TOWARDS TWILIGHT

The Bloody Assizes

James II sent a large troop of cavalry under Colonel Kirke to "teach the rebels a lesson". It was a lesson in barbarity and corruption. Without any semblance of trial, an unknown number of peasants and miners were strung up on improvised gibbets - unless they had money enough to buy protection. Among those rich enough to pay for their lives was Edward Strode. He handed over a gold apron to Kirke. Strode's daughter was less than pleased - the apron was destined to be her dowry.

An example of Kirke's methods: the young girls of Taunton had come out in support of Monmouth when he entered the town (i.e., they had waved their handkerchiefs at the handsome young man), so Kirke imprisoned these young girls (aged between 6 and 14) and demanded ransoms from their parents in the region of over 1,000 pounds (just think what that would be in today's money for ordinary people).

James was kept fully informed of Kirke's progress, and pronounced himself well satisfied. Even so, he still sent Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys to the West Country, to hold a special Assize court - to mop up those Kirke had missed. Although Jeffreys used the semblance of justice, his "Bloody Assizes" operated on similar principles to Kirke's cruelties.

Many more were hung, drawn and quartered (including 13 from Shepton). Many more were transported to Virginia. A woman called Elisabeth Gaunt had the grisly distinction of being the last woman to be burnt in England for political crimes.

It was little consolation to those who suffered, but the Bloody Assize became a powerful propaganda weapon against James II. When William of Orange landed in the West Country four years later, there was no shortage of support from the people who were supposed to be cowed by Kirke and Jeffreys' brutality. During that "Glorious Revolution", James slunk off to France - friendless - without so much as a skirmish.

P.S. Today, there are jolly bands of people who re-enact the great battles of the 17th century - some taking it awfully seriously, others just larking about with pikes.

Recently, there was a re-enactment of the Battle of Sedgemoor. Three hundred years after those awful events, some of the local pubs wouldn't serve those playing the King's troops - so vivid was the memory of the behaviour of the originals.

Monmouth Monmouth In the Vale of Avalon In the Vale of Avalon
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