The Duke of Monmouth’s great error was that he did not in the first heat venture on some hardy action and then march either to Exeter or Bristol . . . [but instead] he lingered in exercising his men and stayed too long in the neighborhood of Lyme.
Continuing Monmouth’s Rebellion,
our selection from History of My Own Time by Gilbert Burnet published in 1724. The selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Monmouth’s Rebellion. Now we continue.
Place: Ledgemoor, Somerset
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Ferguson ran among the people with all the fury of an enraged man that affected to pass for an enthusiast, though all his performances that way were forced and dry. The Duke of Monmouth’s great error was that he did not in the first heat venture on some hardy action and then march either to Exeter or Bristol; where as he would have found much wealth, so he would have gained some reputation by it. But he lingered in exercising his men and stayed too long in the neighborhood of Lyme.
By this means the King had time both to bring troops out of Scotland, after Argyle was taken, and to send to Holland for the English and Scotch regiments that were in the service of the states; which the Prince sent over very readily and offered his own person, and a greater force, if it were necessary. The King received this with great expressions of acknowledgment and kindness. It was very visible that he was much distracted in his thoughts, and that, what appearance of courage so ever he might put on, he was inwardly full of apprehensions and fears. He dare not accept of the offer of assistance that the French made him; for by that he would have lost the hearts of the English nation, and he had no mind to be so much obliged to the Prince of Orange or to let him into his counsels or affairs. Prince George committed a great error in not asking the command of the army; for the command, how much soever he might have been bound to the counsels of others, would have given him some lustre; whereas his staying at home in such times of danger brought him under much neglect.
The King could not choose worse than he did when he gave the command to the Earl of Feversham, who was a Frenchman by birth — and nephew to M. de Turenne. Both his brothers changing religion — though he continued still a Protestant — made that his religion was not much trusted to. He was an honest, brave, and good-natured man, but weak to a degree not easy to be conceived. And he conducted matters so ill that every step he made was like to prove fatal to the King’s service. He had no parties abroad. He got no intelligence, and was almost surprised and like to be defeated, when he seemed to be under no apprehension, but was abed without any care or order. So that if the Duke of Monmouth had got but a very small number of good soldiers about him, the King’s affairs would have fallen into great disorder.
The Duke of Monmouth had almost surprised Lord Feversham and all about him while they were abed. He got in between two bodies, into which the army lay divided. He now saw his error in lingering so long. He began to want bread, and to be so straitened that there was a necessity of pushing for a speedy decision. He was so misled in his march that he lost an hour’s time, and when he came near the army there was an inconsiderable ditch, in the passing which he lost so much more time that the officers had leisure to rise and be dressed, now they had the alarm. And they put themselves in order. Yet the Duke of Monmouth’s foot stood longer and fought better than could have been expected; especially, when the small body of horse they had, ran upon the first charge, the blame of which was cast on Lord Grey.
The foot being thus forsaken and galled by the cannon, did run at last. About a thousand of them were killed on the spot, and fifteen hundred were taken prisoners. Their numbers, when fullest, were between five and six thousand.
The Duke of Monmouth left the field * too soon for a man of courage who had such high pretensions; for a few days before he had suffered himself to be called king, which did him no service, even among those that followed him. He rode toward Dorsetshire; and when his horse could carry him no further he changed clothes with a shepherd and went as far as his legs could carry him, being accompanied only by a German whom he had brought over with him. At last, when he could go no farther, they lay down in a field where there was hay and straw, with which they covered themselves, so that they hoped to lie there unseen till night. Parties went out on all hands to take prisoners. The shepherd was found by Lord Lumley in the Duke of Monmouth’s clothes. So this put them on his track, and having some dogs with them, they followed the scent, and came to the place where the German was first discovered. And he immediately pointed to the place where the Duke of Monmouth lay. So he was taken in a very indecent dress and posture.
[* This engagement took place at Ledgemoor, Somerset, July 6, 1685. — ED.]