James II and The English Succession

On 2nd February 1685, Charles II died. With no legitimate son and heir, his brother James II was proclaimed King of England. James II became obsessed with the idea of a Roman Catholic England, having at first gained the Parliament, he brought it to heel and greatly increased the powers of the Monarchy.  James built up a large standing army and invoked the Royal Prerogative to appoint Catholics amongst its officers: important posts at Court were handed to Catholics, whilst critics of his pro-Catholic policies were dismissed from office. Catholics were also appointed to the Privy Council and Father Petre - a notorious Jesuit - was now James' most trusted advisor.

His naiveté of the true feelings of the English people against Catholicism were to bring him down just as quickly as he had risen to power. Even Catholics in England lived in fear of a violent backlash, as a result of James' blatantly pro-Catholic policies.

King James II

The Monmouth Rebellion 
(Pitchfork Rebellion)

King Charles had a illegitimate son, James Scott the 1st Duke of Monmouth, who being brought up a Protestant, believed he was the heir to the throne. He landed in England at Lyme Regis on 11th June 1685, with an army intent on seizing the throne from James. Monmouth proclaimed himself King James III at Taunton on 20th June. After several skirmishes in the Somerset area, Monmouth's poorly equipped troops were pushed back to the Somerset levels near Bridgwater.
In the early hours of the 6th July 1685, Monmouth's troops launched a surprise attack on the Royalists at the Battle of Sedgemoor. The Duke's men were poorly equipped and poorly trained with many of them being simple Westcountry farmers. The Duke's plan was to silently move through the lanes and cornfields, covering the 4 miles from Bridgewater to Westonzoyland, under the over of darkness and launch an attack on the King's troops as they slept.

1St Duke of Monmouth

 They were being guided by a young lad called Richard Godfrey, who knew the area well. The land was marshy with many wide ditches or rhines, the widest of which was the Bussex Rhine, which was between the opposing armies. As they searched for a crossing point or 'plungeon' they were intercepted by a King's Trooper who fired a warning shot to alert his own comrades. Although the Royalists did not hear the shot, the Trooper did escape and was able to sound the alarm - in Westonzoyland, the King's troops sounded their drums as a warning of the imminent attack. As a result Monmouth's surprise attack, which was his main hope had been thwarted. In the ensuing battle, although Monmouth's men fought bravely, they were heavily outnumbered by cavalry, infantry and firepower. By the time the infantry realised the Bussex Rhine was neither deep nor difficult to cross, the battle had been lost as the King's superior firepower was slaughtering Monmouth's men.

Battlefield Memorial

By morning the battlefield was strewn with the dead and dying of Monmouth's army. Approximately 400 died in battle but up to another 1000 were slaughtered by the King's army as they fled the battlefield. Many were taken to the local Parish church at Westonzoyland where up to 500 were kept prisoner in terrible conditions. The local people were forced to bury the dead in the fields around Westonzoyland and as many as 1400 were buried on the battlefield close to the village.

Monmouth himself had fled the battlefield and tried to make his way to the south coast dressed as a peasant. He was captured lying in a ditch near Horton, and was immediately taken to the Tower of London. He was sentenced to death and was beheaded on July 15th - the executioner Jack Ketch, taking five attempts before severing the Duke's head. 

The Autumn Assizes of 1685   (Bloody Assizes)

King James appointed five judges to oversee the trials of the rebels - the most senior of these was Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys. The King wanted an example made of the rebels so that any threat of a similar uprising would be diminished.
The rebels were rounded up and brought to justice at a series of trials throughout the West Country. At Salisbury, Dorcester, Somerton, Wells and Wincester, close to 200 were sentenced to death. At the Taunton Assize, nearly 500 men were tried, of which 144 were hung, drawn and quartered - their limbs were sealed in tar, sent around the West Country and put on display mounted on spikes, as a gruesome warning to the people against further rebellion.

In total 331 were executed, with another 849 suffering transportation to the West Indies, where they endured terrible conditions as they were used as slave labour.

Judge Jeffreys reported back to King James after the Assizes were completed and as a reward, the King made him Lord Chancellor. Jeffreys became known as 'The Hanging Judge'.  

Judge Jeffreys

In 1687, James suspended the Penal Laws and Test Act pending their repeal by Parliament. This was intended to encourage conversions to the Catholic faith and to win over dissenters, without whom the repeal could not be achieved. His main ambition was, by hook or by crook, to secure a Parliament that would do as he wished. He now used the powers that the Crown had over Parliament to get rid of the Tories who had been installed from 1681-1685 and to replace them with dissenters. James mounted an intensive campaign to achieve his aim and when this failed, he resorted to trickery and intimidation. He was far more reckless and radical than Charles I in his attempts to secure Absolutism and Catholicism. This obsession with Catholicism could only mean one thing - he was about to alter the Succession in favour of a Catholic. Since all else was aimed at putting Catholics into privileged positions, why not achieve the ultimate?

Recent history had taught the English people of the impieties and superstitions of Catholicism and of the persecution of Protestants during the reign of 'Bloody' Mary and the 'Bloody Assizes of 1685.' Charles I's link with Catholicism precipitated the English Civil War and Louis XIV's intensive persecution of his Huguenot Protestant subjects reminded English people of the dangers of allowing Catholicism its head. So by his own stupidity, James rendered unusable the most compliant Parliament of the century. He could not repeal the Penal Laws of the Test Act without them and they were not prepared to do so.

The Warming Pan Baby

Late in 1687, Mary of Modena - James's wife - announced that she was pregnant. Catholic courtiers were jubilant but Protestants were extremely alarmed because if a son were born, he would be raised a Catholic and a Catholic dynasty would ensue. The Catholic confidence that a son was to be born led Protestants to believe that even if no son were born the priests would produce a baby boy and pass him off as James's son.

On 10 June 1688 Mary of Modena gave birth to a boy. This child was felt to be spurious by both Mary and Anne - the boy's stepsisters and will always be known as the Pretender. Rumours were rife of a baby girl or even a still-born infant being replaced by a "warming pan" baby. This would be compounded in years to come by the fact this child lived to the grand age of seventy-seven, whilst the eldest of his surviving siblings died at the age of nineteen. King James had foolishly given further suspicion by inviting only Roman Catholics to the the birth and they could hardly be considered unbiased.

The warming pan baby
James Francis Edward Stuart - "The Old Pretender"

In May 1688, James issued the Second Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the Penal Laws against Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters and ordered the clergy to read the Declaration in their churches. Seven Anglican Bishops including the Archbishop of Canterbury petitioned the King to be excused. On 29th June, James had the seven Bishops put into jail - their charge, "seditious libel". At their trial on June 30th they were faced with the despised Lord Chancellor Jeffreys (Judge Jeffreys of the Bloody Assizes). However Jeffreys could do nothing to prevent the defenders of the Bishops making a brilliant attack on the legality of the King's dispensing power - the jury declared them innocent. There was widespread rejoicing throughout the land with hundreds of bonfires being lit in celebration. It was clear that the Bishop's imprisonment and trial had been a foolish blunder and that the King was completely responsible. 

On the very same evening, Rear Admiral Arthur Herbert, dressed as a common seaman, set sail for The Hague with a formal invitation, signed with code numbers by The Immortal Seven. The Earls of Devonshire, Danby and Shrewsbury, Richard Lumley, Edward Russell, Henry Sidney and Dr Compton, Bishop of London, requested William of Orange to come over and save England for the Protestant religion, parliamentary government and Whig party and to deliver England from the tyranny of James II . All signatories committed themselves to giving William full support upon his arrival.

In Holland, trusted reports reached William and Mary which enforced the suggestion of the warming pan child and the desire of James to convert England to Catholicism. It was dreadful for Mary to contemplate the thought of her husband having to turn her father off his throne forcibly in order to save the English Church and state. 


At the end of April 1688 William decided to invade, precipitated by his concern for James' campaign to fill Parliament with Papists, an action which William believed might have caused Civil War in England.

These were the events which led to The Glorious Revolution.

William was an accomplished military commander