A tragic tale
Wells Cathedral was until this week a missing piece in my cathedral collection. Of course a 12the century masterpiece, England’s first Gothic .Built by the man who got Henry II off the Beckett murder rap, saved by Thomas Cromwell because he wanted to keep the income stream, wrecked by Oliver Cromwell’s iconoclasts, here was a building whose every crafted stone wept history. But the piece like one of the remnants of random medieval glass in the Lady’s Chapel which caught my fancy was the Monmouth connection.
The Monmouth rebellion of 1685. Charles II illegitimate and favoured Protestant son fancied his chances against his uncle Catholic James II. He land at Lyme Regis on the eleventh of June. A month later on the fifteenth of July he is executed.
Not before he has rallied the fanatical 5000 Protestant peasants of Somerest and Dorset, not before he has ransacked Wells cathedral. Not before he was crowned at Chard. And not before he had lost the Battle of Sedgemoor.
Monmouth is one of history’s brylcream boys. Dashing, handsome , brave and utterly useless. He pushed the accelerator down and when he came to the curve hadn’t a clue.
While his followers suffered the fate of death exile dished out at the Bloody Assizes some of which were in Wells, Monmouth was executed at Tower Hill. *As he was living with a lady not his wife he was refused communion. A large crowd gathered to watch his end at Tower Hill many of them Protestant supporters and what happened next led to a near riot.
Tall and handsome the Duke goes up to the executioner Jack Ketch gives him six guineas and says,”Do not hack me like you did my Lord Russell who you struck three of four times. My servant will give you more gold if you do the work well”.
Monmouth then feels the edge of the axe and states that he does not feel it is sharp enough. Meanwhile the Catholic bishops are chanting “God accept your imperfect repentance”.
Ketch raise his axe.The first blow barely grazes the Duke’s neck. The Duke stands up. Two more strokes and still the neck is not severed and Monmouth continues to move. The crowd starts to get restless at this inhuman punishment of their hero. Ketch then in pure Blackadder style throws down the axe crying “ I cannot do it, my heart fails me”.(Does he give the money back?) The axe is taken up again, two more blows and still the neck is not severed, a knife is drawn to separate the head from the shoulders.
Many handkerchiefs were doped in the semi Royal blood.
*Blood Assizes footnote. Judge Jeffreys who sentenced to execution 300 and transportation to the West Indies 800 of Monmouth’s 5000 supporters didn’t live happily ever after(Hurrah).At one point during the Bloody Assizes he convinced a young girl that if she slept with him her brother would be saved. She awoke to find her brother swinging from a Bridport Gibbet. But in 1689 with William III on the throne, Jeffreys has to do a pineapple chunk(bunk). He is captured at Ramsgate and dies in the Tower. Not far from where Monmouth so gruesomely met his end.