On Monday the 15th of July, I went to Tower Hill where I spoke about the life of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.
I will now include photos and excerpts I used from contemporary sources. It was a beautiful day to remember a beautiful man. It was a very hot and sunny, and I bought two bouquets of red roses and placed them at the site of his execution and upon his grave inside the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where he rests by the likes of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and many others.
This is the memorial on Tower Hill that bears the names of dozens of historical persons that died upon that location over the centuries. I focused only upon the plaque that has Monmouth’s name.
Here is an excerpt from John Dryden’s poem, Absalom and Achitophel. King David is Charles II and Absalom is James, Duke of Monmouth:
Not so the rest; for several Mothers bore
To Godlike David, several Sons before.
But since like slaves his bed they did ascend,
No True Succession could their seed attend.
Of all this Numerous Progeny was none
So Beautifull, so brave, as Absalom;
Whether, inspir’d by some diviner Lust,
His Father got him with a greater Gust;
Or that his Conscious destiny made way
By manly beauty to Imperial Sway.
Early in Foreign fields he won Renown,
With Kings and States ally’d to Israel’s Crown:
In Peace the thoughts of War he could remove,
And seem’d as he were only born for love.
John Evelyn wrote about Monmouth’s execution in this excerpt, and a Yeoman Warder referred to it as the “bloodiest execution ever in the Tower’s history”:
having liv’d dishonestly with the Lady Henrietta Wentworth for two yeares; from obstinately asserting his conversation with that debauched woman to be no sin, seeing he could not be persuaded to his last breath, the Divines who were sent to assist him thought not fit to administer Holy Communion to him: for the rest of his faults he professed great sorrow, and so died without any apparent feare, would make use of no cap, or other circumstance, but lying down bid the fellow do his office better than to my late Lord Russell, & gave him gold: but the wretch made five Chopps before he had his head off, which so incens’d the people, that had he not been guarded & got away they would have torn him to pieces.
Thus ended the quondam Duke, darling of his father, and the Ladies, being extraordinarily handsome, and adroit: and excellent soldier, & dauncer, a favourite of the people, of an easy nature, debauched by lust, seduc’d by crafty Knaves who would have set him up only to make a property; tooke this opportunity of His Majestie being of another Religion, to gather a party of discontented; failed of it, and perished: He was a lovely person…
After we spoke about his terrible demise, we went to the pub, the Liberty Bounds, and had a great chat, drinks, and lunch. After this, I still had another bouquet of roses which I really wanted to place at Monmouth’s tomb. In past experience, I knew it was difficult to enter the Chapel unless as part of the Beefeater tours, which I previously had no time for.
Next, I went to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula which is within the Tower of London. Here, I asked one of the wonderful Yeoman Warders if he could place the flowers upon Monmouth’s tomb, and he seemed surprised, and said that I could come back in a while and he would escort me inside to place the flowers there myself (!). I was thrilled to bits and I waited patiently, and some tourists came and asked me what I had flowers for, and I explained that Monmouth was the inspiration for my first book and they could see how happy I was to be there.
Once inside the Chapel, however, all feelings of excitement diminished substantially and I felt quite overcome with sadness. I think all the time I have spent learning about James and Henrietta have made me feel close to them, and I find it so tragic that he came to such a grizzly end. You can see my little posy of red roses which I placed before the altar, which happened to be atop Catherine Howard. The Duke of Monmouth’s stone is behind the altar by the wall, but I was told to leave it out front so people could see it. Another Yeoman Warder moved the altar and let me see Monmouth’s resting place, but this I could not take a photo of, but is the same as those in the front, but says, “James, Duke of Monmouth.”
If I’m not mistaken, there are around 1,500 bodies inside the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, including many notable figures from the bloody Tudor era.
This may sound disingenuous, but it I honestly believe it was an experience that I’ll never forget. I feel like I have come full circle with this project. I left feeling quite moved, and I can only attribute this to plain human empathy for the suffering of another human being.
I still believe he should have been exiled, and not beheaded. If only he had listened to William III’s advice, and gone to live in Hungary or Germany, the Rebellion would probably not have occurred nor would Monmouth have lost everything. But as one of the ladies on my Facebook page stated, Monmouth “was dreamy…and thick”.
If you’d like to read my biographical/historical fiction account of the last decade of Monmouth’s life, His Last Mistress is now out in paperback.