' captivity in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Note the pun.

Christchurch Twynham Castle

Christchurch's Twynham Castle - the Constable's House.

 

Lyme Regis seafront: the cannon and apparent fortifications are modern additions, part of new sea defences, but the port did play a key role in the Civil War, as well as its 1685 "sequel."


Lacock preserved village's old buildings regularly attract film and tv productions, going back to at least 1958, when a drama based on Charles's 1661 escape, The Moonnraker, filmed scenes in the village and neighbouring abbey.

 

A scene from the opening of the 1958 film The Moonraker. Charles did in fact hide out here for several days during his escape..

 

 

 

 

Pilsdon Pen, highest inland point in west Dorset

 

 

 

View from the Windwhistle Inn NW over Somerset

Restoration Era Sites [1660-85]

Royal Oak inns
Royal Oak inn sign The Restoration of the Monarchy was commemorated annually for centuries every May 29 as Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day. The original date, May 29th, was chosen as it was the monarch's birthday, when after 9 years in exile, Charles II rode through London to cheering crowds. It was a public holiday for over 300 years, until, along with the special thanskgiving-style service in the Book Of Common Prayer, it was dropped in 1859; it still roughly coincides with the Late Spring Bank Holiday weekend. From 1660, inns all over England (around 16 in Dorset alone) were renamed Royal Oak in celebration, some bearing the acorn which he granted to his helpers the Wyndhams as an emblem. The oak motif was inspired by the fact the future king had famously (he liked to tell the story in later years) hidden from Cromwell's men up an oak tree. A sprig of oak leaves was chosen as a lapel-style personal emblem to wear on the day, along with a more permanent symbol, the name “Royal Oak,” used by hotels and inns as well as naval ships (then built of oak), to symbolise the strength and stability of the English monarchy - and implied divine favour in his 'miraculous' escape. The "Royal Oak" is thus the pub name that celebrates the Restoration, and there are still many inns with this name, with local examples from Bridport to Cerne Abbas to North Gorley in the New Forest.

Teahouses
Charles II's wife Catherine introduced the custom of 'ceremonial' tea drinking to England, the late-afternoon occasion known as "High Tea". It was a custom that was already popular among the Portuguese nobility of the time, the tea having been imported to Portugal from Portuguese colonies in Asia and through their trade links with Japan and China. See entries for New Forest above and Dorchester below for local-interest examples.

Restoration-Era Country Houses
The 1996 film titled Restoration, directed by Michael Hoffman from the Rose Tremain novel (with Sam Neill as Charles, in a supporting role), is not set locally story-wise, but uses two Dorset 'period' locations: Forde Abbey [N of Lyme], and Mapperton Gardens in west Dorset.
Forde Abbey [Wiki photo]

Forde Abbey [pictured above] at Chard on the Dorset-Somerset boundary is a former Cistercian abbey converted to a private house, and now run as a heritage-tourism attraction, with 30 acres of gardens. During the Puritan Commonwealth, the estate was owned by its Attorney-General, Edmund Prideaux, MP for Lyme Regis. It would play a minor role in the events that closed the era, in 1685, when the owner's previous 1679 acquaintance with Charles II's illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth got him prosecuted by Judge Jeffreys as a rebel sympathiser. (Monmouth's men came to him for some horses, for which offense Prideaux was fined £15,000 as an alternative to being hanged.) The Duke had travelled through the area in 1679-80, presenting himself as Protestant champion and natural heir to the throne, making a triumphal progress from town to town in the manner of a popular politician, riding over the western hills, from Ilchester to Forde Abbey, where he dined.

Mapperton
Mapperton was an Elizabethan house redeveloped by the first Earl of Sandwich, who had been given his peerage after he brought the King back from Holland in 1660. The sunken gardens pictured appear in the 1996 film Restoration.


Montacute
Another nearby country house built c1598, Montacute, near Yeovil in Somerset, was used in the 2003 Restoration-era factually-based film The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp as the notorious 2nd Earl of Rochester, and John Malkovich as his patron Charles II. The house and grounds appear as Rochester's Oxfordshire country seat, Adderbury. In reality it was built by a Protestant family, the Phelips; after the original owner's son and successor, an MP, was held in the Tower of London for opposing Charles I's marriage to a Catholic, the family seems to have avoided politics.

--The King's 1665 Return Visit
After being restored to kingship, Charles returned to the area of his main adventures in 1665, officially on a “hunting” trip, while the Great Plague decimated London. He brought with him his favourite illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth. Ironically, Monmouth would end up fleeing through some of the same Dorset countryside as his father had, after his disastrous attempt to succeed him on Charles's death in 1685. The party stopped in Salisbury, Wimborne St Giles in east Dorset, at Poole, and for his hunting, the king stayed at a manor house belonging to friends outside Dorchester, when he famously commissioned a wayside smithy as an inn so he could have a drink.

Wimborne St Giles
Wimborne St Giles in East Dorset is where one of the key players in Restoration-Era politics was born and lived until forced into exile. This is the family home of the Ashley Coopers, Earls of Shaftesbury. The first Earl, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-1683) was born here, the home of his maternal grandfather, who had been Elizabeth I's Secretary Of War. His father Sir John Cooper, of Rockbourne [near Fordingbridge], had been MP for Poole. He rebuilt the manor house the same year Charles escaped, 1651, in the Italianate Renaissance style favoured by architect Inigo Jones, the King's Surveyor. Sited on a 400-acre parkland estate, complete with a 7-acre lake, it is hidden from the village by a 1000-yard long avenue of trees. The present Church of St Giles with its memorials inside to the family was only built in 1732, but the adjacent almshouses were built by Ashley Cooper in 1624.
Ashley Cooper had a long career as a military commander and governor during the English Civil War. Later he was one of the group who arranged the Restoration, for which the king ennobled him in his 1661 Coronation honours list, as Baron Ashley of Wimborne St Giles, and later as Lord Shaftesbury, after his appointment as Lord Chancellor of England. (There are stories of drunk revels at the manor house during Charles's 1665 visit, with the group sitting around on wine casks.) Though he had been elected MP for Wiltshire as a Cromwell supporter, he had become disillusioned by Cromwell's reliance on the Army and resigned his state appointment, a move which first prompted the exiled Charles to see him as a useful ally. Cooper would be the one of the 12 MPs who went to see Charles in exile in 1660 to ask him on behalf of Parliament to return. This was the start of a political career which would see him rise to Lord Chancellor of England, before his fall from grace, trial for treason, and death in Holland as an exile.
He became one of the five influential ministers who made up the famous 'Cabal', the term used as it supposedly derived from the five men's initials, with e.g. Ashley as one of the 2 “A”s, and Buckingham (whose young cousin he had married in 1622) the “B.” The Whig party was born around this time, and Shaftesbury was one of the party's most prominent leaders.
However he gradually fell out of favour with the king because his party was the official opposition. (He in effect created the role of His Majesty's loyal Leader Of The Opposition.) He had opposed Charles' marriage to the Catholic Catherine, and his party the Whigs' Test Act had excluded Roman Catholics from high positions, including Charles's own brother James. Shaftesbury soon had to flee England to avoid further displeasure of the King's ministers. The Earl died in exile in 1683, 2 years before Monmouth's hasty attempt to seize the throne on Charles's death, and 5 years before the matter was settled by Parliament in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688.
Wimborne St Giles remained the home of the Ashley Cooper/ Shaftesbury family, including his equally famous Victorian-era descendant Lord Shaftesbury, a respected progressive legislator (the statue in Piccadilly Circus often mis-called Eros - actually the Angel of Christian Charity - is dedicated to him).
The manor house itself is private, but the entire village is officially a Conservation Area [20pp PDF guide downloadable here].

Poole
In Poole there is a plaque in the High Street at Orchard House (now offices), where in 1665 after visiting Wimborne St Giles, Charles dined with his illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth, whose return to this area in 1685 to claim his place as Charles's successor would precipitate the penultimate act of the civil war. Just off the High Street is the King Charles Inn [pictured], claimed to be one the town's oldest pubs. Formerly the New Inn, its older half [right] has a half-timbered Tudor-Elizabethan style frontage. Although the inn is authentically old, the name itself ironically only dates to 1830, when the fugitive Catholic monarch Charles of France fled now Protestant France and landed in Poole en route to sanctuary at Lulworth Castle.

Smiths Arms, Godmanstone
Closed in 2005, this tiny thatched inn, 9 miles N of Dorchester on the A352 to Sherborne, was a 15C village smithy, converted into an inn at Charles's command in 1665. It has been mentioned in The Guinness Book Of Records as well as many pub guidebooks as the smallest in England [inside 39 ft by 14].
Charles had gone to stay with his friends the Pitts at their country house outside Dorchester. While out hunting with them, he stopped at the smithy at Godmanstone, NW of Dorchester, on the E side of the Cerne Valley just before Cerne Abbas (where there is also a Royal Oak pub). He asked for a drink of ale. When told by the smith, "Sire, I have no license," he at once licensed the smithy as a public house, and had an immediate "stirrup cup" of ale handed up to him before proceeding on his way. Locals then raised £100 to have the new inn stocked with ales and liquors. (Its signboard told the story - mouse-over image to see closeup.) It operated successfully until 2005, when it was closed due to the owner's ill-health.


 

 

Ogilby's Traveller's Guide, "a description of England undertaken by the express command of king Charles II." First published in 1675, this was one of the first road-maps; this section shows the Poole-Wimborne area.

 

1665 plaque Poole

 

Commemorative sign on Poole High Street.


 

 


Wimborne St Giles

 

The now-closed Smiths Arms, Godmanstone; photo from 2005, just before it closed

 

 

 

 

 

The Somerset Levels, from South Cadbury hillfort. The decisive battle of Sedgemoor was fought out here, on the lowlying ground between here and the coast.

1685-88 Sites

The Trail Of 1685 - The Flight of "King Monmouth"
On Charles II's death in 1685, his illegitimate son also attempted to overthrow the government and then when that failed, mount a similar escape across Dorset.
In 1685, after 25 years on the throne, Charles II died age 55 after a stroke (and the usual medical mistreatment of the time), his last words an apology for taking so long to die. He had survived various clashes with Parliament, a humiliating defeat by the Dutch Navy, which had sailed up the Thames and even captured his flagship the Royal Charles, having to secretly take money from both the Protestant Dutch and the Catholic French, and his reign had seen the capital destroyed first by plague and then by fire - which to some was God's wrath made manifest. Charles also suffered the same misfortune as Henry VIII: despite having sons by various mistresses, he had no legitimate heir (his wife Catherine de Braganza had proved childless).
Instead on his deathbed, Charles reportedly became a Catholic, attended by an aged priest who 25 years before had washed his bleeding feet during his 1651 escape. His being sheltered often by Catholic families (who often had handy "priests holes" in their houses dating back to the Tudor-Elizabethan-Jacobean persecutions of Catholic clergy) had made him less fearful of Catholics than many of his era, and he named as his heir his openly Catholic brother James. Fearing another Catholic on the throne (with memories of Bloody Mary's reign), certain leading Protestants, including Charles's onetime ally, the now-exiled Lord Shaftesbury, turned to a possible Protestant successor.
They encouraged Charles's one-time favourite illegitimate son, James Scott, the Duke Of Monmouth, to attempt a coup and invade from Holland, where Shaftesbury had also been exiled. Monmouth looked like Charles, who accepted paternity and raised him at court as a protégé, having more or less kidnapped him in 1658 to get custody away from the mother. The king openly preferred him, even making him captain-general of the army in the Dutch war of 1673. However he had fled into exile when some of his friends were put on trial for plots against the king.

The 1685 rising was known as The Somerset And Dorset Rising. The list of 1685 sites below traces the would-be king's route from Dorset to his disastrous defeat in Somerset, back across Dorset, then the route taken by the King's Justice back to the Duke's landing point.

Lyme Regis
On June 11th, only four months after James's accession, the young Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme. Ralph Wightman's Portrait Of Dorset suggests the landing of the Duke in 1685 was the greatest moment in the history of Lyme Regis. He proclaimed himself king outside what is now the Pilot Boat Inn. The name of The Royal Standard pub also commemorates his visit. The town also has a Monmouth Street. Monmouth's Beach just to the west of the Cobb was where the first landing had taken place, the Duke bending to kiss the ground, saying “Fear nothing but God.” Thus a month later it was chosen by Judge Jeffreys as a suitably symbolic spot to hang a dozen of his rebel supporters in chains. Monmouth liked Lyme and wrote a little ditty: "Lyme, although a little place, I think it wondrous pretty ; If 'tis my fate to wear the crown, I'll make of it a city." He lingered there a fortnight - too long, losing the advantage of surprise and giving the king's men time to rally. Monmouth suffered an immediate setback when one of his commanders shot another in a dispute over a horse on Seatown Beach, and his soldiers then bungled an encounter with Royal militia when they tried take Bridport, and had to fall back again on Lyme.

Ham Hill
The trek of six common men to Lyme to join up with the Duke was commemorated by a modern heritage route in the 1990s, with its own published map-guide package, called The Liberty Trail. Such an ironic name is perhaps inadvertent: Monmouth had promised "Liberty to the people of God" -- meaning almost anyone not a Catholic. The trail follows the route men from joining Monmouth from farms in the hills just north would've taken. It thus runs N-S, starting at Ham Hill Country Park obelisk, down to Lyme some 28 miles away, via several other hill forts, all providing panoramic views. The hill itself is the only Iron Age hillfort with a pub in its grounds.

Minterne Magna
Minterne Magna, 2 miles north of Cerne Abbas, was the seat of the first Sir Winston Churchill MP, who sent word to James II when the Duke of Monmouth landed in 1685, and whose son the future military hero the Duke of Marlborough grew up here. The King was informed the next day by a courier from local MP Sir Winston Churchill, the squire of Minterne Magna estate, that his illegitimate nephew had landed from the Netherlands with three ships and 80 men and raised the standard for the Protestant cause, saying he was now “captain-general of the protestant forces of this kingdom.” He had also issued a proclamation accusing James II of poisoning his late brother Charles and being a "Popish usurper," as well as starting the 1666 Great Fire of London. On hearing the news of his return in arms, the King commissioned Churchill's son John -- future Duke of Marlborough-- to take the field. (The house and landscaped gardens are mostly post-17C.)

Sedgemoor
His army were mostly farmers, often youths armed only with scythes. The Protestant nobility had encouraged Monmouth's return from exile but now, perhaps mindful of the financial penalties some paid after the 1651 escape, failed to come out in support. Monmouth headed northwest and was met in battle at Sedgemoor on the Somerset Levels on 6 July, by which time the summer weather had turned to heavy rains and his thousands of camp followers had begun to melt away. The "pitchfork army" of around 4,000 was devastated by the King's professional army of 9,000 with its artillery and trained cavalry and officers. The rout would go down in history as the "last battle fought on English soil."

Cranborne Chase
The 'Pitchfork Rebellion' crushed, now began the flight of "King Monmouth." It's said he headed into Dorset to take ship for the Continent just as his father had in 1651, and his route covered some of the same area. But this time there was no happy ending. With four companions, he rode over the Wiltshire Downs, bound for the coast via a relative wilderness - Cranborne Chase. But by the time they reached the wayside inn at Woodyates near the Hampshire County boundary, their horses were exhausted. Here, at the Woodyates inn [now demolished], owned by their ally the Earl of Shaftesbury, the party split up. Monmouth exchanged clothes with a shepherd, and proceeded south. They may have felt safer as much of the Chase was wild heathland, some of it belonging to Lord Shaftesbury, though neither factor proved any help. With just one companion Monmouth set off on foot, headed for Lymington.

View over Horton Heath from Chalbury churchyard
View from Chalbury churchyard E over Horton Heath, the area where Monmouth was caught.

There was a nation-wide search on, and his companions were soon arrested as the militia closed in. Monmouth was spotted on Horton Heath, encircled by militia who beat the bracken, and while asleep finally dragged from a ditch in a clump of trees and bushes called "the Island." This was supposedly by an ash tree where later a plaque was erected. For the benefit of anyone trying to locate this historic spot, the official ash tree with plaque may not have been the original tree, and the spot is now obscure.
The first issue of Notes & Queries periodical in 1849 addressed this mystery, working from the account in Macaulay's History Of England, to which the Notes and Queries correspondent adds:
“The tract of land in which the Duke took refuge is rightly described by Mr. Macaulay, as "separated by an inclosure from the open country." Its nature is no less clearly indicated by its local name of "The Island." The open down which surrounds it is called Shag's Heath. The Island is described as being about a mile and a half from Woodlands, and in the parish of Horton, in Dorsetshire. The field in which the Duke concealed himself is still called "Monmouth Close." It is at the north-eastern extremity of the Island. An ash-tree at the foot of which the would-be-king was found crouching in a ditch and half hid under the fern, was standing a few years ago, and was deeply indented with the carved initials of crowds of persons who has been to visit it.
Easier to locate today is the inn at Verwood also named the Monmouth Ash.

Ringwood
Monmouth's humble disguise was undone when the troopers found in his pocket a royal badge given him by his father. He was taken before a local magistrate, at Holt (Lodge), and from there to the market town of Ringwood, where he was held for 2-3 days at what was renamed Monmouth House [West St., near the church], he wrote his uncle king James a desperate appeal for mercy - in vain. He was beheaded a week later, in a gruesomely botched execution.

The Alice Lisle - Moyles Court
To condemn the rest of the rebels, James II sent his bloodthirsty Chief Justice, Judge Jeffreys, who set up a series of summary trials known as the "Bloody Assizes." Jeffreys began by stopping near Ringwood to order Lady Alice Lisle of Moyles Court to be at once burnt alive at the stake for hiding two rebels. (After local officials declined to cooperate, the king commuted this sentence to beheading.) The house, which became a private school, is not open to the public, but the event is commemorated in the name of the nearby Alice Lisle pub-restaurant, pictured above right.

Dorchester
A series of Assizes were held in a room [now a tea-room] of the Antelope Hotel [c1658-; refurbished 1815], with Judge Jeffreys's Lodgings [6 High West St] nearby now the Judge Jeffreys restaurant [pictured above right]. The merest semblance of a trial was held by Jeffreys, 74 men being condemned to be executed, sometimes simply on the basis they had been absent from work during the rising. The wealthier were able to escape by paying Jeffreys fines - the author Daniel Defoe, for example, paid a heavy fine, losing lands and money. Those without funds were less fortunate. In addition to perhaps a thousand men killed in battle, some 329 were hanged, drawn and quartered, their heads stuck on poles all around the County, and 890 others were shipped off to the West Indies as slave labour. This was in addition to dozens tortured and lynched, strung up on trees right after the battle.

Monmouth Beach, Lyme
A dozen men were taken from Dorchester to Lyme to be hanged on Monmouth Beach - chosen by Judge Jeffreys for its symbolism, as this where the Duke had first landed, just over a month before.

Monmouth Beach on the Dorset-Devon boundary, viewed from Lyme Regis Cobb.

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 


View from Ham Hill fort over the Somerset Levels, where the rebellion first went wrong.

 

Minterne Magna, seat of the first Sir Winston Churchill MP.

 

 

Judge Jeffrey's Restaurant in Dorchester, so-named as it was the building where he held one of his Bloody Assizes; the black-and-white half-timbered frontage indicates the building's age. A connecting tunnel long rumoured to exist to allow for magistrates to escape after delivering an unpopular judgement, was found in 2014.

 

 



 

 

The 'William & Mary' Era [1688-1702]

The final act in this century-long drama of religious and constitutional politics also had a local connection. In 1686, a local estate owner and MP, hosted a meeting of MPs secretly plotting the overthrow of the Stuart dynasty and return of Protestant monarchy. A parliamentary deputation then began negotiating with William of Orange and Mary to land from Holland with an army and depose the king, James II, which he finally did in 1688 - the so-called Glorious Revolution.

Charborough

In 1686, the owner of Charborough Park estate near Wareham, General Sir Walter Erle (1586-1665), who was also an MP and the County's Deputy Lieutenant, hosted a secret meeting of a group of MPs plotting this coup to return to Protestant monarchy by overthrowing "the tyrant race of Stuarts." They met in the estate's ice-house for security. The host Sir Walter Erle had commanded the Parliamentary forces which besieged Corfe Castle in the Civil War, and when Parliament ordered the Castle be ruined in 1646 as a threat to the security of the realm, used some of its stones and timber here. (The present owner, a Tory MP, is a descendant.)
The estate is not normally open to the public (the photo here was taken on its annual Open Day), and is hidden behind an encircling wall 2 miles long. The only features of interest visible to the public are the two gateways adorned with animal sculpture, the Stag Gate and the Lion Gate. Reportedly, the Ice House has an inscription saying that in 1686 the Glorious Revolution was planned here by “a set of patriotic gentlemen of this neighbourhood,” for “deliverance from Popery and Slavery.”

Salisbury
It was here in November 1688 that James II established his military HQ to repel the army landed by William Of Orange, then learned that many of his officers were switching allegiance to William, including John Churchill, the future military hero the Duke of Marlborough. He retreated a week later, and fled England, avoiding another Civil War. This was the turning point in 'The Glorious Revolution.'

Wimborne Minster - The Man In The Wall
The lasting wounds of this long period of religious and political division can be seen at a tomb in the wall of Wimborne Minster. Anthony Etricke, the local magistrate who committed the Duke of Monmouth to trial, was so enraged at the way the folk of Wimborne had sided with the Duke against king James that he vowed he would be buried neither in the churchyard or the church itself. Thus his sarcophagus sits in a niche in the wall, neither quite inside the church or outside it. His tomb is still maintained thus, by his own bequest. He maintained this wish despite the fact he did not die for another 18 years - 1703, by which time nearly all the other participants in the divisive events of 1685 were dead, and a new Queen, Anne, was crowned. §

 

 

Wimborne Minster tower

 

 

 

The Coast Downs east of Corfe which offer an ancient east-west route for men and horses across the county, a popular location for filming scenes for 17C film and tv dramas.
In 1678, there was a panic as locals heard an army marching over the downs; word was sent to London and Wareham fortified. Strangely the army could then not be located. Soon, people realised the panic was just a sign of troubled times. There was also talk it had been a ghostly army - but with all the soldiers that have marched and ridden along here, whose army would be impossible to say.

 

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