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, 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
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
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
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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].
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.
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's Twynham Castle - the Constable's
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
Era Sites [1660-85]
Royal Oak inns
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.
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 [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 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.
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
The manor house itself is private, but the entire village is officially a Conservation Area [20pp
PDF guide downloadable
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.
Commemorative sign on Poole High Street.
The Trail Of 1685 - The Flight of
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
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.
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.
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
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.)
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."
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 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
“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
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
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.