Bridgewater Castle and the Battle of Sedgemoor

September 19th, 2010 @ admin  -  No Comments

Bridgewater CastleBridgewater Castle, at one time one of the strongest and most extensive in the kingdom, was built by William de Briwere in 1202. On the decease of this knight his estates were divided, and the castle, manor, and borough of Bridgewater, with the manors of Hay-grove and Odcombe, fell to the eldest of his sisters, Gratia, who was married to William de Braose, lord of the manors of Brecknock, Radnor, and Abergavenny, and a great baron of his time. William, the son of this baron, was massacred by Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, leaving issue four daughters, the eldest of whom, Maud, wife of Roger Mortimer, inherited the castle and a third part of the manor of Bridgewater for her share, and bequeathed the same to William Mortimer her third son.

He dying without issue, left the estate to his elder brother Edmund, Lord Mortimer, from whom it passed by inheritance to Roger, Earl of March, and through him to his successive descendants, until at last it passed by an heir female of the last Earl of March to Richard, Duke of York, and thus to the Crown. Charles I., in the second year of his reign, granted the castle and manor, with all the appurtenances attached, to Sir William Whit-more, Knight, and George Whitmore, Esq., and to their heirs.

The Whitmores soon after sold the manor, castle, &c, of Bridgewater, to Henry Harvey, whose eldest son, Henry, inherited, but dying without issue bequeathed it to John Harvey, his uncle.

In 1643, two years before the siege of Bridgewater by the parliamentary forces under Fairfax, the castle was held in lease of the Harveys by Edmund Wyndham, the King’s governor.

At the time of the siege Bridgewater was a very large and noble structure, and the government of it in the King’s name, was vested only in persons of the highest eminence and distinction. Its walls, which in most parts were fifteen feet thick, were mounted by forty guns, and all its fortifications were regular and strong. The moat was thirty feet wide and of great depth, and the castle, being situated on the banks of the Parrct, at the distance of only six 2 miles from the sea, this moat was filled with water at every tide. But neither the natural strength of its situation, the massive character of its fortifications, the completeness of its muniments, nor the gallantry with which it was defended by Col.

Edmund Wyndham, who was then governor, could maintain it unscathed against the furious assault of Fairfax and his Ironsides. The town and castle were defended for a considerable time with the utmost bravery; but great part of the former having been fired by grenades and hot balls shot by the besiegers and much blood having been shed among the inhabitants, Colonel Wyndham deemed it judicious to surrender to Fairfax, July 22nd, 1645.

Bridgwater Castle Manor

In the town were taken valuable stores of ammunition, arms, cannon, jewels, plate, and goods of immense value, which had been sent thither from all the adjacent parts of the country for security; the governor having rashly declared that the castle was impregnable against all the force that could be brought against it. The greater part of the valuables were conveyed to London and there sold.

The money thus raised was sufficient for the bestowal of five shillings on each man engaged in the storming of the place. In the assault and subsequently, the castle was practically destroyed. Only the water-gate and some other fragments forming the wall of a stable remain to the present day.

Bridgwater castle excavations

Excavations at Bridgwater castle

The Castle connects itself with the fate of the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth. This rash, impolitic, and pusillanimous man has a most singular and interesting history. He was one of the natural sons (the./frj/, it is supposed) of Charles II. His mother, Lucy Waters, was a Welsh girl of great beauty, but of weak understanding and dissolute manners, whom Charles had met at the Hague while wandering on the Continent. As a result of the intrigue a son was born. Upon this infant Charles lavished an overflowing fondness, which in his other relations of life did not seem to be characteristic of his cool and careless nature.

King Charles ll

King Charles ll

The young favourite, born of a mother whom Evelyn describes as a ” browne, beautiful, bold, but insipid creature,” was taught in France the exercises considered necessary to a fine gentleman of the time, and was committed to the care of Lord Crofts, who gave him his own name. After the Restoration ” Mr. James Crofts,” as the youth was called, came to England and was handsomely lodged at Hampton Court and Whitehall. While still little more than a boy he was married to Anne Scott, heiress of the noble house of Buccleuch. He took her name and at the same time entered into possession of her ample domain.

The fortune that is said to drive men mad before killing them now began to turn his head. Titles and substantia favours were heaped upon him. He was created Duke of Monmouth, Duke of Buccleuch, Knight of the Garter, &c, &c, as well as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. Nor did he appear an object unworthy of such favour. Eminently handsome in person, gentle in temper, affable and polite in manners, he gathered gradually around him a party of considerable strength. Though himself a libertine he had the Puritans on his side. His exploits in Holland, where, as commander of the English auxiliaries sent to the Continent, he performed many gallant actions, raised him to a high place in the opinion of the English people, and on his return he found himself the most popular man in the kingdom.

In 1670 he was put forward as the head of the popular party, and as the rival of the Duke of York (afterwards James II.). In 1678 the rumour that the “Protestant Duke,” as he was called, was indeed the King’s legitimate son, and therefore the rightful heir to the throne, became universal and was generally accepted. In 1679  he was sent into Scotland to quell the rebellion there. He defeated the Scots at Bothwell Bridge; but his humanity to the wounded and to the hunted fugitives was so conspicuous, his requests fol mercy to the prisoners so urgent, that they drew upon him at once the censures of the King and Lauderdale, and justified the Nonconformist party in making him their idol.

He now began to dabble in treacherous schemes, participated in the Rye-house plot, and was obliged to fly to the Continent, where he remained till the death of the King. He then embarked for England, and was received with acclamations at Taunton, where he was proclaimed king under the title of James II. He marched to Bridgewater, was welcomed by the mayor and aldermen, who received him in their robes, and proclaimed him King at the high cross of the town.

walls of the castle

walls of the castle

He took up his residence in Bridgewater Castle, while his army lay encamped on Castle Field. His force, amounting to six thousand men, was poorly armed, and he attempted to increase his army and obtain weapons by marching from place to place. Meanwhile the forces of the government were assembling fast.

Duke of Monmouth

Duke of Monmouth

Monmouth re-entered Bridgewater on the 2nd July, 1685. His forces now consisted of 2500 foot and 600 horse. The King’s forces, under Lord Faversham, consisting of 2500 regular troops and of 1500 of the Wiltshire militia, now came in sight and pitched their tents, on Sunday the 5th July, on the plain of Scdgemoor. Monmouth resolved to attack them ty night.
The following graphic account of “the last fight deserving the name of battle that has been fought on English ground” is from the pages of England’s latest and most brilliant historian :

Monmouth, having observed the disposition of the royal forces, and having been apprised of the state in which they were, conceived that a night attack might be attended with success. He resolved to run the hazard, and preparations were instantly made.

It was Sunday; and his followers, who had for the most part been brought up after the Puritan fashion, passed a great part of the day in religious exercises.

The Castle Field in which the enemy was encamped presented a spectacle such as, since the disbanding of Cromwell’s soldiers, England had never seen.

The dissenting preachers who had taken arms against Popery, and some of whom had probably fought in the great Civil War, prayed and preached in red coats and huge jack-boots, with swords by their sides. Ferguson was one of those who harangued. He took for his text the awful imprecation by which the Israelites who dwelt beyond Jordan cleared themselves from the charge ignorantly brought against them by their brethren on the other side of the river. “The Lord God of Gods, the Lord God of Gods, he knoweth ; and Israel he shall know. If it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the Lord, save us not this day.”

That an attack was to be made under cover of the night was no secret in Bridgewater. The town was full of women who had repaired thither by hundreds from the surrounding region to see their husbands, sons, lovers, and brothers once more. There were many sad partings that day, and many parted never to meet again. The report of the intended attack came to the ears of a young girl who was zealous for the King. Though of modest character, she had the courage to resolve that she would herself bear the intelligence to Feversham.

She stole out of Bridgewater and made her way to the royal camp. But that camp was not a place where female innocence could be safe. Even the officers, despising alike the irregular forces to which they were opposed, and the negligent general who commanded them, had indulged largely in wine, and were ready for any excess of licentiousness and cruelty. One of them seized the unhappy maiden, refused to listen to her errand, and brutally outraged her. She fled in agonies of rage and shame, leaving the wicked army to its doom.

The clock struck eleven, and the Duke with his body-guard rode out of the castle. He was in the frame of mind which befits one who is about to strike .a decisive blow. The very children who pressed to see him pass, observed, and long remembered, that his look was sad and full of evil augury. His army marched by a circuitous path near six miles in length, towards the royal encampment on Sedgemoor.

Part of the route is to this day called War Lane. The foot were led by Monmouth himself. The horse were confided to Grey, in spite of the remonstrances of some who remembered the mishap at Bridport. Orders were given that strict silence should be preserved, that no drum should be beaten and no shot fired. The word by which the insurgents were to recognize one another in the darkness was Soho. It had doubtless been selected in allusion to Soho Fields in London, where their leader’s palace stood.

At about one on the morning of Monday, the 6th of July, the rebels were on the open moor. But between them and the enemy lay three broad rhines (ditches or trenches), filled with water and soft mud. Two of these, called the Black Ditch and the Langmoor Rhine, Monmouth knew that he must pass. But, strange to say, the existence of a trench called the Bussex Rhine, which immediately covered the royal encampment, had not been mentioned to him by any of his scouts.

The wains which carried the ammunition remained at the entrance of the moor. The horse and foot, in a long narrow column, passed the Black Ditch by a causeway. There was a similar causeway across the Langmoor Rhine ; but the guide in the fog missed his way. There was some delay and some tumult before his error could be rectified. At length the passage was effected, but in the confusion a pistol went off. Some men of the Horse Guards, who were on watch, heard the report, and perceived that a great multitude was advancing through the mist. They fired their carbines and galloped off in different directions to give the alarm. Some hastened to Weston Zoyland, where the cavalry lay. One trooper spurred to the encampment of the infantry, and cried out vehemently that the enemy was at hand.

The drums of Dumbarton’s regiment beat to arms, and the men got fast into their ranks. It was time, for Monmouth was already drawing up his army for action. He ordered Grey to lead the way with the cavalry, and followed himself at the head of the infantry. Grey pushed on till his progress was unexpectedly arrested by the Bussex Rhine. On the opposite side of the ditch the King’s foot were hastily forming in order of battle.

” For whom are you ?” called out an officer of the Foot Guards. ” For the king !” replied a voice from the ranks of the rebel cavalry. ” For which king ?” was then demanded. The answer was a shout of” King Monmouth !” mingled with the war-cry, which forty years before had been inscribed on the colours of the Parliamentary regiments, ” God with us.” The royal troops instantly fired such a volley of musketry as sent the rebel horse flying in all directions. The world agreed to ascribe this ignominious rout to Grey’s pusillanimity. Yet it is by no means clear that Churchill would have succeded better at the head of men who had never before handled arms on horseback, and whose horses were unused, not only to stand fire, but to obey the rein.

A few minutes after the Duke’s horse had dispersed themselves over the moor his infantry came up running fast, and guided through the gloom by the lighted matches of Dumbarton’s regiment.

Monmouth was startled by finding that a broad and profound trench lay between him and the camp which he had hoped to surprise. The insurgents halted on the edge of the rhine, and fired. Part of the royal infantry on the opposite bank returned the fire. During three-quarters of an hour the roar of the musketry was incessant. The Somersetshire peasants behaved themselves as if they had been veteran soldiers, save only that they levelled their pieces too high.

Bridgwater street

Bridgwater town

But now the other divisions of the royal army were in motion. The Life Guards and Blues were pricking fast from Weston Zoyland, and scattered in an instant some of Grey’s horse who had attempted to rally. The fugitives spread a panic among their comrades in the rear who had charge of the ammunition. The waggoners drove off at full speed, and never stopped till they were many miles from the field of battle. Monmouth had hitherto done his part like a stout and able warrior. He had been seen on foot, pike in hand, encouraging his infantry by voice and example. But he was too well acquainted with military affairs not to know that all was over.

His men had lost the advantage which surprise and darkness had given them. They were deserted by the horse and by the ammunition waggons. The King’s forces were now united and in good order. Feversham had been awakened by the firing, had got out of bed, had adjusted his cravat, had looked at himself well in the glass, and had come to see what his men were doing.

Meanwhile, what was of much more importance, Churchill had made an entirely new disposition of the royal infantry. The day was about to break. The event of a conflict on an open plain, by broad sunlight, could not be doubtful.

Yet Monmouth should have felt that it was not for him to fly, while thousands, whom affection for him had hurried to destruction, were still fighting manfully in his cause. But vain hopes and the intense love of life prevailed. He saw that if he tarried the royal cavalry would soon intercept his retreat. He mounted and rode from the field.

Yet his foot, though deserted, made a gallant stand. The Life Guards attacked them on the right, the Blues on the left; but the Somersetshire clowns, with their scythes and the butt-ends of their muskets, faced the royal horse like old soldiers. Oglethorpe made a vigorous attempt to break them, and was manfully repulsed.

Sarsfield, a brave Irish officer, whose name afterwards attained a melancholy celebrity, charged on the other flank. His men were beaten back. He was himself struck to the ground, and lay for a time as one dead. But the struggle of the hardy rustics could not last. Their powder and ball were spent. Cries were heard of “Ammunition! for God’s sake, ammunition !” But no ammunition was at hand.

And now the King’s artillery came up. It had been posted half a mile off, on the high road from Weston Zoyland to Bridgewater. So defective were then the appointments of an English army that there would have been much difficulty in dragging the great guns to the place where the battle was raging, had not the Bishop of Winchester offered his coach horses and traces for the purpose. This interference of a Christian prelate in a matter of blood has, with strange inconsistency, been condemned by some Whig writers, who can see nothing criminal in the conduct of the numerous Puritan ministers then in arms against the Government.

Even when the guns had arrived there was such a want of gunners that a sergeant of Dumbarton’s regiment was forced to take on himself the management of several pieces. The cannon, however, though ill served, brought the engagement to a speedy close. The pikes of the rebel battalions began to shake: the ranks broke; the King’s cavalry charged again, and bore down everything before them; the King’s infantry came pouring across the ditch. Even in that extremity the Mendip miners stood bravely to their arms, and sold their lives dearly. But the rout was in a few minutes complete. Three hundred of the soldiers had been killed lr wounded. Of the rebels more than a thousand lay dead on the moor.

Meanwhile Monmouth, accompanied by Grey and the German, Buyer, fled from the field, directing their course to the New Forest, in Hampshire, in which they hoped to lurk till conveyance to the Continent could be procured. At Cranbourne Castle the strength of their horses failed them, and the fugitives having obtained the clothes of common rustics, proceeded thus disguised towards the New Forest on foot. But a cordon of pursuers was now around them, and was closing upon them every hour. On the morning ot the seventh Grey was taken, and on the morning of the following day Buyer was taken. The German owned that he had parted from the Duke only a few hours before. “The corn and copse-wood,” continues Macaulay, ” were now beaten with more care than ever.

At  length a gaunt figure was discovered hidden in a ditch. The pursuers sprang on their prey. . . . The prisoner’s dress was that of a shepherd ; his beard, prematurely grey, was of several days’ growth. He trembled greatly, and was unable to speak. Even those who had often seen him were at first in doubt whether this were truly the brilliant and graceful Monmouth. . . . Nothing remained but that he should prepare to meet death as became one who had thought himself not unworthy to wear the crown of William the Conqueror and of Richard the Lion-hearted, of the hero of Cressy, and of the hero of Agincourt. . . . But the fortitude of Monmouth was not that of the highest sort of fortitude which is derived from reflection and from self-respect. . . . His heart sunk within him. Life seemed worth purchasing by any humiliation ; nor could his mind, always feeble, and now distracted by terror, perceive that humiliation must degrade, but could not save him.”

As soon as he reached Ringwood he wrote to the King. The letter was that of a man whom a craven fear had made insensible to shame. He professed in vehement terms his remorse for his treason. He affirmed that when he promised his cousins at the Hague not to raise troubles in England, he had fully meant to keep his word. Unhappily he had afterwards been seduced from his allegiance by some horrid people who had heated his mind by calumnies, and misled him by sophistry. He begged in piteous terms that he might be admitted to the royal presence. The King resolved to see Monmouth, but resolved also to show him no mercy.

” To see him and not to spare him was an outrage on humanity and decency. This outrage the King resolved to commit. The arms of the prisoner were bound behind him with a silken cord, and thus secured he was ushered into the presence of the implacable kinsman whom he had wronged.”

“Then Monmouth threw himself on the ground, and crawled to the King’s feet. He wept. He tried to embrace his uncle’s knees with his pinioned arms. He begged for life, only life, life at any price. He owned that he had been guilty of a great crime, but tried to throw the blame on others, particularly on Argyle, who would rather have put his legs into the boots than have saved himself by such baseness. By the ties of kindred, by the memory of the late King, who had been the best and truest of brothers, the unhappy man adjured James to show some mercy. . . .

One depth of infamy alone remained; and even to that the prisoner descended. He was preeminently the champion of the Protestant religion. The interest of that religion had been his plea for conspiracy against the government of his father, and for bringing on his country the miseries of civil war, yet he was not ashamed to hint that he was inclined to be reconciled to the Church of Rome. The King eagerly offered him spiritual assistance, but said nothing of pardon or respite. ‘ Is there then no hope ?’ asked Monmouth. James turned away in silence. Then Monmouth strove to rally his courage, rose from his knees, and retired with a firmness which he had not shown since his overthrow.”

When, on Monday night, the date appointed for his execution —the Wednesday morning following—was announced to him, he was greatly agitated. ” The blood left his cheeks, and it was some time before he could speak.” During the interval between this time and the fatal morning Monmouth sank into a condition of abject despair. On the scaffold he presented the executioner, John Ketch, whose name has been used generically since this period, with a sum of money. ” Do not hack me as you did my Lord Russel,” said he. ” I have heard that you struck him three or four times. My servant will give you some more gold if you do the work well.” He then undressed, felt the edge of the axe, expressed some fear that it was not sharp enough, and laid his head on the block.

The hangman addressed himself to his office. But he had been disconcerted by what the Duke had said. The first blow inflicted only a slight wound. The Duke struggled, rose from the block, and looked reproachfully at the executioner. The head sank down once more. The stroke was repeated again and again, but still the neck was not severed, and the body continued to move. Yells of rage and horror rose from the crowd. Ketch flung down the axe with a curse. ” 1 cannot do it,” said he, ” my heart fails me.” ” Take up the axe, man,” cried the sheriff. ” Fling him over the rails,” roared the mob. At length the axe was taken up. Two more blows extinguished the last remains of life, but a knife was used to separate the head from the shoulders.”
And so the revolting scene — the last scene of a frivolous and wicked drama — comes to an end.

Castle Street Bridgwater sign

Castle Street Sign


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