Dashing but Doomed: the Duke of Monmouth

PhillipMouldMonmouth

The Duke of Monmouth. Portrait of the Duke of Monmouth 1685c. Studio of Willem Wissing c.1656-1687. Image: Philip Mould Ltd.

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He was unquestionably one of the handsomest of the Stuart men. Tall, dark, and seductive, James Crofts, later James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, was born in Rotterdam, the Dutch Republic, on the 9th of April 1649, to an exiled King Charles II and his mistress Lucy Walter.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch. Samuel Cooper (1608–1672)

James had a rather tempestuous upbringing, which involved his attempted kidnapping, and then he actually was eventually taken away from his mother and raised by the Crofts family. This is where James took his surname of Crofts. Upon the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, which followed the death of Oliver Cromwell and the downfall of the Puritan regime.

I found this on tumblr, and cannot trace the source, perhaps philipmould.com

Duke of Monmouth, circa 1670. Found on tumblr, source: philipmould.com

This Sexy Stuart was indulged to the point of being spoiled by his father. He was a teenager in the midst of his father’s merry, debauched Restoration court. This was a raucous environment where beauty was power.

He saw his share of battles, and was a skilled soldier, some even calling him one of the best soldiers of his age.

The Duke was not without character flaws, he was ambitious, and whilst ambition isn’t necessarily a bad quality, it can be bad if it blinds an individual from doing the right thing. Malicious schemers used Monmouth’s ambitious nature to lure him into plots and schemes, which would eventually lead to his undoing.

The Duke of Monmouth, possibly after William Wissing. Photo: The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Monmouth was extremely passionate and his emotions often ruled his head. He could lash out violently at those he had believed had offended him or his father (he apparently slit the nose of one man who criticised Charles II for his many mistresses, and killed another who had simply asked him to be quiet during one of his debauched assignations). He was bad and beautiful, and this combination, highly intoxicating to many women, increased his allure.

Aye, he was lusty. As was the case with many Stuart men, Monmouth was extremely virile and had a strong libido.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch published by Abraham Blooteling, after Sir Peter Lely line engraving, circa 1680. Image: The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Whilst he was endowed with goodly physical charms, he was poorly educated: he apparently couldn’t write or understand basic mathematics until he was ten, and at fifteen, he still complained mightily whenever he had to write a letter.

His father arranged his marriage to the twelve year old bride – the fabulously rich heiress Anna Scott, when Monmouth was a cute thirteen year old. Yes, thirteen is very young – but we have to remember that it wasn’t a shocking age for marriage at that time and given his social class. Marriage to Anna gave him the Dukedom of Buccleuch, but he remained known as Monmouth. The couple spent lavishly, and despite their wealth, they needed help to sort out their finances.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch. Studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt. Image: The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Monmouth was disloyal. He was a serial philanderer, and had offspring with his mistresses, most notably, Eleanor Needham.

As Monmouth grew up into manhood, with the lithe, elegant movements of his athletic body and the innate animal-like energy of his father, he was also amiable and down-to-Earth: again, no doubt inherited from his father, Charles II. Monmouth had a wonderful capacity to talk to anyone, rich or poor, and his easy nature made him easy to love. And love him they did. There was something compelling about Monmouth, and though he made a mess of things time and again, he was almost always forgiven. He was vain, and was often dressed in the most flamboyant fashions of his day, elaborate periwigs, and even placing his hat at a jaunty angle, which was known as the “Monmouth cock.

“…the first part of [Monmouth’s] life was all Sunshine, though the rest was clouded. He was Brave, Generous, Affable, and extremely Handsome: Constant in his Friendships, just to his Word, and an utter Enemy to all sort of Cruelty. He was easy in his nature, and fond of popular Applause, which led him insensibly into all his misfortunes…” – James Welwood, MD, acquaintance of Monmouth

It wasn’t all fashion and fun for the duke, according to Bryan Bevan’s book “James Duke of Monmouth,” Monmouth was given the task of examining the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of Edmondberry Godfrey during the Popish Plot of the late 1670s. He defeated rebels at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, and extinguished a fire from spreading in Southwark.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch by Étienne Jehandier Desrochers, after Sir Peter Lely. Image: The National Portrait Gallery, London.

The diarist John Evelyn wrote that [Monmouth]

was a lovely person

and

An excellent dancer.

It was whilst dancing as a shepherd in John Crowne’s masque, “Calisto: Or the Chaste Nymph” that Monmouth first espied the woman whom he would regard as the love of his life, Lady Henrietta Wentworth. This was in 1675, and he was still attached to Eleanor Needham at this time. In 1680, he began to pursue Henrietta, scandalising the court. They continued their affair in secret, until Monmouth took refuge in her home at Toddington Manor in 1683, following the disastrous Rye House Plot, which he was implicated in. He looked upon Henrietta as his wife, and there is no evidence that he ever took another mistress after her.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch. Jan Wyck (1644–1702). Image: The National Portrait Gallery, London.

He was exiled, and sought the generosity of his cousins William and Mary, where he lived in 1684 until the news of Charles II’s death reached them in February of 1685. James, formerly the Duke of York, and Monmouth’s uncle, became King, but as he was a Catholic, there were those who were against him. Monmouth, whose ambition was taken advantage of by several exiled Whigs, was convinced that he should take the throne.

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He declared himself king at Taunton, and his followers were mainly farmers and artisans, not soldiers. Monmouth and his followers were destroyed at the Battle of Sedgemoor. The Monmouth Rebellion had failed; and he was captured soon after and he was hauled off to the Tower of London, where he pleaded in vain for his life to be spared. His was one of the most notorious executions in English history, for it was a botched job, taking some five to seven blows to behead him.

James_Scott

James, Duke of Monmouth. Painted by Godfrey Kneller (1649-1723) Image: Boughton House.

Monmouth shall always be a romantic figure – brave, seductive, handsome, virile, the reformed rake – his life and the insanely brutal manner of his death will continue to fascinate generations to come. The Duke of Monmouth is one of those individuals from history who live to shine brightly for a short time and then die young. My historical fiction novella about Henrietta Wentworth and the Duke of Monmouth is now out from Endeavour Press:

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Hear ye! 13 thoughts — so far — on “Dashing but Doomed: the Duke of Monmouth”:

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: His Last Mistress by Andrea Zuvich | The Lit Bitch

  2. Barbara Harfield

    I used to think I was the only one who felt the way I do about Jemmy..!! This feeling was enforced on the 15th July 1985, at 10.00am in the morning, as I sat on Tower Hill alone.. I guess I thought like minded people would have been there for him too, if they cared about him as much as I did. But there was no one, so I sat there for an hour reading thru` the order of his execution and generally paying my respects, remaining there until it would have been all over. Now, I know there are others, thanks to you Andrea…!! I fell under his spell back in 1971 at the age of 23 years, and now at the ripe old age of 65 years, nothing has changed, except I probably love him more than ever, if that`s possible.

    Reply
    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      It certainly is possible, Barbara, to love him more with the years! By the way, welcome to the website! It’s always a pleasure to meet someone who not only knows who I’m talking about, but loves them just the same! I gave a speech about Monmouth this July on the 15th, and hardly anyone showed up, so I know exactly how you felt in 1985. Please check out some of the other posts I’ve written about dear Monmouth. I don’t know if you’ve read my attempt at fictionalising his last few years in “His Last Mistress”? I shall be writing a biographical fiction about the twenty-six years of his life prior to that book, which shall be entitled simply, “Jemmy”. I hope you enjoy looking around the site, there will be much more added to it in the following months. Thank you for your comments. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Barbara Harfield

        Hi Andrea, I do indeed have your book, just received thru` the post.. I find myself delaying to begin it, because I know, from having read the prologue, that I will love it, and the sooner I begin, the quicker it must end. As for your next book about, and to be called, “Jemmy”, can`t wait, no pressure or anything..
        I also knew that you were giving your speech on Monmouth on the 15th July, and would have loved to have been there. Unfortunately, my health is not so good these days, and I can`t get around the way I used to do, but I was with you in spirit I do assure you. In my younger years I used to go everywhere I could that I knew he had been, and for the most part on my own. Once I even received special permission to enter The Bell Tower, where Jemmy spent his last night on earth. The Yeoman Warder, having taken me there, suddenly turned saying he would show me what it was like to be a prisoner in the tower, and with that remark left, locking the door behind him. So, by rights now, The Bell Tower`s list of prisoners should read, Sir Thomas More, Elizabeth the first, James, Duke of Monmouth and Barbara Harfield…!! He did let me go after about 10 minutes however, so maybe my imprisonment was too brief to count. I always thought it a strange coincidence that the name of the Yeoman Warder, who incidentally was a lovely man, was William Russell. A William Russell I am sure you know, was one of Monmouth`s best friends, who he mentions on the scaffold, and who also endured a botched execution at the hands of Jack ketch.
        Sorry Andrea, I didn’t intend writing so much, but once I start, I tend to get carried away when the subject is James, Duke of Monmouth…!!

        Reply
        1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

          I loved it all – what a pleasure to read such passion! Thank you so much for sharing your memories. I did not refer to too many specifics in the novella because I didn’t want to confuse people who weren’t already acquainted with the history. You’ll see the gaps where I left things out on purpose, but I do hope you enjoy that. And I’ll do “Jemmy” as soon as possible, but I have to finish The Stuart Vampire (about a fantasy version of Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester), William & Mary, a history overview of the Stuarts, AND Book One of The Dashing Cavalier: The Adventures of Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Full plate. I hope I can do it…well! 🙂

          Reply
          1. Barbara Harfield

            Gosh, Andrea what a workload, I shall be looking forward to every book, as I have an interest in every character you mention..! When I read about “The Stuart Vampire,” I have to admit I was surprised, but pleasantly. The study of the paranormal, ghosts, etc. being my other great interest..! I used to belong to “The Vampyre Society”, a few years back and “The Coven of Lestat,” based in New Orleans, but briefly, when “Interview With The Vampire” came out. With regards to Henry, Duke of Gloucester, I believe he passed on with the dreaded Smallpox, soon after the Restoration, did he not, poor boy! The same outbreak was to claim Charles` sister Mary too, if I remember rightly…! I can`t wait to see how you weave Henry`s story together, and it will be nice for him to have a bit of the limelight for a change, as the only times he seems to be mentioned by history, are for sitting on his father’s knee prior to his execution to say goodbye, and being told by Charles 1st that he must not let anyone call him King, while his brothers Charles and James were still alive, and also Charles 2nd`s insistence to his Mother, that Henry be brought up a Protestant when they were in exile in France. Just think Andrea, if he had survived, we might have had us a Henry 9th, on the throne of England..!! I wonder what sort of king he would have made..!!

  3. Diane

    Hi Andrea, I enjoyed reading about James. I’d like to ask about the name “Jemmy” you used. Was that a known nickname for him or one you gave him? I’d not heard any mention of it before coming across your site.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Scott

      Jemmy was his mothers baby name for him and it stuck. Daddy Charles had his favorite racing yacht named Jemmy after him.

      Reply
    2. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Hi Diane, I’m sorry for the tardy reply – I just saw your comment! ‘Jemmy’ was a nickname used for Monmouth – I made very little up for the story, just dialogue and dramatic tension was mine. The plot-line and both nicknames (Jemmy for Monmouth, Harriet for Henrietta), the places they visited, the events that took place were all according to the historical record. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Robyn Elliot

    Hello Andrea, just new to your site and it’s fascinating! I can see a lot of hard work is put into it, and you’ve got another regular visitor.
    The Stuarts are SO fascinating, aren’t they? Fatalistic, melancholic creatures; in particular, Mary Queen of Scots, and Charles II. The lot of them seemed to have inbuilt self-destruct buttons too. Then there is the tragic obstetric history of some of them, particularly and most obviously poor Queen Anne. An interesting theory applicable to Anne is that she carried a gene which caused her own blood type to react with the fetus she was carrying, which caused either miscarriages, stillbirths or children who experienced chronic health problems before expiring. As far as Monmouth goes, I completely understand the allure of this very beautiful young man; however, my feeling about him is that he was incredibly prone to hearing what he wanted to hear, which resulted in the terrible catastrophe of Sedgemoor — a lot of very poor men were killed, and their families rounded up and punished most severely by the spite of James II. I can completely understand Barbara’s love for Monmouth, however; I have a similar admiration for James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. Ah, and then there’s Charles II…sigh and swoon!

    Reply
    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Welcome, Robyn! Glad to meet another Stuart lover! I really enjoyed the book “Sickly Stuarts” in which all of their medical problems was investigated by a medical professor, Frederick Holmes, and I really recommend it. Yes – they’re all so interesting! I wish I could meet them! Doh! :p

      Reply
  5. Hannah

    Brave man. He certainly wasn’t the type who shied away from danger.
    Some people like to get out of the rain into the warm with a cup of coco . He was the type who stood in the rain and did not run for cover.

    He was probably afraid of Ketch in the end,
    knowing it would be a brutal end to his life.

    Reply

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