The Monmouth Rebellion of 1685

What was the Monmouth Rebellion?

Where did the Monmouth Rebellion take place?
Map showing the Whig Invasion plan
Invasion Plan, April 1685

The Monmouth Rebellion was the invasion of Britain in 1685 by two Whigs Armies. The objective was to

Book cover of Fighting for Liberty
My book: Fighting for Liberty

remove King James II from power. The first Army was led by Archibald, 9th Earl of Argyll who landed in Scotland and became known as Argyll’s Rising. The second Army was led by James, Duke of Monmouth who landed in England, to become known as the Pitchfork Rebellion.

The plan was for Argyll to hold a strong position in Argyllshire, diverting Government troops his way. Meanwhile, an uprising in Chester was to draw forces out of London, as Monmouth advanced on the capital, the city would also rise. However, due to good and then poor weather, followed by delays created by the unexpected arrival of English warships the two invasions were no longer synchronised. On May 2, Argyll’s fleet sails for Scotland.

Click this link for a visual map covering the planning and first moves of the campaign. 

Opening moves of the Rebellion in Scotland
Map showing Argyll journey to the Isle of Bute
Argyll Sails to Bute

Opposing the Whigs were the forces of the new King James II, funded by French money. Through a network of spies, James had advanced warning that the invasions were coming but not when or where. In Scotland, the Highland Militia were ordered into Argyll’s homeland of Argyllshire. Here they seized the key town of Inveraray and punished Whig supporters. Argyll landed first in the Orkney Isles, where news quickly spread of his invasion. After this, he sailed around the north coast of Scotland.

Visual map of the first moves in Scotland

Argyll finally reached Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsular on May 20, and from here marched to Tarbert to model the Whig Army which numbered 2,500 soldiers. From Tarbert Argyll sailed to the Isle of Bute.

Map showing the disposition of Scottish Government troops in May 1685
Government Forces in Scotland, May 1685

By now the Scottish Government have mustered around 20,000 men to fight the Whigs, with the Marquis of Atholl having around 4,000 soldiers in Inveraray. Finally, after a three-week delay, Monmouth sails from Holland at 3 o’clock on Sunday, May 31 1685.

Visual map of the build-up from May 19 to May 30 1685

With Argyll looking to seize Inveraray, there were two initial skirmishes with Government forces before Argyll sets up his base on the Cowal Peninsula.

Using the Island Castle of Eilean Dearg as his depot, his Army marched towards Inveraray beating a Government Army at the Battle of Ardkinglas on June 12, 1685. However, the opposing forces under the command of the Earl of Dumbarton used a squadron of Royal Navy warships to blockade Argyll’s Whigs. This forced Argyll to retreat from Ardkinglas and abort his attack on Inveraray.

Visual map of the first acts of the war May 31 to June 10 1685

Opening moves of the Rebellion in England

The Duke of Monmouth’s small force finally landed at Lyme on June 11, and his Army grew rapidly. However, the Government Militia moved to cut off Lyme from the rest of England, but the Whigs attacked the Dorset Militia at Bridport on June 14 and then broke the Somerset and Devonshire Militia attempting to block the roads at Axminster on June 15.

Map showing the Governments reaction to Monmouth landing at Lyme on June 11, 1685
Government Reaction to the Landing, 13 June 1685

Initially, the Government of James II had hoped to trap Monmouth in Lyme using the Militia supported by a brigade of regular soldiers under Lord Churchill. However, with the Militia defeated, Churchill was ordered to stop Monmouth marching on Bristol, while a second much larger Army was sent west under the Earl of Feversham on June 19.

After this Monmouth marched to his power base in Taunton where his Army was remodelled on June 19, and now numbered around 6,000 men. On June 20, Monmouth was proclaimed King by the magistrates of Taunton. 

Visual map of Monmouth’s march to Taunton, June 11 to June 20 1685

Monmouth’s March on Bristol

From Taunton Monmouth moved to Bridgwater, before starting his march east. Monmouth’s initial plan was to march on London but once he reaches Shepton Mallet on June 23 he receives news of the Government Army marching from London. Therefore, with Churchill outmanoeuvred and still south of his Army, Monmouth marches on Bristol using the bridge at Keynsham.

Map show the disposition of forces as Monmouth marches east on 22 June 1685
Monmouth March East on 22 June 1685

However, Feversham reaches Bristol on June 24 first with his cavalry and is supported by around 3,000 Militia, fortifying the City. Quickly marching north Monmouth seizes the bridge at Keynsham from a force of Militia looking to destroy the crossing but the damage slows down the crossing. During the day a force of Government cavalry attacked Monmouth’s rear guard at Keynsham on June 25. This action and the intelligence that Feversham is in Bristol forces Monmouth to change his plans once more. Hoping the enemy was now behind him, he marches east, skirting around Bath looking to reach Warminster. From here the road to London would be open and the City would rise under Colonel Danvers. 

Map showing Monmouth's next move on reaching Norton St Philip on 26 June 1685
Monmouth at Norton St Philip, 26 June 1685

Feversham moves his Army to Bath and is joined by the infantry from London, and Churchill’s brigade. With an Army now numbering nearly 5,000 soldiers Feversham attacks Monmouth on June 27, at Norton St Philip. But Monmouth’s Army defeats Feversham but the fighting lasts all day, and this stops Monmouth from reaching Warminster and taking the road to London. Feversham deploys his Army to stop Monmouth’s advance and with supplies running short, the Whigs retire to Bridgwater. 

End of Argyll’s Rising in Scotland
Archibald 9th Earl of Argyll

In Scotland, Argyll finds himself surrounded on the Cowal Peninsula but breaks out towards Glasgow leaving his supplies to be captured on the Island of Eilean Dearg. On the night of June 17, the Whigs are at Killearn facing the Earl of Dumbarton with a Government force three times their size. During the night they slip south across the Kilpatrick hills towards the River Clyde at Old Kilpatrick.

Although the Whigs captured the crossing, by sunrise the Argyll’s Army had broken up, with some loss in the hills, and others fleeing home. With his Army destroyed Argyll, crosses the Clyde and is captured on June 18, trying to get to Glasgow. However, a force of Whigs under Sir John Cochrane marched south and that evening defeated a Government detachment four times bigger at the Battle of Muirdyke. Over the following days, news reached Cochrane of Argyll’s capture, and with a heavy heart, he dismissed the remaining Whigs. The Monmouth Rebellion in Scottish was over, Monmouth was on his own. After his capture, Argyll was executed in Edinburgh on June 30, 1685.

The visual map of the Road to Sedgemoor, June 21 to July 4, 1685

The End of the Monmouth Rebellion in England
Pictire of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth
James, Duke of Monmouth

In England, the Monmouth Rebellion was reaching its climax. After arriving at Bridgwater on July 3, Monmouth set about fortifying the town. Two days later on July 5, Feversham arrived in Westonzoyland some 5 miles from the Whigs with an Army of 3,600 soldiers and 18 guns. Early the following morning Monmouth attempted to surprise the Government force with his Army of 4,000 men with 3 guns. However, Feversham’s well-deployed pickets alerted the camp. This forced the Duke to deploy into his battle line before reaching the tents and this gave the Government Army time to form up.

What followed was the Battle of Sedgemoor, and after a long engagement, Monmouth’s Whig Army was finally defeated and broken. The day after James II wrote to Orange with news of his victory. In the months after the battle, the King inflicted a harsh penalty on those that had rebelled. What followed was the Bloody Assizes which saw the quartered bodies of 315 Whigs being posted across Somerset and Dorset. Monmouth did not escape and was captured three days later. He was taken to London and on July 15, the Duke of Monmouth was executed on Tower Hill. The Monmouth Rebellion was over.

Learn more about Earl of Argyll’s invasion of Scotland

Learn the full story about the Duke of Monmouth’s Invasion of England

This account is based on a more detailed description of the Earl of Argyll’s & the Duke of Monmouth’s campaign of 1685 available from Helion & Company in my Book Fighting For Liberty.